It was with some surprise that I received my first invitation to go grouse shooting. In fact, I nearly fell off my blue office chair as the email landed in my Outlook. Grouse shooting is something I have heard plenty about â€“ some of my very good fishing friends head off to load for one of Mr Chapelâ€™s grouse parties, and the stories of fast grouse they come back with have always had me entranced. On the odd occasion they get handed the gun (or guns I suppose) and get the opportunity to shoot a drive. My good friend Mr Cox, comes under some kind of strange spell when targeting a new and revered species. There is a story of when we went out to shoot a couple of geese which I will tell one day, but that would be a digression here. The grouse were no exception to this black magic, though I am glad to report stories from Mr Cox of an efficient first few shots he had this year.
So the invitation was for a walked up day on the Blackley Hay beat, as a guest of Mark Osborne. One of my pals, who I also work with at my real job, had been before, and explained how the day would work. He was also invited, which would allow me a more relaxed lead up to the day. Walked up shooting has always had a special place in my heart; most of my early experiences of shooting having been walking round the farm with a gun. But what I was to experience here was a different sort of walked up shooting.
To start with, there were 7 or 8 guns â€“ and we had 3 excellent keepers, all with dogs, stood in between the guns. Not only was this luxury afforded, we also had a lift half way up the hill on the Argos. The next half was still quite a hike, and we were in line, pacing through peat crags (or hags I believe they are known as locally) before I knew what was happening.
Would we see many? How many was many? How many shots did I expect, and which should I shoot at?Â I was towards the end of the line, with Mr Chapel on the flank. Mr C provided nothing but encouragement from the wing, but I was anxious to at least not be seen trying to shoot him. The safety aspect of this type of shooting requires constant attention, and I was concerned most of all to go home without another gun or keeper in the bag. I suspect managing the safety as a gun becomes second nature, but I was green to this sport and left a big margin of error as a covey broke out to my right. I didnâ€™t fire as I couldnâ€™t see the whereabouts of the gun next to me. Would there be another opportunity? I genuinely didnâ€™t know.
The next opportunity came as a big covey broke in front of Mr Chapel. Ever the gentleman and a host second to none, he left the covey for me without firing. There was one bird on the left of the covey I felt I could shoot with no risk to anyone. The anxiety of the taking the first shot, the question of what was special about how grouse fly, and what I should do to make sure of a kill subsided. My natural reactions took over, and I pulled the trigger as if it were a rabbit running out from the combine. First barrel, and it dropped.
Chaps and IainÂ the keeper came over, and the dogs went to retrieve the shot grouse. There was much back slapping, and kind remarks relating what a good shot it was. After a quick lesson on the grouse, and how to tell the birdâ€™s age, we got back to business. This time, not 5 minutes later, a solitary bird got up right in front of me as I descended down a hag. Again, first barrel and he was dropped.
With a feather or two in my cap, I started to get a bit cocky, throwing lead at crossing birds I could hardly see. It works sometimes with partridges, so I didnâ€™t see why not with grouse. Anyway, my shot ratio became progressively worse, as might have been expected. Ben Stirk left a covey that curled round and presented a beautiful opportunity for some driven style shots, and probably a go at a right and left (or bottom and top). My safety catch jammed and I couldnâ€™t take a shot.
Lunch was quite exceptional, considering we were at the top of a fairly big peak. A great pack up, crowned with some mince pies presented by Mr O (apparently quite acceptable as we had passed the summer solstice).
The afternoon session was a walk back in the direction we from whence we came. Plenty of shots presented themselves, and my shot of the day came along. I finally nailed a long crossing cock bird, which I needed to do before the end. The going away and quartering birds were challenging but hittable, but the crossers had been my undoing. I think I must have relaxed a little too much after that, as Iâ€™m not sure I hit another grouse.
I canâ€™t remember the bag exactly, or how many shots I had, and canâ€™t be sure whether I killed 3 or 3 and a half brace, but the first two kills and that crosser remain fresh in my mind, and I hope always will. It was an eye opening and refreshingly different day, and anyone who regularly shoots lowland pheasants but hasnâ€™t tried walking up grouse simply cannot know what they are missin