In the latest edition of Shooting and Conservation Will Pocklington talks to this year’s Eat Game Awards Champion of Champions, Billy Wyatt, about the purpose and popularity of the social media group that continues to bring game to a wider audience.
It’s a pleasant thought, dropping by the local market to see rows of rabbits, neatly plucked gamebirds and cuts of venison fighting for the attention of wide-eyed punters.
But the reality is, despite the work of excellent initiatives like Eat Game, such scenes are rare today and many people still come a cropper when trying to source ‘wild’ meat for their dinner.
Fixing that is crucial. The more people who consider shooting’s end product a viable alternative to their staple chicken, beef and pork, the better chance we have of improving the nation’s understanding of the hows and whys of what we do. Filling Joe Public’s stomachs is, arguably, the ultimate ‘in’.
Facebook group ‘Giving Up The Game’ is an intriguing example of an age-old concept operating in a modern world. Might it represent a small part of the solution – a way forward – to making game more appealing and accessible to the masses?
Founded in 2016 by Billy Wyatt, the group is essentially an online marketplace where anyone – providing they follow a few simple rules – can sell, give away, buy and acquire game and venison – and that includes the likes of pigeon and rabbit.
Billy, a bricklayer by profession who keepers on a small syndicate shoot in Wiltshire, was taught all about how furred and feathered game finds its way onto our forks; his grandfather was a gamekeeper.
“I’d spend hours plucking, drawing and preparing birds for the Guns on Grandad’s shoot,” he remembered when I caught up with him in late March, a few days after his success at the Eat Game Awards. “I pocketed 50p a bird at the time!”
Fast forward a few years and, having started his own small shoot, Billy was adamant that nothing would go to waste. “Back then some game dealers were being paid to take birds away, but I knew plenty of people who were desperate to get their hands on them.
“I started posting on Facebook to my own friends whenever I had birds in the feather spare and I soon realised we could expand on that and put more people in touch with their local shoots.”
The lightbulb moment, Billy acknowledges, was probably when he was giving 100-plus birds to various friends and family every week – some had never tried game before and others were grateful of the free meat when times were getting harder.
Giving Up The Game now has more than 24,000 members. It’s grown to be much more than a platform that connects consumers with those on the ground. Recipes are swapped, tips on everything from hanging and prepping to sausage-making and cooking are shared; recommendations are sought on chillers, mincers, knife sharpeners – you name it. It’s become a community – and a busy, interactive one at that. Businesses can and do post in the group, too. In return for the opportunity, they’re asked at Christmastime to donate to a raffle.
It takes a while to scroll through the group’s page to previous months and seasons, such is the number of posts on there each week, but if you do the variety of requests, offers, posts and people quickly becomes apparent.
“Our members are a real mixed bag coming from all different walks of life. We have gamekeepers, Guns, beaters, taxidermists, Scout leaders and plenty of people who have never stepped foot on a shoot but want to try game,” Billy explained.
A closer look and you’ll find enquiries from community larder workers, journalists and schoolteachers, too. Perhaps that shouldn’t be such a surprise; it’s far easier to post a question on the internet nowadays than it is to make a special trip to the local butcher.
I suppose the challenge for Giving Up The Game is bringing its namesake to a wider audience while presenting itself as part of a solution to – rather than a sorry symptom of – a system seen by many to be broken.
A generous offer to introduce newcomers to the taste of game could easily be taken as a way for people to offload quarry they have shot but haven’t the will to process or eat themselves.
That said, there’s quite a difference between keeping a dozen pheasants aside after a shoot day for a receptive online audience and using such a platform to do away with game that you’ve no pre-planned outlet for.
Equally, providing one lucky group member with the opportunity to try what many believe is the tastiest of all gamebirds, is quite different to advertising 15 woodcock ‘free to a good home’.
There’s no doubt it’s a tricky one to manage, which is why the group has administrators who do their best to ensure the message and tone doesn’t wander in the wrong direction.
For Billy, it’s simple: “I have supplied people with game who are struggling to put food on the table, and being able to give them some birds or venison for free is really rewarding. It’s also great to see people learning how to process game and enjoying field-to-fork eating. We have some members who had never eaten venison before who can now skin and butcher a carcass.
“There have been some remarkable acts of generosity in the group; many people have been supported through illness and poverty with offers of free food.
More than any other group I’m a member of, Giving Up The Game members really rally round in an hour of need.”