Posts Tagged Scottish moors

Major Challenges Of Hunting In Scotland

(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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Grouse Hunting On The Scottish Moor

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.”

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