The first ever driven partridge drive to take place in Spain was at Ventosilla in 1884. It was my friend Antonio Cavero’s great-grandfather who organized this historical event and he, his son and now his great-grandsons (one of whom is Antonio) have been arranging partridge shooting at Ventosilla ever since. Today, Spanish partridge shooting has probably never been more popular and today’s Ventosilla has played an important role in contributing to this popularity.
Why go and shoot in Spain?
There are many reasons but some might include just something different, fun to get away with friends and be spoiled, great weather (as one of the guests said to me “English September weather in February”), superb food and of course challenging and interesting shooting.
Something different – This is a pretty important point. No matter where you shoot in Spain, of course it is going to be different and I would counsel people not to try and find shooting that is as similar as possible to the UK. Why go away if that is the case? Of course some have a preference for higher birds and there are options for that, including Ventosilla, but just to be clear, shooting in Spain is traditionally about speed rather than the ability to shoot high birds. Speed because of the way the birds are presented, crossing gulleys at high speed whizzing over in quick succession…the speed challenge is also about being able to shoot numbers of birds at high speed and maintaining that. The first bird might not be the most challenging but being able to keep up the accuracy in the heat of the action is a real challenge. The Spanish style is generally not about very high birds towering across deep valleys. This also explains why estates are not keen on producing smaller bag days. It is not in their culture or shooting style. In summary, by all means request or hanker for the higher birds in Spain but give the traditional style a try too, and in so doing learn to take birds early and well out in front almost like grouse shooting. Such birds are not meant to be shot overhead.
Fun to get away and be spoiled – The Spanish estates (and Ventosilla has been a leader in this) now really have their act together in packaging two days of shooting in a superb, all-inclusive price: from arrival in Madrid, meet and greet, alcohol, cartridges, gun loan etc. They even include (rather than add-on) bringing your non-shooting partner and do a great job of looking after them. In the case of Ventosilla, Toledo, one of the oldest cities in Europe, is 20 km away and Madrid is 90 minutes away. So, with the exception of tips and any extra-curricular plans outside the main shooting events, one does not put one’s hand in one’s pocket for the entire stay. This really does make for a relaxing time with no what the Americans would call ‘nickel and diming’! The other great opportunities they offer, and again Ventosilla is a leader, is dates for single guns to book in every month of the season. For some, this makes coming to Spain possible. Ventosilla offer the same all in package and one can choose the 60 birds per day, 80 birds per day or 100 birds per day option with overage charges pre-quoted as well. For those used to just contributing to a team bag, let me assure you, this system really does work well and the secretarios are very fair. The great thing is, you are never paying for anyone else’s birds.
Great weather – I think I have now been to Spain in every month of the five-month season from October to February included. Of course one can suffer unlucky weather when it can be rainy or even very rare snow. More typical is what we have just experienced – chilly mornings when there might be a frost and then warming up to 10 or even 15 degrees Celsius during the day allowing for elevenses (aka tapas) and lunch outside – this, even in February. There was some rain but we were lucky, it was during the evening. So, my fellow guest was spot on with his “English September weather in February” comment and an extension to the shooting season to boot.
Superb food – In the space of our two night/two day stay we enjoyed wonderful truffle risotto, venison, lamb chops, lobster and superb beef amongst other dishes. Thankfully it is served in such a way that one can enjoy a little with strong will power but there is plenty available too. Tapas includes various cold meats including the wonderful Spanish hams, a chicken dish, Spanish omelettes, bread, sardines, wonderful roasted nuts and of course manchego cheese. There were some good wines on offer plus a well-stocked bar with lots of very friendly waiters to look after us and lest we forget champagne, cigars and some of the best Rioja reservas served from magnums! In terms of service, one could not ask for more, and with family members about it was a real family atmosphere.
Different and beautiful countryside – I would add this because some of the valleys at Ventosilla are just lovely with ancient wild olive trees, extraordinary rock structures and despite the arid conditions verdant valleys with chalkstream-like streams with ranunculus, the water from which aids Cyprus and oak trees. All this in the sunshine and blue sky!
Ventosilla have a wide range of fine guns available to loan guests both side-by-side as well as over and under. The loaders all have sleeves and all necessary equipment for cartridges etc. If you bring your own guns, they can sleeve them so you can save on the packing.
I have taken my guns for the last two years and it has been a pretty simple process. Delays are more caused through poor service than any time-consuming paperwork. If you want to take guns, you need to send your shotgun licence off to your local authority and ask them to issue you with a European Firearms Permit. Try and do it a couple of months, if not more, before heading to Spain. They last for five years. It is also necessary to have a decent, tough, locking case preferably that takes a pair of guns. If checking in on-line, pre-pay for an extra bag if in economy (£60 on-line or £65 at the airport). When you get to the check-in desk, tell them you have firearms and if you have ammunition or not and they will summon the handler. He or she will come to the desk, ask for your gun licence and fill in a form. You have to pay British Airways £50 approx for the gun handling service. The handler takes the guns away and tells you to come to customs once you have been through security. You go to customs, they check your licence against serial numbers and off you go. On arrival in Spain, you go through passport control and get your bags, go through and turn right to the Customs Office who will have your guns. They check your European Firearms Certificate against serial numbers, fill in a form and off you go. Pretty easy.
