Find out how you can go pheasant shooting on a budget of as little as £80 to £250!
To minimise costs we were pheasant shooting in Suffolk, on a mixed walk-one, stand-one day. East Anglia offers some of the best-value pheasant shooting in the UK and, contrary to popular belief, the sport can prove extremely challenging. Alongside our group of eager young sportsmen were several wise heads. The resulting team of fathers and sons seemed a good way to organise the day as it would allow these experienced countrymen to pass their vast knowledge to the next generation.
We had chosen to shoot in late January on a cocks-only day. Although the choice of days at the end of January becomes limited, the timing afforded us the chance to secure a bargain. Also, by this point in the season we knew that any birds shown would likely make sporting targets.
Most of the team had been fortunate enough to enjoy some sport already during the season. For some, however, the clay range had provided ample opportunity to practise ahead of the day. But what these young guns lacked in experience they more than made up for with their enthusiasm, which was just as well because this type of day requires a good amount of physical exertion and determination.
The rules of engagement
When we had all arrived at the shooting lodge, our host explained the rules for the day, more pertinent than ever on a walk-one, stand-one shoot. We were 15 guns in total: nine standing and six walking on each drive. The plan was to follow the format of a traditional driven day with six drives, two drinks breaks, and that all-important lunch at the end of the day. Furthermore, the walking and standing guns would change between drives to ensure everyone saw their share of the action.
Naming the game
Finally, the briefing took us to our quarry. Cock pheasants and partridge were fair game, but only exceptional hens were to be attempted. Even then, we were to adhere to a limit of only one hen per gun per drive. Birds that flew back over the walking guns were theirs to shoot, whereas birds that rose and flew forwards were to be left for the standing guns. Duck could be shot – with non-toxic loads – as could vermin. But no ground game. This point was made more than once and seemed eminently sensible given our pheasant shooting arrangements.
After the briefing had ended and the standing guns had numbered up, we darted off to the vehicles to prepare for departure. We would not return to the lodge until the end of the day, so needed to take enough cartridges with us. By 9.40am the team had divided and left for opposite ends of the first drive. The walking guns accompanied the team of eight beaters, including the gamekeeper, while the standing team loaded into the gun bus and headed off to their pegs, pickers-up in hot pursuit.
Unlike my pigeon shooting and wildfowling adventures, both of which afforded a certain amount of flexibility in their organisation, this day involved more precision planning. To ensure a safe environment and good sport for all, our two teams would have to co-ordinate their moves carefully. That said, there was some flexibility and our host swapped a couple of drives during the day to ensure we experienced the best pheasant shooting given the prevailing conditions. The weather was dry and dull, with a gentle breeze from the south-west. And fortunately, the ominous-looking clouds that filled the sky did no more than look threatening.
Once at the first drive, the standing team moved quickly to their pegs while the walking team lined out ready to bring two large fields – one stubble and one winter wheat – towards a central wood. The whistle went and the walking team began to move. Almost immediately shots rang out as partridge broke back over the right-hand beating flank. The first birds of the day were safely in the bag. These early shots seemed to push forward several coveys. Some partridge landed at the back of the wood and ran in, while others continued over the trees and on to the standing team.
By the time the walking team reached the wood, partridge were flying thick and fast over the standing guns. Interspersed were some challenging pheasants. The seniors seemed to be shooting well but the young guns were holding their own. Eventually, the whistle signalled the end of the drive and the pickers-up went to work. As the two teams reunited, everyone exchanged compliments and all seemed pleased with their efforts and rewards.
This first drive set the tone for the day and, although the second drive was somewhat quieter, our team reached the drinks break in high spirits. Plenty of strong coffee combined with delicious homemade chocolate brownies suitably refuelled the team.
Due to the prevailing wind direction, the third drive was turned around and driven north. This drive consisted mostly of pheasants and then mainly hens: some good ones were shot, as per the rules, although most guns focused exclusively on the cock birds.
