Contrary to popular belief, a specialist gun for very high pheasant shooting is not really required. We reflect on some very impressive shooting and the findings.
Every driven bird game shooter has a shot they love to recall time and time again to the dismay of family and friends. That shot to put into the game book, you’ll never forget it. Sometimes they are shots that others have taken, which even years later you remember and re-live. Everyone with a bit of experience has a recalled memory shooting high birds and the shots that ‘worked out’.
In Edwardian times this was considered ‘not sporting’, Most people have precisely the same opinion today, although hopefully without the stuffy elitist attitude!
There are a few shoots now which are offering high driven pheasant shooting and driven partridge shooting outside Europe. From high hills; ridges, ravines and canyons, driven game bird shoots which are scattered around are presenting birds that represent a thrilling challenge. This is not like wandering around the fields picking off several easy shots an hour, while the birds taking flight in some cases just a few yards away are slow and barely airborne.
To enjoy the sport then we must get the technique right for ourselves. So how do we hit them consistently enough (methodology and practice) and how high do they become out of range for us so that we kill them cleanly? We’ll look at cartridges and choke in this article.
it is not reasonable to shoot at birds which are just a few yards away in Edwardian times this was considered ‘not sporting’
Driven pheasant shooters must only shoot at birds which they know they can kill; there ought to be some respect for the game and shots which are not dead sure ought not to happen. If they do occur most people expect the other barrel to be used to prevent unwarranted suffering. Likewise it is not reasonable to shoot at birds which are just a few yards away in Edwardian times this was considered ‘not sporting’. Most people have precisely the same opinion today, although hopefully without the stuffy elitist attitude! Beside you’ll want something edible left for the pot.
The Edwardian’s would love to discuss ‘famous shots’ which were taken shooting high birds at huge ranges which would be reported in the newspapers. A bit of research on the matter however brings some interesting findings, several tests by manufacturers of guns and cartridges and of documented shots of which were at an incredible range all point to 80-90 yards or 240-270 feet being a maximum distance for most accomplished shots. It would appear then that these reports were exaggerated.
more reliable charges; longer cartridges improved wadding and we are all benefiting in choice and the overall standard of cartridges available today
Most impressive was a test in which two competitors shot at targets from a clay ground’s 160’ tower. They found themselves trading targets; until they were over 100 yards from the tower both managed 6 clays out of 10 at that huge distance. That’s 300 feet away from a fast clay target at a height of 160 feet. This is with a heavy load of shot and charge in a good choked gun with a competition shooter.
Most well made guns pattern at about 60 yards. Generally patterns start to break down at 55-60 yards and therefore there are plenty of holes in the shot pattern for a bird to escape once you get beyond this distance. So at 55 yards there is little chance a pheasant could fly through at that range. Beyond this distance results become unreliable.
We have progressed now onto better and more reliable charges
With the current popularity of high bird shooting, longer barrels are becoming popular again and 30-32 inch barrels could soon become the norm so effective range may increase slightly as time goes on.
The limit of a shotgun cartridge used to be about 55 yards too. We have progressed now onto better and more reliable charges; longer cartridges improved wadding and we are all benefiting in choice and the overall standard of cartridges available today. So don’t blame your ammunition for your failures unless you buy the cheap nasty stuff.
The days when fiber wads were a poor relation to plastics are long behind us. All of the loads tested were fiber, the results being quite impressive. It is in the interest of driven pheasant shooting that we should refrain from using plastic wads. Beside someone has to go and pick the plastic wads up again!
You get what you pay for of course and one manufacturer has had repeated complaints with its high power cartridges because the top quarter inch of plastic separates when fired, this is dangerous, as the shot forms a ‘ball’ and can travel up to 250 yards in that state. This is far from the results you want to see and you will never hit your bird either, if you did there will be nothing left of it.
70 yards target then can be shot now with modern technology. However at 70 yards or 210 feet with an open choke most people consider a pheasant to be out of range although we might get a pellet or two on target, there really isn’t a lot to kill the bird cleanly and if we have bought sub standard cartridges we are probably only ‘pricking’ at the bird.
30 grams of no 5 shot will suffice as long as you technique is up to scratch
Test your own choke and cartridge combination out on the pattern plate as well. This is absolutely vital. For very high birds there ought to be plenty of shot arriving within a 28” circle to ensure a clean kill. You need a good hitting pattern to cleanly kill a mature pheasant and you should ensure that you do not risk wounding birds.
We ought to keep safely within the confines of the effective range of the shotgun/cartridge combination and on our own skill then, so I would suggest a maximum range of 50 yards for the average sportsman. If you are a good shot using fairly open chokes (improved cylinder or modified) this really is the maximum. If you want to ‘choke up’ though feel free it is better to go home satisfied rather than frustrated.
For a very high pheasants it is suggested 34 or 36 grams of No 4’s and 5’s. But 32 gram 5’s are an adequate compromise for most shooting, and unless you really want to step up your firepower. 34-35 grams is the maximum load you really want to put into a 8 pound gun anyway. Indeed for the majority of shooting, 30 grams of no 5 shot will suffice as long as you technique is up to scratch.
The extremes in range have been discussed but most recommend a height of no more than 50 yards for pheasants. Even so a 50 yard pheasant is a long way off. Although it can be proved that shots can take place beyond this I would not recommend it and even the professionals are only averaging a few more hits at these ranges.
A case could be made to shoot out to 60 or 70 yard pheasants with the right equipment and skill. For the above average to high bird game, 32 gram to 36 gram 5’s and 4’s are still the best choice and this is fine for most of the high birds you will ever see whilst driven pheasant shooting.
players and caddies become experts at judging distances and pick the right club to suit the shot, you should have to do the same by varying the lead and swing
Judging distance or range is always hugely important when you are shooting high pheasants. Judging the range of a target for that drive; line and speed are crucial skills, just as important is what choke to use that day? Here are some shooting tips to help you on your way.
During your day to day goings on why not use some of your time to practice judging distance whilst you are sat at the lights perhaps? There are plenty of opportunities to do this. Ideally, pick objects at distances that you can pace out after your initial judgment.
Look for bird size objects in the sky and then work out there height, the top of a lamp stand for instance. If you are walking among some tall object such as trees or building pause and look up. See if you can work our certain heights above the ground just by judgment then try and work out if you are correct. This is all sounds a little mad, but it will definitely will help your judging skills and help you when you come to your shooting, especially if you are not used to shooting at high birds.
Here is an excellent video from the fieldsports channel regarding Shooting High Birds
If you can get some practice at the clay ground do so. Start by shooting 5 crossing clays. Then take 10 paces backwards and shoot another 5. Remember to do this from both right-to left targets and visa versa. This will help you learn and remember “leading pictures”. This is an excellent practice skill and will help you greatly.
When out on high pheasant shooting at the weekend remember the driven pheasants size does not vary but the speed and height do, judging the birds distance is therefore hugely relevant. Simply asking other people what they think the distances of things are will bring you a whole swath of answers. It is amazing how different people seeing the same thing can come up with such varying opinions.
Shooting high birds requires a good judge of distance
On the golf course players and caddies become experts at judging distances and pick the right club to suit the shot, you should have to do the same by varying the lead and swing. When you get to your peg, think about height and if there is a helpful tree or some other high object (it may be the ridge or hill itself) that will help you judge the height of the birds when they come.
Shooting high birds requires a good judge of distance. How far is that bird? By focusing on it and nothing else will help you decide your forward allowance, or if you should be shooting at it at all! Don’t shoot at birds less than 20 yards away either, even if they are easy shots.
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