High and mighty
Richard Faulds takes us through the techniques needed to connect with extreme high birds
Firstly, when dealing with live quarry it’s important to know your limitations, and those of your chosen gun and cartridge combination.
If you struggle to connect consistently with average 30 yard birds, you shouldn’t take on the challenge of high birds until you have had plenty of practice on a shooting ground’s high tower and, if possible, you should take a good instructor with you on the day to help make the best of the opportunity.
If you don’t prepare properly, then the chances are that the experience will a) destroy all confidence in your ability and b) most importantly, you will probably end up pricking far more birds than you bring down, which is unforgivable.
When taking on birds at 40 yards, 50 or even further, you must go suitably equipped – and a traditional lightweight English style side-by-side game gun is about as far from suitable as it’s possible to be! Its slender build means that the heavy loads you will be using will turn it into a sledgehammer that pounds you mercilessly with every shot, and some may not even be proofed for the kind of ammunition required.
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Similarly, as most game guns are choked Improved Cylinder or � and �, you are likely to suffer from pattern failure at long range. This will mean that the picking up team will be searching hither and thither chasing runners after the drive has finished.
Talk to anyone that regularly shoots high birds and their preferred choking will be � and �, or more often Full and Full – and in some cases even Super Full and Super Full. For the shooter that likes to use one gun for all their live quarry shooting, that means a multi-choked over-and-under is probably the sensible choice, combined with a load of at least 34g of number 4 or 5. Some choose to go to 36g or even up to 40g and beyond with shot sizes of number 3 or, on occasion, number 1.
Just remember that while the larger shot sizes do give more stopping power, you run the risk of pattern failure – hence those choosing such large shot tend to use magnum or semi magnum loads.
My preferred choice for an all-round high bird cartridge would be 36g 4 Express Super Game. Occasionally I have used 42g 4s and even 52g 3s, but after firing a box of such monsters you really do know it, so fierce can the recoil be.
On the very high bird shoots it’s actually quite rare to take a bird as a straight driven shot. Due to the height and angle of the birds, most shots may turn into a high overhead crossing shot over either shoulder. This makes it far easier to see the lead picture, which reduces the disadvantage that would normally dog a shooter who closes one eye.
Shooting at birds at extreme ranges may require huge leads – for example, on an average 40 yard high pheasant with the wind behind it, you probably need to see five or six pheasant lengths in front. If you take an average pheasant to be about 18 inches from beak to tail, that calculates to about 9ft.
Also, if it’s halfway between you and your neighbour, which means it’s 25 yards out and 40 yards up, the distance to the bird is close to 50 yards. Bear in mind that lead changes depending on the individual and their gun speed but my picture would be five pheasant lengths.
Getting on the line of the bird can be very tricky and a higher bird can be drifting left or right or curling, in which case you need to drop the appropriate shoulder.
For instance, for a left-to-right bird you should drop the right shoulder, and vice versa if going right to left. This ensures that the barrels stay at right angles to the line of the flight of the bird.
Where you place and move your feet is also key. You have plenty of time to move your feet into the right spot when shooting high birds. For a right-handed shooter tackling a bird to your right, you need to shuffle your feet clockwise, about a quarter of a clock face. Doing this can make the difference between tail feathers and a dead bird.
This is always critical. If you mount on it too early, the likelihood is that you will also shoot too early, so think of vertical as being where you might take your second shot. Try to mount the gun at 10 o’clock, take the first shot at 11 and the second at 12.
Don’t expect to be dropping these birds at your feet; more likely it will be 30-40 yards behind you.
From a technique perspective, rather than use ‘bum, belly, beak, bang’, it’s more ‘belly, beak, big gap, bang’, which is more of a pull away shot than a swing through. You have to make contact with the bird but don’t try and waste swing behind the bird; save the swing to drive away off the beak.
It’s vital to be confident in your shooting, so if you are struggling on a particular drive and the opportunity to boost your confidence with a 30-35 yarder presents itself, don’t shy away from that chance to get back into a rhythm. Bear in mind that on most shoots that would in itself be called a high bird.
Poaching isn’t such an issue on these days and Guns may well be placed closer together than normal, meaning that each pheasant may be fired at by more than one Gun. Try not to shoot over your neighbour but if you are locked onto a bird and it starts to curl, it’s difficult to then make a conscious effort to pull off once committed.
Get it all right and you will have a day that you will remember for years to come. So long as you arrive well prepared, you should be more than capable of bringing down some of the most challenging game birds seen anywhere in the world. Enjoy!