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The Yorkshire Gent

Driven Pheasant Shooting – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Driven Pheasant Shooting – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Driven pheasant shooting is probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think of game shooting.

These shoots take place across the UK and although big days can be expensive, there are also some very good value days on offer if you look hard enough making it accessible to all.

If you have never shot driven pheasants before, this guide will give you all the information you need to go and confidently book your first day.

You will learn about the quarry, how shoots work behind the scenes, how you should prepare for your first day and what will happen when you get there. In later articles, we’ll also cover what to wear when shooting game, how to wear it and also tell you all you need to know about the main thing that puts people off getting involved in driven pheasant shooting – etiquette. We aim to simplify the whole thing for you.

If you have shot driven pheasants before, please read on – there are still things you will learn!

About the Pheasant

Although not native to the UK, pheasants have been part of the British landscape since the 15th century. They originate from Asia but are now widespread across Europe and North America.

These wonderful looking game birds are hard not to love. Males are probably the prettiest with their vibrant colours and long, barred tail feathers.

Pheasants are normally found in woodland and and on agricultural land as they like thick cover. They feed mainly on seeds, insects and berries.


Brief History of Pheasant Shooting

Historically, game shooting was a pastime associated with royalty and the aristocracy. As mentioned in the intro though, this has changed massively and is now accessible to all.

Game shooting didn’t really become popular until the 18th century when shotguns started to improve. Before then, netting and hawking methods were used to put game birds on the table. In the early days, most shooting was walked up meaning that the guns would walk and flush the birds themselves with help from their dogs.

By the end of the 18th century, game shooting was so popular that shooting schools started to appear as participants were eager to improve their success rate.

By the mid-19th century, driven game shooting was the norm although walked up shooting still took place. The main difference between this and walked up shooting is how the birds are flushed – with driven shooting, a team of beaters will walk towards the guns and flush the birds over them.

In the Victorian era, most game shooting took place on the large estates of the Scottish Highlands but now you will find a shoot fairly close to you wherever in the UK you happen to live.

Pheasant Seasons

Pheasants cannot be shot at any time throughout the year. There are strict seasons in place for most game and these can differ between England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  • England & Wales – October 1st until February 1st (inclusive)
  • Scotland – October 1st until February 1st (inclusive)
  • Northern Ireland – October 1st until January 31st (inclusive)

How Modern Day Pheasant Shoots Operate

Running a successful pheasant shoot is an expensive and time consuming operation. On a commercial shoot, at least one full time gamekeeper is normally employed along with part time beaters and pickers up.

Other costs include pheasant poults, maintenance of release pens and equipment to feed and water the birds, the food to feed the birds and of course the rent for the land (if the shoot doesn’t own it).

There are a lot of DIY style shoots across the UK which don’t have full time keepers or shoot over prime land so costs are generally lower.

To give you an idea about what sort of work goes into making a pheasant shoot successful, here is a breakdown of some of the duties a gamekeeper is responsible for.

  • Managing the land for the benefit of game (within this there are many other jobs)
  • Building and maintenance of release pens
  • Feeding and watering pheasants (there can be hundreds of feeders around the shoot that need topping up on a regular basis)
  • Predator control (foxes in the main)
  • Protecting pheasants from poachers
  • Hiring and managing beaters and pickers up
  • Planning drives
  • Organising shoot days
  • Handling the shot game correctly and arranging the sale of it via game dealers

Most shoots, whether a commercial operation or a local syndicate will have a shoot captain. In syndicates, this is normally an experienced member of the group who knows how things work and enjoys organising things on the day. On a commercial shoot, it could be somebody employed by the estate.

A captain’s job is to look after the guns and ensure that everything runs smoothly on that side of things while the gamekeeper normally direct the beaters. Some of the tasks carried out by a captain on a shoot day include:

  • Greeting the guns when they arrive
  • Organising the drawing of pegs (more on this later)
  • Doing the safety briefing and explaining how the day will run along with the explanation of any rules in place (eg what can and can’t be shot)
  • Advising guns on what to expect from different drives
  • Making sure that all guns are operating in a safe manor
  • Organising timings for lunch etc…
  • Organising logistics for the guns between drives

Most commercial operations will have multiple shoot days each week whereas syndicates will normally shoot 8 – 10 times throughout a season (fortnightly on a Saturday is common).

How Much Does Driven Pheasant Shooting Cost?

The cost to shoot driven pheasants differs greatly depending on a number of factors – whether the shoot is a commercial one and has high overheads, what the bag size is, how many guns are able to shoot etc…

The formula for working out how much a day will cost is as follows:

  • Cost per pheasant (normally around £30) x bag size (number of birds that will be shot) / the number of guns

So, if you wanted to attend a 150 bird day and there were 10 guns shooting, at £30 per bird that would cost you £450. Normally, VAT would be added to that so check the price including VAT so you don’t get caught out.

