PA­TRICK LAU­RIE

Im­pro­vised driven sport might be makeshift and pro­duce a small bag but it is still a won­der­ful chal­lenge.

Shooting Gazette - - October 2017 - Op­por­tunis­tic and of­ten pretty makeshift, these lit­tle drives have a charm all of their own. By Pa­trick Lau­rie.

When good breed­ing years pro­vide a suf­fi­cient num­ber of grouse, we of­ten try driv­ing. Im­promptu butts are eas­ily made up from pal­lets and net­ting, and I’ve been on many walked-up days which ended up dab­bling in a drive or two. Teams of guns take it in turns to “walk one, drive one” and the ef­fect can some­times be quite suc­cess­ful. You don’t need many birds over your butt to imag­ine how it might feel on a full day at Gun­ner­side or Wem­mergill, and many smaller moors of­ten play down their po­ten­tial for driv­ing be­cause they don’t feel that they can com­pete with the big names. In re­al­ity, some of the best and most ex­cit­ing driven grouse I have ever seen has been on im­pro­vised days on moors which are usu­ally geared to­wards more mod­est sport, and while I’ve seen my fair share of dis­as­trous blank drives, it is of­ten worth rolling the dice.

To my dy­ing day I will re­mem­ber a sin­gle, wiz­ened old grouse cock as he came hurtling over the shoul­der of Ben Rinnes above Aber­lour, ground which is usu­ally shot with point­ers. The bird was back­lit against snow and fallen scree, and I knew he was done for as soon as my fin­ger found the trig­ger. He must have been 60 yards away when the shot left my barrel, but he was just be­hind my butt when he fi­nally rolled to a halt. His speed and mo­men­tum had been in­cred­i­ble, and I was dou­bly de­lighted to find he was one of those scarce and vaunted “black” cocks, which some­times crop up here and there, par­tic­u­larly on Spey­side. He was trea­cly brown all over with a smat­ter­ing of white chevrons on his breast – a hero taken at his best with­out the pomp and cir­cum­stance of for­mal driven shoot­ing.

I have sim­i­larly pow­er­ful mem­o­ries of a roar­ing covey of birds which came slid­ing across the con­tours to­wards me on a walked-up day in Der­byshire. We were in­structed to hide be­hind the stones of an old wall which ran in a slight gully across the hill. The keeper had grum­bled that the drive was hardly worth do­ing, but we were keen to try it as a brief di­ver­sion af­ter lunch with a few birds al­ready in the bag. No more than 15 grouse crossed the line, but I was on rare and un­usu­ally fine form, killing three of them to two shots and all stone dead, well out in front.

Op­por­tunis­tic and of­ten pretty makeshift, these lit­tle drives have a charm all of their own, and they have the “pot luck” abil­ity to punch well above their weight. Stand­ing along the edge of a young spruce plan­ta­tion in Ar­gyll­shire, I felt I had drawn the dud peg, but I was right on hand to see a dozen black game pass within a few feet of my head as they ex­ited the drive. I could have touched the near­est one with my hand, and I couldn’t wait un­til the drive was over to ask where they had come from and who else had seen them. My host laugh­ingly con­fessed he had know­ingly placed me in “cow corner” be­cause there were too many guns for the drive, and he had thought it was more likely I would shoot a pigeon than a grouse. In the event, I was the only one who had seen the black game and the en­counter was far more thrilling than a dozen grouse might have been.

I can also hardly ig­nore a sim­i­lar story from Gal­loway when we at­tempted a drive to break up two long pe­ri­ods of walk­ing-up grouse. The guns split in two, and I be­came a tem­po­rary beater as we walked out a likely sec­tion of hill to­wards our friends, who keenly kneeled out of sight in a long peat hagg. The shots soon started to ring out, but they were con­fined to one end of the line. We were keen to find out what had hap­pened, and could hardly be­lieve the gun on the far right had shot four grouse, a snipe and a fox. No­body else had seen a thing worth rais­ing their gun to, and al­though we have re­peated the drive many times, it has been a to­tal blank ever since.

Driven grouse shoot­ing is rightly held up as some of the most ex­cit­ing and spec­tac­u­lar sport in the world. Hav­ing en­joyed many days work­ing (and oc­ca­sion­ally shoot­ing) on some of the big­gest and best moors in the coun­try, I can vouch for the tremen­dous spec­ta­cle and chal­lenge pre­sented when grouse are shown to their full po­ten­tial. But that does not mean that a more mod­est form of driven grouse does not war­rant cel­e­bra­tion.

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