As weekend breaks go, two days partridge shooting in the wonderful Andalusia region of southern Spain comes in near the top of the sportsman`s wish list. Flying out of Gatwick at 4pm on Friday and landing back there at 10pm on Sunday means that the whole trip can be undertaken for the loss of merely half a day at work. And all this at the end of February when the most British guns are beginning to feel serious withdrawal symptoms from the season recently finished.
In fact there is enough shooting in one weekend here to totally eradicate those blues for a considerable time. But, as we start our partridge season here, it is interesting to note that when it comes to shoot management and shooting style, things are done differently on the Iberian Peninsula. There is a much more aggressive attitude to the shooting. Something which took me a little while to become accustomed to. After the first couple of batidas (drives) on Saturday morning, my secretarios (the men who count, load and pick-up) looked distinctly despondent at my choosiness. However, after a conversation with the shoot manager I realized that you have to shoot a lot of these birds like grouse. Once accustomed to this more aggressive style, i.e. shoot early and fast. Things quickly became addictive. Although I discovered it was still important to resist the enthusiastic exhortations of the secretarios to shoot absolutely everything.
The opportunity to shoot two days in a row gives the visiting team the chance to adapt to the local conditions very quickly. And with 10 in the line it is interesting to compare notes at regular intervals and observe the increasingly large glint in the eyes of fellow guns as the full joy of Spanish shooting takes grip. At Soto Real they are able to offer a wide variety of drives, with some whippy low birds (given the wind), plenty of higher ones and a number of extremely challenging snap shooting type drives. With the guns lined out down a wooded shallow valley the birds can come out of the darkness of the tree line in front with little or no warning.
Another point of great interest is the use of horsemen and woman on the drives. They start up three miles away and bring the birds in from that distance. Eventually they meet up with the beating line which can start over a mile away and this way a huge amount of ground is worked to bring the birds in. And the eventual spectacle of the horses appearing on the horizon as the drive comes to an end is special indeed.
The beautiful countryside of Andalusia, the land of flamenco, long lunches and sherry, provides as picturesque a backdrop as you would find anywhere in the shooting field. And the long hours of daylight mean that there is no rushing. There is time to stop between drives for a prolonged post-mortem or go and assist the busy hunt for birds down. Lunch can go on for two hours, by the end of which a siesta is probably more tempting than another drive, but once back at the peg the adrenalin quickly starts to flow.
The team of guns on this trip contained a number of well-known faces from the British shooting field. John Ormiston, the new director of E.J. Churchill, top game and clay shot Simon Ward, and Christopher Robinson of Roxton Bailey Robinson were joined by Ralph and Amanda Congreve, Pru Horsell and Barry Larsen. With this much experience in the line the presentation of the birds was going to have to be good to make an impression. Christopher Robinson was clearly convinced: “I thought it was very exciting shooting, fabulous weather and wonderful hospitality. It provides a wonderful contrast to rainy January in the UK, walking across the plough and certainly puts a skip in the step.”
With many Spanish shoots offering very large days the fact that Soto Real is able to lay on smaller days too is worth highlighting, as John Ormiston points out: “Soto Real fills the gap in the Spanish partridge shooting market in that the owner, Bruno Van Marcke, is happy to provide 300-400 birds days as the larger days of which the place is quite capable. It is therefore a good destination for British sportsmen who do not want to be pressured into paying overages for larger bags than they intended to shoot.”