Up until about twenty years ago those enjoying and able to afford driven game shooting in the United Kingdom followed a fairly set programme of events. In August and possibly early September they were to be found on the grouse moors of northern England and Scotland and, as these were the days before medicated grit, etc. the shootable surplus was likely to have been dealt with by mid-September and he or she (and in all likelihood it was he) headed south for the partridge manors of Hampshire and Wiltshire and other surrounding counties.
Provided the season was not too wet, the cereal crops would be harvested and the land left in stubble to allow the partridge keepers sufficient habitat for their birds but also focal points to blank them into, before they were driven over hedges left tall for the purposes of showing partridges at their best. Partridge shooting then ran from mid-September through to late October when thoughts started to turn to pheasants from the wooded areas of Estates throughout the country.
However around this time on various Estates in the areas of the country able to show higher birds due to their topography (high hills or at least steep valleys), shoot owners and gamekeepers were starting to show high partridges in place of the more traditional variety over hedges. These were sometimes described as mini pheasants or early season pheasants due to the fact they flew high like the pheasants. The early pioneers of these were Thimbleby in North Yorkshire; Singleton in West Sussex as well as probably the original of them all, Gurston Down in Wiltshire. These Estates have been copied many times over since and some of the finest shoots in the country and are now known as such predominately because of the very high partridges they show over steep down land valleys such as in the case of Brixton Deverill, Ashcombe and others in those areas as well as Mulgrave, Rievaulx, Water Priory and others in North Yorkshire up to the Bowmont Valley and possibly the highest of them all, Drumlanrig in Dumfriesshire.
In the last ten years or so the grouse world has also made some innovative strides in terms of the husbandry of the birds and their general management particularly in regard to the strongyle worm and grouse populations up and down the country have become larger in terms of what each moor is overwintering and more reliable in terms of the available stock to shoot each year. This has meant that grouse shooting now regularly extends into late October rather than mid-September and bag sizes have increased. The success of grouse moor Managers and the advent of the higher partridge has put more and more pressure on those looking to show partridges in a more traditional manner. There is still a strong following for this type of shooting but it is more confined to the eastern part of the country in terms of East Anglia and Lincolnshire together with a few notable exceptions in the Home Counties and the Cotswolds.
Partridge shooting in the first three weeks of September certainly fell out of vogue but we are starting to see a real resurgence and demand for such days. Even with the advantages in the management of grouse, their cost and location means they are not for everyone. Given the topography where the high partridges are now being flown with the possible exception of the first day or two of the season these birds (assuming they are released early enough and at the right age) fly strongly pretty much from the start of the season and provide the high bird aficionado with some really testing shooting at a time when he was historically still kicking his heels. Other advantages include generally nicer weather (it is always enjoyable to lunch alfresco whether it is in Spain or England); decent numbers of birds so the Gun can pick and choose the targets he or she takes on and generally dry ground conditions in which to enjoy a challenging day’s sport in your shirt sleeves.
There are problems for partridge shoot Managers looking to run shoots in areas surrounded by cereal farming. Those crops which need harvesting later can be adversely affected by the rain which means that keepers are sometimes unable to release birds into game covers for fear of losing a large proportion of the numbers when the adjoining spring wheat/bean or similar crop is harvested. He is also unable to stop the birds straying as they are prone to do with such a range of habitat on offer to them. However the majority of such shoots are located on the moorland edge or in an area of grass Downland which do not have such potential problems and therefore Managers can plan ahead with more confidence.
We are seeing a substantial increase in interest for such shooting and are delighted to have access to some of the top shoots above to be able to offer our clients. In 2015 with what can only be described as a mixed grouse year demand was even stronger with those having committed to grouse days which were subsequently cancelled still wishing to get out for some shooting and in turn being pleasantly surprised by what they found on such days as these.
For further information contact James Chapel 01295 277197, firstname.lastname@example.org