The 5,000-acre Bandirran Estate makes the most of the Sidlaw Hills to offer thrilling partridge and pheasant shooting.
From the moment of arrival at the converted mill, which is now the shoot room at Bandirran Estate, a sense of calm confidence pervades the air. This estate, which is owned by the Lowson family, has no need to worry about the quality of the sport it offers because it has the terrain, the expertise and the experience necessary to deliver.
Estate manager Brian Kaye has been at Bandirran for more than 30 years, headkeeper Jim Park has worked at the estate for 29 years and shoot manager Bill Black has been involved for 10 years. Add to this a committed regular team of pickers-up and beaters, and it’s no surprise everybody here seems to know their business. That’s not to say there is no air of excitement in the yard in the morning, though. It would be a sad day if there were no jangling nerves at all on shoot day morning. After all, nothing is guaranteed in this game…
The lie of the land
Bandirran Estate lies halfway between Perth and Dundee on the north side of the Firth of Tay and there are glorious views out over the estuary in the distance during shoot day. Lying between the water and the shoot is Fingask Castle, which also offers a glimpse of the ancient history of this part of Scotland.
But never mind the views in the distance, it’s the immediate vicinity we are interested in, and Bandirran Estate’s location in the Sidlaw Hills makes it just about perfect for redleg shooting. Volcanic activity has carved the land here into well-proportioned gullies, which Sir Joseph Nickerson himself could have designed for presenting partridges.
They are all easily accessible from the farm road through the estate and each valley is long enough for a line of guns, and steep enough to show birds at the limit of range. The beaters can quickly move into position, although the land is steep, so requires a level of fitness beyond your average Fenland flat-tracker. The only people who struggle are the pickers-up, because the rocky banks behind some of the drives can be dangerous for dogs, and the dense cover makes it easy for birds to go to ground.
However, this just emphasises the need for good dogs, and they are in abundance at Bandirran Estate.
The main men…
Estate manager Brian Kaye told me a little more about the management of the shoot: “Headkeeper Jim Park has been here for 29 years and he is a single-handed keeper, although he does get a little bit of help. Foxes are a huge ongoing problem and he and Angus Begg do a lot of lamping. They also do a lot of crow control.
“Shoot manager Bill Black has a tremendous amount of experience running shoots in Scotland and he takes control on shoot days. And we have a core of more than 20 beaters and pickers-up who we can rely on, which is immensely reassuring. We shoot partridge from October and move on to pheasants later in the season. For this season we have been forced to put the cost up by one pound per bird for the first time in a number of years because of all the other rising costs, so it’s now £34 a bird (plus VAT).”
Experienced guns give Bandirran Estate the thumbs up
On the day of my visit, the team of guns included a number of frequent visitors to the estate, such as Michael Dobson, David Hendry, Nigel Lowe and David Wright. Also shooting were Hugo Straker from the Scottish GWCT and Graeme Allen, owner of the splendid Kinloch House Hotel, where a lot of Bandirran Estate’s travelling guns have the pleasure of staying. With so many experienced guns and regular visitors to the estate in the line, I couldn’t help but feel reassured about the quality of the sport and hospitality on offer. After all, such experienced guns don’t tend to keep going back somewhere if it’s not up to scratch.
A magical morning
And the morning’s shooting certainly backed up this hunch. For the first drive, Reservoir, the team walked down a steep track to line out in an L-shaped gully looking down over the Firth of Forth. And those in the middle of the line got plenty of opportunities to display their prowess on high partridge. Meanwhile, the guns on the ends of the line had some fun picking off the stragglers.
Returning up the hill, two more gullies played host to the rest of the morning’s shooting, comprising drives called Green Rock, 11s, and Devil’s Elbow double. This succession of drives offered well-presented singles and coveys of partridge at all angles and heights. And really, Nickerson himself would delight in picking off the cherries here. Although even he might have struggled with some of the starburst coveys that used every breath of wind to race at a deceptive pace over the line of guns below. A lesser team would certainly struggle but, as Brian explained, Bandirran Estate is a flexible sort of estate:
“We usually offer anywhere between 200-300-bird days, but we are pretty adaptable and can cater to most needs. For instance, we can also do outside days of about 100 birds.”
With such pronounced gullies and such successful partridge drives, it’s obvious that cover crops play a big part in the way the shoot is managed and Brian confirmed this: “Each drive has its own cover crop and we have triticale, linseed, chicory and canary grass. Triticale and linseed have been the core crops for a number of years but we have found canary grass works very well too. And all our poults come from A.J. Croydon in Oswestry, Shropshire.”
Shoot, eat and be merry
The morning’s shooting took place in a reasonably self-contained area. This can often be the case with partridge shooting, and it allowed plenty of time for the pickers-up to go about their difficult task in this tricky terrain. It also meant there was plenty of conversation between drives, including a stop for elevenses. And with easy access in and out of the gullies, it would be hard to find fault with partridge shooting like this. So it was a content team that returned to the shoot room for an ample home-cooked lunch.
Into the wild den
But with a weather forecast suggesting a serious and prolonged downpour, this was no time to rest by the fire. There was another part of the shoot to explore and the team was ready for more. The Woodwell Den is, as the name suggests, a different proposition from the open gullies we had seen in the morning. In fact, up until 10 years ago this was an inaccessibly wild section of the estate. But since then the trees in the bottom of the narrow gully have been cleared out, a path has been built up to the waterfall at the top and a number of walkways have been constructed specifically for guns to stand on for the two drives here: Lynn McGray and the return, Westlaws.
Even the drive down into this wild ravine raises the hairs on the back of the neck, with a series of steep and slippery hairpins testing the road-gripping capabilities of all the vehicles. And consistent with the well-organised nature of the rest of the shoot, the newly built parking area and turning circle allows for ease of access.
After parking up, the guns and pickers-up walk the rest of the way into this tantalising section of the shoot, dropping guns off on the way up the stream until there is nowhere else to go at the foot of the impressive waterfall.
Fast shooting at its best
And here the fun really begins. With the narrowest of windows in the woodland canopy above, it’s clear these two drives are going to involve snap shooting at its most exciting. And guns with a bit of foresight can be seen with their barrels held skywards in anticipation of the test ahead. So it proved, as the beaters skilfully worked their way around the land on the top to present silent birds soaring fleetingly across the tiniest window in the sky. Adrenaline pumps as guns do their utmost to react in time, and the occasional successful shot is met with a satisfied response from all involved. The return drive means the guns merely turn round and prepare for the same again, while the beaters work hard to cover the ground.
Again, this is tough picking-up territory, with steep, rocky banks interwoven with tree trunks making it a serious challenge. Only the fittest and most agile of dogs can be expected to perform in these conditions but luckily that’s what they have here in this patch of sporting paradise in the east of Scotland. And a total bag of 254 partridge and three pheasants was a tribute to the skills of all involved.
For information about shooting at Bandirran Estate, call 01821 6402334 or email the estate manager: Brian.Kaye@culfargie-estates.co.uk