Scotland's top 20 pheasant shoots
The very best driven pheasant shoots in Scotland, as nominated by the UK’s most respected game Shots, shooting instructors and loaders.
To compile a definitive list of the very best driven shoots in Scotland would be an impossible task, for there are many, many outstanding shoots north of the border. Shoots that have it all – breathtaking scenery, pheasants to test game Shots of all abilities, outstanding hospitality and lodgings, and that all-important x-factor.
And therein lies the problem – one man’s mecca may be another man’s misery. What makes one shoot better than another is highly subjective. High bird aficionados will invariably wax lyrical about the stratospheric pheasants at Drumlanrig and Bowmont Valley, whilst those who are drawn to Scotland for the spectacular vistas and solitude, would sooner soak up the splendour of Tulchan or Phoines.
And so, we asked as wide a range of respected game Shots, shooting instructors and loaders as possible to nominate their all-time favourite shoots. Only those that were mentioned more than once have been included. Indeed, most of those listed were repeatedly mentioned in revered terms.
Lauder, Scottish Borders
“I have shot all over the UK over the years, but where others may serve better elevenses and Champagne, Wilson Young serves consistently the best birds,” says Jan Roosenburg.
“I prefer Thirlestane over any of the famous West Country and Yorkshire places. What I also like is you do not get bills for overage or people counting shots – just a great day with more than plenty of birds to shoot at. Lastly, and most importantly, whereas he can produce stratospheric pheasants, he normally produces very difficult birds that can be shot if you figure them out.”
Chris Batha agrees: “Today, with the addition of ultra-high partridges driven from the edges of the grouse moors, an Eskdale Shooting trip is a ‘must-do’ on any serious high-bird aficionado’s bucket-list.”
Loch Striven supports two outstanding shoots in Ardtaraig and Glen Striven – quite different but both offering exceptionally high quality shooting. Ardtaraig is at the head of the loch and is run on a syndicate basis by Keith Chalmers-Watson, while Glenstriven is an excellent commercial operation stylishly run by Peter Blacker, which takes full advantage of a wide variety of terrain including steep ground, hills, woodland, gorse and gullies. There is top-drawer partridge shooting, too, and you can even arrive by the host’s seaplane.
Dumfries and Galloway
A shooting estate renown for its natural beauty and high driven redleg partridges, Drumlanrig – owned by the Duke of Buccleuch – is also home to a very good pheasant shoot.
Guns typically meet at the castle where they will also return for lunch. There are three principal pheasant beats covering 15,000 acres making up a total of 25 drives. The headkeeper is Rab Clark.
“They produce birds unlike anywhere else in the country in my opinion,” commented game shooting instructor Adam Calvert. “This is my favourite shoot in the UK. It has a great uncommercial feel with lots of fun and banter; Rab makes for an amazing host, the tatty scones are awesome and the scenery is spectacular! My favourite drives are Slate Quarry and Humbyholm – both drives always remind me of the scene in the film Jaws when he says, “we need a bigger boat”!
Located near the small town of Laurencekirk in Aberdeenshire, Fasque Estate – which is owned by Charles Gladstone – is well-known for the variety and quality of sport on offer, none more so than the driven pheasant shooting.
With 25,000 acres of ground and boasting dramatic Highland scenery, Fasque is justifiably regarded by many to be among the very best driven shoots in the United Kingdom. It is renowned for high, fast birds presented largely from mature woodland. Guns also have the option of lunching in the Great Hall in Balbegno Castle.
Set in the most stunning Angus countryside, this is a serious shoot with valleys, hills and all the terrain to make a quality day out. Fiery Pans drive is a really memorable one and the new drives developed have some very serious birds. The setting at the historic castle sets the tone for the day and the efficiency of the home team is second to none.
“It was my privilege to shoot at Glamis with the late Earl of Strathmore and we saw some spectacular pheasants,” commented Andrew Dingwall-Fordyce. “His son now runs the estate and the quality will be no less.”
