Walked-up grouse or pigeon over stubbles - which one do you prefer? Ben Samuelson and Giles Catchpole debate the merits of both.
Walked-up grouse by Ben Samuelson
For the real shooting cognoscenti, there really isn’t anything quite like a day of walked-up grouse. Some people will talk enthusiastically about a big pheasant day in the West Country, or partridge over hedges in East Anglia. Giles will even be having a decent go below at pretending he’d rather be shooting pigeons over stubbles, and those with deep enough pockets, or at least those with friends with deep enough pockets, will talk about days of hundreds of brace of driven grouse. But nothing can compare with the purity of a walked-up day on the moor.
Firstly, there is the tradition. You know that, long before the Victorians got everyone raving about big driven days, which in the Prince of Wales’s case often included his host’s wife in the bag, our ancestors were heading out with dog and gun, or even crossbow, to pot a bird or two for the pot. To keep a half-sensible population of grouse on the moor, it still needs to be managed, with levels of heather-burning and predator control of which even the RSPB approves helping populations of lapwing, curlew and the like also flourish.
All forms of shooting get us closer to often beautiful countryside – but walked-up grouse shooting requires a more intimate knowledge of a landscape that, in my view, is the most beautiful in the world. Only years of spending time on the land gives you the ability to find the grouse, and to get yourself into range of shooting them.
And then there are the dogs. Even if you don’t take your own dog on a driven day, there is huge pleasure in watching the dogs work – but nothing compares with the involvement that you have with them on a walked-up day. You learn very quickly not to look for birds but to watch the dogs as they quarter the land in front of you. And the joy of learning which dogs know their business, and which to watch for the slightest hint of a point, is one of the deepest pleasures of a deeply pleasurable form of shooting.
Pigeon over stubbles by Giles Catchpole
Let me say at the outset that I love walking-up grouse. OK? Love it. Very special. However, you do have to travel and you do have to stay somewhere and there is quite a lot of organisation involved and it does mean spending quite a lot of money when you add it all up; and you do have to walk. A lot. Miles. And miles. And quite a few of those miles will be uphill. Some, I grant you, will be downhill – that is the way of things – and some will be around the hill but a good deal of the day will be spent walking up… hill. With a gun and cartridges and a bag and some lunch. And there will be sun and midges. Many midges. Millions. More. And there will be grouse too; and that’s fine and you will shoot a few and that will be fine too. It’s all good. Like I say, I love walking-up grouse.
But while you are doing all of that just think of me planted between a couple of straw bales on a recently harvested stubble. The smell of fresh straw fills my nostrils. I am sitting on a canvas chair looking out over a decoy pattern with a whirly bird wafting round in the middle. I drove all my gear out here before parking the car behind the hedge and walking back with the dog. I have the cool box on one side of my chair and the cartridge bag on the other. If I were still smoking, believe you me, this is where I’d fire one up. Still.
I am not expecting to shoot hundreds. I am not Will Garfit. But I expect to pick 50 over the course of the next few hours. Unless things get really out of hand, I’d probably stop there. That’s twice what you would get on a driven pheasant day. Probably five times what you’d expect walking-up. And it’s all they want at the gastropub. And I’ve paid what for the privilege? Well, I went beating a few times and bought some strategic pints, if I’m honest. And I got paid for the beating.
And when I’m done here I’ll drive home via the gastro-pub to drop off the bag and sink another pint. What’s not to like?
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