Season: August 12th-10th December

Grouse are smaller than pheasant and larger than partridge which they resemble. They are found in coveys, large and small, sometimes singly, sometimes of 20 birds or more. Later in the season they often pack in large numbers. They feed mostly on heather shoots, occupying bleak moorland. They are very hardy birds living in cold conditions, breeding and maturing early. They take to their wings within a week of hatching and in spite of endemic disease on most moors, they are one of the strongest flying birds.

Although not in the strictest sense of the word artificially reared, the moors are keepered and the grouse population kept artificially high e.g. the heather is burned to encourage the growth of new shoots, every form of winged and fourlegged predator is rigidly exterminated etc.If left alone the population would stabilise at a much lower figure and natural immunity to endemic disease develop in most cases.

Birds are shot in two ways; walking-up or driving shooting.

Walking-up

entails the guns walking in a line across the moor, with the wind, sometimes with a variety of gundogs to disturb concealed birds, shooting as they take off. This method is employed mainly in the later part of the season when the numbers have been depleted by driven shooting or on moors where grouse are in short supply anyway.

Shooting driven birds

is the traditional form of grouse shooting. Grouse are driven by a long line of beaters over the waiting guns, concealed behind shooting butts. The drive can cover miles of moorland and often be out of sight until within reach of the shooting butts.

WHERE ARE GROUSE SHOOTS ADVERTISED?

  1. On the roadside. Notice boards at the beginning of footpaths or public tracks leading onto a grouse moor. They will tell you when the moor is closed for shooting.
  2. National Park Planning Boards will supply on request a list of dates when moors will be closed for shooting along with a photocopied map showing moor boundaries. They have negotiated access agreements with shoot owners in the area, that allow the public onto the moors at certain dates, providing that the moors are allowed to close on certain days for shooting.
  3. In some local newspapers, under the public notices column, they will list moors, that are accessible to the public, and when they will be closed.
  4. Some County Councils have negotiated public access agreements with the owners of grouse moors and it becomes their task to inform the public that these moors will be closed. These county councils will keep lists of such moors and when they are closed.
  5. It should be remembered here that most grouse are huge, private, fenced-off tracts of land where no member of the public is ever allowed. You will have great difficulty in finding shoot dates for these moors, because the owners are under no obligation to warn the public and publicise the dates. It should also be pointed out that those moors which have had access agreements negotiated with them and allow public on, have to fix days of shooting well in advance of the 12th August. Once decided on, the dates cannot be changed – so if one shoot is disrupted by sabs, they cannot hold another to make up for lost sport. Unfortunately, these shoot dates are never available until the first week of August.

MATERIALS

Whistles, footballs, rattles, horns, air-horns.Large white rags, flags or old sheets. Old fertiliser bags will do for beating purposes.O.S. maps of the area. All groups should be given details maps of the shoot, but try and bring the relevant O.S. map.Camera/video camera and binoculars are essential.Compass. Do not under estimate how easy it is to get lost on these open moors. Someone in the group should be able to use one.Silver foil arm bands, shiny metal badges, metal tin lids etc: all reflective shiny surfaces for

DRESS

Wear white/yellow/light colours that will assist in clearing the grouse whilst pre-beating and make you stand out when in the shooting butts. Otherwise try and look like a hiker as it may provide you with a cover story on the moors. Strong sensible footwear is a must for high, often boggy rocky slopes. Also of course clothing that can protect you from the elements is a must. Fog, rain and winds are a common feature of the Pennines and Dales. Lastly, don’t forget grouse are colour-blind; so a colour like red is not as effective as it may at first appear.


PLANNING A GROUSE SHOOT SAB

Because regional or joint hits are needed to sab a shoot effectively, the organising groups really need to explore the shoot moors and it is vital that someone knows their way around the moor. A good sab is really dependant on the planning that has led up to it. The following points have to be known:-

With this information in hand, obviously moving across the moors and directing sabs becomes a lot easier.


TACTICS BEFORE THE SHOOT STARTS

Pre-beating is the most effective method, and it should be done:-

  1. With the wind – no bird wants to fly into the wind.
  2. Away from the line of shooting butts that are to be used first and indeed beyond the point that shoot beaters will start their beating.
  3. If possible downhill; it is a lot easier to force birds to move in this direction.

The sab beat line should be longer than the line of butts. Do not forget also that the beat line will have to widen out as it progresses away from the butts to encompass the whole area the shooters will beat. To do this effectively 50-100 sabs are needed really. Gaps of 20-30 feet are needed between sabs and generally most of the rules for pre-beating hare-coursing apply to grouse moors. White flags and noise seem to shift grouse best although noise should be controlled. Grouse beating (official) usually starts around 9.30 am so sabs need to START at around 8.00 am at the latest. The use of CB’s will assist in controlling the line. Please remember these attempts are not races. The line should move at the pace of the slowest person and should be kept STRAIGHT.

TACTICS AFTER THE SHOOT HAS STARTED (DRIVEN)

Depending on how many sabs there are and how well the pre-beating has gone there are a number of options open.


WALK-UP SHOOTING TACTICS

Being well ahead of the shooters is the main tactic to adopt here. At times shooters will abandon their butts and forming a long line, move across the moor with the wind and shoot as grouse get up in front of the moving line. Sab beaters should form an arc 400-500 metres ahead with the two ends furthest from the shooters and keep ahead of them clearing all bird-life as they proceed.

Care has to be taken that sabs proceed at the same speed as guns and that guns do not switch direction, leaving the sab line too far away to swing back in front of them.


PHEASANT SHOOTS

Season: October 1st – February 1st

Wild pheasants are now almost a thing of the past and the shooters now breed and rear their own birds to satisfy their demands. Shooting syndicates are set up to ease the cost and in many woods can now be found the rearing pens. You will come across them as you pre-beat woods on fox hunts.

From incubation the chicks are kept in large sheds and as they get older they are placed in larger and larger pens until they are old and “ripe” enough to be released from their holding pens into the countryside. Feed is kept permanently for them in hanging containers, i.e. old plastic drums to ensure the pheasants remain in the area where they are to be shot. Also, an aniseed solution is put around coverts, the smell from this appeals to the pheasants and they stay in the vicinity.

The shoots take place regularly and will be advertised in shooting magazines and locally. Most shoots take place just before Christmas. A large shoot will generally take place with beaters and the shooters remaining stationary. Several beats will take place during the day. Smaller shoots may be of the walk-up fashion.

TACTICS

Action has to be taken early in an attempt to prevent birds from remaining in the area they are released into. The feed containers can easily be located and you should act accordingly.

Pheasants have been known to follow a trail of the feed for some distance and remain if enough food is left. They will particularly follow an aniseed trail which can be sprayed from a garden spray. The aniseed fluid, bought from chemists, should be mixed with spirits such as white spirits. Grain soaked overnight in aniseed as a trail will also work.

Beating

Much the same as grouse shoots, when their beaters and shooters are in position, beat away towards their beaters. If there are enough of you, stand in front of their guns and prevent them from shooting.

On a walk-up shoot, position yourself ahead of the shooters and beat away at the same speed as the shooters walk, always watching to see if they change direction.