Adam Calvert is a freelance shooting instructor with a global reputation, offering bespoke shooting instruction in addition to being a Fabbri ambassador. Q Where is the best place to shoot a high pheasant — should your barrels ever go past 90°? A This is a question I am frequently asked and my answer is always the same: when the bird is at its most vulnerable.
When the bird is approaching you, there will be a point at which the bird’s vital organs are on show – basically the front end of the bird and in particular the head. I would never take a shot at a high bird if I could not see the head as this is always my point of aim. Leave the shot too late, either overhead or out to the side, and you risk not being able to hit a vital organ and as a result a wounded bird is more likely. A classic example of this is an overhead shot that is taken too late – in other words, past 90° – and consequently the Gun’s body runs out of movement and the bird is shot in the rear part of its body, wounding it, with no opportunity to make a followup shot to finish the job.
Look for the “sweet spot”
When the bird appears at its most vulnerable to you, many people refer to this as the “sweet spot” or “kill point”, but in basic terms they all mean the same thing. This can vary slightly from Gun to Gun, so you need to be careful to use your own judgement. Please remember the points I raised above about vital organs and this will help you.
One thing I always ask Guns to keep in mind when they are deciding when to shoot a bird is to always make sure there is time for a second shot in order to cleanly despatch a wounded bird, if required. A point I always make to my clients is once a bird is wounded then the Gun (and others in the party) has a duty to try to despatch the bird.
Now we have established where the shot should be taken, the difficult part begins in making sure the shot actually happens at this optimum point. Most Guns decide to start the process of shooting when the bird is at the point it should be shot. As a result, the shot ends up late and is often unsuccessful. This is a skill that can take time to acquire as you need to see lots of high pheasants to get it right. The key thing is starting the process of shooting the bird at the right point in order to end up shooting it at the vulnerable point. Start too early and you will either shoot too early or mount the gun to the shoulder and delay the shot, thus making the shot less natural at best and resulting in a miss at worst. Start too late and you can often end up trying to make the shot well past the bird’s vulnerable point and cause yourself to become unbalanced.
The above can be practised at a good shooting school in order to develop the correct timing. If you get the opportunity then a lot can be learned from simply watching a proficient shot. Take time to stand back and watch his or her preparation before making the shot to end up with the bird being taken at the correct point.
Taking the bird out in front increases the chances of a clean kill.