Anticipation mounts as August draws to a close because with September come partridge: courters of controversy, debate and autumn fun. No driven game bird is shown in so many different ways, or promotes so much heated debate on what's right and wrong!
Historically partridge (and it would have been grey or English partridge) were shown low and flaring over hedges. ‘Tidy shots’ (an accolade worth puffing one’s chest out about) would drop a brace in front over the hedge, swap guns with their loader (without clashing barrels) and drop another brace low behind - sometimes only a few feet off the ground.
And then the swinging 60’s and 70’s hit and along with bellbottoms and psychedelic sounds came changes in farming practice that saw the decline of the grey, and the advent of the red-legged and with it high partridge.
This form of the sport is better suited to the more accommodating red-legged partridge: easier to rear, hold and show than their less gaudy grey cousins, they are also more willing to stay aloft when flushed from cover on high ground (assuming, of course, that they have somewhere to fly to). This meant that clever practitioners of this style of showing partridge, of whom David Hitchen’s Gurston Down was pre-eminent, could push birds from hilltop to hilltop over guns in a valley creating epic 35 yard plus targets.
For many of the post 90s generation of gun, the only partridge worth shooting is one 35 yards plus above your head. Try shooting partridge in the ‘traditional’ style with this lot and you’re likely to be sent home for shooting low or shunned by the rest of the line for at least a day - if not disinvited completely. And yet, should they wander onto a traditional style shoot, this generation of gun is bemused and confused when confronted by an irate keeper wondering what’s wrong with them…why aren’t they shooting (or hitting, should they opt to take a shot) his perfectly lovely hedge-busters.
The bias of vertical over horizontal keeps many guns from enjoying some of the finest, albeit traditional, forms of the sport. And why? Does a 35 yard partridge driven over your head represent a more difficult or sporting shot than the same 35 yard bird crossing behind the line (taken safely, of course) or appearing as if by magic over the hedge 35 yards in front of you? With former grouse moors being converted to show partridge, we need to adapt with it or risk missing out on some great sport. Perhaps the best thing about partridge, especially when compared to grouse, is their reliability: book your day and short of major plague or pestilence it will happen. By comparison, we never know if a grouse day is actually going to go ahead until the final counts in late July.
To make the most of any partridge day:
- As for all game shooting, make sure you know what you’re buying or attending.
- Be clear on the rules of engagement on the day.
- Before writing off birds as too low, consider the topography and weather on the day and safety.
- Shoot what gives you pleasure without judging others.
- And finally, as for grouse, if you're going to be shooting in shirtsleeves, make sure you wear a non-white shirt the Seeland, Laksen and Harkila ranges supplied by Farlows are all ideal.
- So if you've been stood down from a day’s grouse this season as many have, or have some gaping holes in the sporting diary, why not replace it with a day on the partridge? High, low, from heather or cover crop these little red-legged beauties can provide a real challenge.
- And yes, we have a few dates left, get in touch with me via Outside Days but be quick!