Tarquin Millington-Drake has witnessed numerous grouse shots get it right, and sometimes wrong. He explains how to shoot grouse safely and avoid the three big grouse shooting errors.


How to shoot grouse safely is the primary concern of anyone standing in a grouse butt. You must be aware of the issues before you set boot to moor. Grouse shooting is thrilling but it should always be a matter of safety first. For succinct safety advice read the editor’s top ten tips for grouse shooting in safety. For more in depth advice see below.


A key to shooting well and making the most of your opportunity is to feel relaxed and avoid hesitancy. And to feel relaxed you need to be sure that your approach to safety is the best it can be. Everything you may have heard is true, and it is too easy for accidents to happen. To my mind, how to shoot grouse safely starts with understanding the most common errors and organising yourself to avoid making them. Then you can shoot with confidence.


Error number one is swinging through the line and shooting your neighbour. This can be avoided by using the sticks placed either side of your butt. You are responsible for your sticks and you need to feel confident they are correctly placed to prevent you making a mistake, and to suit your style of shooting in terms of footwork and position. Ask your loader’s opinion on placement. If in doubt err on the side of caution; you will be far more at ease and shoot better.

Be aware that, for the right-hander, the more likely side on which to make an error is the left. For the left-hander, it is the right. Pheasant-shots have a tendency to swing through a crossing bird starting from behind but the speed of the grouse is such that a dramatic catch up is required, therefore guns end up swinging through and leaning round or clattering the sticks. Do not swing over your sticks, do not put the gun through the sticks, and do note that the most dangerous butts are the beautiful big, round, stone ones. Their shape means you are able to get ahead of your sticks. Therefore, if placed safely, sticks on a round butt often seem to have a very restrictive window. If you find yourself in one, walk forward and think it through.


“Walking past your sticks” when shooting behind is the second and perhaps the most common error. The sticks will not prevent you making a mistake if, when facing out the back of the butt, you move from within to beyond them (possible in some butts) and are therefore able to address the bird with no restriction. So, the advice here is to stay within the boundaries of the butt sticks when shooting behind; do not walk to the back of the butt where there are no sticks to prevent you making a mistake and addressing a bird as it passes your neighbour.


The third mistake concerns the safety of the flankers: the men and women with flags on the end of the beating line whose job it is to squeeze the line so the birds go through the line of butts. They are the most vulnerable people on the moor. If you are on the end of the line, how to set up to avoid them may be obvious but if you are one butt in from the end, you will find them less prominent and may hit them, so take extra care. If pieces of moor are being brought in on an angle due to wind direction, those in the middle of the line may also need to be careful in the latter stages of the drive. Some guns and loaders will tell you just to be aware and careful. I like to move one set of my sticks as the flanker moves to protect him or her from me at all times. This involves moving the sticks from time to time but it does not cost you opportunities. You may end up with what seems to be a very narrow window between your sticks but it is not as small as it looks and usually the space to shoot behind safely is enormous. Flankers do not appreciate being peppered, so make sure you are visually in touch with them at all times and ask your loader to keep an eye, too, as in the time it has taken for a couple of shots much can change in a flanker’s position.

My final word on safety is to go easy on the alcohol the night before and on the day itself.