The 12,000-acre Tillypronie Estate has for some years been regarded by many as Scotland’s finest pheasant shoot. The unrivalled setting of its mansion house and gardens, and its majestic position straddling Deeside and Donside on the eastern fringe of the Grampian mountains in Aberdeenshire, make it
a spectacular venue for a day’s shooting. Some of the best drives on the estare are situated in steep-sided valleys of three tributary burns feeding the upper River Don. Pheasants are driven across these valleys from a number of strategically-planted and mainly coniferous plantations, some of which are augmented by game crops.
Its most recent owner, The Hon. Philip Astor, has shoot hosting skills down to a fine art – more importantly, the pheasant shooting is exceptional.
Set over 2,500 acres of river valleys and steep woodland, the established pheasant and partridge shoot at Phoines is one of the oldest in Scotland. With 18 stunning drives, a true variety of sport is offered in a range of breathtaking settings such as The Cave, The Old School House and the prolific Badger’s Hole.
Phoines is renowned for its high and fast birds and whether you choose to take a pheasant, partridge or mixed day, Guns will be kept busy and challenged until the final horn. For parties staying overnight, there is the option of duck flighting and the chance to enjoy the marshes as the evening fades to black.
One of several of Wilson Young’s shoots to be nominated, the 12,000-acre Bowmont Valley shoot is part of Roxburghe Estates near Kelso. “The unique topography means the birds presented on each drive are very varied,” said game shooting coach Tracy Meston.
“Wilson is a very caring and friendly host. The shoot is primarily designed around deep valleys on the edge of a grouse moor,” adds Adam Calvert. “My favourite drives are Sourhope, Gloomy Cleuch, Weather Station and Cheviot Burn – the days are always very relaxed with great birds being shown and headkeeper Leon Flint does an excellent job.”
Raehills Estate has been the family home of the Earls of Annandale since the 17th century. The magnificent house is the focal point of the 16,000-acre estate. The land is very varied from moorland and hill ground down to mature woodland and lush pastures in the Annan valley.
The topography comprises some deep steep-sided valleys splitting more rolling countryside which provide the perfect setting for showing high pheasants. And with over 22 drives, guests are spoilt for choice.
There is also the chance to stay in the main house with Lord and Lady Johnstone, which makes for a very special and memorable occasion. Perfect for shooting parties interested in back-to-back days.
Bob McNeil hosts a truly spectacular day at Kincardine near Auchterarder. The most beautiful valley with ancient trees acts as the base for a shoot of staggering pheasants. The valley is deep, and the pheasants which are launched from a high ridge just keep on going. The valley is long and the drives go back and forward. “There is something about these pheasants that defies logic,” commented Andrew Dingwall-Fordyce. “They are fast, they dip, they rise and the setting is magical.”
Cawdor Estate, Nairnshire
Rated by many as one of the premier Highland shoots in Scotland, sportsmen and women have been making memories at the Cawdor Estate for over 150 years. Guests on Lord Cawdor’s estate typically stay at Drynachan Lodge – a 12-bedroom hunting lodge which sits in the heart of Drynachan Valley. Sporting manager Roddy Forbes is vastly experienced, with over 30 years on the estate under his belt (see page 40).
The Bandirran Estate, which is owned by Sir Ian Lowson, covers 5,000 acres of Perthshire countryside on the famous Sidlaw Hills. The estate has some spectacular high ground, steep valleys and undulating contours providing some of the most sporting shooting in Scotland. Shoot days can be tailored to individual teams’ requirements with the assistance of headkeeper Jim Park.
The partridge days start in mid October with bags of 150 to 400 birds available, while pheasant days begin in early November with main driven days and smaller days available until the end of the season.
Owned by the Jardine-Patterson family and run by sporting agent Stuart Robertson of South West Sporting Scotland, this little-known shoot in Dumfriesshire is a hidden gem. Not only is the sport on offer truly sensational – Stuart and headkeeper Tim Lemon show world-class driven pheasants from a mix of mature woodland and strategically positioned cover crops, some of which will challenge even the most proficient high bird Shots – but the accommodation and hospitality is second to none. Guests can stay in the spectacular Balgray House, a 70-room stately home, where hosts Michael and Vickie Jardine-Patterson will make you feel like old friends.
