The best partridge shoots you have probably never heard of
How redleg partridges have transformed game shooting in Britain, by Mike Barnes.
It is perhaps now hard to believe that the redleg partridge was much maligned as a quarry species for many years after it was first imported into the UK from the Continent during the mid 18th century (notably Hungary, Spain and France – hence the tag ‘Frenchman’).
Indeed it wasn’t until 1992 that this view was to change. The year in question being when the rearing and release of chukar partridges was outlawed, very much against the wishes of the Game Farmers’ Association.
The chukar is a Eurasian native of the pheasant family, very similar in appearance to a pure redleg, slightly smaller and a prolific breeder. But, and it’s a big but, they are poor fliers, even as hybrids. So while they were good news for game farmers, their reputation was certainly not without foundation. In fact, it probably took 10 years for the pure redleg to win over the critics, by which time its versatility had not only gained many friends, but extended the shooting season.
On ground which had been considered inadequate for driven pheasants, the slopes, tree belts and tall hedges were perfect for redlegs – where pheasants, particularly early season, had lumbered, redlegs rocketed. Shoots which were not starting their programme until the first week of November, could now enjoy sport in September and October.
Shoots, already famous for quality pheasants, now also viewed partridges as an important part of their agenda. Indeed several famous shoots now major on redlegs.
The other really intriguing development is that there are some outstanding shoots offering sport to rival the big names, and probably do not involve a trek across the country, nor a hotel bill. Norfolk is a perfect example.
Those who dismiss the county as flat and featureless, can never have visited the likes of the excellent Saham Hall (Kevin Bowes), Hillington (David Flux) or Letheringsett (Robert Carter), just three partridge shoots which deliver top-drawer sport.
In our own patch, within range of the Fieldsports offices, apart from the long-established names such as Buckminster and Belvoir, there’s Wilsford (Tim Dean), Heydour (Tim Radford), Marston (Robert Beckett) and Nocton Heath (Robert Howard), all offering classic sport. As does Blatherwycke (the George family).
Good shooting can now be found in most parts of the UK. Last season I visited a super shoot at Brightwalton on the Berkshire Downs, which I had never even heard of. Then there’s the brilliantlyrun Hatchpen shoot (David Rands) near Royston, definitely on the radar of those who know.
Nowadays, far and wide, from the tip of the UK there’s Pawton Manor in Cornwall, to the top, Brucklay in Aberdeen (where I saw my wife shoot three partridges I will never forget!). I guess all readers can name their own favourites – it might even be a couple of drives on the local syndicate. And what fun are those late-season mixed drives.
Praise be to the redleg!