A glorious first day of the season is spent walkingup pheasant and partridge
As I have mentioned in previous articles, we are always looking for new shoots to keep our members enthused and to make sure our calendar continually improves. Good, modest-sized driven days are relatively easy to find and this season we have been lucky to get invited to take days on several family shoots that are looking to sell the odd day to balance the books.
With a bit of encouragement, we are lucky to have added several farm shoots to our calendar. These are mostly smaller walked-up and mini driven days that existing shoots have let out in enabling them to put a few more birds down, develop their shoot and make the best of the ground they have.
One of the most successful this season was a shoot close to home for me in Gloucestershire. A good friend was offered the shooting rights over about 1,200 acres of well-managed farm land. The area, miraculously, had never been shot before, although for the last few years the farm manager and owner had been planting cover strips either side of almost every hedgerow in order to encourage the wildlife. Rough areas of ground were also planted with wild bird mix and as the farm practised direct drilling, the stubble was left, making it a superb partridge habitat. After a tour of the farm back in April, I agreed that we would be happy to take quite a few days and so was looking forward to our first outing there on 1 October.
The first day of the season is always a bit nerve-racking for even the most confident of keepers, but a new ground that has never been shot definitely upped the ante. With many of the Guns also out on their first day of the season, we agreed that we would make the most of the day, whatever happened. Sadly, one of the Guns had pulled out that morning with a touch of flu, so it was up to me to fill in as I was not supposed to be shooting. My good fortune continued as after walking-up some standing corn for five minutes, I shot the first Rough Rovers pheasant of the season at exactly 9.24am. Not the greatest bird I
‘With many of the Guns out on their first day of the season, we agreed that we would make the most of the day whatever happened!’
have ever shot, but I put a feather in its beak and marked it down for the pot.
Typically for the time of year, it was a still, bright day, meaning the partridge got up early and spread out into the fields rather than towards the four Guns acting as stops at the end of a tall hedgerow, flanked by corn on one side and kale on the other. However, as we reached a kink in the hedge, surrounded by rough grass, a covey of about 35 English partridge exploded out of the cover. Taken by surprise, the walking Guns only shot one going back, but thankfully the majority of the birds did go forward and after a short delay we heard plenty of banging. We brought up the final 500 yards of the hedgerow and put up a couple of last year’s pheasants that climbed over two large oak trees but were brought down comfortably by the standing Guns. However, when we reached the others, it became clear that two of the Guns had committed the cardinal sin of ‘browning’ the covey of Englishmen that had come right over them.
Having had some good shooting on the first piece, I put myself far out on the right for the next drive, thinking I would watch the others shoot. It was obviously my turn to be in the hot seat for the day as I had three Frenchmen cross in front of me and then a covey of English came straight over my head. I missed them all and none of the other Guns even fired a shot. The keeper and beaters arrived and didn’t do a brilliant job of hiding their frustration with my performance. “Things can only get better,” was my only response.
It seemed like a good time to take elevenses. I am a firm believer that it’s best to have a break when the shooting isn’t going well. So after a cup of tea, some aiming juice and a delicious homemade rabbit sausage roll, we set off to the other side of the farm where there are larger areas of cover and some long, thick spinneys.
The beaters and a couple of Guns pushed two small fields of rough grass into a thick hedgerow that led into a triangular wooded area. Almost immediately, birds started getting up and travelling the length of the hedge, lifting above a line of trees right over four of the Guns, offering some terrific shooting. A well-controlled and steady beating line can make a huge difference when shooting partridge and instinctively, when even a single bird was flushed, the line was stopped and the spaniels called in. At the end of the drive, the Guns were all very animated, grinning away and congratulating each other on some of the best birds shot. I had been standing on the other side of the hedge and shot two speculative long, low (but safe) Englishmen that I was very pleased with and my terrier, Fig, managed to retrieve them both.
The next two pieces we shot went almost as well and we finished the afternoon with 10 English, 21 French and 17 pheasant.
The keeper was delighted with the way the day had gone and all the Guns really appreciated the fact that, although they’d had to work hard for their birds, they had enjoyed a very traditional day’s shooting over some excellent ground.
Phil bagged the first Rough Rovers pheasant of the season!The Rovers have added a number of smaller walked-up days this year
Good, modest-sized driven days prove reasonably easy to secure
Cover strips along hedgerows are a great way to encourage more game