Working in the gunroom for many years I have heard lots of customers stories of great days shooting and each individuals favourite quarry. The customers who have shot driven grouse seem to rate it the highest over all other forms of game shooting, which until recently I had never experienced myself. In September I was kindly asked on a days driven Grouse shooting as a guest of Hull Cartridge Company: this was one day I was definitely going to remember.
The location for the day was to be north Yorkshire on the well know Bransdale Moor which is one of the country’s best grouse moors. I had already heard this year has been a real struggle for some grouse moors, with adverse weather conditions proving a difficult breeding for wild birds. Indeed, many moors have had to cancel shooting due to a combination of factors; the harsh winter (The Beast from the east) early in the year, the extreme hot and dry summer made it difficult for the grouse to find water for their young chicks.
In order for the grouse numbers to flourish moors take careful management and supreme dedication from the Game keepers that care for the wildlife that keep the ecological balance of a thriving grouse moor. Bransdale moor proved exception with a large amount of Grouse and this is largely down to the skill and dedication of the head game Keeper and his team of under Keepers.
The day before the shoot, I travelled down to the Pennyholme Estate which runs the Bransdale Moor to stay overnight in the Stoneley Manon house. Once there I met up with the rest of the team who would be shooting the following day. We spent a social evening getting to know one another during a delicious dinner of roast grouse.
One concern for the following dayseemed to be the extreme weather conditions, the forecast was predicting early morning fog and drizzle then turning to 40mph winds. This would make the grouse hard to see and the wind would make them fly at higher speeds than usual. The morning of the shoot came, and with this weather forecast in mind, I suited up in my Schoffel light weight waterproofs and knew I would at least stay dry even if I struggled to hit any grouse. We paired up with our loaders for the day and I handed over my chosen ammunition, Hull Driven Grouse 30 gram. Most of the other guns had shot double guns and grouse many times before, I decided to single gun and use the help of the loaders experience with the safety and etiquette of my first day on a grouse moor.
The usual format for driven grouse starts with a blow of a horn, the beating team come many miles over the moors and move the grouse towards the waiting guns who shoot often from below ground level butts. The grouse fly low and very fast over the moor and it is possible to shoot out in front because the beaters are out of range, then a second blast from a horn is sounded to signify no shooting in front and only to turn shoot behind. To end the drive a horn is blown once again to signify the end of the drive. For the safety of the other shooters in the line of guns, each butt is provided with butt stick to erect so that you are unable to swing the gun in the direction of other waiting or shooting guns.
I have shot game for over 17 years and have never experienced anything quite like it, the thrill of seeing grouse flying over the moors. They move with such speed and agility, keeping low to the ground and covering the contours of the moor. The grouse can also be hard to see, camouflaged into the heather and as soon as you spot them they are on you or past. Sometime the grouse fly directly towards you then turn and cross at the last-minute twisting in flight, or you think they are heading for the next butt but turn and cross in front of you at extreme speed. Shooting behind is also something which is a challenge, turning to watch the beating line moving closer in one direction, then watching the grouse fly towards you, then passing you before taking a shot as they fly away from you. You have to be very quick or the grouse are out of range.
Under the watchful eye of my loader Roger, the first drive got under way, both of us eagle eyed for incoming grouse. I had two guns with me both 12 gauge, and decided to use my Perazzi MX12 SCO Sideplate game, it’s a 30” game gun with Teague multi chokes and I opted for 1/4 and 3/8 choke. As the drive got in full swing, it became apparent to me that grouse are no easy target! I went through more than a few cartridges and finished the drive with 4 brace to my name, which I was more than happy with. After the second drive we broke for elevenses, I should say now that normally I’m used to a ham sandwich and a cup of tea on a shoot day, may be even a sausage roll. But on the Pennyholme estate we started with warm mugs of lobster bisque, followed by hot canapes served by the chef from the Stoneley Manor house. During the elevenses the fog had lifted but the wind picked up quite considerably, which made the next drive sporting to say the least.
The grouse which are known to fly up to speeds of 70mph now had 40mph behind: them, blink and they were gone! I decided to switch guns to my “old favourite” for a little extra confidence in the wind, Perazzi MX8 SCO 12 gauge with 32” barrels and fixed choke 1/2 and 3/4, this particular gun has quite a high stock which was perfect for the grouse going away. After the drive we broke for a delicious al carte lunch in Pennyholme’s purpose built mobile lunch hut. The wind buffed the hut and rattled the windows, but the atmosphere from the other guns was of great enjoyment of the day and eagerness to get back out to the butts despite the deteriorating weather conditions.
After lunch we shot two more drives, to total five drives. Throughout the day I used Hull Driven grouse, 30-gram 6.5 copper coated shot, I have used these before on a small pheasant day and knew they were, very good. The cartridges seemed to pattern very well through both of my Perazzi's with negligible recoil they are a smooth cartridge you can shoot all day, and importantly for shooting over a grouse moor are environmentally friendly fibre wad. We came off the moor and headed back to Stoneley manor house in a convoy of 4x4’s, packed our guns up and went in for afternoon tea, in anticipation of the total count of the bag.
We shot 129 brace of red grouse, between nine guns with a total of 1169 shots fired. It can only be described as an absolutely amazing day and one that I will remember for the rest of my life, I can’t thank the Hull Cartridge for the kind and generous invitation enough. As we all departed from Stoneley manor we were presented with a brace of dressed grouse to take home and cook for ourselves. Once home I got a fantastic recipe for grouse breast from Country Life magazine. It was a different from a traditional whole roast but delicious, especially when preceded by a pudding of Bywell apples, caramel and hazelnut tart (also a Country Life online recipe see below).