A Guide To British Game Birds

Here in Britain, we’re proud of our greatly varied landscape – the ancient woodlands, the rolling fields, and the beautiful coastlines, to name just a few. This environmental diversity does a lot more than merely provide us with a few picturesque views – our British game birds have been able to breed and thrive successfully by feeding on our rich food sources.

Since we host such a vast array of game bird, it can be easy to lose track of which one’s which and when they’re in season. That’s why we’ve created this handy guide for everything you need know about British game birds.

Pheasant

When: October 1st – February 1st

Where: Woodland edge, shrubby wetland and agricultural land

Pheasant is by far the most well-known and abundant game bird in Britain and is a staple of driven shooting. With its subtle flavour, it’s a great choice for those who are taking their first plunge into the world of game.

The pheasant shooting season starts on the 1st October and lasts until the 1st February, and pheasant shooting is known for being a testing sport. Pheasants can be found in woodland edge, shrubby wetland and agricultural land, and although pheasant shooting is available throughout all of the country, the Devon and Welsh hills, in particular, are known for providing the best experiences.

Read more:  Top 10 UK Pheasant Shoot Locations

Grouse

When: August 12th – December 10th

Where: Heather moorland

While pheasant is the most well-known game bird, those who are well acquainted with the world of game know that red grouse is the crème de la crème of British game birds. The reason for this is that, apart from the grouse’s delicious yet subtle game flavour and low-fat content, red grouse is unique to the British Isles, meaning people from all over the world pay large sums of money to shoot them.

The grouse is the ultimate challenge for country sport enthusiasts, due to the fact its flight hugs the contours of the moor and is extremely fast and low. The grouse season starts on the Glorious Twelfth (August 12th), which is the biggest date in the shooting calendar as it marks the start of the shooting season as a whole and runs all the way through to December. However, younger grouse who are bagged early on in the season are leaner, more tender and more delicately flavoured, so don’t hang around!

Read more: How To Bag your First Grouse: Top Tips

Partridge

When: September 1st – February 1st

Where: Dry lowlands, farmland, grassland, and heathland (red-legged). Wasteland, moors and sand dunes (grey)

There are two types of partridges –red-legged and grey. Red-legs are bigger than their grey counterparts and were introduced to Britain from Spain and France. As the grey partridge’s numbers have declined and are harder to come by, the red-leg now accounts for the majority of the country’s partridge shooting.

The grey partridge, although rarer, is regarded to have the more superior texture of the two birds. However, whichever species you try, you’ll still enjoy delicate meat without an overly strong gamey flavour.

Common Snipe

When: August 12th – January 31st

Where: Moorland and well-vegetated wetlands

The twelfth of August is not exclusive to the grouse; it also marks the start of the snipe shooting season. A small wading bird with a long, needle-like beak, the snipe lives in the British wetlands and is extremely difficult to catch as it flies in an erratic ‘zig-zag’ manner.

Unlike the other game birds on our list, the snipe bird is cooked and roasted completely whole, with the innards still inside. While this process isn’t for the faint-hearted, it really adds to the flavour of the final dish and snipe pâté is particularly tasty when spread on toast.

Mallard

When: 1st September –January 31st

Where: Wetlands, marshes, ponds, rivers, lakes, and oceans

The mallard is the largest species of wild duck in Britain, and so it’s the most commonly used wild duck in our restaurants. Although relaxed in village ponds, wild mallards are a lot more cautious, so wildfowlers have to use clever tactics such as decoys and duck calls to lure them out. In England and Wales, all duck species must be shot with a non-lead cartridge, so make sure your gun is suitable for this.

Mallard meat is lean and has a distinctively rich, gamey flavour that makes it a great winter meat which goes extremely well with fruits such as orange and cherries.

Woodcock

When: October 1st – January 31st

Where: Woodland and farmland

Woodcocks are believed to be one of the most sporting game birds due to their zig-zagging flight – much like the common snipe. The similarities with the snipe don’t stop there – woodcocks are also cooked without having their head, feet or organs removed, which really adds to the flavour of the final dish.

Most of the woodcocks found in Britain are there all year round, but some arrive from Russia and Finland for winter. Although woodcock meat can be extremely hard to get hold of due to Britain’s declining Woodcock population, if you do, it’s certainly worth the effort!

To find out more about game birds, as well as mammals and waterfowl, visit out interactive shooting calendar!  Regardless of which type of shooting you do, before you head out on a shoot, it’s important to make sure you’re fully protected with specialist shooting insurance.

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