Who is “qualified” to take on this most difficult of game bird shooting challenges? Very few is possibly the answer to that rhetorical question writes our article contributor, who goes by the unusual nom de plume of Pheasant Phellow.
In recent years it has become somewhat of an obsession with British and visiting international Guns to seek out and shoot the highest, fastest pheasants in the land.
When I say shoot, in most cases, I really mean attempt to shoot.
So what is considered high when shooting game birds? For most of us mere mortals it could start with a low ceiling of 40-50m. For the better shots that range could be extended to 60m or more.
A ratio of 3 shots fired for each bird harvested is considered quite an acceptable performance by driven shooting syndicates throughout most parts of the UK. On high bird shoots that ration can very easily blow out to 8:1 and above for even the best of shotgun shooters.
Why is that, and is it fair to the birds and the gamekeeper and his hard-working team?
Reasons for the substantial increase in shots being taken include such things as the Guns’ inability to accurately estimate the height (range) of the birds thereby allowing insufficient lead (forward aim off not shot) when pulling the trigger, the reduced time the birds are exposed to the Guns as they zoom between the deep valley’s tree-topped hills, incorrect gun, calibre and cartridge selection and the lack of experience of the Guns in this type of shooting environment.
The cost of shooting “high birds” is also a topic often rained by Guns. For the syndicate to achieve or get near the estimated day’s bag, the gamekeeper has to have significantly more birds on his shooting ground (and be able to present them to the Guns on any given day) than would be expected on a “low country” shoot. More mature birds mean more poults have to be purchased and raised, more pens built and maintained to raise the poults in, more predation control measures implemented, more machinery and personnel required to maintain the larger shooting area – the list is long and expensive. This is probably the main reason why high bird shooting generally comes with a premium price tag.
Another important issue with high bird shooting is that, in all probability, there will be more “pricked” or wounded birds on these types of drives. That is most unfortunate and not good from the responsible shooting perspective that we should all undertake when harvesting all forms of game i.e. to dispatch the game in the most humane and expeditious way possible. More wounded birds put greater strain on the picking-up teams and has the potential to place game shooting as a sport under the microscope of the general public and animal welfare groups even more.
What are the answers?
A starting point may be for Guns to make sure they have the right tools for the job (gun, bore, barrel length, choke and cartridge selections), that they have practised height estimation on the anticipated shooting ranges they are going to encounter and most importantly, that they have spent the necessary time needed on the high clay pigeon towers to bring all of these elements together before taking on the high bird shooting challenge.
Another suggestion may be for syndicates, sporting agencies and shooting estates being more selective in the makeup of the roving syndicates that attempt to shoot these high birds.
It is only natural that Guns want to face new and tougher shooting challenges and both sporting agencies and shooting estates have to make a living to stay in business. But if the sport is able to be continually brought into disrepute in the media by organisations and individuals who oppose game shooting and actively pursue its abolishment, then eventually there may not be game shooting sport to participate in.
I look forward to sharing those pesky high towers with you all.