With the Glo­ri­ous Twelfth al­most upon us once more, Steve Raw­sthorne talks us through the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges of fac­ing the most noble of quarry species: the red grouse

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - WITH STEVE RAW­STHORNE

Grouse. The word con­jours up such a va­ri­ety of feel­ings and ex­pe­ri­ences for me: the Glo­ri­ous Twelfth un­der a blaz­ing Au­gust sun; fan­tas­tic, fast birds in Oc­to­ber (the best time in my mind); tired, stiff limbs and a rue­ful smile af­ter a hard day’s walked-up grouse shooting over point­ers, with only an oc­ca­sional shot on tar­get!

If you are for­tu­nate enough to be go­ing grouse shooting this sea­son, you should pre­pare prop­erly, as it can be hugely ex­pen­sive and hugely chal­leng­ing for the first-time grouse shooter, and if you do not train for it, you won’t get the best from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Grouse fly low and fast in packs, con­stantly chang­ing their po­si­tion within the pack – this is how they con­fuse avian predators like the pere­grine fal­con. If you have ever watched RAF fight­ers on a bomb­ing run, com­ing in fast, hug­ging the ground, fol­low­ing its ev­ery con­tour, this is what grouse do, but their TFR (ter­rain fol­low­ing radar) is much bet­ter!

One of the hard­est things to get used to is shooting low, way out in front, of­ten straight at the

beat­ers. There is a pro­ce­dure to keep this safe, which we will look at be­low.

Most grouse are missed be­cause they are shot at too late and/or over the top due to a com­bi­na­tion of hav­ing the head off the gun and then swing­ing through the bird. You should be aim­ing to shoot your birds 70 yards out in front, as then you might ac­tu­ally hit them 30 yards out.

If you aim to shoot them 30 yards away, you will be too late, shooting them 20 feet away with a tiny pat­tern and an un­con­trolled sense of rush. If you can see a pack 200 yards away, ori­en­tate your body to them and get ready. Your muz­zles need to be low, par­al­lel to the ground. For­get high-port po­si­tions, as you will be pulling your bar­rels down, mov­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to the bird.

With the gun butt tucked up in the armpit, muz­zles low, watch­ing the birds over the end of the bar­rels, when they are 50 yards or more away, com­mence your mount. Fo­cus on your in­tended tar­get and don’t lose that fo­cus through­out the shot. Re­mem­ber the pere­grine? Push

for­ward with your front hand, the comb com­ing into the cheek, di­rectly un­der your eye; your shoul­der pushes into the stock, you fire and fol­low-through. Then, look for your sec­ond bird!

On a low, fast driven bird com­ing straight at you, if you shoot it 50 yards in front, you will have a nice wide pat­tern for it to fly into. As­sum­ing you have done your gun mount right, you just need to sit the bird on the end of the bar­rel. For the sec­ond bird, which may be closer (or if you have missed the first bird) you will need to give your sec­ond shot some lead. A com­bi­na­tion of good gun mount and shooting them well out in front will give you a fair chance of suc­cess.

Grouse will present you with a huge va­ri­ety of an­gles, not just the straight driven, and some quar­ter­ing birds of pheas­ant-style shooting. Fast, low crossers to your front are com­mon, so you will need to know how to deal with them.

If you are new to grouse, you will be sur­prised by how much lead they need and shooting so low will be alien. Again, good gun mount is es­sen­tial: if your head is up even a lit­tle off the stock, you will miss above the bird. Com­bine that with their

ter­rain-fol­low­ing abil­i­ties and you will find your­self in trou­ble.

Time spent in a grouse butt with a good in­struc­tor should be re­garded as an in­vest­ment not a cost. Good in­struc­tors are hard to find, but there are ex­cel­lent grouse butts at Bis­ley Shooting Ground, set in heather with the abil­ity to be able to shoot be­hind.

I said ear­lier that it is com­mon to be shooting to­wards the beat­ers who could be in view. Nor­mally, dur­ing the pre-shoot brief­ing in the morn­ing, the or­gan­is­ers will tell you how this works and the sig­nal to stop shooting in front. When the beat­ers are around 350 yards from the line of Guns, a horn will be blown as the sig­nal to stop shooting in front. Usu­ally, Guns hold their guns high above their heads with the bar­rels point­ing sky­ward to sig­nal that they have heard the com­mand. From this point on in the drive, you may only shoot be­hind.

Turn your body and face rear­wards, muz­zles low, then turn your head back so you can look into the drive again. When you see birds com­ing, you are go­ing to need to shoot them as they de­part and, as be­fore, so many are missed above for the same rea­sons.

If you see the birds are pass­ing to your left, ori­en­tate your­self that way, pick your bird and be de­ci­sive in your mount and shot – this is no time for dilly-dal­ly­ing. Do the same for your right side. It’s a skill that takes prac­tice and is more dif­fi­cult than it looks. A skilled and ex­pe­ri­enced grouse shooter can make it look easy, but most shoot­ers find this tricky!

There is an in­creased el­e­ment of risk in­volved in grouse shooting be­cause you are shooting so low. Nor­mally, butts will have rails at ei­ther side so that

Guns can­not swing eas­ily through the line in the heat of the mo­ment, but it does hap­pen. Wear good qual­ity shooting glasses at all times and don’t skimp on cost; your eyes are nec­es­sary to con­tinue shooting. The horn to stop shooting in front is based on sen­si­ble shot sizes and loads. If you use 34g of No.4 shot, it will travel fur­ther than No.6 pel­lets, for ex­am­ple, and you may hit the beat­ers with the heav­ier pel­lets – if in doubt, ask your host well be­fore the day.

Grouse shooting is fan­tas­tic. If you are less ex­pe­ri­enced at it, even if you have shot hun­dreds of pheas­ant days, get some tu­ition. Prac­tise shooting low in front with a dif­fer­ent ‘ready’

po­si­tion, along with fast, low cross­ing tar­gets and shooting be­hind. Ideally, try to get some prac­tice by shooting some cov­eys of clays to get you used to pick­ing one tar­get and stay­ing with it. If you are go­ing to shoot dou­ble guns, es­pe­cially in a con­fined grouse butt, prac­tise it. Many peo­ple find they shoot as quickly us­ing only one gun and a stuffer. What­ever you do, en­joy the day – it re­ally is the sport of kings!

Grouse butts of­ten fea­ture rails so that Guns can’t get car­ried away with their swing-through!

This start­ing po­si­tion in a grouse butt forces you to pull the gun down, mov­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to the bird be­fore you can even com­mence your gun mount

Low-fly­ing and fast, grouse are a chal­leng­ing tar­get

Com­pleted mount: shoot your first bird well out in front for the pos­si­bil­ity of a right and left!

Half­way through the mount: eyes fo­cused on your bird, push for­ward with the front hand, locked onto the tar­get

Start­ing po­si­tion: if you have your gun in the high-port po­si­tion, you will be at a huge dis­ad­van­tage

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