The 2015 grouse season started amidst some confusion as to exactly what numbers of grouse some moors really did have! It quickly became apparent that in England the western moors had few if any grouse to form much of a shootable surplus and as such there was very little shooting activity on this side of the country. This was primarily due to the very poor weather experienced on these hills at the end of May/early June. The sleet, heavy rain and snow had effectively wiped out the population of young grouse from the Peak District up to the western hills on the Cumbria/Northumberland border.
However moving eastwards the picture quickly became more encouraging and we experienced our usual excellent shoot days at East Allenheads and Muggleswick as well as some great days with our regular teams at Wemmergill, Stags Fell and indeed Garrigill. On these moors there were not grouse on every beat but where there were grouse, the numbers were good and the shooting extremely exciting. Sadly in the Peak District the grouse shooting programme was almost completely washed out with less than ten driven days taken place in 2015 in the whole of that area.
On the eastern side of the country the story was a very different one with Bransdale in particular having another amazing year shooting in excess of 7,000 brace and providing some very memorable days for a large number of people. Snilesworth followed close behind and we also enjoyed some great shooting on some of their neighbours who had grouse in some but not in all places.
In Scotland the picture was if anything even more complicated with the higher ground for once holding far better numbers than the lower slopes. The suggestion here was that the grouse on the lower slopes had hatched at the end of May/early June when the poor weather came through and these broods were effectively reduced to one or two chicks whereas the hens on the higher ground sat on eggs a little longer thereby protecting them during the worst of the weather before successfully hatching much larger broods a few days later. This ensured some great grouse shooting at Phoines, Glenavon and others in that area. However the lower lying moors in the Angus Glens and the Scottish Borders generally had a much thinner time with few if any shoot days on some Estates.
All of the above combined to ensure that the team at William Powell Sporting had an extremely busy run up to the start of the season and indeed first month or so as we rapidly rejigged and moved various teams to ensure they got the best possible shooting without having to drive too far each morning!
It also meant that we spent even more time than usual partridge shooting in September.
This will be the subject of a separate report but over the last couple of years we have spent more time involved with early season partridge shooting and I have to say in our experience it very rarely disappoints. There were the odd occasion when late crops in the south of England meant that the birds could not be released where keepers wanted them and subsequently kept safe from the perils of the combine or indeed focussed in the game covers for the early season days but on those shoots where the topography allows separation from the majority of farming activities such as the Down land of Wiltshire; the edge of the moors in Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders, we had some really outstanding sport.
This is certainly something we will be looking to push more in 2016 and beyond.
As the season progressed into October we were still shooting grouse in the east of the country if not the west and initially we enjoyed some really exciting days in great weather. However the conditions changed as we went further into October and we had a period of still foggy days which lead to partially cancelled or cancelled grouse days in particular. We are definitely reinforcing that all those taking driven shooting in 2016 should consider bad weather cancellation cover for all days but particularly those in the areas which are more susceptible to fog and low cloud.
In the south the main pheasants started to come on stream in late October and we entered into a period of milder windy weather which extended pretty much for most of the pheasant season.
This lead to a number of shoots having their most successful seasons to date in terms of the quality of the shooting and the number of birds held on the shoot during the course of the season. There were some good deals to be had on the back of this come January when shoots were looking to put in additional days although many keepers were understandably cautious about doing so until they were absolutely convinced they had the birds and by that point in time it was harder to find the clients.
We calculated that the weather conditions probably led to most shoots experiencing an increase in the number of cartridges fired to birds shot, over the course of the season of between .75 and 1 which meant that a shoot usually seeing a team fire circa 1,000 shots for 300 bird day saw 1,200 to 1,300 shots being fired for a similar sized bag. This generally enhanced the enjoyment of the Guns because they had additional shooting at harder birds but also meant that we had to use different drives for different teams where birds became too good for those not wishing to test themselves against higher faster targets. All in all it has been a very interesting year on a number of fronts and one which we have learnt a lot from.
The wet weather in the North made conditions for the hill partridge very hard and a number of Estates reported significant losses of birds. Keeping the partridges on higher protein pellets helped but still many shoots found themselves relying even more heavily on pheasant drives in November.
Further south our boar shooting operations in France have again been a great success with clients seeming to shoot larger boar in 2015 than ever before. Driven boar shooting is something that everyone needs to experience at least once (and most people then get addicted and have to repeat the prescription many times over!) in their lives.
All in all the 2015/16 season has been a memorable one for many different reasons. It has certainly been one where the more adaptable Shoot Managers and Headkeepers have been rewarded by clients particularly pleased with their shooting experiences but also one where the weather has paid a far greater role than usual. This may continue to be the case given the warnings we hear about “global warming”, etc. and the ability to be flexible in terms of which drives are offered and indeed the manner in which each drive is driven will become more and more important.
All good reasons to choose William Powell Sporting who are in the unique position for a Sporting Agent of also being the Managing Agents and so having a far greater degree of involvement in what drives are shot on any given day!
James Chapel – Director of William Powell Sporting