PA­TRICK LAU­RIE

Poor sea­sons re­mind us how im­por­tant it is to re­mem­ber the good times we’ve had on the moors.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - By Pa­trick Lau­rie.

It has been a dud year for grouse. Speak­ing to keeper friends up and down the coun­try, it is un­usual to hear of any­where that has es­caped the fall­out from a cold spring and a hot sum­mer. A few places on the North York Moors seem to have done al­right, but even the best ground in the Dales and Pen­nines has been qui­etly muted. Of course this has been frus­trat­ing for many, but there is some sat­is­fac­tion in col­lapses like these be­cause they re­mind us how spe­cial grouse are. As we move away from the tra­di­tional boom and bust of worm cy­cles which char­ac­terised grouse shoot­ing un­til 10 or 15 years ago, it is easy to for­get that wild game is chancy and un­re­li­able.

The fall­ing shape and the scat­tered feath­ers van­ished into the wind, but these buzzing me­te­ors were mor­tal.

I shot a sin­gle day this year, and now I find the end of the sea­son ap­proach­ing with only a few birds in the bag. I can’t help look­ing back to big­ger years and the ex­cit­ing fall­out of late-sea­son days where I have been en­listed at short no­tice to ex­pand a line of Guns and be sure that birds end up in the bag be­fore De­cem­ber 10. One day in par­tic­u­lar stands out from 2013 when sev­eral moors in the York­shire Dales were fac­ing the end of the sea­son with an ex­cess of birds.

I ar­rived to find that the main drives had been aban­doned af­ter a fall of heavy snow. We would fo­cus in­stead upon a se­ries of shorter drives on lower ground. My toes were numb be­fore the first birds ar­rived. In fact, the wind was so fierce that grouse fly­ing into it hardly man­aged bet­ter than a mod­er­ate walk­ing pace. When the beat­ers lifted them down­wind, they came low and fast in small groups and large packs; black shapes rush­ing against blue snow.

It was an odd ex­pe­ri­ence to hear the boom of my shot­gun as lit­tle more than a metal­lic “tap” – the bangs were be­ing blown away down­wind. Sev­eral birds rushed past me un­scathed, and I started to won­der if my tiny lit­tle bangs were the prod­uct of joke car­tridges. Mer­ci­fully, I con­nected at last and pulled the downy trousers off an old black cock bird. The fall­ing shape and the scat­tered feath­ers van­ished im­me­di­ately into the wind, but I had dis­cov­ered that these buzzing me­te­ors were mor­tal.

In the calm af­ter the storm, a neigh­bour­ing Gun be­gan to look for a picker-up, and I of­fered the ser­vices of my young black labrador. Scoop was thrilled to be of use – she bounded through the snow and quickly found a small fan of blood where a bird had fallen. Wag­ging her tail madly, she be­gan to fol­low a trail through the heather and then pounced wildly into a tus­sock of frozen grass. Rather than reap­pear with a grouse, she pulled a large and sullen rab­bit out of the snow, which she then brought back to me proudly. Thank­fully there were not many peo­ple watch­ing, and I killed the rab­bit and put it away be­fore tak­ing her back to the blood and start­ing her again. This time she did me proud, run­ning straight off a few yards out and pick­ing the grouse cock which had buried it­self un­der the snow. With­out a dog, I doubt that we would ever have found him.

The grouse were be­ing quite un­pre­dictable in the snow. I watched a pack of 60 birds land on a bank of white which had been pol­ished as smooth as glass with ice. The hardy lit­tle fig­ures bent their heads down into the spin­drift and slith­ered back the way they had come through tufts of black heather. On the last drive be­fore lunch, a party of six golden plover came past my butt like a bolt of light­ning. They were gone be­fore I had even tried to raise my gun.

We spent the af­ter­noon shoot­ing pheas­ants on a fan­tas­tic drive over a broad river where Scoop was again called upon to re­trieve, this time from a swirling pool be­neath a water­fall. I re­alised on the drive home that I was ac­tu­ally more sat­is­fied by her find­ing the fallen grouse than I was by shoot­ing a bird of my own. The sea­son closed two days later, but mem­o­ries of that tough, bit­ter day en­dure far be­yond the more idyl­lic Au­gust fare of pollen and sun­shine.

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