Notable drives include Millrigs, Fiddle Crop, Cleugh Heads and Oak Bank, all of which see a range of pheasants presented to suit all abilities.
Owned by uber-keen game shooting brothers Nick and Giles Wilson, Ellemford is a pheasant shoot that offers the complete driven shooting experience – superb accommodation, stunning scenery, great hospitality, and a range of birds to suit Guns of all abilities. But it is in the attention to detail and the variety of shooting on offer where this shoot excels.
It is by no means a big commercial operation with 20 drives and only 25 days shooting per year, but headkeeper David Harris and his team make every Gun feel like a VIP. Superb elevenses and hot sit-down lunches are often served in a secluded Scandinavian–style log cabin which overlooks a little trout pond surrounded by mature woodland and heather-clad hills.
Aberuchill Castle and estate, which is owned by Vladimir Lisin, a member of Russia’s super-rich elite, covers 3,300 acres of heather-clad hills and mature Caledonian woodland overlooking Loch Earn, near the village of Comrie. Although the castle was hit by fire a few years ago, it has been meticulously rebuilt and restored by Vladimir. Moreover, considerable investment has been put into maintaining the estate and restoring the spectacular landscape to its former glory with over 500 acres of woodland planted in recent years.
The shoot itself, which boasts 16 individual drives, is run by well-known top game Shot Andy Castle, and has been developed extensively in recent years. And according to those in the know, the quality of the shoot is on a par with the breathtaking scenery.
Glenrinnes is a shoot which is both a challenge for any Shot and arguably one of the most beautiful in Scotland. Covering 6,000 acres of unspoilt countryside between the Highlands and Speyside near the golf course at Dufftown – there is a drive which sees birds driven over part of the golf course – the quality of sport on offer is rarely surpassed.
“Owner Alasdair Locke has worked wonders to develop a most magnificent shoot and the pheasants will match those anywhere,” commented Andrew Dingwall-Fordyce. “Everyone who shoots there becomes a bit more humble at the end of each drive.”
Borland & Whitehouse
It could be argued that this is the shoot where extreme pheasant shooting came into being. Headkeeper and shoot manager Steve Andrews – nearly 30 years ago – was certainly the first to deliberately create seriously high drives on this excellent shoot which sees pheasants being driven off heather tops and banks.
“Our focus is on challenging Guns’ capabilities in spectacular scenery,” says World Pheasant Association president Keith Howman who, along with his wife Jean and headkeeper Brett Ormerod, are great hosts. And the shooting is as good as ever.
Selkirk, Scottish Borders
Yet another Duke of Buccleuch operation and another first-class shoot. Bowhill is leased out and run by Stuart Riddell of Hawthorn Sporting. Covering 28,000 acres of open ground, and with 19 named drives, they offer 200–250-bird driven pheasant and partridge days for parties of 8 to 10 Guns. Most drives deliver truly challenging shooting, none more so than a drive called Black Andrew which has achieved almost legendary status.
Deep gullies, bracken-clad hills and established woodlands are the order of the day at Glenogil, where the pheasant and partridge shoot takes in nearly 3,000 acres, accompanying a well-established grouse moor. “It is a great, friendly shoot run by headkeeper Danny Lawson who is always full of life and helps to create a fun atmosphere,” commented shooting instructor Adam Calvert. “My favourite drives are Tullo and Falklands. The estate is incredibly pretty with no expense spared on its upkeep.”
Tulchan on Speyside must be one of Scotland’s most visually stunning sporting estates. Overlooking some of the finest salmon beats on the River Spey, and located on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park, each drive offers not just superb sport, but a feast for the eyes. And with four separate beats of mixed and mature woodland, there is a wide range of shooting on offer. The glens adjoining the Spey Valley provide the ideal terrain for presenting truly testing pheasants.
Now under the ownership of a Russian, Yuri Schefler, this exceptional shoot covering 15,000 acres of wonderfully mixed ground is being rejuvenated and brought back to its very best. Just down the road from Grantown, this really is the Spey Valley at its finest.
This article was first published in the 2017 edition of our annual sister publication, The Scottish Sporting Gazette.