The modern fashion for shooting – one might reasonably say shooting at – extremely high pheasants has lead, inexorably, to a trend for shooting at extremely high partridges. Because if you are going to stock your extremely high pheasant shoot with extremely high pheasants you might as well extend your shooting season by stuffing it with some extremely high partridges too. It makes sense.
What makes less sense, to me, is why folk have this urgent need to shoot at things which are a very, very long way away. Distance is only one aspect of difficulty, after all. Speed and direction also make for challenging shooting and the covey is perhaps one of the finest defence mechanisms ever invented.
Traditionally, partridges were driven across hedges or, at a push, over shelter belts and they would come forward in coveys which would flare dramatically as they spotted the guns waiting beyond or below them. Those were English partridges, of course, which were smaller and faster and generally more dynamic than their French cousins and as the reared Frenchmen have progressively populated our lowland shoots increasing height has supplanted speed and vigour as the definition of sportingness.
However, there are still estates – and more importantly, there are still keepers and owners – who will make creative and imaginative use of topography, cover crops, hedges and shelter belts and, crucially, peg placement to present partridges that will challenge the best. Little packs of birds pushed steadily across a tallish hedge just often enough to make quick and efficient reloading a proper skill, which flare and fizz above the line with a bit of sun behind them will bamboozle even experienced guns.
While nothing can completely recreate the thrill of wild birds starbursting across a Norfolk hedge, really skilful presentation of reared partridges can achieve a thrilling level of challenging shooting without the need to have them launched of some vast escarpment. And if you want to shoot them far, far away as well, just shoot your neighbour’s birds for him. And invite him – or her - to shoot yours, obviously. Otherwise, it’s just showing off.