Probably one of the most talked about subjects in the shooting world, high pheasant shooting, has the potential to divide even the most seasoned team of guns.
The selection of shotguns and cartridges fit for the task is a particularly thorny issue that can be discussed late into the night at the bar or fireside.
I will do my best to give you my opinion on the best guns, chokes and cartridges for high bird shooting.
The most commonly used gun for the serious high bird shooter is an over-under with 32″ barrels and tight chokes. These guns tend to have a higher comb.
This means, therefore, that the extreme target can be seen at all times above the barrel.
This is particularly desirable since these guns tend to shoot slightly low.
Personally, I feel that 3⁄4 and full is too tight for the chokes. I prefer to use 1⁄2 and 3⁄4 for the more extreme birds.
In side-by-side guns I would go for 28″ or 30″ barrels, so the gun has a little more weight behind it.
The reasons for the extra weight are two-fold. Firstly, the recoil from a heavier load will be better absorbed, and secondly the slightly increased weight aids your swing and makes the all-important follow through flow more easily.
SIZE ISN?T EVERYTHING
Of course, 12-bore guns continue to be the most popular choice, but just because you are shooting high birds does not mean that you should ignore the smaller bores.
Indeed, they can be most effective in a good sportsman?s hands, and I am sure that you will have seen smaller bore guns being used for extreme range shooting in the field to good effect.
Again, in a 20-bore I would go for 30″ barrels with 1⁄2 and 3⁄4 choke, though personally I think that 1⁄4 and 1⁄2 choke is enough.
If you participate in this style of shooting a lot, then it is extremely important that you should buy a gun specifically for the task. As always it is absolutely essential that your gun fits you.
It is no good using your grandfather?s light 26″ 12-bore side-by-side on high pheasants if it does not fit, as you will likely have little success or worse will wound birds.
However, for those people who go for the occasional day on the extreme birds, which I imagine would be most of us, I would stick with the gun you use regularly and are comfortable with.
In these circumstances you should go for a cartridge that is slightly heavier in load and bigger in the pellet size, for example No.4 or No.5 shot.
A SELECTION FOR EVERY BUDGET
A good bet for a side-by-side without breaking the bank would be an AYA Number Two or Number One sidelock with 30? barrels, choked at 1⁄2 and 3⁄4.
The longer barrels on these guns means that they are balanced slightly forward of the pin, giving a positive swing and follow through.
In over-unders, the Perazzi range is an excellent choice, since they have a slimmer Italian-style action. If you were to go for a gun with 32″ barrels it would be my personal choice to have the gun fitted with Teague chokes.
These interchangeable chokes are fitted to the gun so as not to alter its overall balance or the weight. The slim Italian action lends itself to giving best recoil absorption and balance among guns of this type.
Perazzis with detachable locks are known for their crisp trigger pulls, and with the larger quantity of woodwork and bigger comb, these guns lend themselves well to shooting high birds.
Perazzi MX series £5,500
This is an ideal gun if you are looking for a 20-bore over-under. Perazzi make super guns and they feel particularly special since they have a bespoke fitting service that ensures your new gun fits you perfectly.
In the MX range I would recommend 30″ barrels – in my opinion anything much longer than that on a 20-bore may make the gun unwieldy, though you can buy a 12-bore variant of the gun with 34″ barrels.
These guns share the shallower Italian action and give good forward balance for extreme range shooting. For chokes I would go with 1⁄4 and 1⁄2 or 1⁄2 and 3⁄4.
We have a customer who swears by 23gram Eley Grand Prix No.4 cartridge, which he uses to great effect at Whitfield (a Northumberland high bird shoot). And I would advise you not to overload a small gauge gun for extreme shooting.
Other 20-bores to consider in this bracket would be from Famars and also the Browning range.
A lot of people do use Beretta?s 20-bores for game shooting, but I find the game gun a bit light for the extreme range shooting.
I go for the sporter variant that they make, which gives the gun more weight. This is again balanced forward of the hinge pin, making the gun more pointable.
Miroku MK60 Universal £2,147
This is a good choice for an over-under gun for high pheasants for a reasonable price.
The MK60 Universal can be had in various different grades of quality, but I would go for the Grade V.
The mechanical parts of the gun are the same between the grades, but Grade V is far more attractive, giving you a lovely figured stock and more detailed engraving.
These guns have full pistol grips on the stocks and tulip fore-ends, lending the weapon a surprisingly elegant appearance for the price. The density of the wood on Grade V guns is also greater, and this gives a good, solid feel to the gun as well as improving balance.
As a result the gun is very easy to point and the follow through is easily controlled. This gun is built in Japan on the reliable Browning 525 action.
This action has considerable pedigree and is renowned in the gun trade.
When combined with 32″ barrels and 1⁄4 and 3⁄4 chokes you have a very tight and extremely regular pattern, both of which are absolutely essential for high bird shooting. A lot of buyers have these guns keyed to give the slightly tighter 1⁄2 and 3⁄4 choke.
Their appearance and flexibility, as well as a good price, make these guns a highly attractive proposition.
Purdey pigeon gun £9,000
This would be my ideal choice for a side-by-side. We currently have a pre-war Purdey side-by-side Pigeon gun which has 32″ barrels choked to 1⁄2 and 3⁄4 and a beautiful stock.
It is proved to shoot 1.1⁄4oz. There is no need to overload your gun if the choke sizes and barrel lengths are appropriate.
Though it has unusually long barrels for a side-by-side, the gun is still beautifully balanced and the extra length does allow for an extremely positive swing.
These guns are always finished to the highest order and by their very nature they are not built to be particularly heavy.
Live pigeon shooting was once hugely popular, even featuring in the Olympics in 1900.
Though it has been outlawed here and replaced with ZZ clay shooting, in some parts of Europe and America it still goes on.
If you look carefully in this used section of the market you can find some absolutely cracking guns for a reasonable amount of money, particularly at auction.
Of course there is great pleasure to be had in owning an English gun, but don?t be tempted by any offer that looks too good to be true unless you are willing to pay to have it refurbished to an adequate standard.