For those unfamiliar with the sport of driven bird shooting, it is a type of bird hunting that initially gained popularity in England during the Edwardian period among kings and nobility. Thus, it’s as much a social event as it is a hunting experience. In addition, unlike other less formal types of bird hunting, driven bird shoots follow a traditional format that places the guns (aka shooters) at designated shooting stations in a field while so-called “beaters” flush and drives the birds towards the guns.
In addition, traditional driven bird shoots are widespread throughout Europe, the United States, and South Africa and are relatively easy to find and book. Plus, they are generally open to anyone old enough to handle a shotgun responsibly and follow the rules mentioned by the shoot captain during the morning briefing.
So, if this sounds like a sport that may interest you, read for more information on the fast-paced sport of traditional driven bird shooting.
The History of Driven Bird Shoots
According to recorded history, European hunters began using matchlock and wheellock muskets sometime in the 16th century to hunt waterfowl and game birds while resting on the ground or the water. During this period when falconry was fashionable, the sport of releasing pheasants and mallards began in England.
Then, during the 17th century, hunters began using muzzle-loading shotguns for hunting pheasants on the wing. However, it was not until the development of breech-loading shotguns and metallic shotgun shells during the beginning of the 18 century that wing shooting became truly popular.
Again, according to history, the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury began a tour of Europe in 1799. While visiting Austria, he encountered a sport called “Battue,” which employed beaters to flush birds and drive them toward waiting hunters. Consequently, finding the new sport exciting, he imported it to England, and thus, the British sport of driven bird shooting was born.
The Driven Bird Shooting Experience
Next, while the quality and quantity of birds taken during a driven bird shoot have vastly improved since the early days, what seems to attract most hunters to the sport is that traditional driven shooting is very much a social event with considerable camaraderie among the shooters.
Thus, guns (the British term for shooters) generally dine together during breakfast and the midday meal and are usually transported to and from the field in groups. Also, while drinking a bit of alcohol during the shoot is considered acceptable, drinking too much is not due to the safety issues overconsumption presents.
In addition, the modern sport of driven bird shooting tends to be very fast-paced due to the ability of modern gamekeepers to raise and release prodigious numbers of birds on the lands they manage. Consequently, traditional bird shooting consists of multiple daily drives, and guns often fire as many as 50 to 100 rounds per drive at passing birds.
Furthermore, while some driven bird shoots occur in open fields where the birds are driven past waiting hunters and thus provide classic passing shots, other driven bird shoots are held in moors (undeveloped open woodlands) where the birds are flushed than driven.
This makes guns significantly challenging since they often have far less time to spot, track, and shoot rising or passing birds.
Nonetheless, both types of driven bird shoots employ human “beaters” who walk the fields and moors to flush the birds and drive them toward waiting guns, as well as both human and canine retrievers to locate and retrieve downed birds for the guns.
Typical Driven Bird Shooting Species
However, although the sport of driven bird shooting initially focused on hunting pheasants and mallards, the modern European sport generally focuses on hunting Common Pheasants and Red Grouse. In contrast, the American sport generally focuses on hunting Ring-necked Pheasants, Bobwhite Quail, Red-legged Partridges (aka “Chukars”), and Ruffed Grouse.
On the other hand, because Europeans settled in South Africa during the era of colonization, traditional driven shooting is also popular in that region. But, because South Africa lacks the game bird species commonly found in Europe and North America, driven bird shoots in South Africa target Francolin and Guineafowl instead.
Thus, because each of these game bird species are ground-dwelling birds, they are prime choices for traditional driven shooting because their instinct is to hold their positions until flushed by the beaters and then fly relatively short distances before going to ground again instead of making long, fast, flights like Mourning Doves do.
What to Expect on Shooting Day
Because traditional driven shooting was originally a sport only open to kings and members of the nobility, it was designed to be as much a social event as it was a sport. Therefore, most modern driven bird shoots follow a traditional format.
