Though a wild day on Exmoor after high pheasants has its own particular appeal, shooting abroad has become very popular in recent years.
There is a long history of shooting dove and partridge in countries such as Argentina, Spain and Portugal and these remain popular destinations, but eastern Europe is beginning to see the growth of its sporting markets too, with Hungarian pheasants becoming increasingly popular.
Most people I have spoken to prefer to take something a little different out to shoot abroad, and smaller bore guns and semi-autos are very popular.
All have told me that the lighter weight and lower recoil of these guns is preferable to a 12-bore over an intense day of shooting.
Recoil pads are regularly fitted to these guns and shoulder pads are often worn to combat fatigue, as many more shots are fired compared to a 200 bird day on English pheasant.
As with any other type of shooting, good gun fit is essential. If you have spent the time to have a gun properly altered to fit your specifications you may be reluctant to take it abroad and risk damage or loss – particularly if it was inherited for a family member or is worth a lot of money.
Most of the places where shooting can be arranged will be able to provide a gun, however this brings its own risks as you do not know how well it will have been maintained let alone whether or not it will fit you properly.
Why not go second hand?
So, your best option if you want to go abroad is to buy a second gun. This should be a gun that you have no emotional attachment to or that you would not be unduly concerned to lose.
Of course, any gun is to be treasured, but good insurance will cover any financial loss and you will not run the risk of destroying your grandfather?s Purdey.
Your second gun needs to be as close as possible to the gun that you shoot with regularly, whether a 12-bore or 20-bore, side-by-side or over-under.
For the Purdey owner, for instance, there is a vast array of excellent second-hand English guns out there that will fit the bill nicely.
For a little more money you might want to consider a Spanish gun, for example something from AYA. Similarly, if you have an expensive Beretta or Browning then a second hand gun or something from a smaller manufacturer might be a good option.
Ideally the gun will have identical stock dimensions and barrel lengths and so on, but it should fit you.
The most important thing about any gun you buy is that it must be in good order.
Obviously, you will be spending a lot of money on your trip, so the last thing you want is to spend money on a faulty gun.
Also, make sure that whatever gun you buy is chambered to 2.3/4″ – because most cartridges will be this size.
Know the law abroad
Sturdy travel cases can be easily obtained without spending too much money, but are essential.
Make sure you check how your airline deals with firearms and ammunition and how the airport deals with checking in guns.
For example, the South African police recently announced that any ammunition taken to South Africa must be carried in a lockable bag, separate from any other baggage, and British Airways now charge £50 each way for transporting a firearm.
Also, make sure you are aware of local laws before you leave. For example, in Scandinavian countries you must use bismuth or steel shot, as lead is banned.
As such, you must make sure that your gun is properly proved to use that shot.
WEBLEY & SCOTT MODEL 700 £1,500
There are a vast number of excellent second hand side-by-side guns available for those who want to take a small piece of England with them when they go shooting abroad.
Although you might be buying a gun with an unfamiliar name, you won?t necessarily be sacrificing shooting quality for a low price.
As with any second hand gun you should ensure it is in a good working order before handing your money over. Ideally, you should try and find a gun with similar dimensions and feel to your regular gun.
I would recommend a slightly heavier pigeon gun and you should buy a gun with 2.3/4″ chambers, as these cartridges are easily available abroad.
A good Webley & Scott 700 with 2.3/4″ chambers would be an ideal gun. Ignore any preconceptions you may have about the name and you will be pleasantly surprised.
The Webley action is widely used by English gun makers because it always balances perfectly, making the gun good to handle and accurate to shoot.
You will find these guns for around £1,000 – £1,500 depending on condition. These guns, whilst certainly not unattractive, tend not to be over-embellished or have best-quality stocks, so it would not be so drastic if they got damaged in transit or during shooting.
BROWNING 525 HUNTER CLASSIC £1,650
An over-under gun is a hugely popular choice for sportsmen travelling abroad and has certain advantages over a side-by-side for days of intensive shooting.
Not least of these is the configuration of the barrels – and the inherent extra weight – which means there will be less felt recoil.
Of course this is somewhat counterbalanced by being trickier to load quickly, but you might well be shooting with a loader.
Given the sheer number of cartridges you will be shooting, I would recommend a 20-bore gun. It might also be sensible to have an extra rubber pad fitted to the stock to absorb more recoil; shoulder pads are also commonly used.
In this category the most popular guns are the Japanese-made Miroku MK60 or Browning 525 at around £1,650 or the well-liked Silver Pigeon range of Beretta guns from £1,550.
All three guns would give faultless use, but I have a slight preference for the Browning or Miroku models, as their ejectors are slightly more powerful.
These guns have the kickers in the fore-end, whereas Beretta?s have ejector springs behind the extractors. All three of these guns can be bought in various grades, giving you more extravagant engraving and wood.
The most basic models are still attractive, and all will stand up to hard wear and use.
AYA NUMBER FOUR £2,995
A 20-bore side-by-side could well be the best option for those struggling to make a choice between the attraction of an elegant and lightweight side-by-side and the reduced recoil of a 20-bore.
My third selection attempts to give the best of both worlds. I would recommend a European boxlock, such as the Number Four from Spanish gunmaker AYA.
This gun has a straightforward best boxlock action with double triggers, 28″ barrels with 1/4 and 1/2 choke and 2.3/4″ chambers.
Like most AYAs, this gun has very reliable and powerful ejectors, which is essential for your confidence when the shooting is in full flow. This gun weighs just over 6lbs, with the balance set just slightly forward of the pin making for a gun that mounts and handles extremely sweetly.
An alternative selection here would be the Beretta Silver Hawk.
This gun has a single trigger, which some people prefer when firing a lot of cartridges in a short space of time.
It is quite distinctly an Italian gun, where the AYA is much closer to an English gun.
A good option would be to have a rubber finger projection guard fitted before leaving, as this will protect one?s fingers from damage because of recoil.