1The first thing to do is get your guns serviced by a certified gunsmith. If you arrive on the first day without checking if everything is in working order, then you run the risk of your gun failing at some stage in the day. Consider taking a shooting lesson with a qualified instructor at a shooting school, they will be able to pick up any bad habits from last season and you’ll be able to get your eye in before the season opens. If you have a gun dog also bear in mind they also won’t be used to the whistle or retrieving, so throw some dummies and work on basic commands so you are both ready for the big day.
2Whilst it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement the evening before your first day - especially if you’re staying over with the shoot party - get organised the day before, so you are completely ready for the shoot in the morning. Have a checklist of what you need to take with you, so you don’t forget something!
3Whether you’re shooting a side-by-side or over-and-under, we would recommend a 28 - 30 gram cartridge 6 or 7 shot for 12 bore, or 24 – 28 gram 6 or 7 shot for 20 bore. For 99% of partridges this will be sufficient in bringing a clean kill. Respect the shoot and always use a fibre or felt wad.
4So often the speech at the start of the day is like the safety briefing on an aeroplane – you’ve heard it all before and you don’t pay much attention. Then you’ll find yourself asking during the day how pegs are numbering; is there a whistle to finish, or how many drives are there? It is crucial, especially on partridge, that you listen to the morning speech. If shooting pigeons isn’t mentioned, remember to ask, as shooting an early pigeon can ruin months of hard work.
5Be quiet as soon as you get to the drive; you can chat with fellow guns after the whistle. When you arrive at your peg, always check where your neighbours and picker-ups are. This is especially important in steeper valleys – make sure all the angles are safe; lead can carry a great distance.
6As in any sport, confidence is key. Be positive when your pick up a bird and take the shot early, do not focus on a second bird until the first has folded. Remember your lead hand and use this to drive at the bird, keeping your head well on your stock throughout the shot is vital for consistent shooting. Footwork is also a crucial part of the shot – step into the shot you’re going to take and focus on the bird – this is so important for a clean kill.
7Once you are 'locked on' to the bird try to maintain the line of bird. It is not always about lead - especially with partridge, birds tend to be missed above or below the line. Be instinctive with the shot as timing is everything; follow through and don’t lose focus, remember confidence is everything.
8On early season days there tends to be a surplus of sporting birds, so be selective. But most importantly be respectful for your neighbour, it’s always better to leave a bird for them as there will always be plenty of birds for you to shoot at.
9It is important on any game day to pick up what is around your peg and dispatch anything quickly and respectfully. Too many times guns walk away at the end of the drive without considering what they’ve shot. It is also important to talk to the picker-ups about pricked birds that have gone further on and engage with them about the drive, they are a vital cog in the makeup of a day in the field.
10At the end of the day it is important to see the keeper, speak with them about the enjoyable day you’ve had and a particular drive you liked the most. Remember they have worked very hard over the previous 6 months to make the day possible and they should be respected for this. If you aren’t sure on how much to tip, speak with the host or shoot captain and they will advise you on the proper form. Always take a brace of bird where possible, it is vital to the future of our sport that we all eat what we shoot.
Most importantly enjoy the day, remember how lucky you are to be there and make an effort to speak to everyone involved – from beaters to keepers, and the chefs making your lunch – they are all part of making it a memorable day.