Consequently, most traditional driven shoots start the day by having the guns meet either at a local pub, cafe, or restaurant for breakfast or on the estate, farm, or ranch where the shoot is to take place. Next, guns are presented with a safety briefing by the shoot captain, explaining what bird species are allowed to be shot and the rules governing safe shooting. Then, guns are invited to draw their pegs.
Next, guns either walk, drive or are transported by the gun bus to the field where they will find their pegs. Then, once all the guns are on their respective pegs, the drive will begin, and guns can start firing at passing birds. Then, once the drive is finished, a horn or whistle will be blown to indicate to the guns that the drive has ended and that they should unload their shotguns and return them to their slips (aka gun cases).
Next comes “Elevenses,” which usually takes place after the first or second drive, during which food is provided for the guns along with tea, coffee, and sometimes sloe gin. Then, after Elevenses, the morning drives continue until lunch.
Next, provided that the host of the shoot is serving lunch, it may be done on the estate, farm, or ranch where the shoot is being held, or it may take place at a local pub, cafe, or restaurant, and this break provides guns with a chance to chat and discuss the morning drives.
Then, after lunch, the guns are returned to the field or the moor for the afternoon drives, which typically end mid or late afternoon. Then, once the day’s shooting concludes, guns will gather together with the captain of the shoot to discuss the day’s drives. Also, guns are generally offered a brace of the birds by the gamekeeper at the end of the shoot, and it’s typical for guns to accept the brace in exchange for a tip to the gamekeeper, which is typically done with a handshake to be discreet.
The Peg System
Another factor of traditional driven bird shooting is that because driven bird shooting is a formal shooting sport, guns are required to follow proper shooting etiquette. Thus, while some guns find this perfectly acceptable, others find it disconcerting.
Nonetheless, before the beginning of the first-morning drive on shoots where the shooting will take place in an open field rather than on a moor, a leather wallet or other receptacle containing numbered metal pegs will be passed among the guns, and each gun will be invited to draw a peg. Then, each gun will move out to its numbered peg (aka shooting station), which will be placed in the field where they will stand for the duration of the drive.
Then, depending on the rule given by the shoot captain, each gun will move a given number of pegs for each drive, with the point being to provide each gun with a chance to shoot from a different position during each drive.
In addition, guns will have been informed during the morning briefing by the captain of the shoot whether or not they are “live on peg.” If so, then guns are allowed to start shooting the acceptable bird species immediately upon reaching their peg.
However, if the guns are not live on peg, they must wait for a signal, such as a whistle or horn, to be blown before they can start shooting. Consequently, it’s the peg system aspect of traditional driven shooting that some guns find disconcerting.
Traditional Driven Bird Shooting Apparel
Last, although the issue of proper shooting apparel for driven bird shooting is not of particular importance to American shooters, for British guns, traditional shooting apparel is equally an integral part of the sport as the social aspect. Consequently, British guns are expected to wear traditional British “country attire” when participating in driven bird shoots.
In addition, because most British driven bird shoots are held during the winter months (generally October through February), traditional clothing for driven bird shoots must keep the shooter both warm and dry while providing plenty of freedom of movement. Therefore, layering one’s clothing is the system of choice.
The Base Layer
Therefore, to remain both warm and dry during particularly cold weather, most guns prefer to start with a base layer of long underwear, and, although this layer was traditionally made of wool, most modern guns tend to prefer polyester fleece instead because it’s far more comfortable against the skin than wool.
In addition, long socks made of wool and a bit of nylon are also worn due to the tall boots that are usually worn during driven bird shoots, and these are typically combined with garters to seal the seam between socks and breaks to keep the weather out.
The First Layer
Next, although a base layer is optional depending on the temperature, a traditional shooting shirt and breeks are always worn during a driven bird shoot.
Thus, specialized shooting shirts for driven bird shooting are most often made of a blend of cotton and wool. While these shirts appear identical to a common dress shirt, they are a bit warmer and typically have a checkered pattern such as tattersall or gingham. In addition, they also fit more loosely and have long sleeves and longer tails than dress shirts to provide greater freedom of movement and keep them tucked into one’s breaks when mounting a shotgun.
