walking on that heather on the right was impossible!

A dream come true. Traditional grouse hunting in Scotland…although it’s called “shooting” here. The romance of the moor and the heather and the huge vistas and spectacular hills and views. I just had it all with a new Scottish friend (who has hunted in South Africa, but never for grouse on his native moors), a gamekeeper and his young protege. All three of them wore the traditional cap, tweeds, waistcoat (vest), tie, breeks (pants that only go just below the knees), tall stockings with a bit of colored cloth called a flash). My traditional gear included only the cap, purchased years ago in a London gun shop, and the Barbour coat that kept me sweating like a horse. Accompanying us were three black retrievers and two German pointers.

this is what my moor looked like with green fields in the distance, but NO paths between the heather

What an exhausting adventure. I am proud that I made it at all. I don’t know how people do it, climbing up and down hills that are slippery with running and puddled water on/over/around the beautiful pink-flowered heather obstacle course that can trip you or twist your ankle. Just walking was demanding. Trying to keep your footing, while watching for a sudden explosion of a flying bird—so that you can shoot in an instant—was damn near impossible. In fact a party of gents last week had barely walked 500 yards, but had tripped and fallen so often that Craig the gamekeeper ended the day for safety reasons.

typical proper warm fall day outfit with breeks and orange flash on stocking

As Craig said, at the end of our six-hour effort, “No need to go to the gym for your workout today.” It was much much harder than I ever imagined. I thought the dogs would point, we’d walk up behind them, the keeper would flush them, and we’d take a reasonable shot at 20 or 30 yards. Instead “the birds aren’t playing the game the way they’re supposed to.” Covey after covey would rise in a group and fly off from 50 to 100 yards away. Sometimes there was a straggler who stayed behind and later flew off unexpectedly in a low-flying getaway burst. At the end of four hours, with nothing to eat since breakfast but plain water, we had shot at maybe four birds and hit none.

So Craig pushed us on for two hours more gunning for partridge. And again we found coveys that rose in the distance. Along the way, we nudged at least 40 pheasant, but their season doesn’t open up until October 1st, so now we had to not only see a bird and raise the gun and aim and shoot in less than a second without falling off or down the hill, but also first size up the breed and make sure it was NOT a pheasant. What a challenge!

A minute after I was bemoaning our first partridge covey that took off more than 50 yards from where I was walking, a straggler at 35 to 40 yards flew after his pals left to right, and I was able to down him. My only bird of the day out of maybe three chances that were within range. Then we followed that group of 10 or so until it was frustratingly busted up by a retriever named Max who didn’t obey his master’s recall. Nevertheless after almost two hours of persistence, my friend Bob hit his only bird of the day that took the five dogs almost 15 minutes to locate.

red grouse

I won’t be able to download my pictures until I return home, so I have found some images from catalogs that will give you an idea of what a gentlemen looks like on the moors. All very dignified and a bit formal, but clearly “right” and quite elegant, don’t you think?

As for the birds? I have included some pictures of what they look like as well.

red-legged partridge

In searching for these photos, I found an August 6, 2010 FT.com story about the British grouse industry, which is very impressive. However I must point out that the costs to me for shooting is nothing like what you will read below. That is because we are staying at a lodge for 11 days, rather than flying in for just one day. Check out these excerpts:

“This year, however, those who look to shooting for part of their income are in confident mood, despite the fragile state of the economy. Mr Shedden said estates could charge more than £10,000 ($16,000+) for a day’s sport, which would typically involve the birds being driven towards eight guns.

“There is no shortage of people looking for good grouse shooting in Scotland,” he said.

Grouse shooting is thought to contribute up to £30m to the Scottish economy. The government estimates that sports shooting in Scotland – including deer-stalking – is responsible overall for £240m of direct and indirect economic activity, and maintains the equivalent of 2,000 full-time jobs.”