GLO­RI­OUS REA­SONS TO GO GROUSE SHOOT­ING

Why you need to get up on the moors, what­ever your role on shoot day. By Rod­er­ick Emery.

Shooting Gazette - - This month - By Rod­er­ick Emery.

Whether shoot­ing, beat­ing, pick­ing-up or even host­ing.

why do peo­ple go driven grouse shoot­ing? Why do peo­ple shoot at all? Shoot­ing sat­is­fies the ur­gent need within some of us to re­con­nect with the most ba­sic needs in life – to hunt and to feed. And how bet­ter to make that con­nec­tion than from a charm­ing, top-drawer sport­ing ho­tel and a tidy, stone and peat butt, set amidst swathes of pur­ple heather with a cou­ple of gun­smith’s finest of­fer­ings and a chap to hand them to you?

This cave­man stuff is all very well, I dare say, but surely we have to give our­selves a bit of credit for hav­ing evolved just the tini­est lit­tle bit? Of course we do. Bring on the Range Rovers then, and let us go to the moors. But why grouse, and why grouse most par­tic­u­larly?

For the guns

Grouse shoot­ing is the high­est form of game shoot­ing. We have all heard it said, but what makes grouse shoot­ing so spe­cial? The first and prin­ci­pal rea­son is that grouse are wild birds. And as wild birds they

are sub­ject to the va­garies of the cli­mate. Thus there may be good years and bad years. Some­times there will be grouse to shoot and some­times there won’t. Ev­ery now and again some­one an­nounces they’ve suc­cess­fully reared a brood or two of grouse and there is a flash of ex­cite­ment as peo­ple vi­su­alise grouse moors stuffed to the gun­nels with birds, just like a low­land pheas­ant shoot. But noth­ing ever comes of it and per­haps that is a good thing be­cause that scarcity con­trib­utes to the ex­cite­ment of fi­nally get­ting a chance at them.

Many ad­vances have been made in re­cent years to con­trol the rav­ages of the deadly strongyle worm, which is so deadly to grouse. The use of med­i­cated grit has, to some ex­tent, evened out the ebb and flow of grouse pop­u­la­tions but red grouse stocks still crash from time to time, leav­ing moor own­ers tear­ing at their hair, and guns star­ing at an empty di­ary.

Once on the moor, of course, the true ex­cite­ment of grouse shoot­ing be­comes im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent be­cause grouse are damned dif­fi­cult to hit. They ap­pear from nowhere, fly like bul­lets in un­du­lat­ing pat­terns which mimic the ter­rain over which they are driven, they ar­rive in cov­eys which can dis­com­bob­u­late the un­wary and the in­ex­pe­ri­enced and, as a fi­nal re­fine­ment, the whole she­bang takes place at an­kle height.

The most ex­quis­ite high pheas­ant prac­ti­tion­ers can eas­ily find them­selves dither­ing and pok­ing when grouse burst into their the­atre of op­er­a­tions be­cause they are wait­ing for the birds to “get up a bit!” Well, they won’t be­cause they don’t, and that’s a fact. It is dif­fi­cult for those of us who have been told since child­hood “to put some sky round your birds” to come to terms with aim­ing at grouse three foot off the heather, even if they are do­ing a zil­lion miles an hour; and even more dif­fi­cult to ig­nore the fact the beat­ers are lined out on the hori­zon. We know there will be a horn when they are within range and that for the time be­ing it is not only safe but nec­es­sary to be aim­ing what seems to be di­rectly at their heads, but it still feels ter­ri­bly, ter­ri­bly wrong. And that’s be­fore we have taken flankers into ac­count.

We know there are good shots and less good shots. On a low­land shoot there are guns who reg­u­larly shoot bet­ter than 3:1 and those who don’t. On grouse moors this in­equal­ity is not dou­bled but squared. Good shots not only shoot more ac­cu­rately, they also shoot faster too. I know of a very ex­pe­ri­enced par­tridge shooter who thought he had got the hang of driven grouse when he picked 10 birds for 24 shots af­ter a drive.

“Grouse are damn dif­fi­cult to hit. They fly like bul­lets, ar­rive in cov­eys, and the whole she­bang takes place at an­kle height.”

His neigh­bour man­aged to pick an im­pres­sive 36 for 45 shots.

Grouse shoot­ing is rare. Grouse shoot­ing is dif­fi­cult. Grouse shoot­ing is fan­tas­ti­cally ex­pen­sive. Slice it where you like, not many peo­ple can do it; so it is ex­clu­sive, cer­tainly, which means if you get the chance to do it you must seize it with both hands.

For grouse moor own­ers

I have of­ten won­dered why peo­ple own grouse moors. Some have in­her­ited them, of course, and feel an obli­ga­tion to keep and main­tain them. Some peo­ple are colos­sally wealthy and if you are colos­sally wealthy and don’t fancy a mas­sive yacht then a grouse moor is an el­e­gant al­ter­na­tive. It con­sumes vast amounts of money for 12 months of the year while pro­vid­ing three months of en­ter­tain­ment. It comes with a liv­er­ied crew who are all ex­perts in their cho­sen fields. You can in­vite your friends over to share it with you from time to time. You can’t, how­ever, trans­fer it from Monaco to the Ba­hamas if the weather changes, but that aside, a grouse moor ticks many boxes. And if you like to shoot grouse then a grouse moor is the thing to go for.

I also think that for some own­ers a grouse moor is a chal­lenge. If they have been very suc­cess­ful in one as­pect of busi­ness, a grouse moor is an al­most ir­re­sistible project. I doubt any­one has ever made real money out of a grouse moor and for some en­ter­pris­ing folk it’s a bit like Ever­est. It just sits there thumb­ing its nose at you un­til you have a crack at it. I may very well be wrong, of course, but I’d love to see the fig­ures.

