My first partridge – with Philip Fussell
West Country game shooting legend Philip Fussell recalls his first ever grey partridge.
I can remember my first ever English partridge well. I must have been nine or 10 years old and was out ferreting with a great friend of mine, Tony Harrison-Smith. I had just put the ferret down a hole when, the next thing we knew, a rabbit appeared in a decomposing tree next to me (it had obviously travelled up through the hollow trunk). Well, Tony got a bit over-excited and shot the rabbit out of the tree with his .410. But in the process he also shot me in the ear and head. I still have a few pellets stuck in there somewhere!
Well, we decided that it would probably be a good idea to head home at this point. But on the way back, we spotted a covey of about 12 grey partridges huddled together in the snow. I shot at them with my .410 and killed one outright but wounded one or two others. It wasn't very sporting, but I was young and there were partridges in every field in those days.
The hard winter of 1963 killed a lot of our grey partridges off, and then people started to release pheasants which often laid their eggs in partridge nests. And of course the pheasant eggs hatched two days earlier than the partridge's, so the hen would go off with one or two pheasant chicks and inadvertently leave her own unhatched eggs behind.
But before 1963 there were very few shoots that released pheasants, so we relied on wild greys for our sport. There were also very few redlegs about back then. Even farm shoots managed to produce bags of English that today would make headlines. The first ‘big' day I went on, we shot 133½ brace at Lodge Farm, Childrey, near Wantage. The next day we shot next door at Greendown which belonged to Phil Froude.
In the Octobers of 1959, ‘60, ‘61 and ‘62, we would shoot four days a week at such places as Finkley, the Hortons' Widdington at Upavon, Michael Froude's Chain Hill, and Bob Browning's farm at Bishopstone. In 1961, we shot 500 brace in one week: I never went home as we'd socialise hard each evening! The evening after we shot 133½ brace, we drank a lot of whisky. The others found an old rick sheet and tied me in it, and rolled me down a hill – and then left me to get out!
If you have a covey of greys coming at you, always shoot the outside bird first. Most people would take the leader, but then they split and flare, making the second shot much more difficult. If you shoot the outside bird first, it makes swinging onto the others much easier.
But there are so few Englishmen left now – there are just too many predators. Most farmers and keepers know that everything must be kept in balance, but the nature programs of today are a joke – people in towns lap it all up and everything gets out of kilter. We have lost touch with management of wildlife and as a result, ground nesting birds like partridges just don't stand a chance.
Philip Fussell is a legend of the shooting world. Born in Wiltshire in 1931, he has spent most of his life shooting and is widely regarded as one of the finest game Shots of all time.
In a brand new book entitled The Sportsman, Philip tells his remarkable life story. And with hundreds of sporting memories and anecdotes about many well-known names in the shooting world, it is both a fascinating and entertaining insight into the life of one of our great sporting characters. On sale from mid November. For further information, visit www.thesportinglibrary.co.uk