The red-legged partridge is native to the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Corsica and France. Its origins probably explain why it’s also called the Frenchman, though its decriers claim it came from its preference for running, unlike the “brave little native” – the grey or English partridge – which more readily faces the Guns. Others maintain it was so christened because its red legs match the crimson trousers worn by French infantry prior to the First World War.
The redleg first arrived here in 1673, with introductions in Windsor and Richmond. These did not “take” but in 1790 the Marquess of Hertford imported thousands of eggs from France and the bird began to colonise.
As the grey partridge’s numbers have declined, the redleg now provides the majority of partridge shooting in the UK. They are mostly reared, though it breeds freely in the wild given the right habitat and predator control
Where topography allows, redlegs are often presented as high “mini pheasants”. These can be especially challenging when there’s a wind and they curl. On flatter land, redlegs are shown like grey partridges, over hedges, and shooting them successfully requires a grouse-like approach. The gun should be carried at high port, ready to address the coveys the moment they appear. As soon as they reach a safe height, the birds should be taken as far in front as possible. This makes a very sporting shot but requires instant action and neighbouring Guns should not dither over “ownership” of birds.
Spain is renowned for the quality of its redleg partridge shooting and many sportsmen extend the home season with a visit in February. Blue skies and a generally high level of accommodation and service add to the attraction. Few Spanish shoots now offer genuinely wild partridge shooting and bags are often far bigger than in Britain. The use of double guns is common, with a “cargador” acting as loader and a “secretario” as a personal assistant, who counts the Gun’s tally on each drive. It’s common for the top scorer to be lauded at dinner but this can be an expensive honour: on many commercial shoots Guns are individually charged for every bird they kill.