To complement the established pheasant shooting program, our host, Wilson Young and his staff at Eskdale Shooting Services were one of the first to develop partridge shooting. If you are looking for high-quality shooting, this is the place to visit. I knew Wilson’s team was well-known for challenging birds, but our group was overwhelmingly impressed with the high, healthy birds and their fast flight over the guns.
With game shooting available on over 65,000 acres within the Scottish Borders and Northumberland, Eskdale Shooting Services is justifiably recognized as one of the premiere operators for challenging sporting shooting throughout Scotland and the UK. The shooting available is wide and varied with renowned drives providing high, testing pheasants and partridges that will offer thrilling sport to the most experienced gun. Many of their drives are well-known throughout the entire shooting world and are nestled in stunning countryside.
We spent our three days at Bowmont, a beautiful estate of +/- 12,000 acres, about 40-minutes away from our hotel. Owned by the Duke of Roxburghe, the Bowmont Valley is situated in the heart of the Cheviot Hills on the Scottish side of the border with England. Eskdale has over 50 drives in steep valleys, providing fabulous quality driven pheasant and partridge. Lines could easily shoot on this estate for a week and never repeat a drive. This property also has walk-up shooting over pointers, referred to as “rough” shooting in Scotland for any clients who want to combine rough shooting with driven birds.
We met the Head Gamekeeper, Leon Flint, who has been with Eksdale since 1999. He was instrumental in developing a wide-range of high quality drives, which test even the finest marksmen to the extreme. Helped by his right hand man, Paul Knox, new drives are still being developed. With flagship drives such as Sourhope, Gloomy Cleuch, The Banks, Auchope Cottage, Dodd Hill, The Red Gyle, Dry Slack and Cheviot Burn, the shooting world will be impressed – not only for the quality, but also the quantity of the birds shown. Unbelievable pheasant and partridge in fabulous scenery just does not get any better than the Bowmont Valley.
At this time of the year, the days are pretty short with the sun setting shortly after 4 pm. Typically, we left the hotel at 8:30 am and were in position for our first drive by about 9:45 am. The excitement builds as the beaters start pushing the early birds over the line. Each gun has a “loader” who helps get the shooter in the proper location, assists with the gear and with spotting the birds. Most importantly, he is there for your safety to load the guns, maximizing the client’s shooting time when the birds are coming over in quantity. The loaders also tell you which birds to pass on if they are too low or if there are any field staff or dog handlers of whom to be aware.
From start to finish, the drives generally last about 25-40 minutes. You then load up into the vehicles and move to the next location. We experienced three drives before lunch. After the second drive, soup and light snacks (including wonderful locally smoked salmon) are served in the field. After the third drive, a filling lunch is provided. Bowmont has a nice warming hut with a bathroom, kitchen and dining room – with a welcomed wood stove in early November. Lunch had very hot soup and a traditional Scottish dish such as lamb stew, followed by a simple dessert and fresh cheeses. We then headed out for our fourth and final drive of the day. Typically, we were back at the hotel by 5:00 pm and looking forward to a nice dinner evening.
The second day, Mother Nature dealt us a bad hand and we had wind and rain most of the day. The birds still flew very well and were incredibly challenging – especially downwind. We also experienced our first partridge drive which was daunting based on the size, speed and height of these much smaller game birds. Hitting those smaller, darting birds at extreme elevation was exceedingly difficult. Again, reminding me to do a little more practice on clays before my next departure for shooting in Europe.
As a dog enthusiast, it was a pleasure watching the handlers work their Labradors, cockers and springers retrieving the pheasants and partridges after the drive. The dogs were very obedient, quiet and they rarely missed a bird. A few had great hope in their eyes sitting behind me… I am sure they were disappointed in my misses – especially on the partridge!
The third day started to clear and we had four great drives (including another partridge drive) with the last shoot in abundant sunshine on a beautiful hillside with a rainbow and an incredible number of pheasant. The farewell dinner included tender roast beef and plenty of nice French red wine before retiring early for our fights out of Edinburgh in the morning.
The history, lore and tradition of European driven shoots are very special and should be experienced by all avid shotgunners. It is no longer necessary to travel with an intact, full line of guns. Whether you are an individual or if you have a small group, we can help you experience this remarkable hunt – even if you only have a day or two in conjunction with a trip to the United Kingdom. This shoot was a great trip with a very nice group of clients. It was fun to see some of our group enjoying their first driven shoot. Everyone shot safely and well. I hope to host another group in 2015 or 2016. Please let me know if you would like to join me!
By: Mike Fitzgerald, Jr.