What Are Estate Shoots And Continental Hunts?
Just as many golfers dream of visiting St Andrews one day and fly fisherman fantasize about to walking the banks of the River Test, many bird hunters long to travel to an estate in Great Britain to experience driven shooting.
Bird hunting as we know it started in France hundreds of years ago and was brought to England in the 17th century by King Charles II. By 1800, it was popular throughout the UK and practiced in a fashion like today: Hunters used pointers, setters, or spaniels to find and flush birds. These birds would then be shot at while they were flying away. But in the 1870s, this style of bird hunting turned into something much grander and much different.
Instead of going out and finding game, sportsmen had grouse, pheasants, partridge, and other birds "driven" to them. Standing at positions called "butts" or "pegs", shooters had hundreds of birds pushed towards them by walking groups of "beaters". As the birds approached the butts or pegs, they took flight and shooters took aim.
By the 1900s, driven shoots had evolved into elaborate events involving a handful of shooters, dozens or even hundreds of beaters, and gamekeepers who managed all the activity. These shoots included "loaders" who stood beside shooters to reload their guns and "picker ups" who used dogs to retrieve downed game. In a single day, thousands of shots were fired and hundreds of birds were killed.
Depending on the birds being hunted, driven shoots were held in either large, open areas called moors or on fields and farmlands near luxurious estates. Some game, like grouse and woodcock, were wild-bird only. For pheasant and some partridge shoots, birds were pen raised and added to the field to supplement local populations.
Driven Shooting Today
Across the U.K. and in France and other parts of Europe, driven shoots are still popular. Starting in mid-August and running through January, some are still as grand as the ones held in the early 1900s. Others are smaller, less formal occasions.
Anyone interested in driven shooting in the U.K. can contact a British sporting agency for full details. Many American companies also offer trips overseas featuring driven shooting.
Types Of Birds Encountered On Driven Shoots
- Red grouse: Called ‘The king of gamebirds", red grouse are hunted on barren, rolling moors in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. They're native to the British Isles, similar in size to ruffed grouse, and prized by shooters because they're fast, agile, and difficult to hit.
- Pheasants: Brought to England in Roman times, pheasants are the most common gamebird in the UK. Because they're easy to raise and release into the wild, most British and European driven shoots focus on pheasants.
- Partridge: There are two types in the U.K., Grey and Red-legged. Grey partridge, also called traditional English partridge, are native to the UK. They were abundant up until the 1950s. After their populations collapsed, estates began releasing Red-legged partridge. Today, most places offering partridge shooting feature the red-legged variety.
- European woodcock: Larger than their North American cousins, these woodcock migrate throughout Europe. On most driven shoots, they're targets of opportunity. If one flies towards shooters, it's fair game. Other driven shoots focus on them exclusively.
You're Going To Pay
Of all the ways driven shooting differs from American bird hunting, costs is the most significant.
As part of something called the "North American Wildlife Conservation Model", all wildlife in the U.S. belongs to all Americans. Any of us can hunt it on public land for free as long as we follow state and federal laws.
In the UK, public hunting land barely exists and game is owned by the landowners. For the most part, they're free to manage this game as they see fit. When it comes to driven shooting, this includes a large, per-bird-killed price tag. For pheasants, this runs around £25 a piece. For red grouse, expect to pay £50+ per bird.
On a typical pheasant shoot, a team of six guns will kill 150-200 birds. Per person, this equals $1000 or more for a day in the field. Ouch.
Shotguns For Driven Shooting
Traditionally, driven shooting called for a pair of 6 ¾ pound 12-gauge side-by-side shotguns, preferably sidelocks, with straight grips, and double triggers. Today, more and more shooters use 12- and 20-gauge over-unders, especially heavy ones with long barrels, single triggers, and pistol grips if they're shooting pheasants.
Some driven shoots require you use a pair of guns and a loader. On others, you can use a single gun and reload it on your own or use a "stuffer" (a person who stuffs fresh cartridges into your gun after you fire and break it open).
Driven And "Continental" Shoots In The U.S.
In the past decade, the popularity of British driven shooting has spilled across the Atlantic and created similar opportunities here in the U.S.
- American driven shoots: Several outfits in the U.S. offer British-style pheasant and Chukar shoots on private farms, ranches and preserves throughout the country. Many of these shoots are run by British gamekeepers and feature all the best aspects of these events: Lots of birds, lots of shooting, retrieves by well-trained dogs, and a friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, they also feature high prices.
- Continental shoots: Also called "tower shoots", these include lots of birds, a high release tower, and shooters set in a line of British-style butts or pegs. Pen raised pheasants or Chukars are released from the tower. As they fly toward the shooters, the fun begins.
Driven shooting has thrived in the U.K. and Europe for well over a century now. For almost as long, Americans have dreamed about travelling overseas to try it for themselves. It's easy to understand why.
Driven shooting is thrilling and challenging. It's also social, giving you the chance to make friends and share experiences with people who also love bird hunting. If driven shooting is on you bucket, make plans to next season. And if it's not on your list, is should be.