Partridge Hunting

The Use of Dogs and "Driving"

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Yielding perhaps in economic importance to the Red Grouse, what may be called the social influence of the Partridge is greater than that excited by any other wild bird.  Many rural parishes in the UK are more or less directly affected in their movements and business by the coming in of Partridge-shooting, and therefore, although it is certainly not an universally popular practice, a few words on the theme of partidge hunting may not be out of place.

The use of Dogs as Pointers

From the days when men learned to "shoot flying" until the latter half of the 19th century, dogs were generally if not invariably used to point out where the "covey," as a family-party of Partridges is called, was lodged, and the greatest pains were taken to break in the "pointers" or "setters" to their duty. In this way marvellous success was attained, and the delight lay nearly as much in seeing the dogs quarter the ground, wind and draw up to the game, helping them at times (for a thorough understanding between man and beast was necessary for the perfection of the sport) by word or gesture, as in bringing down the bird after it had been finally sprung. There were many who lamented that the old-fashioned practice of shooting Partridges to dogs, with rare exceptions, fell into desuetude around the late 19th century, and it is commonly believed that this followed wholly from the desire to make increasingly larger bags of game. This opinion has a certain amount of truth for its base; but those who hold it omit to notice the wholly changed circumstances in which Partridge-shooters now found themselves. Before the late 19th century there were plenty of broad, tangled hedgerows which afforded permanent harbour for the birds, and at the beginning of the shooting-season admirable shelter or "lying" (to use the sportsman's word) was found in the rough stubbles, often reaped knee-high, foul with weeds and left to stand some six or eight weeks before being ploughed, as well as in the turnips that were sown broadcast. Throughout the greater part of England the fences became reduced to the narrowest of boundaries in the late 19th century, and were mostly trimly kept; the stubbles - mown, to begin with, as closely as possible to the ground - being ploughed within a short time of the corn being carried, and the turnips are drilled in regular lines, offering inviting alleys between them along which Partridges take foot at any unusual noise. Pointers in such a district - and to this state of things all the arable part of England started to rapidly tend towards around that time - are simply useless, except at the beginning of the season, when the young birds are not as yet strong on the wing, and the old birds are still feeble from moulting their quill-feathers.

Partridge Driving

From the late 19th century therefore other modes of shooting Partridges had to be employed, of  which methods the most popular is that known as "driving" - the "guns" being stationed in more or less concealment at one end of the field, or series of fields, which is entered from the other by men or boys who deploy into line and walk across it making a noise to scare the birds in a certain direction. Much knowledge of the ways of Partridges is needed to ensure a successful day's "driving" as was required of old when nearly everything was left to the intelligence of the dogs, for the course of the birds' flight depends not only on the position of the line of beaters, but almost on the station of each person composing it, in relation to the force and direction of the wind and to the points on which it is desired that the Partridges should converge. Again, the skill and alacrity needed for bringing down birds flying at their utmost velocity, and often at a considerable height, is enormously greater than that which sufficed to stop those that had barely gone 20 yards from the dog's nose, though admittedly Partridges rise very quickly and immediately attain great speed. Moreover, the shooting of Partridges to pointers came to an end in little more than six weeks, whereas "driving" may be continued for the whole season, and is never more successful than when the birds, both young and old, have completed their moult, and are strongest on the wing.
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