If wanderlust strikes, where should one consider booking game shooting abroad? Ewan Davy asks those in the know
Game shooting abroad can both extend the shooting season and offer exciting alternatives for the next. But having difficulty narrowing down the bucket list? Ewan Davy shares the very best game shooting abroad, recommended by those in the know.
For more inspiration on sporting adventures abroad, read The Field’s guide to hunting in Ireland.
THE FIELD’S GUIDE TO GAME SHOOTING ABROAD
The keen shot has always looked over the water for the chance to extend their shooting season, and it gives the sporting adventurist an exciting and rich set of alternatives to consider for next season, too. So, if wanderlust strikes, The Field has asked those in the know where one should consider booking game-shooting abroad.
Without doubt, the draw of warmer climes and the opportunity to shoot into March is one of the main reasons guns flock to Spain to enjoy first-class partridge shooting.
“Spain is by far the most organised, professional and reliable place to go outside the UK for driven birds, and we are principally talking about partridges,” says Sir Edward Dashwood Bt, chairman of EJ Churchill. He adds: “The truly wild redleg can really only be found around Jerez, and is a rarity indeed, rather like the grey partridge in England. Where it does exist, those shoots will be limited to a day or two at most depending on the shootable surplus, so if you get the chance take it. These birds fly to escape, and this does not always mean flying high so they will not be for everyone. Think grouse…”
Gordon Robinson, of The Royal Berkshire Sporting Agency, adds: “One thing that all Spanish shoots have in common is remarkable hospitality. They really know how to look after people. Spain is a wonderful place to shoot if you plan to bring your partner, friends or family. The whole experience is very spoiling. You can shoot seven days a week and, depending upon the region, you can extend your shooting season right through to April.”
Adam Bromfield, of Roxtons and Ian Coley Sporting Ltd, agrees: “I’ve been organising partridge shooting in Spain for more than 20 years, and look forward to sharing the experience with clients, their wives and sometimes their whole families.”
WHERE TO SHOOT
Rob Fenwick, managing director of EJ Churchill, recommends Ventosilla, located in the Toledo region on the banks of the River Tajo. “It’s a first-class operation, and stunning from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave,” he says.
Ventosilla, the birthplace of partridge shooting in Spain, is steeped in history. The very first partridge drive was organised by the Duke of Santoña and HRH King Alfonso XIII in 1894, and, over the years, prime minsters, peers and royals alike have all shot here.
Today, the shoot continues in a grand style. It offers thousands of hectares to roam over, with more than 50 drives. Taking in stunning topography, the shoot features gills and valleys, presenting partridges ranging from very high English-style birds to more traditional Spanish driven partridges. Antonio Cavero has been running the shoot all his life, and his knowledge is second to none.
Guests stay in the palace itself, where they can enjoy wondrous gardens, excellent lunches, a superb wine list and luxurious accommodation, all delivered with a friendly family feel. The palace’s corridors are a particular highlight, displaying hunting trophies that have been collected by the family over the years.
“Most of the trips that we take at Ventosilla are about the shooting, and if we manage to find any spare time we think of ways to shoot more,” says Fenwick. “Next season, we are working on an exclusive opportunity with the same outfit in Seville, and this will provide some wonderful activities for other halves and friends.”
Prices start from €48 (£44) plus IVA (Spain’s equivalent to VAT) per bird, including hospitality, accommodation, licences and transport.
Gavin Lockhart-Mirams, director of the Glorious Game Sporting Co, organises shoot days in conjunction with the West London Shooting School. “West London guests are all keen shots and probably fall into two groups: those looking to continue shooting past the end of the UK season; and those who have become captivated by shooting in Spain. At the best estates, such as El Molino Blanco, guns enjoy a mixture of incredibly challenging high-crossing birds combined with traditional fast and furious Spanish partridge drives. Just don’t be put off by the thought of a long slog before you arrive – there are some very good estates just a short hop from Madrid.”
He recommends El Molino Blanco. “We think the heritage of El Molino Blanco sets it apart. The grandfather of the current owner, the Duque de Arión, began to organise driven partridge days on the estate with King Alfonso XIII at the beginning of the past century, and the estate has organised superb days since then.” The price is €35 (£32) a bird plus VAT this season, with a guide bag of 400 birds per day.
Bromfield recommends La Cuesta, an estate in Castilla-La Mancha between Ciudad Real and Albacete, two hours from Madrid. He says the shooting is “up there with the Drumlanrig of the UK”. In his view, it offers some of the most challenging partridges to be found in Europe.