On the other hand, as the owner of a grouse moor you can in­vite other grouse moor own­ers over for a go at your grouse. So ev­ery day you shoot at home, you get seven or eight in­vi­ta­tions to shoot at other peo­ples’ grouse. Now, those are num­bers even I un­der­stand.

For the keep­ers

I think you have to be a very par­tic­u­lar sort of per­son to be a grouse keeper. Even on a great moor with many beats, the grouse keep­ers will lead soli­tary lives. Out on the hill from dawn till dusk, day in day out. Count­ing, catch­ing, dos­ing, mon­i­tor­ing, pro­tect­ing, count­ing again, watch­ing, wait­ing, driv­ing, pick­ing-up, hang­ing up, count­ing...again; and pack­ing off to the game deal­ers. I don’t know enough grouse keep­ers to be able to spot one at a dis­tance but they share one fea­ture with per­haps stalk­ers and round-the-world yachts­men: it’s a lit­tle wrin­kle about the eyes that

“As the owner of a grouse moor you can in­vite other grouse moor own­ers over for a go at your grouse - that means re­turn in­vi­ta­tions.”

comes from spend­ing a good deal of time star­ing at a far hori­zon through filthy weather. Next time you meet any of them, have a good look and see if I’m right.

Why do they do it? Prob­a­bly be­cause on a hand­ful of days each sea­son they grant a se­lect few ac­cess to their king­dom. These lucky souls can wit­ness their achieve­ments and marvel at what they have wrought from the ground it­self. There is money in­volved, of course, but there are much eas­ier ways to make money than by keeper­ing grouse. It is pas­sion that drives them, I reckon, and their true re­ward is a jus­ti­fi­able pride.

For the load­ers

I have been loaded for and I have been a loader and the bond that de­vel­ops be­tween a good loader and his gun is pro­found and last­ing. As a novice gun with lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence of shoot­ing dou­ble guns and even less of shoot­ing dou­ble guns at grouse, your re­liance on your loader is con­sid­er­able.

First there is safety. First and al­ways. Most moors now is­sue sticks as a mat­ter of course, even to ex­pe­ri­enced guns, but for the novice, erect­ing them so as to en­sure he can’t swing through his neigh­bours is crit­i­cal. Your loader will help you.

Then there is spot­ting grouse. The novice who has not raised his gun to a bum­ble bee or a cloud of midges is a liar, for sure, be­cause that is what you do. Once or twice. An ex­pe­ri­enced loader is eyes and ears. And nor­mally full of ad­vice: “Try to take your first bird there or there. Don’t look for a sec­ond bird un­til the first is down. Don’t look for your sec­ond gun. It will be there. Con­cen­trate on the birds. Shoot­ing be­hind is never as use­ful as shoot­ing in front.”

The ac­tual load­ing is the least of his wor­ries. Keep­ing count of birds shot. Spot­ting falls. Call­ing the changes. “Yes!” “No!” “Well done!” “Ready!” “Got’im!” “He’s down!” “Change now!” “Lovely!” “Ready!” “That’s a cracker!” And all the time, “clack-click-click-clunk!” as guns are opened, shells slid in and closed once more. Ready.

Get­ting a grouse vir­gin through his first day with a de­gree of suc­cess and no in­ci­dents is a good thing but I ven­ture load­ing for a top hit­ter must be some­thing else again.

When Sir Fred­er­ick Mil­bank downed 190 grouse in a drive (out of a to­tal of 728 per­son­ally for the day) at Wem­mergill in Au­gust 1872, I reckon his loader might have felt a jus­ti­fi­able surge of pride in his con­tri­bu­tion to the event. And quite right too. Watch­ing the best in ac­tion is ex­cit­ing but putting the best into ac­tion must be bet­ter still. It’s a team game, af­ter all.

Beat­ers And pick­ers-up

Some­one asked me re­cently how they could get to go beat­ing and, I’m afraid, I was very lit­tle use. Beat­ers tend to be quite close knit crews who know their ground re­ally well. Keep­ers hone their teams sea­son by sea­son so that when the big days come they move as one and ev­ery­thing goes like clock­work. This is es­pe­cially so with grouse where a deftly man­aged flag can turn a covey to­wards the butts while an ill con­sid­ered wave might turn them just as eas­ily away. So there is team­work and vig­or­ous ex­er­cise in some of the most glo­ri­ous coun­try­side in the world. There is also a well-de­served beer at the end of the day and a few tens of pounds to buy sev­eral more with later. What’s not to like?

Pick­ers-up like to run their dogs at grouse be­cause it is hard work and it makes them fit. The sea­son starts in Au­gust and by the end of September the dogs will be rar­ing to go as the par­tridge sea­son gets un­der way. And who wouldn’t like to pick-up grouse? Ev­ery­thing about grouse shoot­ing is the best, the most chal­leng­ing, the most sat­is­fy­ing. That’s why dog han­dlers from across the world ar­rive on the moors to give their dogs, and them­selves, ex­pe­ri­ence that is sim­ply not avail­able any­where else on earth.

Con­sider that for a mo­ment. Nowhere else on earth. You can’t en­joy the chal­lenge of driven grouse shoot­ing any­where else but the UK. When it comes down to it what other rea­son do you need?

grouse shoot­ing is ex­tremely chal­leng­ing, ex­pen­sive and rare, there­fore any op­por­tu­nity to par­take in it should be seized with both hands.

A loader is a fountain of knowl­edge and their ad­vice should be taken as gospel.

Beat­ers, pick­ers-up and grouse keep­ers live and breathe ev­ery inch of the moor through­out the sea­son – it's their king­dom.

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