Find out how you can go pheasant shooting on a budget
Is there such a thing as pheasant shooting on a budget? Well, yes there is. You can always buy a left-over day on a shooting website and snap up a bargain. However, you may not know any of the Guns you are shooting with if you go down this route. (You might also like to read our guide on how to find affordable roughshooting.)
To minimise costs we went 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.
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.
Rules of pheasant shooting on a budget
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.
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. 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.
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.
Walk one, stand one
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.
The bag was already starting to fill when we moved to the fourth drive. This next drive provided a real challenge for all Guns as large blocks of woodland were driven across a wide woodland ride.
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.
The day allowed a group of young friends to spend a great day together, go pheasant shooting on a budget 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. (Read the shooting safety rules here.)
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.
Finding walk-one, stand one days
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 Guns on Pegs, BASC or 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. (Read our list of the best shooting boots here.)
Additionally, this type of day is the ideal time to make use of the game pocket in your shooting jacket. (Read our list of the best shooting jackets here.)
This article was originally published in Shooting Gazette in 2014 and has been updated.