Sloe gin and sausage rolls
The bag was already starting to fill when we moved to the fourth drive. Little did we know that we still had three super sessions to come. This next drive provided a real challenge for all guns as large blocks of woodland were driven across a wide woodland ride. Numbers 4, 5 and 6 saw most of the action and dropped some fine cock pheasants as well as a couple of pigeon and two woodcock. After this hectic sport, the team was ready for a break. The weather had held and it was a pleasure to relax in the beautiful woodland and reflect on the last drive over a glass of sloe gin and some homemade sausage rolls.
The penultimate drive consisted of two large woods and two cover crops pushed to a high point and then out over our standing team. Due to the topography and the cover crops, the team enjoyed plenty of partridge in this particular drive. Many broke out the sides, providing some testing crossing shots for the team of walking guns. Fortunately, the team proved up for the challenge and managed to bag some fabulous birds. As always at this time of year, a few wily cock birds flew low out of the sides of the drives. Thankfully, all the guns ignored these birds.
A grand finale
Then the time arrived for one last exchange of roles before the final drive. Here we would, once again, blank in a mixture of cover crops and woodland belts before taking a large wood toward the standing team. This proved a good conclusion to an excellent day. Early in the drive, the two flanks of the walking line seemed to push partridge almost towards each other, which created an interesting array of driven and crossing shots for the team. From the middle of the drive onwards the serious sport began for the standing guns. Pheasant after pheasant flew high over the line, heading for a distant wood. The guns picked the best of the many birds available and acquitted themselves admirably. It was a grand finale and the day had provided an affordable way for our team to enjoy a day in the field.
This third leg of my sporting odyssey allowed a group of young friends to spend a great day together and to learn more about our sport from those who have lived their entire lives in the countryside. We finished with a good bag of 70 cock pheasants, six hen pheasants, 57 partridge, four woodcock, two duck and five various, giving a total of 144 head of game.
Although the team had all shot game many times before, this was the first walk-one, stand-one day for some. While gun handling and safety are critical in all shooting situations, they seemed particularly important in this instance. During the shoot briefing, those more experienced guns advised us to walk with our guns broken to reduce the risk if we tripped. Also, they reminded us to unload our guns when crossing a ditch or fence. Furthermore, we learned to take no chances with regards to barrel obstructions. It is easy to get mud in your gun when walking for long periods. So keep your barrels well off the ground and check regularly that they are clear.
The team was pheasant shooting on a cocks-only day, which is typical for late January. By focusing on cock birds, one can preserve a good stock of hen birds for the approaching breeding season and also reduce unhealthy competition between cock pheasants. Finally, during the day the team had the opportunity to view a shoot day from the gamekeeper’s perspective. This turned out to be an incredibly useful exercise: by walking a drive, one can appreciate all the work that goes in to producing a first-class driven day. And for some reason, when everyone pulls together, the fruits of the labour seem sweeter.
Walk-one, stand-one days can be physically demanding, so good, lightweight kit is important.
The costs and equipment
Due to the high number of guns involved in a walk-one, stand-one day, the costs are shared between more people. Also, because fewer beaters are required for the day and fewer birds need to be shown to make the bag, such days can be considerably cheaper than traditional driven days. Walk-one stand-one days can be secured for between £80 and £250 per gun for 80- to 150-bird days, depending on the number of guns and the hospitality included.
To minimise costs, consider buying a day locally to save on travel and lodging expenses. It is also a good idea to negotiate a fixed fee for the day with no overage provision. You can find opportunities for walk-one, stand-one days by searching on www.gunsonpegs.com or by visiting BASC’s www.goshooting.org.uk website. Alternatively, ask your local gunsmith or game dealer. If you are able to get your team together at short notice and you can be flexible, you may be able to get a good discount on the price of the day.
The team shot with a variety of guns from side-by-side 12 bores to over-under 28 bores. Light, breathable clothes were the order of the day due to the physical exertion involved in walking. Personally, I recommend good walking boots and waterproof gaiters. But really, anything comfortable and waterproof will do. Several of the new lightweight tweeds satisfy all the above criteria, although they are expensive.
Additionally, this type of day is the ideal time to make use of the game pocket in your shooting jacket. Most good jackets have a game pocket – and as a walking gun, stowing your prize in your clothing is certainly preferable to holding it in your hand. Alternatively, you could employ a game carrier or game bag.