Marked out as one for the purist shot, the estate has a never-ending number of stunning, steep valleys carved out over the centuries by meandering streams. Drives such as El Principe, La Communistas and Castillajo are said to test even the most accomplished of shots.
Combined with a luxurious hilltop lodge, with views over the dramatic Sierra Morena range, the estate is suited both to guns and their field-friendly non-shooting companions. Prices per gun start at €4,500 (£4,065) per day, covering all transfers, full board and accommodation (non-shooting guests pay €300/£270 per night), drinks, wine, cartridges and local hunting licences.
Robinson thinks highly of Los Melonares, the most southerly of the Spanish estates in The Royal Berkshire Sporting Agency’s repertoire. Situated near the ancient city of Seville, guests can enjoy testing birds and the delights of the city, with first-rate horse riding and bull fighting from March. It’s easy to understand the attraction.
The 1,500-hectare estate is owned by the Madariaga family, one of the best-known hunting dynasties in Spain. The undulating landscape is punctuated by oaks, brooms and olive trees and has stunning views over the Sierra Norte range. Delivering top-class driven partridges, drives of particular note are La Noria, Torreta and Los Naranjos, where birds set wing from the mountain making for fantastic sport. Delivering 12 to 14 drives in ‘the English style’, as well as a handful of Spanish drives, guns visiting Los Melonares will be thankful for their well-drilled loaders.
Providing a truly unique experience, shooting guests stay in the grandeur of Los Melonares Palace, revered for its Andalusian cuisine, and the internationally renowned Madariaga World Wide Trophy Room. Prices start at: €22,500 (£20,325) plus IVA for one day’s shooting, including all-inclusive accommodation at Los Melonares Palace.
Located in the Mediterranean, to the east of the Spanish mainland, shooting on Mallorca extends the season even further, running through to the end of April. Said to be a truly magical and surreal experience, the Royal Berkshire Sporting Agency recommends the 1,000-hectare Las Barracas Estate, situated between Calviá and Andratx, which has been owned by the Ressiñol family for two centuries.
Set against the backdrop of the Tramuntana mountains, the estate provides outstanding topography for high-quality driven partridges in good numbers. Each guest is provided with double guns, a ‘secretario’ gun bearer and his or her own loader – something of a necessity for busy days for up to 10 guns.
The drive to watch out for is the imposingly named El Muro, roughly translated as The Wall, which produces spectacular high birds, crossing partridges, large coveys and small flushes from all angles.
To keep you going, tapas and light refreshments are served during the shoot, followed by a meal in the main house against the glorious backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea. Guests stay in the estate’s recently renovated Las Barracas Country Lodge, a great base from which to explore when not shooting. Prices start at €13,800 (£12,467) plus IVA for 300 birds.
Other Spanish estates recommended include La Nava Del Barranco, north of Seville, and Las Golondrinas near Trujillo.
Arguably the closest and most convenient of continental shooting destinations, France may not be an obvious choice for driven pheasants but perhaps it should be.
“France maintains some good pheasant shoots, often with added character, which we are unused to in the UK,” says Sir Edward. “Participants tend to sport more orange in their attire, to include their dogs, which is traditional and often a requirement of some European shooting laws,” he adds. He recommends Sandricourt outside Paris and Les Bordes towards the south, where you can shoot standard pheasants mixed in with Reeves’s (known in France as vénérés). Red-legged partridges and grey partridges are often found in the bag, too.
Oliver Severn, of William Powell Sporting, believes France has everything that the discerning shot desires – and for a long weekend break with excellent sport, sublime surroundings and culture thrown in; you could do a lot worse.
Château de Voisins, located just 50km from Paris, is high among Severn’s recommendations, with its 2,500 acres providing an exciting mix of pheasants, partridges and duck. The estate is the family home of Count Jean de Fels, a keen and accomplished international shot in his own right who knows a thing or two about running a shoot. Centred on the impressive Château de Voisins, the estate’s drives take in mature woodland, undulating topography and a novel drive for which the Guns stand in the château’s gardens, positioned between manicured box hedges and mature rose beds.
“For real wow factor, Château de Voisins is hard to beat,” says Severn. “Guns and guests are welcomed by full butler service. Double-gunning is the order of the day and the five drives are interspersed by fine dining. Lunch consists of three courses in one of the château’s opulent dining rooms. The final two drives are followed by tea and cake in the library as the keepers, crowned in smart black military caps, lay the birds out in an artful display of respect.”
