There was a time when the worlds of simulated game and regular game involving live quarry did not overlap as they do now. Over the past decade there have been myriad factors causing keen game shots to look elsewhere to satisfy their sporting desires. This has increasingly caused traditional game shots to reconsider the value of a sim day.

Whether game shots have begun to consider sim days due to the rising cost of game shooting, the uncertainty surrounding avian flu or the most recent bout of anti- shooting legislation, the level of interest has undoubtedly risen. Not only do sim days seem to be winning over the old guard, but they also appear to be providing a wonderful gateway into shooting for those who might not have previously considered it.

Speaking to those who are intimately involved in the industry confirms such suspicions and gives increased resolution to the picture of the shift in sim day perception and uptake. Duncan Grisedale, head of UK sales at Promatic Traps, is well placed to shine a light on the ongoing rise to prominence of sim days. Duncan grew up on a commercial shoot, which he still helps run, and also provides a consultancy service to those looking to set up sim days.

He tells me that simulated game has been around longer than people realise. Promatic designed and produced the first dedicated simulated game trap 20 years ago and have had sales in 150 countries.

“Sim game has been around for several decades and is very popular with shooting people of all types,” he explains. “I think today we are just more aware of how our sport is changing and what other options for shooting are out there. Not all shoots are going into sim game for commercial benefit; a lot do so to keep shooting on the land and rural communities together.”
Due to the accessibility of a sim day it can be a wonderful conduit for bringing into game shooting people who do not come from a rural background. “The more people pulling the trigger, the better it is for the future of shooting,” Duncan adds.

Rising costs

Richard Jones, managing director of Dovey Valley Shooting Ground, attributes the rise in sim day popularity to small syndicates being unable to swallow the rising cost of raising live birds. Richard, whose grandfather was running sim days with 15 manually operated traps 40 years ago, tells me that the options with a sim day “allow a far higher level of hospitality for a fraction of the cost”. Prices at Dovey start at £200 per person. With extra drives and hospitality packages available, days are also highly customisable.

Richard also tells me it is important to him to make the drives realistic. “With our drives all the traps are hidden, so you don’t know where the clay is going to come from.

On some sim days you can see precisely where they emerge, but such is the technical complexity of our setup that on any given drive you likely wouldn’t see the same trajectory of clay twice.”

Recent uncertainty in the industry has certainly made game shoots a little less keen to make large investments in gamebird infrastructure and the purchase of the birds themselves. There is a terrifying moment in the rearing of birds, where if the poults have been released and then develop symptoms of avian flu, they are considered to be wild and the organisation that reared them is not eligible for any compensation following a cull. This kind of catastrophe could very easily sink a commercial shoot.

If shoots bought their poults late, around the end of August last year, the price was around £5 per bird. However, at the peak of the bird flu, when supply was at its lowest, Toby Fichtner-Irvine, who runs the much- feted shoot on the Isle of Muck, told me that he was quoted well over £10 a poult. At that sort of price it’s almost impossible for a shoot to turn a profit.

Being realistic

Philip Thompson, manager of Thimbleby Shooting Ground on the North York Moors, stresses the importance of making simulated days realistic and challenging, as well as adding in all the normal trappings of a regular game shoot.

“We ensure our sim days are not only technically comparable to driven game days, offering a real challenge to even the most experienced guns, but that the rest of the day also meets the highest expectations.

That means our guests shoot all over the Thimbleby Estate and enjoy top-notch food and drink. Lots of our guests have previously only shot on game days and are rather wary of the sim days as alternatives, but once they try it they love it.”

Philip also tells me how the evolving demand for sim days has required them to shift their focus from chiefly spring and summer-based events to offering them during the shooting season as well.

Although there is a predictability to any clay, there are major challenges in setting up the perfect simulated drive. Aspect is a huge factor, as is topography. When you are able to select the flushing points on a sim day with precise trap placement, there is no need to suffer the sun in your eyes. It can be immensely frustrating when a glorious high bird comes out of the sun like a jet fighter, taking you by surprise.

With intelligent trap and peg placement, guns are no longer forced to choose between excellent sport and the integrity of their retinas. But black clays can be
immensely difficult to pick out against a busy backdrop, so this means it is important to use topography to ensure the clay is visible above the skyline for long enough to be seen and shot.

A great game drive doesn’t necessarily make a top-drawer sim day drive. If traps are placed within woodland that normally provides the game flushing point, it can produce limited flightpaths. If the traps are placed in front of the woodland, then you can see the trap winding up and this diminishes the aspect of surprise and realism. “Woodland drives are definitely
achievable, but some thought and planning needs to go into it,” Duncan warns.

When setting up a sim day, the model of trap and its capability is key. Nick Agosto, from the sales and servicing team at Bowman Traps, explains, “Our traps offer
a variety of features that help create the best possible simulations. Features like their quick-tilt function allow the change from straight to curling clays in a matter of seconds. Our newest trap, The Tempest, fires clays in excess of 120mph, which gives visuals of clays overtaking each other and allows shoots to use existing game drives that would usually be considered too great a distance to throw a clay.”
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Scope and flexibility

Nick also believes that sim days are no longer a direct substitute for game shooting; they have developed a reputation of their own, with scope and flexibility to create a variety of experiences.

“I no longer see it as just something people do to practise for the game season. It has its own identity,” he says. “There are lots of shoots and they all market their days differently. Some like to stick to the traditional game day experience and others like to be more relaxed and offer various types of shooting.”

It is simplistic to see sim days as a replacement for game shooting, even if that was their origin. Simulated game currently brings few of the same benefits in the form of countryside management, despite providing an accessible format for shooting. Neither is it comparable to game shooting in terms of the jobs it generates.

Simulated game shooting can provide a more certain income stream that is less susceptible to cost fluctuations and is easily hybridised with game shooting. In addition to all the reasons that drew game shots away from live quarry, the ability to customise the sim day in everything from location to variety of bird has kept them coming back.

Henry Weston, director of Westwood Sporting near Worcester, used to run a game shoot on his farm until the cost and stress of running a shoot with live quarry made sim days a far more suitable option. As well as running mobile sim days for those who wish to hold them on their own farms, Henry is also fielding an increasing number of enquiries about adding his traps into game days, so that game can be enjoyed on a few good drives to start in the morning, and hosts can make sure everyone has enough shooting by including plenty of clays in the afternoon. Henry tells me that this format is endlessly adaptable to the guns’ abilities and is a good way to get beginners used to how a shoot feels.

Sim days are not just being invested in by independent shoots or shooting grounds looking to diversify. Industry giant E.J. Churchill also offers sim days across several extremely smart estates from Yorkshire to Buckinghamshire. The sim day has now become an integral part of the shooting world and this doesn’t look like changing any time soon.


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Bowman Traps -


Thimbleby Shooting Ground -
Westwood Sporting -
Dovey Valley Shooting Ground -
E.J. Churchill -