by Linda Mellor
(picture: Alan Ward)
The ‘glorious twelfth’ of August marks the opening of the shooting season, when tweed-wearing sportsmen and women take to the moors to shoot driven grouse from butts on vast shooting estates.
Scottish red grouse
The global appeal of shooting the Scottish red grouse on the heather covered moors of the Highlands has long been fixed deep in the heart of shooting enthusiasts. Grouse shooting was given the royal seal of approval after Queen Victoria settled in her country retreat at Balmoral, and Scotland became one of the most sought after pursuits of the monied, London high society.
Source of sport
The grouse, once known as moorfowl in the highlands, has provided a source of sport, enjoyment, and exercise, and an income stream for many who let their moors. Since the mid-1880s, gamekeepers have managed large areas of heather to produce the game bird for shooting and is one of the major land uses for upland ground.
Go to the hill
The head keeper and his team, dressed in traditional estate tweeds, welcomes the shooting party before going to the hill in a convoy of Land Rovers. Hearts are thumping with excitement as a glimpse of the purple-hued landscape reaches up into the clouds as if to a different world. After a steady three mile climb up the ancient track everyone alights from the vehicles to the distant sounds of cackling grouse. The unspoiled views of mountains tops and glens stretched out for many miles.
Shooting driven wild grouse
Taking their place in the butts, the guns enter the centre stage of the ancient ceremony of shooting driven wild grouse. A stillness settles in the heather, the warm august breeze brings in the sweet scent but carries no sound. They wait. Senses on high alert; looking for clues and straining to hear. Suddenly, a blue hare appears, a fleeting appearance close to the butt, it stops as if to take note, before disappearing out of sight.
Covey of grouse
A rapid movement catches your eye! A distant covey of grouse rises up then disappears followed by a glimpse of a distant flag waving beater. They’re up, again! The covey rocket up and out from the cover, and immediately pick up the wind and spread out as if to confuse the waiting shooters. The ‘whirring’ of their fast beating wings accelerates the birds into the sky, as they travel at full tilt towards the butts. There’s a flurry of shots. With the dip of a wing, they change direction. Two are brought down, the rest fly on down the into the glen.
Estate to plate
On the glorious twelfth the race is on to transport freshly shot grouse from estate to plate. Many of London’s gastro pubs and high-end eateries compete to be the first in London to serve a grouse and game diner on the evening of the first day of the new shooting season.
Grouse shooting advice
Prepare yourself for a fast moving target! Grouse can reach a speed of up to 70 mph, they fly low and can change direction quicker than you can blink so be sure your shooting skills won’t let you down and your gun fits you well. Read up on shooting tips or book a lesson with a coach.