Shooting grouse after the peak months of August and September can provide exceptionally challenging sport at a more affordable price ? if you know where to find these highly sought-after days. Traditionally, late-season grouse are offered to existing syndicate members or close friends of the moor owner. However, if you are an experienced Shot and have a team of Guns on standby, there are ways of finding late-minute days on some of the UK?s 459 grouse moors.
Late-season days on grouse moors, held to reduce the grouse population to correct breeding levels, will only be available on those moors with surplus stock. ?As such,? said Nick Mason of the Cumbria-based sporting agents Davis & Bowring, ?there is a great deal of competition for the opportunity.? Guns should start planning as soon as possible, he advises. ?Offers are regularly made only a day or two in advance,? said Nick, adding that it pays to be flexible, ?If you try to put together a party of friends at the last minute, it can prove almost impossible as their diaries have already filled up with lowground shooting. Not having a team at the ready could mean that you miss out.?
Bryan Nelson, of Sportingagent.com, works with estates in both England and Scotland. He agreed that one of the tricks to landing late-season days is proper preparation: ?A team of Guns will grab the attention of estates far more than a single Gun.?
Electing to shoot grouse in October and November can make the notoriously expensive sport more accessible to cash-strapped Guns. According to Nick Mason, the day should be 25 per cent cheaper, as the Guns are helping to reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks on an overstocked moor. ?However, this is a double-edged sword, as only good grouse teams will be given the opportunity to shoot late-season birds.
Poor Shots will incur the moor owner?s displeasure, so do not regard this as a way for a novice to get cheap sport,? he said. GunsOnPegs? website lists many available driven days in Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumbria and Scotland. Managing director James Horne commented that it is always worth enquiring about fixed-price days when it comes to this kind of sport. On a driven day, a bag can be anything from 40 brace up to 150 brace and a walked-up day could produce anything from zero to 25 brace: ?The lower bag sizes make it more affordable to a wider range of Guns, so it is worth asking if you can pay per brace. Otherwise, if the bird stocks are there, you could find yourself with a big overage bill,? said James.
Things to watch out for
So, how does late-season shooting compare to peak season sport? According to Dan Muse of Driven Game Shooting and Hunting UK, winter grouse are much trickier to shoot compared to their naive early-season cousins: ?The birds are fast, much more experienced and provide a variety of challenging shots,? he said. And remember those light loads and wide open chokes you used in August and September? Put them away if you are serious about bringing down late-season grouse. ?I change my set-up come late October. It is time for full-chokes and 30-32g of no 5 or 6 shot as you will not be shooting much under 40 yards in front of you,? advised Dan.
There is also the reduced amount of daylight to consider. ?It will get dark much earlier at that time of year, so the day?s shooting will be reduced and lunch may be a hurried affair.?
The grouse rarely hold still for a pointing dog. Instead, they are more likely to slink off 50 yards before they flush, or slip out on a quiet low glide at the fi rst sight of a dog. Nick said: ?Birds form big packs and become increasingly difficult for the beaters to manage and drive.? The older birds will also have learned to avoid the butts. ?So, if you are shooting later on in the season, you might not be standing in a butt, but shooting from a dip in the terrain.?
The weather is another factor to take into consideration. ?On the open hill, it is often foul at that time of year, with wind blowing from the wrong direction, and there is an increased risk of fog,? Nick said.
Where to look
Where should shooters look for these late-season days? BASC?s game and gamekeeping officer, Glynn Evans, said local knowledge and contacts are invaluable: ?For these opportunities it is definitely worth contacting sporting agents. It may also be worth asking keepers and pickers-up who might know of nearby estates with days to let.?
Nick Mason recommended staying in touch with sporting agencies by email and text as it is easier to make offers and secure bookings: ?Telephone calls are difficult for us to take from a grouse butt as often we are looking after shoots where there is no mobile signal. Don?t be afraid of hassling agencies. Get your team and its finances together and tell them to keep its diary free for the last weekend in October.? He also pointed out that you should be prepared to travel long distances. ?This year there are some excellent opportunities in Scotland. Try to opt for days on a decent-sized moor so full advantage can be taken of a difficult wind direction by changing to a suitable beat,? he said.
Finally, James Horne advises that it is always worthwhile placing a wanted advertisement ? the Shooting Times?s classified advertisements section is one such place where it could pay to speculate this season.