It is always difficult before the Season, even this close, to make accurate predictions as to what Grouse prospects are going to be across Moors from the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border right up to Caithness. However, this year is probably harder to call than it has been for many years, with considerable variation in Grouse numbers and often this variation is not just between Moors many many miles away, but sometimes between Moors quite close to one another.
Starting from the South, the Peak District looks a lot better than it did last year but that would not be difficult! There are some weak spots and even on our own Moor, whilst two beats are looking pretty good and another one okay, two are looking weak. There does not seem to be that much logic certainly insofar as high ground and low ground is concerned, but throughout the Peak District and with a few exceptions it is a building year (after last year’s total disaster) but we expect the Grouse to be fair to good.
We are much less sanguine about the Trough of Bowland and generally the reports from there are not at all good. The same with much of West Yorkshire and Lancashire and we hear of complete cancellations there. Coming across to the main Pennine block, overall reports are good and in places very good, particularly on the high ground. That is even more difficult to fathom out because the very poor late May weather hit the high ground the hardest, but in places (and this includes parts of Scotland), the high ground does seem to have done very well, particularly when compared with more sheltered lower Moors. North Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham is definitely not uniformly good to very good, but there are some really bright hot spots (the high ground at Gunnerside being one). Again there is real variation and a lot of late Grouse have been seen in recent weeks when keepers have been counting. This has led to early days being cancelled (such as on a part of Arkengarthdale) and real concerns as to whether the first week of the season will be too early to drive these young Grouse to the butts. In theory, as these Grouse grow older, they will show better, but the key test is brood size. Numerically small broods will contribute little and probably indicates that the Moor in question should not be shooting.
West Northumberland seems to be better than East Northumberland and the Eastern Moors in general seem to have suffered from that very cold 7 or 8 days with a lot of fog which occurred at the end of May. The end result is again very small brood sizes and on one Moor in East Northumberland we have averaged less than two chicks per brood over the whole Moor.
Durham is a bit mixed, generally not as good as it has been for the last couple of years but probably okay, but the North Yorks Moors generally are good and in places probably very good. The problem here is that expectations are high after two or three very good years on these Moors and whilst we expect to see some excellent days, overall the season’s bags will be down. It seems that those Moors which have tried to shoot reasonably hard when the Grouse were very good have been rewarded with good brood sizes this year (averages of up to 9’s being reported on at least one Moor), but that those Moors with very big stocks may have suffered in terms of brood size this summer. Is that nature telling us when there is enough?
Scotland is in every way another country! The Lammermuirs are generally poor and in places very very poor, with some Moors cancelling all their days. The Moorfoots does not look very special at all but further North it is a real pick and mix with the odd Moor (Pitmain) apparently having lots of Grouse, varying amounts on higher Moors up the A9 (again surprising) and also in Perthshire and Inverness-shire/Morayshire, but many Moors are going to be down on the last two years and a similar pattern seems to be evident in Deeside and Donside with lots of cancellations and generally no-one terribly upbeat.
Further north on the Dogging Moors in Sutherland and Caithness, Grouse stocks do not seem to have recovered in recent years and chick survival is again pretty poor with little shooting expected.
Overall, it will very much depend on where you are shooting as to what you find. At its best, some Moors will have a lot of Grouse and complete an ambitious programme of days. Others will have to trim back and some, particularly in Scotland, cancel completely. Definitely not a great Grouse year and much more akin to what it used to be like before everyone thought that medicated grit cured all ills. That is the joy of Grouse shooting!