Prices start at €50 (£45) per bird. Accommodation and dinner are €600 (£542) per day (€150/£136 per non-shooting guest); €100 (£90) per day gun hire; €0.50 (45p) per shell; €100 (£90) each for loaders and gamekeepers; €80 (£72) for your overseas licence.
Season – third Sunday of September to 31 January, excluding Tuesdays and Fridays
Consider the hallmarks of Italy, and one thing that would almost certainly not be on that list is pheasant shooting. The truth is, estates offering driven pheasants are something of a rarity. More often than not they are private affairs, but talk to anyone in the know and one name keeps cropping up: Renacci. Located 40 minutes south of Florence, Renacci is considered numero uno, providing the best driven birds in Tuscany and, arguably, in the whole of Italy.
Managed by Duccio Corsini, the shooting estate has a fascinating and intriguing history. Its villa was commandeered by the German army as its regional HQ during World War II, and was burnt to the ground on their retreat. Unbowed by this callousness, Duccio’s great aunt rebuilt it, around which she created a partridge and pheasant shoot for friends and family.
Since her death, Corsini has been driven by the desire to create a shooting estate worthy of his great aunt’s memory. Taking on English gamekeepers in the early days, he was determined to create a shoot of the highest order in the English fashion.
In that he has succeeded. Dotted with grape vines, organic crops and oak
woodland, the estate’s rolling hills lie at the foot of the imposing Apennine massif of Pratomagno, making for high and fast birds, driven in the English fashion. Double guns are a must and loaders are provided.
Accommodation and dining at the estate’s beautiful villa can be booked on a day basis for shooting guests, or for a minimum of a week otherwise.
The Chianti Classico wine region is less than 45 minutes away, where tours of the Corsini family’s Villa Le Corti vineyard can be arranged. Wild-boar hunting is a big sport locally, and it’s not uncommon to see these imposing beasts rampaging along the estate’s vine rows mid-drive. Duccio also offers wild-boar shooting at his other wine producing estate, Tenuta Marsiliana in Maremma. Prices start from €24,000 (£21,677) for a party of 10. Breakfast, elevenses and an after-shoot lunch are included in the price, as are loaders.
CZECH REPUBLIC (OCTOBER-JANUARY)
For something spectacular, the Czech Republic’s fairytale castles and access to challenging sport has much to commend it, and there is none finer than Konopiste, the 50,000-acre former shooting and hunting estate of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which lies roughly 40 minutes south of Prague. This, according to Bromfield, is the pinnacle of Czech shooting.
Run for 25 years by the Zoske family, the shoot encompasses 2,000 acres with 20 main pheasant drives, including partridges. The shoot surrounds the rather amazing Konopiste Castle, a whitewashed vision with terracotta tiled turrets. The days begin with a short ceremony involving the guns, shoot staff, beaters and pickers-up. Here, instructions are given for the day, followed by the sounding of horns and the cry of “Lovu zdar,” or “Good hunting and cheers.”
The topography of the estate is varied, with ravine drives producing tall, testing birds over woodland, and cover-crop drives where the birds are driven from some distance.
“By the time they reach the guns, they are as sporting as one would want them to be,” says Bromfield.
Each gun is assigned two loaders, who assist with double guns. Signature drives include The Office, a pretty parkland affair that features a small lake and grotto bridge, and Castle Drive, sending high birds over tall Scots pines. The Canyon produces highly entertaining snap shooting from the base of gullies. The shoot ends with the laying out of the ‘tableau’ of shot game to the sounding of horns.
Most teams opt to stay in Prague. “As an old American client once said to me,” says Bromfield, “happy wives make happy hunters. Be that with gun or guidebook in hand, a trip to Konopiste delivers on both fronts.”
Prices start from €2,700 (£2,437) per gun. Bags of 400 birds a day are possible, depending on the time of the season. Prices include transfers to the estate, lunch, refreshments in the field and local hunting licences.
Sir Edward sums up shooting on the Continent perfectly: “The one thing you will find throughout Europe is tremendous tradition and respect for the game. This is demonstrated in the wonderful outfits they wear, combined with horn and trumpet players honouring the various quarry species, along with the dogs, keepers, beaters and hunters.
“It can be very moving, and no more so than when game is laid out on fronds of pine at the end of the day amid glowing braziers and the final lament is heard.”
SPORTING AGENCIES FOR SHOOTING ON THE CONTINENT
Renacci Country Sports Estates: tel +39 348 455 4550; email firstname.lastname@example.org; principecorsiniholidays.com/renacci-country-sport-estate-lodge