by Nick Hammond
It’s fair to say that if you’re a fieldsports enthusiast, you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a British Pheasant Shoot in full swing.
Birds sky-rocket on a crisp Winter’s morn; excited peg dogs look skyward; there’s the distant tap of Beaters in woodland; and that feeling in the pit of your stomach as you wait for the first bird of the day to head purposefully towards you.
Traditionally in the UK, pheasants are pushed from cover by a team of Beaters. This is what is referred to as Driven Game Shooting. If all goes to plan, the birds are flushed at an advantageous point so they will fly over the line of guns, some way ahead. Ideally, the pheasants will gain height and speed as quickly and effortlessly as possible, providing the waiting Guns – usually 8-12 of them spaced out roughly 40 yards apart – with an exciting and testing target for their shotguns. Collecting the shot and injured birds is called Picking Up and requires a skilled team of dogs and their handlers.
Bags range from modest 50-bird affairs to more than 300 birds a day; it all depends on your taste, your experience and, of course, your budget.
Typical driven days begin with host greeting the Guns with coffee and hot rolls and an explanation of the shoot and how the day will pan out. There are breaks for drinks and snacks in between drives, although in the depths of Winter, the race is always on to get the drives in before the short daylight hours close out proceedings. Gamekeepers are always anxious to ensure their birds have enough time to settle and find their roosts without disturbance.
The shoot lunch is held at a convenient time to break, or more commonly these days, a Shoot Supper is held in the evening after the day’s sport is over. This gives the Guns time to freshen up and also gives them a reason to stay overnight at, or near, their chosen shoot venue. This all adds up to vital extra income for rural communities, pubs and hostelries.
Different Ways To Approach Pheasant Shooting In The UK
As well as the traditional driven shoot, pheasants can also be shot by a single gun or teams ‘Walking Up’ or Rough Shooting. Walked Up Shooting is one of the most popular – and cost effective – means of pheasant shooting in the UK.
All that is required is a Gun and a dog, a suitable shotgun and ammunition and permission to shoot over the selected land. Typically, a handful of Guns will spend a morning, afternoon, or whole day ‘walking up’ a selected area of ground. The Gundogs – usually spaniels and Labradors, but sometimes other species too – are used to both help flush the quarry and retrieve it once shot. In this way, pheasant, partridge, rabbit, hare, pigeon, duck, squirrel, crow, magpie and more may be shot in a typical Walked Up day. Care must be taken to ensure only those species in Season are taken – your host/Shoot Captain will be able to inform you of these.
Pheasant Shooting In The UK – One Small Island, A World Of Difference
In comparison to many European countries, the USA, Russia or beyond, the UK is not a huge expanse. But it has an incredible geographical diversity nonetheless, which is why pheasant shooting in the West Country is a totally different proposition to pheasant shooting in Lincolnshire, for example.
Pheasants shot in Wales, Devon, Somerset and Cornwall are typically renowned as ‘High Birds.’ This means that because of the topography of the land – wooded hills and valleys – the Guns can often be lined out within the folds of a hill and the birds flushed from its crown. By the time the pheasants fly over the Line of Guns, they are a considerable target indeed. High Bird shooting should not be undertaken by inexperienced Guns and considerable degrees of both marksmanship and sporting consideration for the quarry are required to get the most from these famous shoots.
Pheasant shoots in Scotland also provide testing birds in wild conditions – and right across the UK, each estate will have its own idiosyncrasies and memorable features. The Clovelly Shoot in Devon, for example, offers an extraordinary sporting day. Guns awake to the sights, sounds and smells of the seaside and can even shoot from a private beach on one drive, with the birds driven from the cliff tops, curling out over the sea and coming back over the Guns to reach the safety of the shore. Unforgettable.
Pheasants are shot in the UK with shotguns; usually 12-Bore, but sometimes of smaller gauge, such as 20 or even 28 Bore. The laws regarding lead shot differ, especially around coastal areas of Scotland and England, so you must check which is appropriate before you load your cartridge bag.
The Pheasant Shooting Season in the UK takes place during the Winter months, so you will need to dress accordingly. There are many shooting and outdoor clothing specialists who will be able to supply you with all your UK shooting needs, but basics include Wellington boots, gloves, a peaked hat, waterproof coat, gunslip, gun bag – and a healthy sense of humour. Pheasant shooting is fantastic fun, but can also be exhausting and exasperating, depending on the weather, company or even your shooting ability on the day.
Make sure you take in the magnificence of your surroundings and appreciate the generations of wisdom that may have created the Shoot you are enjoying. Remember to thank your Host and, if in doubt as to the sporting worthiness of a bird, err on the side of caution and don’t shoot at it.
Most important of all though, is to make sure you shoot safely. It doesn’t matter if you don’t hit many birds; stay safe and enjoy the thrill of the UK countryside at its best. There’s really nothing in the world quite like it.