Strong pheasants have come through the summer in good numbers; here are some tips to help judge their flight
Now we really are in full swing, with the season well under way, and I’m sure that many of you have already enjoyed your first outings.
I’ve spoken to many keepers and they’re all singing from the same hymn sheet; the birds have come through the summer in good numbers and, in many cases, have feathered up very well. There has been a huge amount of dogging-in on many estates because of a late harvest and a heavy hedgerow harvest, encouraging many birds to wander from home. I don’t ever feel this to be a bad thing — yes, it creates a lot of work for keepers, but the keepers I’ve spoken to think that it encourages good, strong birds, as they’re flying home every day, so you have strong-flying birds from the start.
It is rare now to shoot an early pheasant day in October, as many shoots choose to give their birds a bit more time and it is more common now to shoot the first pheasants in late October or early November.
Here are some pheasant shooting techniques to help you in the field
Footwork and balance
In all forms of driven shooting good footwork is the building block for any shot, and with good footwork comes good, controlled balance. Without these two factors at the start, shooting consistently will become impossible.
I always describe footwork as moving according to what the bird is doing. You don’t move because the rule book says you move — you move because you have watched the bird in flight correctly and moved your feet without mounting your gun, preparing yourself for the shot. If you start moving and mounting, you will end up in a whole world of trouble, pulling the muzzles away from the line of the bird, and just tie yourself in knots. Remember, the bird dictates where you move your feet if you watch it correctly.
In order to shoot consistently, you must be able to mount your gun smoothly and accurately on to your moving bird. This will enable you to read speed, distance and direction in one smooth movement, allowing you to make the shot at the correct time and with good timing.
If you are unable to do this, you will continually misread the bird and cause inevitable misses. It is important that you try to reduce factors that could affect consistent gun mounting. Address your chosen bird correctly by, for example, holding your muzzles just below the line of your bird for a straight-driven bird, and make sure your eyes are in line with the muzzles. Keep looking at the bird and keep your head still as you bring the gun to your cheek. Watch the bird as you pull the trigger, and watch it fold in the air, making sure you finish your shot smoothly and correctly.
Know your distances
Knowing the distance of birds is very important. I’ve seen so many people beat themselves up because they are missing or, worse still, pricking birds that they think are killable and they just aren’t unless you fire that lucky golden pellet straight on the chin. Part of consistent shooting and shooting to the best of your ability is knowing what you can kill cleanly and safely. It is important to understand your distances. I can’t stress this point enough — it really does make a huge difference.
Understand the field
This all comes under the heading of good fieldcraft. Understanding the conditions on the day, the way birds move and slide in different winds, how a drive works, the topography of a drive, and whether a bird is gaining or losing height — and generally paying more attention — will improve your shooting no end. Sound style and technique form the final piece in the puzzle of being able to shoot to the very best of your ability.
The hardest days to shoot
The psychological side of shooting is always important, and confidence plays a big part. The hardest days to shoot on are the small days, when opportunities are few. If you get off to a bad start, you have little chance to get the wheels back on. Bigger days are easier, because there are more opportunities to recover.
Enjoy the day and be realistic about the challenge the birds present. Always be the first to laugh if it goes wrong, and always be positive.
How breeds of pheasant fly differently
Can the differences between the breeds of pheasant affect a Gun’s ability on the day?
This is a subject I’ve given more thought to over the past couple of seasons. We speak about the difference in speeds of varying gamebirds and the strength of birds in flight, but I think that, within the pheasant family, different strains have different qualities, and more consideration should be given to this when shooting. I’m not going to go into the subject in detail, but it makes sense that differently performing birds require a bit more thought. If you are aware of the behaviour of different strains of bird — and, indeed, the different sizes of bird — your ability to read them in flight will be increased, helping to improve your consistency on the day.
Old English blackneck
Commonly used on shoots that mainly consist of woodland. This is a big pheasant and a deceptive flyer, giving the impression of being a bit slow and cumbersome, but don’t be fooled.
The Polish bazanty has become the popular bird on many shoots in the UK.
It’s a medium-sized pheasant and a strong and hardy bird. Many shoots find them straightforward to flush, so the surprises to the Guns are limited, and they are brilliantly strong flyers. There is, I think, no pheasant in the UK that can move and slide like this breed on windy days, especially in crosswinds, making them a real challenge.
For many shoots, this has always been the go-to breed. It’s a large and powerful pheasant that is capable of taking on very windy conditions. As breeds go, I’ve always thought this breed of pheasant deserves a bit more respect when shooting, as its size and power can be deceptive.
I have seen this breed being used more and more in the past couple of seasons. It’s a small breed, and can give the impression that it is moving a lot faster than it really is.
They are known for flying a bit higher than some breeds, and low-ground shoots have started using them a bit more. When standing under them don’t be fooled by their speed, which can catch you out. They are flighty birds and can become line-shy quickly if shot too hard.
Top tips for successful pheasant shooting
- Pay more attention to the breed of pheasant you are shooting on the day. They are all different and can all behave slightly differently in flight. Their speed, apparent size and manoeuvrability can change in different conditions, so gen up!
- Remember your footwork is the basis for any shot: if you get your feet wrong, the shot is sure to go wrong. Your feet move because of what the bird is doing in flight, not because the rule books say you have to move. Move your feet correctly before you mount the gun and make the shot.
- A good, consistent gun mount is very important. Reduce the factors that could go wrong in mounting the gun consistently on to your pheasants. Address the bird properly and set yourself up for the shot. Don’t rush and don’t panic. Finish your shot properly by watching the bird fold in the air.
- Fieldcraft is very important. The more you understand what is going on, by reading a drive and the conditions, the more you will understand the birds in flight.
- Keep smiling, have a really great season and simply enjoy your pheasant shooting!