Back in February, when life was less complicated and the current global pandemic was barely in the news, my wife and I were extremely fortunate to be invited by three friends to join them on their two-day partridge shooting trip in Spain, arranged by Ben Smith of the Royal Berkshire Sporting Agency.
Las Golondrinas de Santa Cristina
Our destination was Las Golondrinas de Santa Cristina, an estate set amongst 17,000 hectares of the most beautiful countryside in La Cumbre, Caceres, a hidden gem only advertised by word of mouth. Having been in the same family since the 14th Century, the mantel has been passed to Jacobo Bustamante, a passionate sportsman, to look after the running of the estate and shoot with his team. This was to be my first time shooting partridge in Spain, so excitement and anticipation was running high. I had always enjoyed hearing about the shooting in the region, particularly the sporting culture, food and weather; it all seemed very different to the wet and windy but very well-loved UK shoots that many of us are familiar with! The Texan and Irish contingent of the shooting party had arrived at the estate a good few hours before our arrival. Whilst waiting for us, a bottle of fine Irish whiskey had been consumed by the forward party before a mandatory siesta to recover from all the ‘hard travelling’. On our arrival to Las Golondrinas, we were met by the estate owner, Jacobo, and other members of the shooting party before heading to our rooms to unpack and freshen-up before taking drinks on the veranda to enjoy our first Spanish sunset.
A stunning panoramic view of the valley from the veranda, a perfect moment to share and enjoy a glass or two of champagne.
Dinner was a silver service, white-gloved affair, and the traditional Spanish food was very well received by the food aficionados – everything was impeccable. Jacobo was a very generous host, it was a wonderful and convivial evening with much laughter and a perfect first act of the trip. Bravo!
The dining room at Las Golondrinas de Santa Cristina
Morning came with the pastoral sound of cowbells, a chorus of local bird song and slightly chilly weather. The view of the valley was breathtaking at this time of the morning and a real treat for the early bird. After a satisfying breakfast, we sorted and distributed our guns to the loaders then gathered around Jacobo to have a safety briefing and to draw ‘Pegs’. It was explained, for those that had never shot partridge in Spain, that it’s traditional to have not only a loader, but also a ‘Seceretaro’ who is responsible for counting the number of birds you shoot. It’s also normal practise to shoot with a pair of guns, but my personal preference is to shoot with a single gun, mainly as a preventative measure to ensure that we didn’t go over our bag allowance, which was a generous sixty in total per day. The day was to consist of four drives. Transport was in the estate’s 4x4s for both days, as most of the tracks would not allow for a turning circle of a gun bus, and given the combination of narrow tracks and steep terrain, I’m rather glad we used 4x4’s. Perfect for the job! After the short trip to the first drive, Jacobo introduced us to our Loader and Seceretaro, who took possession of our gun and we made our way down the line to our peg. Once we arrived at our allotted peg, our loader Joe and Alberto the Seceretaro got the seats, ammo, and the strange-looking metal lollipops ready. These protect you from stray shot but also can be raised to block the sun if necessary - It’s a shame we don’t have use for such a contraption in the UK.
Once set up, with my favourite Purdey Teba jacket, cigar and 20-Bore Purdey Sporter loaded and ready to go, the adrenaline was firing. I couldn’t quite believe we were here, it was deliciously warm and sunny, with not a cloud in the sky and no chance of rain - not the typical forecast that we’re used to on a shoot day! The first drive was called Palacio Blanco and it was picturesque, to say the least. It had a gorgeous stream running parallel with the gun line, with steep rugged slopes leading up to the high ground of sparse evergreen oaks and bush that contained the flushing points for the partridge. This turned out to be a perfect warm-up drive to allow the guns to get used to the terrain and the way Spanish partridge fly. The combination of speed and terrain presented many sporting birds. In some cases too much choice was available, in that not one bird could be singled out in time - the paradox of choice, I hear you say.
The first drive was presented perfectly, clearly, Jacobo was mindful to ease people into the traditional Spanish Partridge Shooting, as the drives did get progressively harder over the next three drives. The second drive was to be La Matillia, essentially a reverse of the first drive. Consistent with the first drive, it was another incredibly enjoyable shoot.
Once the second drive was finished, we loaded up the wagons and headed to the high ground for lunch. It never occurred to me for some reason that lunch would be served al-fresco, normally in the UK we would be sheltering in a lovely pub or shoot room, warming up near a fire or stove. Our luncheon table was set-up in a perfect spot, on a high vantage point, serving us with a spectacular view of Trujillo, the nearest town. On reflection, I would say that lunch, in some ways, was to be my favourite mealtime of the trip, possibly because the welcome and unexpected novelty of eating outside, among friends, in the glorious February sunshine. We had two memorable traditional Spanish pork dishes, Secreto Iberico de Bellota and Iberico dry-cured ham, both delicious, with some exceedingly good Spanish red wine from Jacobo’s wine cellar.
After relaxing for a couple of hours over lunch, we then headed back down the valley to set up for the third drive of the day, called La Herradura. La Herradura, meaning ‘Horse Shoe’ was a Yorkshire gully style drive, with practically vertical slopes either side but with the added charming feature of a stream running through the gun line. The birds on this drive were very quick, positively rocketing over the top; a streaking blur flying to the slopes on the other side of the ravine. Combined with the narrow window to swing through, this was exciting snap shooting at its finest. The Purdey 20-Bore Sporter was the perfect choice thanks to its superb balance and handling.
The final drive was called Arroyo Hondo, meaning ‘Deep Stream’. This was Spanish partridge in the classic sense - fast birds that hug the terrain, flying through gaps in the tree-line and between stone outcrops, zipping over your peg at lightning speed from all front angles within 180 degrees. The kind of shooting that makes you want to go back again and again. It was glorious. Shooting in Spain was a wonderful, unique experience, and it was fabulous to have two days in the warm sunshine to round off the UK shooting season. This was the trip of a lifetime, unlikely to ever be repeated, and we were much humbled by the generosity of our guests for the invitation. Should you wish to experience Spanish shooting with Jacobo, please contact Ben Smith at the Royal Berkshire Sporting Agency to arrange a package for single guns or whole teams.