Additional costs for the day would include the gamekeeper’s tip (the old fashioned way of doing it is £30 for the first 100 birds and then £10 per 100 birds after that – the amount you tip is of course at your discretion but if the day has been successful, do try to show the keeper your appreciation of all the hard work he or she has put into making it happen. Normally the guns will discuss a suitable tip between them so try to listen out for these conversations so you don’t end up tipping less than everybody else).

Other costs include the cartridges you use and the fuel to get you there. You will also need suitable insurance when doing any form of shooting – many of the countryside and shooting associations bundle this with membership. Have a look at BASC and the Countryside Alliance for more information.

The cost of a pheasant syndicate will generally workout cheaper but is also likely to involve some physical labour in the form of work parties and feeding responsibilities throughout the year if it’s a DIY affair. A DIY syndicate can start from around £500 a season, if you shoot 10 says then this is great value pheasant shooting although the bags are normally quite small as a low number of birds will be put down.

Some syndicates will employ part time or even full time keepers so costs are generally higher on these but they can still represent good value for money.

How it Works on the Day

Getting to this point requires finding a suitable shoot so we’ll come onto how to do that shortly. For now though, let’s assume that you have booked a day on a commercial shoot – here’s what to expect on the day.

Meeting place – this will either be at a specified location on the estate or at a local pub for breakfast.

Safety briefing and drawing pegs – the shoot host/captain will explain how the day will run, what can and can’t be shot and give an overview of the rules around safety and conduct. He or she will then invite you to draw for your peg number.

On each drive there will be numbered pegs where each gun will stand and once drawn, the captain will explain how many pegs you move up each drive. For example if you draw peg number five, you will shoot the first drive at peg five but then if the rule is that you move up two pegs each time, you will shoot the second drive from peg number seven, the third drive at peg number nine and assuming there are 10 guns and pegs in total, peg number one for the fourth drive etc… etc… The point of this is so that everybody gets a chance to shoot at different positions in the line throughout the day.

To draw your peg, a leather wallet with metal pegs will be passed around, simply take one out to look at the number and then do everything in your power to remember it!

Getting to your peg you will either walk, drive or taken in the gun bus to your peg. A gun bus may sound glamorous but it can range from an ex military truck to an old trailer being towed by an even older Land Rover! Either way, it beats walking.

When the captain gave a briefing at the beginning of the day, you will have been told whether you are ‘live on peg’ or not. This means that as soon as you get to your peg you can start shooting the allowed quarry should something fly over you. If you haven’t been told that you’re live on peg, assume that you’re waiting for a horn or whistle to blow before loading your gun ready to start shooting.

The drive begins! – if you don’t see the beaters you might hear them, the cracking of flags, clapping of hands, tapping of sticks and generally a few strange noises coming from their mouths – their noise will flush the pheasants over where you stand, this is what you came for.

A horn or whistle should sound the end of the drive and at this point you should unload your gun and put it back in your slip – always make your your gun is unloaded and in the slip between drives.

Elevenses – this will normally be after the first or second drive. It’s basically a break that may consist of soup, pies or some other hot tasty food. Tea or coffee may be served and also sloe gin of which you should only have a small amount.

Morning drives – after elevenses, the rest of the morning drives will take place.

Lunch – if lunch is being provided by the host, it could be served in a number of locations – a cabin or barn on the estate, a local pub or even in the main house if there is one. Either way, this is a great chance to chat about how the day is going and meet new people with which you share a similar interest. The social side of shooting is very important.

Afternoon drives – after lunch, the afternoon drives take place which will normally end mid-late afternoon.

If the bag limit has been reached – if you have bought a 150 bird day, shooting will normally stopped after it has been reached. Some shoots don’t charge for overages, some do but this is the point where you will be asked if you wish to continue shooting and told about the associated cost.

If it’s fairly early in the day, the likelihood is that most will want to continue shooting so if you can, try to go along with it but if you really don’t want to spend the extra money, you can stop at this point. Remember that for each additional bird shot, you will pay a certain amount towards it (cost per bird / total number of guns) whether you shot it or not.

If you’re uncomfortable with this, look for shoots that advertise ‘no overage charge’ and this won’t cause you any problems.

Finishing the day – at the end of the day, the guns will get together with the shoot captain and discuss how the day has gone. It’s normally at this point that the gamekeeper will offer the guns a brace of pheasant. You should accept every time as not only do they taste delicious and you should be eating what you shoot, this is the time to tip the keeper. You will exchange your tip for the brace, normally with a handshake to pass on the tip in a discreet way.

This video discusses the subject of tipping and demonstrates ‘the handshake’.

Your brace may come in oven ready form or as they were shot. Luckily, preparing them for the table is straightforward, especially if you’re only planning on using the breast meat (which is where most of the meat on the bird is).

This video is well worth a watch and shows you how to easily remove the breast meat.

How to Start Driven Pheasant Shooting

To start with, you will need to find shooting opportunities. These can be found through local connections, shooting forums (Pigeon Watch and The Hunting Life have sections for game shooting opportunities) or probably the best and easiest, Guns on Pegs.

Guns on Pegs has been around for a while now and the site makes it super easy to find and book shooting days.

So go on, what are you waiting for – you know know how driven pheasant shooting works so get looking for your first day.