The day dawned windless with a sharp frost on the ground. We were one man down as, after a hearty breakfast, the remaining eight guns set off from our hotel to the Standridge Shoot near to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. This was my third visit to Standridge, indeed my first ever driven pheasant shoot, was on this shoot four years ago. The draw for the pegs (number 2 and move up 3 each drive). A few words of safety (your live when you’re on the peg) and then a reminder that in 2005 Standridge placed some fantastic Reeves pheasants of which 3 old cocks remained. Shoot one and it’s a £50 fine. These magnificent creatures with their 4-5 foot long tails which create a ‘singing’ noise as they fly should be unmistakable – even to some of the less experienced guns in the party.
In previous years the bag was always around 70% pheasants but there were also some good partridges – today would be different. The first drive saw the guns line up 50-60 yards apart (being one gun down on the normal number), facing the steep rise of the valley and a line of small trees. Peg 2 was to the right and almost immediately saw some action with the odd partridge flying quickly past although many were too low to shoot (never shoot if you can’t see clear sky when looking down the barrel). Still a couple of singles and a nice pair were cleanly despatched and it was good practice for a left to right swinging arc. The guns to my far left (pegs 7 & 8) saw some action with good high pheasants heading for the bank and tree cover behind them. At my end the partridges (almost all French red -legged ones: can you leave the native grey partridges alone he said as dark shape after dark shape appeared over the brow at a rate of knots). Wave after wave came by and finally a pheasant headed straight for me, and carried on as I missed with both barrels. It’s a good challenge switching from fast moving smaller partridges to the more cumbersome pheasants – like fighters and bombers was the thought. The horn blew to end the drive, the guns re-grouped by the vehicles and then we had the most magnificent sight of the dogs in action. These animals love to work, scenting out the downed quarry and retrieving it to their master – just fantastic to watch. Drive 2 was another familiar drive with a line of trees ahead and slightly above and a band of taller trees to attract the birds over the heads of the guns. Again, the guns saw a lot of sport, a better mix of pheasants and partridges than the first drive but still a lot more of the smaller birds than we had seen in previous years. Time for elevenses – such a quintessential part of the shooting day with each shoot having its routine, and what could be more British than using a Land Rover as the table. A sloe gin, some sausages dipped in mustard, some cheesy crackers – just enough to whet the appetite before the 3rd drive of the morning. The stubble field has always done well and today was no exception – placed at number 8 for this drive, I was out on the very edge and although most birds headed across the guns in the middle of the line I had my fair share, with a very nice pair of partridges followed by an interesting pair of a partridge with the over-barrel and a pheasant with the under-barrel of my Browning 525. Which brings me to a point – why fire the over first and under second. Well forget all about the choking of the barrels – it’s more pragmatic than that. My gun had developed a tendency not to fire on the bottom barrel – so to avoid a miss of an approaching bird I had no choice but to use the over barrel first and take my chances if I had to use the second one. A trip to the gunsmith for a hardened firing pin before my next outing fixed the problem – which is apparently very common on Brownings. A fantastic luncheon and two more drives finished the day – where are all those partridges coming from. Total tally 307 – but amazingly 237 partridges and 70 pheasants. And of the Reeves – well I’m pleased to say that the one I saw lived to fly another day. Meager Read