(left to right) hunters Bob and Ira, gamekeeper Craig

I hunted for birds over dogs three different days on my recent trip to Scotland. The first day was the hardest, and I described it here from there. We spent six hot hours sweating like animals on a warm day of hiking up and down the moors and the hills. My legs were like rubber…or wet spaghetti. I was constantly afraid of falling, watching out for 12-inch+ rocks, rivulets, holes in the ground over underground streams, heather branches and slippery grass. You can’t see what you are walking on, because it is either covered up by large fields of heather or because you are in grass up to your shoulders. When you walk on the side of a hill, going perpendicular to the direction that goes to the top, your feet are slanted at every step, angled downhill. Now imagine it is wet or muddy or slippery with tiny stones. A real obstacle course.

we had already walked up behind and then down the peak in the distance

Just making it through each of the three days was by far the biggest challenge. And my biggest accomplishment there. I was very proud that I survived, rarely fell to a knee…unlike those hunters the previous week who had trained in the gym for two months to be in shape for the big Scotland hunting expedition and fell so much that the gamekeeper took them off the moor and back to a stand where they shot at clay pigeons for safety’s sake.

On the other hand, for one of the first times, I felt like an elderly man who was being stressed and pushed by the “walk.” Gamekeeper Craig Graham had a walking stick and didn’t need to look where he was stepping. But he was born and raised there. And when we exchanged my shotgun for his stick, I found it easier as well.

The birds were the second huge challenge. The pheasant season had just opened up when we were there, but I told Craig that I wasn’t interested in going for them. “It would be too easy,” I informed him. I was more interested in the challenge of hitting a faster, smaller grouse or partridge. Craig told me later that he smiled to himself when I said that. And he was right.

I was an idiot. Scottish pheasants are harder to hit than what I have experienced in CT back home, where they are raised in a pen and then put into the field a few hours prior to the hunters and their dogs going after them. Those eastern birds—not the wild ones in the midwest—sit in one place until the dogs locate them, they are flushed by hunter or dog, and then take off slowly and predictably for a relatively easy shot of 15 to 25 yards.

Craig, Ira and dinner

In Scotland the birds are living freely on the moors for two to 12 months and have adapted to the wind, foxes, hawks, and maybe some hunters. They often fly BEFORE the pointers have time to smell them and freeze in position, so they are up at any moment and veering off 20-40 yards before you even know they are airborne. Sometimes Craig would yell “bird” or “pheasant,” but he doesn’t have time to say where it is flying. Now I have about half a second to make sure my footing is secure, no dog is in range or line of fire, no hunter or gamekeeper is in danger, raise the gun to a proper mount and pull the trigger at exactly the right lead, so that the shot will intersect with the bird flying into it. Whew! That is not easy at all.

With such minimal advance warning, I have to be ready with every footstep, and given how difficult it was just to walk and retain my balance, it was next to impossible to keep focused on a possible sighting. While the grouse often took off in coveys or singles 50 to 100 yards before we reached them the first day, I did have ONE (count it, just one) makable shot on the third day. But I was watching the ground to avoid falling…and missed. We also scared off a far away covey of black cock grouse on that third day. Read the rest of this entry »

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