The pheasant has been resident in the British Isles for around 2,000 years, having arrived with the Romans who were fond of pheasant as a bird for the table. They even left detailed accounts of rearing methods and their cooking recipes. The pheasants that found their way to ancient Britain were not brought for their sporting attributes or the notion that they would go feral and establish a self-sustaining wild population. In all likelihood, the forerunner of today’s pheasant was a semi-domesticated farmyard fowl, much like hens are today.
When the Romans left Britain and the Normans established their several hundred year dynasty after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the pheasant had indeed established itself as a wild bird of the forest. By the 15th century, pheasants were well established in many parts of Britain. Today we would refer to those early birds as “Old English” pheasants as they lacked the distinctive ring neck of the Chinese variety that were later introduced and cross bred with the feral stock. The pheasant of today can truly be described as a mongrel, having evolved from many different strains.
The great days of pheasant shooting were at the turn of the 20th century when Edwardian gentlemen retired to sporting estates to shoot huge bags of pheasants. Undoubtedly the advent of the breech loading shotgun did much for pheasant shooting as a sport but, it was a pastime for the wealthy and so it remained until the 1950s.
As more of the population in the British Isles acquired a disposable income, the one time domain of only the rich became accessible to many. Today, many small, self-help pheasant shoots dot the countryside with game shooting enthusiasts plying their talents as amateur gamekeepers during the summer months, to becoming guns in their own pheasant shoot with the onset of autumn.
Driven pheasant shooting is the most popular form of pheasant shooting, although many shooting men derive a pleasure from walking-up pheasants with their dogs.
Hen pheasants lay a clutch of between 12 – 15 olive green coloured eggs. Incubation in the wild commences immediately with the care of the young brood being the sole responsibility of the hen. Her grey brown plumage affords her the camouflage necessary as a ground nesting bird for the 23-28 days of incubation. Predation is a real threat to both the hen pheasant and her offspring with a long list of predators interested in her charges. These range from foxes and cats at one end of the size spectrum to stoats, mink and corvids at the other. Only 30% of the pheasants released on a shoot will be shot.