Russia, thankfully, has yet to show any outward sign of the political correctness (PC) that seems to blight Britain nowadays when it comes to public attitudes towards the sports of hunting, shooting and fishing. Fieldsports are considered to be perfectly worthy pastimes in Russia almost to the point of being de rigueur. One only has to witness President Putinâs annual summer pilgrimage to the great Russian outdoors, with its associated photos splashed all over the domestic and international press, to realise that fieldsports are viewed in a very positive light by most Russians.
PC in Britain dictates that shooting is inevitably portrayed as the exclusive preserve of the landed gentry, which does a great disservice to a sport with nearly 1 million adherents that crosses all class divides and which generates over Â£1.6 billion for the UK economy annually. In rural Wales, where I grew up, shooting is a sport enjoyed by everyone, from the farmhand to the estate owner. Shooting is an important part of the Welsh economy too, generating over Â£80m a year. Iâm delighted that both the Welsh and the Russians share the same refreshingly straightforward attitudes towards their shooting sports and I always feel very much at home in the company of Russian hunters.
During the many years I spent living in Russia, I was fortunate enough to be invited by Russian friends on some fabulously memorable hunting trips (despite the sometimes copious amounts of vodka consumed!), with either shotgun or rifle in hand, to some amazing destination, with quarry as varied as mink, duck, goose, capercaillie, woodcock, black grouse, brown hare, wild boar and elk on the menu. Even in European Russia, I was forever amazed as to how one can find oneself in thoroughly wild and remote areas, with no FM radio let alone a mobile telephone signal, surrounded by miles and miles of truly wild forest and lakes with only bears, wolves, elk and wild boar as next door neighbours.
In such a vast country, blessed with some of the largest wilderness areas on the planet and wildlife and shootable game found in such abundance in comparison to the overcrowded countries of western Europe, it comes as no surprise that Russian hunters take great pride in their rich hunting heritage. During my hunting trips in Russia, it was absolutely fascinating for me, having grown up with shooting and fishing in my blood, to see and take part in these traditions at first hand and often to pursue game species that occur in Britain, such as duck and woodcock, using completely different, but nevertheless traditional methods.
The popularity of shooting sports in Russia is nowhere reflected better than the annual âArms & Huntingâ exhibition, which takes place for four days each October in Gostiny Dvor, a mere clay pigeonâs flight from Red Square, and which in 2013 celebrated its 10th anniversary. This is by far and away the leading, and most prestigious, of Russiaâs many exhibitions and trade fairs which cover the burgeoning Russian hunting, fishing and outdoor sector.
Iâve visited this exhibition for the past five years and have seen it grow tremendously during that time, with more and more foreign companies taking part each year, which is a good indicator of the growing importance of the Russian market for both sporting arms, equipment and accessories, as well as the economic importance of the growing numbers of Russian hunters who can now afford to buy foreign-made hunting kit and travel in increasing numbers around the world to enjoy their shooting sports.
This year 23,000 visitors came to see what was on offer from the 283 companies which took part in the exhibition, which covered a total display area of around 2,500 sq metres. 115 overseas companies, representing 27 countries, with Germany, Italy and Belgium being the best represented, participated in the show.
The German pavillion, by far the biggest national pavillion in the exhibition, had 12 German companies exhibiting their wares, from manufacturers of sporting arms (rifles and shotguns), optics (telescopic sights and binoculars) to ammunition and accessory makers, all actively supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.
Many more German and Austrian companies involved in the sporting arms sector, ranging from a number of bespoke rifle makers to outdoor clothing and accessories retailers, were dotted around the remainder of the large exhibition hall. One German bespoke riflemaker told me that Russia had become, by far and away, his largest single market.
The Italians also had a significant presence at the exhibition. Beretta, the worldâs oldest gunmaker, had their guns displayed prominently on the stands of the two largest retailers of sporting arms in Russia; Kolchuga and Okhotnik. Other leading Italian gunmakers, such as Fausti
(www.faustiarms.com), a manufacturer of sporting shotguns and notable for the fact that the company is managed, very appropriately for Russia(!), by 3 sisters; Barbara, Elena and Giovanna, have long participated in the exhibition and count Russia as one of their most important markets worldwide, so much so that Barbara Fausti, whom I know well thanks to her regular attendance at the show, has learnt to speak excellent Russian.
Surprisingly for a country with such a rich sporting heritage, only two British companies took part. These were Holland & Holland, the famous London-based gunmaker which manufactures hand-made, bespoke shotguns and rifles (www.hollandandholland.com) and my own company, Britannia Sporting (www.britanniasporting.com); a sporting agency which specialises in organising shooting trips throughout the British Isles for British and European as well as a growing number of Russian clients, as well as taking more intrepid British and European shooters, who yearn for something a little more exotic than shooting reared pheasants, on hunting trips to the wilds of Russia.
I would like to think that more British companies from the shooting sector, of which there are very many; ranging from gunmakers such as Purdey, William Powell, Boxall & Edmiston and Longhthorne through to clothing and accessory manufacturers such as Barbour, Hunter and Musto, will look at Russia as an important growth market for their business. Perhaps we could learn something from the leading example of the German and Italian companies who have already established a considerable presence and a committed following in the Russian market. It would also be good to have some proactive support from UKTI, as the Germans do from their ministry, to help British companies assess the overall potential of the Russian market in a sector where British companies flourish in other countries.
As for myself, I must say that I had a wonderful time taking part in the exhibition as an exhibitor for the first time and I will most certainly be back next year (my tweed shooting gear certainly seemed to create the desired impression!). I made many new friends, as well as meeting several old ones, and am very much looking forward to hosting some new Russian clients on their shooting trips to Britain this season as well as planning trips for my British clients to Russia next year.