The Fieldsports 1st XI

720 drive at Brigands - a firm favourite

Just how do they do it? All sports have their challenges and for most of us in game shooting it is well presented high pheasants that get the adrenaline pumping - we are talking about the most difficult but exciting of shots.

It's not about big days, or famous places, though understandably this is where our nominations gravitate to good high bird, cleanly shot, can be the talk of the day on a small syndicate shoot just as as much as on a hallowed drive in the west country. Climbing, curling and heading in your direction - or maybe a big cock bird gliding with wings locked, apparently floating like a big cruiser. Everyone watching (or it feels that way) - you are coiled, too eager to pull the trigger. Every now and again it all seems to come together. Extravagant lead, timing  - as if by magic. A shot that will stay in the memory - you relive it in the car on the way home, in the bathtub, and again when your head hits the pillow until you drift asleep. And then it may well slip into your dreams too. It is these shots and the skills, and occasional good fortune, needed to take them successfully on a regular basis, that sets the top performers apar

When you see them in action they make it look smooth and easy. So what is their secret? What are the common denominators? We thought it would be interesting to select a 1st XI of top pheasant shots, any eight of whom could be invited to fill the shooting line and shoot to a standard way beyond what us lesser mortals would consider was even possible.

The list is not exclusive, and names are included in no particular order. There are lots of great Shots out there, but having seen all of our 1st XI in action we can vouch that they are as good as it gets.

Dave Carrie

  • Miroku 3800 over-under 32”
  • Choke: Full/full
  • Cartridges: Gamebore Black Gold 36g no. 4s
  • Favourite drive: Angels at Warter Priory - new drive, the valley having been transformed by tree felling. Brilliantly presented very high birds, and lots of them. But good shooting too for all the line.
  • Best tip: Look at the bird, gauge its speed and line - they are all different. There is more time than you think. For a straight driven bird take your first shot at 11o'clock, and then you can take a second overhead at 12 o'clock.

Andy Castle

  • Kemen over-under 32”
  • Choke: Half/half
  • Cartridges: Eley VIP 32g biodegradable no. 5s
  • Favourite drive: Bluebottle at Aberuchill Castle, Perthshire. Pheasants from native pinewood on a steep hill - the birds are fantastic and the scenery stunning. This drive was once famous for capercaillie. In England I would opt for Wind Green at Ashcombe, rolling Wiltshire countryside, high curling pheasants flying over open valley ground from cover. Superb pheasant shooting.
  • Best tip: Know your ranges, and keep your shots within your range and ability. Avoid very high gliding cocks with their wings set - concentrate instead on powering birds (most likely hens).

Simon Ward

  • Perazzi over-under 32”
  • Choke: Full/full
  • Cartridges: Gamebore Black Gold 32 or 36g no.4s
  • Favourite drive: Cross Plantation at Farndale. Unbelievable. 360 degree panoramic views in the North Yorkshire moors. Birds lift from a hanging wood under the edge of the moor. They are very high over such an expanse - they will fly in excess of a mile, and no two are the same. Tremendous speed too, screwing down from 100 to 50 yards, you have to be very selective - shots that connect are spectacular.
  • Best tip: A gun that fits like a glove and the best ammunition that money can buy.

George Digweed

  • Perazzi over-under 32”
  • Choke: Full/full
  • Cartridges: Gamebore Pigeon Extreme 34g no. 5s
  • Favourite drive: How Wood at Miltons. It's a classic with oak trees and river in front, and a steep bank behind covered in Scots pines. It holds special memories for me. In 1994 I won the world championship in Australia for the third time on the bounce, which had never been done before. I came straight home after the tournament, and drove to Miltons. How Wood was the first drive and I was still on Cloud Nine after my win. I have never shot better - 94 pheasants for 131 shots. And none less than 60 yards. It will stay with me always.

Liam Botham

  • Browning B25 over-under 32”
  • Choke: Full/full
  • Cartridges: Gamebore Black Gold 30g no. 6s for grouse and partridge; Black Gold 36g no. 4s for high pheasants
  • Favourite drive: Difficult to choose one but I would have to say the Lakes drive at Richard Caring's Lakes shoot in Devon. It is unique - and exceptionally high pheasants.
  • Best tip: Practice makes perfect - you rarely see a really good high pheasant shot who doesn't do it regularly.

Peter Schwerdt

  • Miroku 3800 over-under 30”
  • Choke: 5/8 and 7/8
  • Cartridges: Eley VIP No. 4s or Sterling Game No. 4s; late season 35g RC Oro fibre wad no. 3 ½
  • Favourite drive: I would like to nominate five - the Rookery at North Malton (really spectacular, with fantastic high bird shooting right down the line of Guns), Abysinia at Brixton Deverill, Graham's at Rushmore, Cattle Grid at Hopes & Tollis Hill, and the classic Barrowcliffe at North Malton, which is the most difficult of all.
  • Best tip: Line is more important than lead

Jamie Lee

  • Miroku MK60 Sporter over-under 32”
  • Choke: ¾ in both barrels when I'm using plaswad shells and full and full with fibre wad shells.
  • Cartridges Express Supreme game 32g no. 5s early season and Fob 34g 5s later on in the season. If I'm forced to use fibre wads I'll use Gamebore 32g no. 5s early on, and 36g 4s later.
  • Favourite drive: The Lakes drive at The Lakes in Devon. You shoot standing on pontoons built out into the lakes. The setting is sensational and the bulk of the birds are in range (I don't like drives where they are out of range... pointless) but are technically very difficult. In my opinion The Lakes shoot is the best high bird shoot around. It's a ten out of ten in all aspects.
  • Best tip: Get to your peg and visualise what you expect the birds to do. Then watch what the birds actually do when the drive gets underway. The object of this exercise is to get an idea of whether they're rising (less lead required), whether they're dropping ( more speed hence more lead required), whether they are curling right or left (shoot up the side of the bird). With every bird that then actually comes over I try and assess what it's doing and then apply the relevant gun movement needed to hit it. I try and turn everything into a crosser as I feel I get a better picture of the bird's movement.

Duke Of Northumberland

  • Spanish Grulla side-by-side 30”
  • Choke: I use the same gun for everything nowadays. It is choked for high stuff with ½ and ¾
  • Cartridges: RC Sipe 32g no. 5s
  • Best tip: My tip would be to follow the experts and shoot with an over-under! 
  • Favourite drive: My favourite high bird drive is North Bunkers at Alnwick where, as host, I can hide round a corner and make a fool of myself in solitude while the rest of the team do it in public.

Lord James Percy

  • Purdey Live Pigeon gun side-by-side 30”
  • Choke: Game choking
  • Cartridges: Eley VIP 32g no. 5s for everything.
  • Favourite drive: There are so many but North Bunkers in Alnwick Park is probably the most majestic, birds come scudding off a beech wood at the top of a hill, fast and drifting. Very difficult.
  • Best tip: Watch the bird carefully and don't poke.

Richard Faulds

  • Beretta SO6EELL over-under 32”
  • Choke: Full/full
  • Cartridges: Express Supreme 32g no. 5s or Express Super Game 36g no. 4s
    Favourite drive: Any at Brigands!
  • Best tip: Don't expect to shoot straight if you haven't shot anything from January until now!

Phil Burtt

  • Churchill Continental side-by-side 30”
  • Choke: Full/full
  • Cartridges: Caledonian 28g no. 6s
  • Favourite drive: Any at Rosedale, North Yorkshire - perfect setting, stunning pheasants.
  • Best tip: If you want to shoot seriously high pheasants then use a heavy over-under, and big loads. But not everyone wants to do this.

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