George Digweed's guide to grouse is essential pre-moor reading, as he shares his top tips on how to shoot successfully on of the world's finest gamebirds
From why grouse present such a challenge to how to shoot successfully on the moor, George Digweed shares his top tips in this guide to grouse. Whether this season will be your first time in the butt or your fourtieth, this is essential pre-moor reading.
For more of George Digweed’s expert shooting advice, read George Digweed’s ultimate pigeon decoying guide for a large bag and fine sporting day. Or for more tips on how to be safe on the moor and great on the grouse, read the Editor’s 12 top tips for grouse shooting.
GEORGE DIGWEED’S GUIDE TO GROUSE
As I sit in my office writing my guide to grouse on a cold, wet morning with a strong wind blowing, it conjures up my favourite images of grouse-shooting. People often ask me to name my favourite quarry and, as I have stated before, it is a difficult question to answer but one quarry that would be right up there in the top two or three would be October/November driven grouse in the conditions outside my office today. It is, without question, the Sport of Kings.
Pretty much all of the other gamebirds we pursue can be reproduced in an artificial form. This cannot be done with the grouse and for the purists who own grousemoors, and the guns that chase the country in the pursuit of that red-letter day on the grouse, why do they find them so challenging?
GEORGE DIGWEED’S GUIDE TO GROUSE: THE CHALLENGES
I think there are several reasons for this, a strong one being the fact that the majority of people simply do not get the opportunity to shoot driven grouse as frequently as they would pheasant/partridges or duck. Secondly, with no horizon and few points of interest on the moor, it is extremely difficult to judge distance and speed. Lastly, because of the nature of the sport, you are shooting the bird with your gun held in a horizontal position, which is unnatural to the accustomed game-shot. There is little doubt that the most accomplished shots on driven grouse are the people who shoot this quarry all the time, understand the bird and the moor, and are at one with themselves.
If you are going to take on the pursuit of one of the world’s finest gamebirds, then I would suggest that you research the challenge thoroughly beforehand. When grouse approach, most of the birds should be shot in front. I say “should” in this guide to grouse because on the small amount of grouse-shooting I did last season, most of the first shots I saw were taken far too close to the line. Your gun and cartridge combination needs to be adequate for the task in hand and chosen to suit the challenges that await. There is no point in taking your 34in-barrelled full and full-choked Exmoor over-and-under to a grousemoor unless you are prepared to shoot your grouse in a manner that the gun is designed for – that is, 60yd in front.
In my experience, as long as the grouse are shot fairly well up front in the body, they tend to die easily. So big-sized pellets would not necessarily be the norm, nor should the tightest choke be an advantage, as I believe it is when shooting high birds. For me, a 30in-barrelled gun with half choke in both barrels and 30g to 32g 6s would fit the bill on any grousemoor, leaving you to concentrate on your ability to “read” the bird.
GEORGE DIGWEED’S GUIDE TO GROUSE: MAKE YOUR OWN TIME
The best players among all top-level sportsmen and women in whatever sport you are looking at move their feet and keep their head still. With grouse being a wild bird, stillness in the butt is vital, as is clothing that blends nicely with the changing colours of the moor and not the changing colours of a fancy-dress party in Knightsbridge. Keep still and pick a point at which you decide you are going to move once an oncoming grouse has reached this point with regard to your body position, then allow your feet to follow. I am not an advocate of shooting wildly in front at vast ranges because “this is what you are expected to do”. I feel if you let the bird commit to you, you can deal with the situation in your own time and at your own pace. All of the best shots, cricketers, tennis players, and so on, appear to have that magical word “time”. They only do this by creating their “own time” by being au fait with their surroundings and the moment.
Because grouse contour, and more than any other bird we drive are affected by the wind, your set-up in the butt may be so that you have a short horizon (difficult for shooting in front) or the grouse are sliding between the butts, making it difficult for two good or safe shots in front. At this juncture, your feet and body position comes massively into play again, as you will need to shoot in a safe manner behind. Having lifted the gun over the butt sticks, the majority of people follow the grouse through the line and over the top of the sticks at the same pace as the bird is moving. The consequence of this is that when they get to the killing area behind the line, they are mounting the gun in a downward motion with the grouse tending to either remain level or be flaring, having just been shot at. Also, with the nature of the grouse, a “quartering” shot going away would require less lead and, in my experience, most grouse are missed behind by shooting low and in front. My advice in this guide to grouse for the shot behind would be to read your grouse early, get your gun over the butt sticks and behind the line in a safe position early and come up to the grouse rather than dropping down onto it. By doing this your target remains in view at all times.
When you have the opportunity to shoot the grouse in front, because most over-and-unders shoot slightly high, treat your grouse like pigeon coming into the decoys in a wind. Instead of looking directly for the head, look for the feet, which will in turn cause less misses over the top.
GEORGE DIGWEED’S GUIDE TO GROUSE: A TRULY WILD BIRD
In this guide to grouse, we must above all remember that the grouse is a truly wild bird. A jink of the wing will turn it possibly two butts down. An unwritten rule on a grousemoor is that there are NO RULES and as long as it is safe and you feel you can deal with it, you should get on and take the bird without risk of reprisals from two butts down. This will also come into play when the grouse “pack up” later on in the season; like any bird under pressure, large groups are the best form of defence and if you have 200 birds going to your neighbour and you are waiting for him to shoot his first two shots, half the drive could be lost if you do not “get on”.
When grouse are packed it is vital that you pick a grouse and do not just shoot in the middle, effectively trying to “brown” them. Like the old golf adage of “a tree is 90% air”, I have seen a lot of people shooting into a pack of grouse and not getting a bird. The earlier you shoot with a pack of grouse in front, the greater the chance of being able to pick more birds out of the pack behind, giving you the “time” we are striving for. Marking your dead birds at the end of the drive is also a vital part of a day on the moor, as picking up in front and behind a line of butts can be a challenge. Numerous times I have heard pickers-up complaining that there has been “no scent”, which means atmospheric and wind conditions are leaving little for the dogs to work with. In these circumstances, the pickers-up appreciate it if the gun marks the grouse down from his butt and if he hasn’t got a dog lets the pickers-up find the grouse rather than them walking round destroying what relevant scent there is.
GEORGE DIGWEEKD’S GUIDE TO GROUSE: THE IMPORTANCE OF SAFETY
Safety is another important aspect of shooting grouse. Use butt sticks at all times. Note the position of your flankers and acknowledge them before the start of the drive. This should be done from butts one, two, eight and nine; if an unsafe shot occurs, it is often towards the second flanker from the second butt in. Additional sticks, such as walking sticks, can be used on the front of the butt to address the issue of the flankers and, above all, be very aware that as the drive progresses the flankers will move from their original positions.
Observe strictly the no-shooting-in-front horn and be aware of your surroundings; sometimes you should stop shooting in front long before the horn has been sounded. From the point of view of personal safety, wear a peaked cap and safety glasses for protection. Modern safety glasses now come in a variety of colours, some of which can enhance the light going into your eyes on a dark, drab, miserable day, allowing you to pick up the grouse that bit quicker, which, in turn, gives you the time to make your calculated shot.
All of the above in this guide to grouse, and the fact that you tend to be in some of the most breathtaking and unforgettable scenery that our country has to offer, makes the sport of driven grouse-shooting so special. It provides a challenge that tests our abilities on one of the fastest, finest gamebirds in the world. It can rightly be described as The Sport of Kings.