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Having trouble shooting high pheasants? Then read these expert tips

Chris Bird at Holland & Holland offers some high pheasant shooting tips

High birds

Shoots need to present quality birds that test Guns, with occasional high pheasants as a bonus

By now there’s a good chance that many of the pheasants on the shoot will have been shot at already, and their natural defence mechanism tells them to get up as high as possible, and as quickly as possible.

High pheasants are pretty testing targets, but they’re genuinely sporting. Here are some high pheasant shooting tips to increase your likelihood of a clean kill, which is of course extremely important. (Which are the best cartridges for high pheasants?)

high pheasant shooting tips

High pheasant shooting tips

  1. Keep an eye on what the songbirds on a drive are doing. They usually come out early, well before the pheasants and offer a useful clue to how the wind is behaving. If you watch where the songbirds are flying and how they are moving you’ll be ahead on the pheasants before they are flushed. The pheasants will probably fly in the same way as the songbirds. Even if they don’t initially, when they are shot at and become alarmed they will use the wind to their advantage.
  2. Pick markers in the landscape to define that area. Choose where you want to kill the bird, and think about where you should be mounting onto it accordingly. Before you start pheasant shooting you should have made some key decisions.
  3. As early as possible get a good connection in your vision between the muzzles of the gun and the target itself.  Concentrate on the target but you should also see the gun in your peripheral vision. Do everything you can to make the shot feel natural. Your predicted kill point for the bird will determine where you start with the muzzles of the gun. If the muzzle of the gun is much higher than it needs to be you will either shoot late or you will lift with the rear hand to drop the muzzles to pick the bird up.
  4. The rib in the start position should be parallel to the pheasant shooting position. This will help to ensure a good mount every time. (Read guns for high pheasant shooting.)
  5. Remember that a high bird in relation to you is a slow target. The best way to hit that sort of high target is to let the bird govern your timing. That’s why the muzzles need to come up and make a connection quickly before you mount.
  6. Be decisive when you pick your bird. Then stick with it. Allowing the target to govern your timing allows for good instinctive pheasant shooting. If you mount onto the tail the bird will not be able to get away from you. If you mount behind the bird you will rush the shot and the gun will move off-line.
  7. Imagine a hoop on the end of the gun rather than a bead. By keeping the tail of the bird inside this hoop as you move into a position to mount and take the shot, you will be able to stay on the bird and its line more consistently.
  8. When pheasant shooting at crossing targets it is very important to follow the exact line of the bird. With a right to left crosser this can be achieved effectively by turning your right shoulder into the body, which allows the gun to travel on a flat plane. And if the bird is coming from the left, allow your left shoulder to turn in.
  9.  Getting your feet in the right place makes an enormous difference to making a good shot. All foot movement should be completed before you mount the gun, so it is important your ready position is correct.  If you are right-handed your weight should be over the left foot. Don’t bend your knees too much.
  10. Stay within your own space. If you take a wide stance you will crouch and your range of movement will be restricted. This will move the gun off line and bring the point of aim down.
  11. Using footwork to shoot a straight driven bird as a crossing bird can be highly beneficial, particularly for those with eye dominance issues. Those who squint or shut an eye will lose sight of a straight driven bird behind the barrels.
  12. Lead is extremely important. Think of lead in units. Whatever unit of lead you choose to think in you must be accelerating through those units when you shoot. Do not try to be too precise or you will end up stopping the gun as you swing. Don’t forget that you must also have an accelerating muzzle at the point of pulling the trigger – do not stop moving once you have pulled the trigger. Mount onto the tail of the bird and swing through the target, making sure to go through the kill zone.
  13. As with any sport, regular practice is essential if you want to be successful. If nothing else, it will help you to get familiar with your gun. Those who shoot regularly throughout the year, even if it’s only once or twice a month, will be making incremental improvements to their pheasant shooting. Those who shoot only in the season will have a sharp drop off in their form and will have to spend a long time building themselves back up to a good standard. You might end up being someone who has shot for 30 years, but has really only ever repeated one year’s worth of experience 30 times. (Read more on best loads for high pheasants.)


This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated.