Game shooting solutions – part 1
Simon Ward answers your questions and demonstrates how to deal with traditional driven partridges.
Q. I find redleg partridges easier to shoot than pheasants. Why is this? Surely partridges are faster than pheasants?
Being able to shoot partridges much better than pheasants is not unusual and is a result of deception.
Probably the greatest flaw in all shotgun shooting is stopping the swing of the gun when the shot is taken. In other words, gun movement ceases and the bird is missed behind as a result.
Bigger gamebirds often appear to be flying more slowly than the smaller partridge, which encourages poor gun movement, whereas the small bird flaps its wings more enthusiastically and gives a sense of urgency – in turn encouraging the man with the gun to really get after it – resulting in a much greater success rate.
Though a partridge may appear to be faster in flight, appearances can be deceptive. The larger the bird, the slower it appears to be flying. Think jumbo jet. In sporting terms, a big old goose has a slow wingbeat but flies an awful lot quicker than a partridge, as does a pheasant which has an average speed of around 27 – 38mph. This will, of course, be much higher in wind – up to 70mph – but in still conditions it will always fly faster than both English and redleg partridges.
Q. I have noticed that a lot of shoots are stipulating a ‘fibre only' policy and yet everyone tells me that fibre wad cartridges are inferior to plastic. Is this true?
Absolutely not. I have been using fibre wads and nothing else for all of my shooting for the last five years, at least. I have used them in every kind of situation, including extreme pheasant shooting, where I have been hugely impressed by the results. Perhaps it was once true that plastic wads were in fact superior, but not now. There have been many developments in the manufacture of shotgun cartridges, including recent innovations with wool wads. My advice, therefore, would be to buy fibre – we owe it to our countryside. And get the best you can afford.
Q. I am told that when game shooting it is very important to be able to judge ranges, but surely technique and sight picture are sufficient?
I understand what you are saying, but the ability to judge ranges is the final piece of the jigsaw when taking a shot. In fact, it is also the first piece – you need to know that the bird is in-range and offers every possibility of a clean kill before committing to the shot. Of course, you also don't want to be shooting birds which are too close – there is little worse than seeing a close shot resulting in a bird which would be unsuitable for the table.
It is amazing how many people have little or no concept of range – you hear talk about ‘good high birds coming over the oak tree', when in fact the tree is no more than 60ft in height. There are some simple ways in which you can educate yourself: you can gauge distance in 10 yard increments, or lengths of a cricket pitch (22 yards). Many even use their own yardstick such as a church tower. Twice the length of a cricket pitch is a good distance for a nice sporting bird.
Q. Why is traditional partridge shooting so special when, judging from photographs, the birds are far too close when they are being shot? Surely, valley birds are better and much more sporting?
For starters, we are presumably talking about driven English partridges (or, to be correct, grey partridges) which are presented to Guns over hedgerows. Think lowland grouse. They appear suddenly, in star-burst fashion, mostly in a covey, in front of the line of Guns – with others seeking the end of the Gun line. Driving them is a real challenge for the gamekeeper, and with the demise of the grey partridge there are relatively few now who have the skills and experience to shoot these wonderful little gamebirds properly i.e. out in front, not waiting to be sure of your shot.
Valley birds are indeed good sport in their own way, presenting a different challenge altogether. Some diehards will say that this sort of partridge shooting is simply mimicking high pheasants. However, since the advent of strong thoroughbred redlegs and the outlawing of redleg/chukar crosses, the popularity with both Guns and shoot organisers has increased enormously, and a high percentage of shoots, both commercial and private, now have a redleg release programme.
But returning to classic English partridges presented over hedgerows, we are talking about adrenaline-based sport which demands a keen examination of shooting style and technique. Anyone with poor technique will soon be found out.
Tackling traditional driven partridges – step-by-step
1. Waiting for the drive to start... Eyes forward
2. Position your feet in line with where you plan to kill the bird and then move your gun into the address position with the muzzle just below the line of the bird
3. Visually pick your bird from the covey and lock onto it with your lead hand
4. Mount onto the bird and move the gun to the space in front of it
5. If it is safe to do so, take your first shot nice and early
6. Keep your cheek glued to the stock until you see the bird fall