Whether your favourite season is grouse, or you love the challenge of shooting high birds, a chance to up your game can’t be overlooked. So, we asked three of our top experts to share their best tips. Allow us to introduce Matt Smith on grouse, Jonathan Irby on pheasant, Steve Turner on partridge – and a bonus round of what makes for a great all-round shot.
Eyes on the prize
Sporting agent and shooting instructor Matt Smith’s passion for fieldsports and the countryside can be traced back to his upbringing in the Yorkshire Dales, where he ‘apprenticed’ on local estates and shoots, working up from beater to loader to shoot. Here are his top tips for grouse.
On some days, as much as 30 to 40% of your grouse will be shot out of the back of the butt. While most people can shoot safely and well ‘in front’, shooting behind is where it’s often much trickier.
The key to shooting consistently well behind is ensuring you have finished moving your feet and turned before the grouse comes through the line of butts. If you’re still turning as the grouse passes you, you’ll end up chasing it – the bird is then 40+ yards away before you have fully adjusted your positioning, mounted the gun and squeezed the trigger.
To improve here, keep your eyes locked onto the grouse you intend to shoot. By the time the bird has committed to its line of flight, you should have turned and placed your gun in a ‘ready’ position. This will see your muzzles pointing out of the back of the butt and held low enough so that when you mount to the grouse, you are coming up to the nose of the bird, not down onto it. When the grouse passes through, mount to the space ahead of the beak of the bird and squeeze the trigger. Remember, the grouse is gaining distance on you, so if the first shot doesn’t do the trick, follow up with a quick second shot.
This technique allows two things. Firstly, to adjust your muzzle position as the grouse comes through to suit, whether the bird gains or loses height. Secondly, it allows you to shoot very quickly, yet very safely. Best of luck.
Brave high flyers
Managing Director of Purdey’s Royal Berkshire Shooting School, Jonathan Irby has worked in the shooting world for nearly 20 years, during which time he’s nurtured a deep love for the sport – as well as helped out many keen shooters. Here are his top tips for high pheasant.
The greatest challenge when shooting high birds is to read the line correctly. Very often a pheasant is gliding by the time it has reached the line of guns – meaning that it looks slow, but is in fact very fast; especially if dropping from a height. When a bird is gliding it is much more likely that it is ‘sliding’ to one side, compared to when it’s under power (ie. with wings flapping), when its line will be more predictable and direct.
The key here is to focus on footwork. Make sure you have set your feet such that you are ready for where you will be taking the shot, rather than where you will be mounting the gun. Then, work to turn your hands and shoulders so that your mount and swing follows the line of the bird, rather than chopping across its line.
Finally, when shooting high birds, be prepared to make big changes. So often I see people miss a number of birds in a row, and yet they have not made a bold brave change to their lead or line. Instead, they do the same thing and wonder why it isn’t working. Switch it up.
Hedge your bets
Shooting instructor at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School, Steve Turner is a talented sportsman and experienced competitive clay shot. He’s been part of the team for over 15 years and also runs our hugely popular and successful charity shoots. Here are his top tips for hedgerow partridge.
The challenge: successfully shooting a covey of partridge over a tall hedgerow. How can you master this? Well, you need to be positive and confident and look to complete your gun mount well in front. Of course, it all comes down to fine tuning your technique for this specific type of bird.
Be sure to use your front hand to drive the muzzle to the bird; at the same time, the back hand should simultaneously bring the stock to your shoulder and the face of the gun to your cheek. Then, use both your hands and your torso to develop the necessary forward lead. As with all shooting, footwork and balance is key.
The first time anyone shoots grey partridge, they are always taken by surprise as to just how fast they fly. Though they are definitely a ground-dwelling bird, grey partridges are actually very agile and nimble on the wing. To shoot them well, therefore, you must be focused and maintain an instinctive swing with your absolute focus on the bird.
A hedgerow partridge shoot is always a special event. My colleague Jonathan Irby puts it beautifully: “Grey partridge flying through the line with their distinctive call and mesmerising speed… Any day where you see this, it is truly memorable.”
The best is yet to come
Back to Jonathan Irby for the million dollar question: What makes for the best shot?
This is a question that I get asked an awful lot and never answer directly, because the best shot is a mixture of so many abilities and personalities.
To start, the best shots are, of course, safe. You would and should never feel anything other than entirely relaxed when shooting next to them. They will be considerate, and far more accurate than you or I. Yet, they will ensure their neighbour shoots first, rather than demonstrate their prowess and in so doing ‘poach’ from the gun either side of them.
They have a simple elegance of technique that seems to afford them more time than the rest of us when shooting. This same elegance extends to their wardrobe, with the right and best kit that often features an old favourite (think tweed cap or similar).
The one thing we all wish to do when shooting with or (heaven help us) next to a great shot is to shoot well. They will be sure to notice your highlights and comment accordingly, and will be equally discreet if talent deserts you and you find yourself struggling. They will not offer advice until asked, and even then it will be delivered to inspire rather than diminish you. If hosting, the great shots will ensure their team are best placed to have the most memorable of days – and this may well see them ‘out of the shooting’.
The best shots are always on time, they understand how frustrating it is to the shoot host, game keeper and beaters to arrive late. They will also be sure to assist the picker-ups after the drive has finished and ensure that they thank everybody involved on the day.
Anything else? Well, they really can shoot very well!