Chris Batha's Famous Five Partridge Shoots
Chris Batha is a widely travelled Shot so we invited him to nominate five top partridge estates where we wouldn't be disappointed.
When asked, it is always difficult to decide which you consider to be your favourite partridge shoots - there are just so many great ones from which to choose. So, I have picked in no particular order of preference two from the north, two from the south of the country and one from Scotland for my fab five. All are excellent shoots, each making the very best use of the topography and habitat to show high quality, testing (sometimes a little too testing for this Gun!) partridge.
Alas, any such list will nowadays not include grey partridges. These wonderful birds are difficult for shoots to manage and returns are low. Happily there are signs of a comeback for largely private wild bird shoots but the countryside has changed and we will never again see them in the kind of numbers discussed on page 60 (Holkham's record year). However the redleg is a good strong flier and well bred and presented birds will give great sport.
I believe that good shooting should be combined with equally good hospitality and all of these shoots do their utmost to make the day special with great staff, great food and great accommodation. Whichever one you pick, you are guaranteed a winning hand.
Shooting at Linhope takes place in the magnificent landscape of the high Breamish Valley, using the fringes of the surrounding moors. The Victorian shooting lodge was built in 1905 and was described by John Grundy (1987) as being a ‘single-storey, bungalow-style, as if it was in the Himalayas!' And the height at which the partridge cross the line at Linhope would lead you to believe they were being driven off K2 itself.
The Molland Estate in Devon has a mixed topography spread over 5,000 acres of majestic, sweeping hills and deep valleys. There are several high quality shoots in the west country, but Molland's exhilarating partridge drives will challenge even the most experienced of Guns. Under the ownership of Gwyn Evans it goes from strength to strength.
Like Linhope, Bowmont Valley is in the Cheviot Hills - a wild, beautiful landscape of rounded hills and steep valleys. The rugged, shear terrain and the moorland fringes are used to good effect to present stratospherically high partridge, the match and often the better of many a Gun. Wilson Young is a vastly experienced shoot organiser, and it shows.
A pioneer of the modern high partridge shoot, Gurston Down needs no introduction as its methods have been the blueprint for many of today's premier league shoots. Robert Hitchings continues his uncle's template, using the steep terrain at Gurston Down and classic presentation to test the best of Shots. Always a good, happy atmosphere too.
A jewel in the Buccleuch crown, partridges were first introduced to Drumlanrig only in 2005, but such is the nature of the terrain in south west Scotland that headkeeper Rab Clark and sporting manager Roy Green can now deliver some spectacular sport. They have 25 drives from which to choose - all good, but the Whirlpool is special, with birds over the Guns from 360 degrees! Nice people too.
Prospering at partridge
Getting it right for the new season.
All partridge shoots are not equal - they vary with terrain, topography and cover. Then there are the different flight characteristics of the grey and redleg partridge. Furthermore, there are different flight capabilities among birds of the same species, cock and hen, young and old. Redlegs are 13 to 15 inches in length and weigh between 16 and 19 ounces. Greys are a little smaller, 11 to 13 inches in length, weighing between 12 and 16 ounces. However, both have recorded flight speeds of 30 to 40 mph, with higher speeds for short bursts.
The greys will either break cover as soon as they hear the beaters or hold tight to eventually flush with their signature grenade-like shrapnel burst towards the line. While the ill-disciplined redlegs will break both covey and cover, stuttering in ones and twos over the line of Guns. And therefore more likely to be shot in bigger numbers.
Because of their smaller, compact size, partridge are much more manoeuverable in flight than their distant relative, the pheasant, and they are affected far more by the wind, especially when it is strong or gusting.
The redleg partridge can fly within ten days and is fully mature at 60 days, and birds are usually released at six weeks old, six weeks before the start of the season. The partridge shooting season is September 1st through February 1st and as the season progresses, in a case of survival of the fittest, the birds that fly higher and faster are the late season birds.
Every partridge we shoot at has a unique and slightly different speed, height and flight line, and these vary day to day and drive to drive. This is the reason you can have one dazzling drive where you cannot seem to miss and the next drive, you feel you couldn't hit the ground with a shovel! Indeed, each bird is a different challenge, shot for shot.