On departure, you go back to the same Customs Office in Madrid, who issue you with a certificate to leave the country with the guns. The green one goes in the gun case and the yellow one you show at check-in. They again call a handler who puts tape around the case and takes you to the outsize luggage belt on to which you put the case and off it goes. This time they charge you €75 on top of the extra bag charge. I paid for the extra bags both ways at the same time. In London, they bring out the guns to you and you go to customs with them. Customs check your UK Shotgun Certificate against serial numbers and off you go. Simples!!
Ventosilla will pick you up from Madrid airport or Madrid itself, both included in the price. I like the flight arriving into Madrid at about 3pm. You are on your way by 3.30 and arrive at Ventosilla just after 5pm still in daylight. You have time to settle into your room, have a cup of tea, sort the internet which all the rooms have with a card telling you the password etc. Guests meet at around 7.30 or 8pm with dinner at 8.30 which is 7.30 UK time. Dinner is very relaxed but not slow and then one can retire to the main reception rooms for tea, coffee, cigars etc wandering off to bed as you wish.
Breakfast was at a very civilized 8.30am and then time to get organized and ready for about a 9.45 departure to the first drive. I wear dark or khaki trousers, ankle boots, a grouse shooting-type-shirt so darker in colour and a vest, jumper or cardigan. I take a coat with me in case it is chilly or rains. You can leave all such extra gear in the car. Others wear plus fours etc but the Spaniards do not dress that way and I prefer to be more relaxed and comfortable. What you must bring is ear and eye protection (which Ventosilla can help with if needed) and a hat or two. Tweed is fine but can be hot so some other lighter cap is good too. Gloves to protect from burning are also a very good idea. All this gear goes into an iconic Frontiers field bag superbly! Everyone is shown to a vehicle having met their loader and secretario and off you go.
It takes a while to walk up the little valleys and canyons for a drive and a while longer for your team to set you up behind your allocated (not drawn) but numbered blind/butt. There is no horn or whistle to start so start shooting if it is safe to do so. Your loader will impress with his speed and your secretario is there with his clicker counting your birds. Now enjoy! At the end of the drive, the lads go out and pick your birds along with some dogs and they then bring all the gear back to the cars plus partridges. They will tell you what you shot and will report it to your host. He will position you based on how hungry for shooting you are and your ability as well, of course, making sure the shooting is fairly distributed.
There is a second drive followed by tapas which is usually an outdoor affair with tables and chairs laid out and a wide range of food and drinks on offer as previously described. There will then be another drive or two and then lunch before another drive or two. We did four drives on the first day, two then tapas, then one, then lunch then the last drive. Lunch is either at an old keepers cottage with wonderful views over the estate with the lake in the distance or is an outside affair overlooking the lake with a big campaign tent as the serving tent. One is generally back at the house by 5pm on the first day so there is time for tea, a nap, a massage or to catch up on work etc. Dinner is again at about 8.30pm with drinks commencing from 7pm.
The next day, breakfast is at the same time and the departure is usually smoother because all the gear is ready from the previous day. As the majority are usually heading back to the UK or Madrid for dinner, we did two drives, tapas, then two more and had lunch and then returned to the house to pack up with no rush and leave at about 4.30pm which works well for the British Airways flight back to London at 7.50pm.
Tips are €260 for the two days to be given to the loader who will share with the secretario. This can be done after the last drive or back at the house.
House tips are €50 per night per person.
Everything really does run very smoothly and nothing is too much trouble and if you have forgotten something, they can usually help. Timings may vary according to the time of year and daylight issues.
Ventosilla is rare in that it has the ability to offer great shooting to almost every taste. I have watched drives where the birds come like grouse and require shooting well out in front and I have been defeated by other drives with high screaming birds. Ventosilla can offer all but perhaps the mega-high birds. If an intact team, we/you can discuss the ability of your team and plan the days accordingly but I would recommend variety. If you are a single gun signing up to the Ventosilla days, variety is what you will get and I have done many a day like that and always enjoyed them. I would say that certainly at Ventosilla, but in Spain in general too, the variety of the birds within each drive is very wide. One end of the line might be struggling with screamers while the other end are grouse shooting! I like the amount of variety and the challenge of working out each stand.
If you want the mega-high birds or the mega-polished purpose built shooting lodge then Ventosilla may not be for you. They will not show you mega-high birds every drive over two days. The Palace with its Jean Claude Nicolas landscaped gardens from the end of the 19th Century is not shiny and modern. The old wooden floorboards creak wonderfully under the well-trodden carpets and the walls are laden with trophies from over many years. There is a spectacular collection of Live Pigeon Shooting trophies collected by the family, probably the biggest of its kind. All the rooms have ensuite bathrooms which have been modernized. One might care about the age of one’s surroundings if somewhere else doing something else, but in Spain, shooting partridges where driven partridge shooting began with Antonio and his cousin Carlos and the team, somehow it all seems right and fitting.