Author: Andrew Harvison, Fellow of the UK: Association of Professional Shooting Instructors
I am not sure if a lot of people stop to think how this form of shooting came about. The key to understanding the history of the sport was the development of the shotgun, as driving game over a line of sportsmen armed with muzzle loaders would be almost pointless. The development of the breech loading shotgun and later variants such as the hammerless ejector brought game shooting into its own.
The sport was developed by the well heeled aristocracy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when the sport went through a period of refinement to almost near perfection. This was the background at the beginning of WW1 in 1914 when our ancestors recognised the most effective way to manage driven birds and provide a test of skill on quality high birds. Many of the coverts planted several generations ago are still being used today, although it could be argued the methods employed have been developed and improved considerably.
To understand the economics of running a driven shoot you have to appreciate the infrastructure and people involved; this includes permanent game keepers, temporary staff called beaters on the day of shooting, the cost of rearing pheasants, and the rent or price of land which are all a major consideration.
Reared pheasants take naturally to the wild when they are released and they adapt easily to the English countryside of woods and fields that make up such a large part of the British landscape. They merge with the natural wild bird population but depend on man management to provide their safe surroundings and the food they would otherwise have to forage for in their natural habitat.
Although many pheasant are reared artificially, they accept their freedom and behave accordingly. When properly driven by beaters and presented from high woodland over valleys, either from crops on hill sides or fields, they can provide some of the most testing shots in the book which require a high level of skill to connect with them.
The enjoyment of shooting will very much depend on the team of people with whom you shoot, as well as the quality of bids presented and include the surrounding environment. The shoot manager and gamekeeper have a huge part to play in the organisation and planning and they are the individuals who must have the personality, knowledge and understanding to establish the quality of the shoot. On good days you might see hundreds of birds being flushed where others there are only a few; the different outcomes will commonly result from the effort and knowledge of the host and his team, not just the manner in which the birds are presented over the guns.
Standing on your shooting peg, the beaters are the infantry that drive the birds over. They work tirelessly from the first to the last drive, sometimes in very tough conditions, making the birds fly just at the right moment and in the correct direction towards the team of guns. Their contribution is vital to the success of the shoot. They work determinedly under the directions of the gamekeeper using their beating sticks where the birds are most likely to be hiding. If there are not enough beaters there will be little chance of good shooting on the day. They come along, not exclusively for money, but because they enjoy the countryside, exercise, excitement, and by taking pleasure for the most part when the shoot is run efficiently and the birds are presented well. A few grateful thanks by the members of the team of guns at the end of the day are always very much appreciated, apart from being seen to be polite by all the hard working people concerned.
The pickers up are the last few members of the team who contribute to the day’s shooting. They come along with their gun dogs and make the day more sporting and humane by finding wounded birds as soon as possible. They understand from experience where any birds are likely to have fallen and send their dog to retrieve accordingly. Professional dog handlers and significant other trainers are found regularly supporting the shoot and attending for the pleasure of a day in the countryside doing picking up. Their value to the shoot team is immensely important by instructing or working their four legged canine family friend to retrieve the quarry.
If you spent your early childhood days in the country fifty years ago, your instinct urged you to catch fish and use a BB gun to hunt, and regardless of your opinion on the matter, that is human nature. The country bred child saw his father or peers going out shooting as part of everyday rural life. He or she was not brought up to relish killing but view it as part of their way of life. Shooting for pleasure, however, is a different matter and is now far from being confined to country- bred men and women. Many town dwellers welcome the opportunity to shoot, hunt, or fish as one of many outdoor pursuits available in either the UK or Alberta and across Canada. Silver Willow is one of the premier professional facilities which was established by shooters and commands the respect of beginners, novices, and experts. Throughout its active education programmes, it teaches the basic standards of gun safety and technique to advanced levels of proficiency in respect of the cardinal rules of handling guns, their limitations, and respect for the countryside.
Practicing and shooting high driven birds
Shooting high driven birds from a tower requires many of the same basic principles as any other form of sporting target. It can be an excellent way to practice for the real thing in the field, provided the clay holds a strong realistic flight overhead similar to a pheasant and is replicated by the facility at Silver Willow.
The application of any technique may differ from person to person with a considerable amount of experience after he or she develops within their chosen discipline. The basic principles of shooting any target or bird, however, remain unchanged and hand eye co-ordination is essential to being a good shot. This involves holding the eyes on the target and putting the muzzle close to the bird while matching gun speed to the speed of the bird. When the stock is in the shoulder and face, the eyes and muzzle move ahead of the target as soon as possible to take the shot, the barrel should continue to move at the same speed as the target without stopping, when the lead is applied.
The correct stance, grip, and muzzle hold position allow the eyes to lead the gun naturally when the shoulders and the feet are in the correct position, as per the attached drawing,( assuming the bird is approaching head on at 12:00 o’clock). The stance should be comfortable, with the space between the feet approximately the width of the body and the general position being a quarter turn to the right for a right hander and half turn left for the left hander. Nearly all the weight is on the leading leg which is straight to provide the direction of the shot, while the rear leg provides stability with the heel slightly raised off the ground. Depending on the vertical window, the weight can be transferred to the back leg and the leading heel will come off the ground if the gap above is small.
The shotgun should be held at approximately 45 degrees to the target, while the line of sight across the muzzle will place the barrel at mid point on an imaginary vertical line between the target and the ground. As the bird approaches during gun mounting, the barrel should match the speed of the bird and
close the vertical gap under the target until the stock is mounted and accelerates the muzzle to the appropriate lead. Balance is a vital component of shooting driven birds and the stance is particularly relevant while appreciating the body weight can be transferred as necessary from the front to back leg according to the extent of the shooting window above. A low muzzle-hold, relative to the height and distance of the bird, must be learned and is an important aspect of engaging the gun with the speed of the bird to create perfect hand eye co-ordination. Applying any of the three shooting methods of swing through, pull away, or maintained lead are relevant to driven targets, but must not cancel out the natural hand eye technique of matching the speed of the gun to the speed of the bird or setting the lead on the correct line of flight.
I would like to suggest to any readers who are keen to improve their high driven shooting; they should stand on the shooting station in front of the high tower and practice placing their muzzle in the position described, before calling for the target. Mount the gun as the bird appears so the muzzle converges to the target smoothly. If the starting position of the barrel is too high, the muzzle will be in front of the bird when the gun is mounted due to the changing angle overhead. The gun will naturally slow down, instead of matching the speed at the important spot where the lead should be applied and the shot taken.
I have consciously not discussed safety, etiquette, dress code and equipment for game shooting in the field, as this blog might run for a further three pages!!!
If you’d like more information about Driven Pheasant Shooting email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your shooting and don’t forget to follow through.
- Fellow of the UK : Association of Professional Shooting Instructors
- Associate Member of the Institute of Clay Shooting Instructors
- England and Great Britain Sporting and Skeet Captain
With special thanks to Michael Paulet