How can I improve the number of shot birds in relation to the number put down... we never seem to get good returns! Graham Crocker replies...

Q: We put 700 pheasants on our farm shoot but never seem to get good returns. Our first shoot is on 14 October, how can we improve the number of shot birds?

A: GRAHAM CROCKER replies: This is a common question for many smaller shoots and each one can have its own specific problems. However, this is a great time of year to focus and see if there are any potential issues that can be stopped.

There is still quite a lot of leaf cover at the moment which makes counting difficult, but try to estimate the numbers of birds you have on your ground especially when they are returning home to roost. This information will be extremely valuable to use at future shoot meetings and helps to build a picture of your shoot’s potential.

After you have an idea of your numbers of birds, the trick now is to keep them! October still has relatively long days allowing time for the birds to wander, so keep dogging-in. A bit of hand-feeding on some straw or in the game strips will help keep the birds occupied and stress levels down. Plus, you may wish to mix in some aniseed oil for maximum effectiveness – I use whole maize with aniseed oil on my shoot. If you have planted any maize cover crops, break off a few cobs as the birds will go crazy for these and contented birds are less likely to wander.

On those first shoot days make sure the birds don’t leak out over the boundary down that favourite hedge or follow that little brook never to be seen again. Make sure you either have stops out or a radio on the boundary so the noise drives the birds back.

Another tip is to finish shooting early so that the birds can return home in peace. Concentrate on fox control around the home woods so that they are not getting stressed when you are not shooting. Attention to detail on all the little things can pay dividends over the coming season.