What you need to know before you go Grouse Shooting
With the grouse shooting season starting in a matter of weeks we thought it time to get everyone ready. Unlike other driven game, Grouse offers a completely unique experience. You’ll be venturing into some of the rarest habitats on the planet, home to some of the rarest birds in the UK. Amongst the purple heather will lie the most revered sporting birds on the planet. Seeing them won’t be a challenge but keeping up with them will. So, before your trip to the moors, what do you need to know and what do you need to bring?
What you need to know
You need some practice
Grouse shooting is the first bird to start each years season. For many, this will be the first time shooting a gun in some time. The last thing you want is to arrive on the moors feeling rusty or out of practice. Considering the cost of a day shooting grouse a day shooting some tricky clays is an easy way of blowing off the cobwebs. Some grounds specialise in grouse style targets just for this purpose. Spending time on these targets with instructors will improve your experience immensely.
Aiming to do this a couple of weeks before you go is the perfect timing to keep the lessons fresh in your mind. You’ll be surprised at how much footwork will be required to shoot grouse well consistently. If you’re shooting walked up grouse you might want to look into some going away targets. Anything where you’re stood on a stand with the target coming from underneath you would be great.
Driven or Walked up
Driven and Walked up shooting are the two most common ways that you’ll shoot Grouse. Walked up is the traditional way of shooting over the moors. The guns will simultaneously work as their own beaters as dogs work around them to flush the birds. This is a long day on the moors and you will cover a lot of ground on foot and hopefully see plenty of Grouse. It’s an amazing experience watching the dogs work across the ground and all of a sudden flush a covey of birds. These won’t be red letter days but they will be the most authentic grouse experience you can have.
Driven Grouse shooting shares a similar format to typical pheasant and partridge days. You will have a beaters line and a gun line as you’d expect but likely covering a larger space. In your butt, you might have a loader and you’ll have a bird marker to help those picking up. Driven shooting will still require a fair amount of walking which is why many guns favour something lighter than a 12 bore. You’ll save space and weight by moving from a 12 bore to a 20, considerably more if you move to 28/410.
How are Grouse different
Shooting Driven game, you will be used to being pegged out and having your guns along side you in an orderly fashion. When shooting Grouse, the pegs or butts have the guns placed at a similar height to a flying grouse. This will leave you exposed to shots through the line from both sides. To counter this, most butts will have sticks on each side of the butt to stop you swinging though. However, you’re more than welcome to shoot the birds once they’ve passed through the line behind you.
When you take the shot, you should look to shoot as early as you feel comfortable doing so. The natural camouflage of grouse means you might have a tough time spotting them at first. However, once you see them break over the landscape you’ll have an idea of where the beaters have gotten to. Leave it too late and Grouse will split left, right, up and down before you know it. The key is to pick one bird in a flurry and stick with it. Trying to shoot into the middle of a flurry is often a fruitless endeavour.
In summary, you’ll have a 90 degree window in front of you and the same behind. Endeavour to keep your shots in these two windows for everyone’s safety. As you transition between them, lift your gun over the sticks to make sure you don’t point into other butts. When the flurries come, pick one bird and stick with it before moving to another. The earlier you shoot the greater chance for a follow up shot. Leave it too late and you’ll have to transition between the front and rear shooting areas.
What equipment do you need
As you might imagine, grouse shooting has a few essentials that you wouldn’t need on a typical driven day. Unlike a driven day, you might go multiple drives without returning to your own vehicle. So any items you packed “just in case” you should take with you from the get go. On a Driven day you’ll likely have an ATV following carrying the heavy stuff like cartridges. For a walked up day there may be a following vehicle but it’s worth checking. You don’t want to assume there will be one and then find out there isn’t.
Comfy footwear is something you’ll absolutely need. In both walked up or driven days you’ll cover a lot of ground. Normally we’d recommend wellies for driven shooting but with the focus being distance rather than waterproofness we suggest boots. Comfy boots are better to walk in and adjust your footing as you transition between shooting in front and behind. If you’re wearing breeks, make sure to pack gaiters to keep your socks dry and ticks out.
Your choice of cartridge will also be slightly different from driven pheasant. A grouse is a far smaller bird so no need for a big shot. Number 6 shot is more than capable of taking birds without overdoing it. If you’re going walked up you will have a good idea of what to expect. In most cases 2 boxes will be enough for walked up shooting. For driven, take guidance from the suggested bag like you would for a typical driven day.
Gun of choice
Naturally, you’ll need to bring a gun with you. The choice is absolutely yours but we do have some recommendations. Due to the nature of the sport, the birds are fast and the days are long. Taking a heavy trap gun up to the moors will be increasingly cumbersome as the day goes on. A lot of experienced guns will opt for a smaller bore for the added manoeuvrability. Grouse aren’t big birds so they don’t need the heavy cartridge that late season pheasant or wildfowl need.
Driven grouse will close the distance incredibly fast and up to the speed as a pheasant. Once you see them break the horizon they will be upon you incredibly quickly and can change direction rapidly. Keep on your toes, pick one bird and commit to it. The need to move quickly favours, lighter, smaller guns. If you’re starting on a blank slate then a 20 bore is possibly the best balance between shot size and manoeuvrability.
The conversation on double gunning also pops up when we talk about grouse. In a perfect world, double gunning is extremely effective and means you can get off twice as many shots as you might do otherwise. However, if you’re reading this as a first time grouse shooter then don’t worry too much. One loaded gun is far more effective than fumbling around between 2 guns.
The Grouse season is a wonderful start to each year’s game season. The Glorious twelfth takes the keenest shots to the wild moorlands of the UK for a chance at a truly wild gamebird. Your first time on the moors may be a daunting experience but it needn’t be. Footwork and timing will keep you in good stead when you’re up on the moors. Shoot early and out in front and you can’t go too far wrong. If you do decide to shoot behind then make sure you don’t swing through the line. For those who go walked up shooting, pack the comfiest boots you have and make sure they’re broken in. Most importantly of all, enjoy it. A day on the moors goes by so fast and before you know it you’re back at home.