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Dream hunt: driven and walked-up grouse shooting in Scotland

Fastest game bird in the UK

The red grouse is the fastest-flying game bird in the UK, their flight speed can exceed 70 mph, making hunting a challenge and appealing to shooters all over the globe. The wild bird, unique to Britain, is found on heather moorland. During the breeding season in March, the aggressive cock birds may fight to the death. The males are identified by a bright red stripe, called wattles, above the eyes, which attracts the female. The largest grouse moors are found in Scotland.

Shooting driven grouse from butts

 Shooting at a mature red grouse
Chris taking a shot at a mature red grouse  on heather grouse moor with a traditional side by side shotgun. (Photo by Linda Mellor)

Perhaps one of the most exhilarating and expensive birds to shoot (prices from upwards of £80 GBP per bird), driven grouse shooting attracts shooters with fast reactions as the birds fly at a rapid speed – blink and you will miss them! It is a thrilling day’s game shooting, and more dangerous than any other form of driven game shooting so safety is paramount. Listen carefully to the safety briefing from the head gamekeeper before the shooting party travels uphill to the heather-covered grouse moors. You are shown to a grouse butt (screened stand), there will be sticks (canes or safety frames) placed on either side of the butt to avoid shooters swinging through the line and shooting at a neighbouring butt. 

Tradition dictates shooting with a side by side shotgun but the more modern over and under is a popular choice. The birds are driven over butts by a team of beaters, and flankers on the outer edges of the line. The birds flight is speedy and low over the heather: they use the wind (upland grouse moors are almost certain to be windy), and change flight direction in an instant. You move to a different area and grouse butt (some are historic) for each drive, typically, you shoot three drives in the morning, stop for lunch on hill, and shoot two more grouse drives in the afternoon. 

Scotland is the hunters natural arena for traditional walked-up grouse

Many game shooters want to shoot grouse over dogs in Scotland, the highlands of Scotland provide a wild and challenging environment for guns and dogs to work together for a day’s sport. Shooting grouse over pointers moves at a different pace to driven grouse shooting and requires well-trained, steady dogs (pointers are popular: German short and wired haired pointers, Vizslas). American Chris Godfrey returned to Scotland for the first time since a childhood visit in 1976, after seeing grouse in their wild habitat. Chris told all4hunters.com about his love of Scotland and the grouse, “I just see those birds and I feel Scotland, those who have been there will know what I mean when I say feel the country. I knew I had to return and hunt red grouse in Scotland.”

Walked up grouse shooting in Scotland on upland 
Walked up grouse shooting in Scotland on upland heather grouse moors. (Photo by Linda Mellor)

American hunter makes his hunting dream come true

Chris dreamt about his return to Scotland to shoot walked-up grouse: shooters walk across the moorland, flushing birds using trained pointers to locate them. Chris told all4hunters.com,I felt it right that I wear a kilt when shooting grouse to honour the Scots tradition.” Chris borrowed a kilt from a local gamekeeper, to wear with his Texan Stetson and snake-boots for his traditional day of shooting walked-up grouse. 

“It was the best day of my life, I shot well with a borrowed boxlock shotgun. I was a joy to see the grouse-keeper’s pointers quartering over the heather to locate the grouse and going on point. I shot selectively, picking only the older birds. We finished the day on five and a half brace (a brace is two birds).”

Shooting driven grouse from a grouse butt
Shooting driven grouse from a grouse butt. (Photo by Linda Mellor)

The red grouse shooting season

The grouse shooting season opens on 12th August, referred to as "the Glorious Twelfth" (it’s the first bird on the shooting season calendar), high-end London restaurants race to get the first shot grouse transported to the city to cook and place it on their menu.

Scottish grouse count

Red grouse is a wild bird, and numbers fluctuate, in March the birds are counted and, again, in July, and if numbers are low, no grouse are shot to allow numbers to recover for the following year.

A covey of grouse flying
A covey of grouse flying over the heather. (Photo by Linda Mellor)

Chris's dream hunt 

all4hunters asked Chris about his dream hunt, Chris said, “Well, I’m off to Argentina for red stag in March, and in August, I arrive by floatplane to a remote camp above timberline in Alaska and introduce a brace of young setters to Willow Ptarmigan and shoot over them and show them so many Ptarmigan in a week that by the time quail season in Texas rolls around they are finished dogs.

Another dream hunt for me would be a traditional hunt with a bush-tracker for Kudu and Gemsbok in Namibia. It sounds as though Chris will be making his dreams a reality!

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