So how do we create consistency in our shooting? As always, the fundamentals of good shooting, are footwork, stance and posture, combined with a gun that fits.
We need to be sure that our choke and cartridge choice match the height and distance at which the partridge are to be shot - good ballistics are a combination of pattern density and pellet penetration. While you need the shooting skill to place the pattern on the bird, the pattern needs to be of the optimum density or spread. Too open a pattern will leave gaps for the bird to slip through unscathed - too tight and it will reduce your margin for error and often reduce the bird to a meal only fit for the ferrets.
The agreed minimum is a pattern of 120 pellets. This will result in three or four striking the bird, one or two of which will penetrate a vital organ. Birds are tougher than you would think. Pellets have to penetrate through layers of feather, skin, fat and muscle to reach a vital organ. The brain and brain stem are the most vulnerable, hence the emphasis on always attempting to shoot the bird in the head. It is the pellets' mass derived from size and speed down-range that creates the penetration characteristics.
For traditional presentations, partridge driven from cover over hedgerows and spinneys, the combination of ¼ and ½ of choke and 28gram (or 25gram) of number 6 or 7 shot is still as good as it was a hundred years ago. The old Winchester 6.5 load was excellent for grouse, partridge and pigeon. For those high partridge on oxygen in the stratosphere at 40 to 50 yards in height, I recommend ½ and ¾ choke with 32g or 34g of number 5 shot. Many would recommend full choke for these really high birds, but there is a balance between margin for error and pattern density and I think ¾ choke has the edge.
To me, the side-by-side has the advantage in traditional partridge shooting, for the same reasons that I consider it does for grouse. The gun's fast handling and fast loading capabilities are ideally suited to handle the speed and angles of the approaching coveys.
On the really high birds I believe the over-under has the edge, though many traditionalists choose to stay faithful to the side-by-side. Birds flying at 40 plus yards require a considerable amount of lead and the over-under's slimmer barrel profile facilitates ‘seeing through the barrel' on these shots. On these high birds, it is critical to keep the bird in view on the straight driven line. The dominant eye drives the gun and the non-dominant eye keeps the bird-lead relationship in the peripheral vision. Failure to learn this technique will result in the gun slowing or stopping altogether as the barrel obscures the bird.
The simple solution to adapting to the variables in speed and lines of flight is to harness our natural hand and eye coordination. If we learn to hard focus on the bird and let our eyes guide our hands and hence, the gun, to the bird, we will establish the correct speed and line of flight on every bird.
Depending on the type of shooting, this movement is achieved in two distinctive styles. Shooting traditional driven partridge, the shot is taken off the front foot, with the gun mount a bayonet-style movement to the bird. Use controlled aggression, taking the bird well out in front in the same manner as shooting red grouse (shooting your choke barrel first). Though I encourage taking the bird early, please be sure that your chosen bird is well clear of cover and in clear sky.
High driven partridge require a different style. The distance and height the birds are travelling to the line require a different timing. Here you should start slowly and finish quickly. Imagine a clock face in the sky. You should allow the bird to come close to the line, beginning your move and mount to the bird at 10 o'clock, completing your mount at 11 o'clock. Smoothly accelerating the barrels, a milli-second awareness of daylight between bird and barrel, you take your shot between 11:30 and 11:45, without check.
Regardless of presentation, the core skill to consistent shooting is locking on and pointing out your chosen bird. This way, the gun and the bird are moving at the same speed, on the line of flight. Your acceleration of the barrels should not be an aggressive, wild swing, but a smooth, almost brush-like stroke.
Often stated, but well worth repeating: “The deadliest move a good Shot can make is with his feet”. Any bird approaching your peg, quartering between you and you next Gun, requires you to move your feet. Step into the line of flight, and deliberately drop your shoulder opposite the line of flight. This move avoids the pitfall of running out of swing and rainbowing the muzzles off and under the line of flight.
So best foot forward and remember to watch the birdie to avoid being off the line and out of time.