Fieldsports Journal speaks to Managing Director of GunsOnPegs Chris Horne.
How did you first get into shooting?
My Dad and Grandad were in separate syndicates when I was growing up and it was my Grandad that let me have his peg for my first day when I was 13. My Dad had let me fire my first shot when I was 8, but it was with his 12 bore using a game load after a day, aiming at a large oak tree, which I’m sure I missed. It hurt me so much at that age that it put me off for a few years!
Tell us a little about GunsOnPegs – how did it begin and how has it evolved over the years?
My Dad was involved in the shoot at Chippenham Park in Cambridgeshire when the owner, Eustace Crawley, became ill and asked Dad to run the shoot for the rest of the season. It had been losing money and was becoming a burden on the family. After rinsing our contact book of friends, we were left with no option but to set up some form of a website to help sell days. The guys from Benchmark/Balderton Capital, who funded the start of eBay, Betfair etc., were taking days on the shoot and what they didn’t know about the tech business at the time wasn’t worth knowing. Dad posed a question to them along the lines of “We want to start a sort of eBay for shooting, have you got any advice?” The response was “Yes, make it free and become the marketplace.” So, without setting out to be a proper business, we did just that. The root cause of all of this was that the shoot needed turning around and as it was 2007, the start of the financial crisis meant we weren’t the only ones. 100,000 members later, the rest is history.
What are the benefits of using the GunsOnPegs service to book one’s sport?
There’s loads, and after explaining them, I’m often met with “Well how do you make your money?!” GunsOnPegs is free to use. We don’t charge the Gun or the shoot to advertise and we don’t charge a commission. Contact is made directly between the Gun and the shoot and because of the nature of booking a shoot, the conversation goes offline pretty quickly. We operate a ‘freemium’ model for the 1,200 shoots that advertise, where they can pay more to stand out from the crowd when they have more days to sell – that service is hugely effective and our biggest reason for shoots not renewing is because we filled them up.
We spend hours in the office working out how to ensure we don’t become victims of our own success. Shoots manage their availability by logging in to our website and making days available or marking them as sold in real time. The most sought-after days go quickly so we launched a premium service for Guns to follow shoots, create alerts and get instant notification of discounted days. The majority of GunsOnPegs’ income comes from the brands that you see advertising on the website. It’s these brands that stop us from charging the shoots and Guns a commission and have allowed the sport to grow.
And you are involved with various other initiatives in the fieldsports community, too?
The Country Food Trust is something that we help to manage on a daily basis. We all know about the issues our sport is facing and we felt that we could make a real difference to this wonderful charity and help the incredibly hard-working CEO, Tim Woodward. I became a trustee of the charity a couple of years ago and the team help to coordinate shoots and Guns wanting to help feed people in need, either with donations or through linking a shoot and their dealer to charities wanting game. For me, there are three important angles for a shoot to become the linchpin of their community – economic impact through employment and use of local services, environmental impact through conservation work, and social impact through community work and using the shoot’s produce to feed local people in need. It’s the latter we really want to build with The Country Food Trust.
A big concern of many in the shooting community relates to the increasing commercialisation of shooting. What are your views on this – the pros, the cons and where GunsOnPegs fits into the picture?
GunsOnPegs is a very basic concept that was needed for many shoots to continue. If we hadn’t done it, someone else would have. The first argument anyone who wishes to defend our sport presents is an economic one. Without shoots selling days and attracting more participants, this argument wouldn’t exist. It also wouldn’t exist if we only ‘shot one for the pot’ a couple of times a year. However, the argument is totally undone if we can’t eat what we shoot. Shooting has grown enormously since we started. Nearly every shoot I know has increased in size to sell more days and bigger bags. Of course, it’s unsustainable to continue this growth. Guns have a limit on the amount they will spend, and there are only a certain number of people that wish to shoot. This season is the first time we have seen supply outstrip demand in 10 years – the ‘dead man’s shoes’ analogy is pretty much gone now.
Should Guns have to pass some form of test before being allowed to shoot on a driven day?
This is an interesting one. The biggest problem we have at the moment is an attitude problem. If our country consumed game like it does chicken, we’d eat every bird shot over the course of the season in the space of eight days. In Germany, you have to pass a very strict test to be able to shoot. I personally am not a fan of creating barriers for those who want to enter shooting, but the experienced people need to educate the beginners properly. We have been helping the GWCT produce The Knowledge and the Accredited Game Shot test, which we will promote on GunsOnPegs. We’d like every Gun to have passed this test in order to shoot. It’s pretty simple and provides a sound basis to understand how a shoot works and therefore will influence some of your own decisions as a Gun.
How do you think we can improve the prospects of our sports?
Make sure the game we shoot is consumed, follow the Code of Good Shooting Practice and obey the law!
For you, what makes a day in the field truly special?
The company. We go shooting to have fun with friends, not to kill birds. For me, sharing the experience of a towering pheasant with a friend at the end of a drive is as good as bringing it down in the first place. From the moment you arrive at a shoot, you’re ‘shooting’ – the friends you make and relationships you develop on a shoot day are incomparable in my opinion. I struggle to bite my lip when someone shoots and then sits in their car without interacting with other Guns, or counts their birds after every drive and works out if they’ve had their fair share. That’s the time to look in the mirror.
Your favourite shoot/drive?
Years ago, before GunsOnPegs, my Dad was incredibly kind to take my Grandpa and I up to Bleasdale with a syndicate he shot with. The scenery is wonderful and standing in a rigged draw within poaching distance of those two is a highlight of my life. If I had to pick a drive, I’d probably say Arthur’s Seat.
What gun(s) and cartridge(s) do you use?
Where I can, I use my very old Henry Atkin. It has been rebuilt a number of times, but I love it. It has ‘new’ Holland & Holland barrels on it so it can take a longer cartridge. Last year I shot Hull Imperial Game and this year I’m using more Gamebore Dark Storm, but no larger than 28g. That produces the perfect pattern in my gun.
Away from fieldsports, what else do you keep busy with?
I love sport. At the moment I’m an injured long-distance runner so I’m cycling a lot. I tried my hand at swimming the Channel in a relay this year and I can safely say my swimming days are behind me. Otherwise, I’ll be watching sport, often with my very patient better half, Flo.