In addition, British guns are also expected to wear a necktie since this is considered to be a sign of respect to the game birds and the gamekeepers who manage them. Thus, typical shooting ties are usually made of wool rather than cotton or silk to withstand the weather and often feature bright colors or hunting-related prints such as rising pheasants or bounding hares.
Next, British guns are expected to wear a pair of breeks with their shooting shirt to complete the first layer. Thus, breaks are a pair of trousers typically made of tweed cut two or four inches above the knees to accommodate the tall, leather Wellington boots typically worn for driven bird shoots. Consequently, breeks are sometimes referred to as “plus two’s” or “plus four’s.
In addition, rather than wearing a belt to aid in holding up one’s breeks, traditional British country attire calls for a pair of braces (aka suspenders). The breeks are made from a fabric called box cloth; thus, they are far more sturdy than those commonly worn with dress pants.
The Second Layer
Next is the second layer, which is always worn with the first layer regardless of the weather and consists of a waistcoat and Wellington boots or brogues.
Thus, traditional shooting waistcoats (aka vests) are typically made of tweed and feature a sleeveless design. They are much longer than typical dress waistcoats, and thus, they extend well below the gun’s waist.
In addition, they also feature large, baggy pockets to hold shotshells. Finally, they have integral shoulder pads to protect the gun’s shoulder when shooting and protect the fabric from the wear caused by the repeated mounting and dismounting of a shotgun.
In addition, traditional driven bird shooting attire calls for a pair of leather Wellington boots or tall rubber boots to keep debris, dirt, and mud from dirtying one’s breaks. However, some guns prefer to wear brogues instead of boots on warmer days.
The Third Layer
Last is the third layer which is optional depending on the temperature and the weather. Therefore, traditional country attire in warmer weather calls for a gun to wear a lightweight single-breasted, three-button, tweed jacket. But, in cold weather, guns typically wear a heavier shooting jacket such as Norfolk jacket, a Hacking jacket, or a Covert coat. However, despite their differences, both jackets feature large pockets to hold shotshells.
Then, the final piece of traditional country attire is a tweed flat cap which is worn to help keep the shooter warm during cold weather and to ward off drizzle in inclement weather and is worn facing forward so that the bill will shade the gun’s eyes from the sun.
So, while British-style driven bird shooting is a popular shooting sport in Europe and South Africa, the American style of driven bird shooting is somewhat different but still very popular. In addition, driven bird shoots are not challenging to find in Europe or America. They are open to everyone old enough to handle a shotgun responsibly and follow the rules mentioned by the captain of the shoot during the morning brief.
However, Rovos Rail offers luxury South African British-style bird shoots for Francolin and Guineafowl, which can be booked through Charity Safaris for the ultimate, bespoke, driven bird shooting experience. Designed for both guns and non-shooters alike, Rovos Rail driven bird shoots are an eight-day immersion in luxury train travel starting in Pretoria and traveling westward through South Africa with stops in Mareetsane, Kameel (a suburb of Vryburg), Warrenton, Kimberly, Bloemfontein, and Kloofeind.
Also, while traveling on Rovos Rail, both guns and travelers will stay in luxury compartments and be treated to breakfast between 7:00 and 10:00 AM, lunch at 1:00 PM, tea at 4:30 PM, and dinner at 7:00 PM along with fantastic views of the South African landscape and the many different game species that inhabit that part of Africa.
In addition, while guns are participating in the scheduled driven bird shoots, non-shooters will be treated to unique South African experiences which will provide memories that will last a lifetime. Then, on the final day of the eight-day trip, the Rovos Rail train will return to the Rovos Rail station in Pretoria for disembarkation.
So, whether you already participate in driven bird shoots or are simply looking for a uniquely South African luxury experience, you can contact Charity Safaris to book your Rovos Rail driven bird shoot.