Can there be a more challenging environment for human and canine asks Roderick Emery?


I am not just referring to the vertiginous climbs required to access the heather, which have been known to put paid to a chap’s ambitions to walk-up a grouse before the undertaking has even started. No, I am talking about the need for total control of both man and dog. The shooter has to be balanced and stable in, or rather on, difficult terrain – to wit knee-deep heather – while being alert and ready to address the coveys as they burst forth ahead of the line.

And dogs must be walking quietly at heel but also watching the action and keeping tabs on falling grouse in order that they can fulfil their vital function of gathering up downed birds in due course.

What is not required is motley collections of dogs – or one dog in particular – fossicking about in front of the line and putting up birds out of shot. Or charging past their master when he discharges his piece in a frantic bid to get to the scene of the action before the competition. And scattering other birds that may yet be sitting fast to the four points of the compass, while frustrated neighbours attempt to draw a bead on the departing quarry round a mad hound that is leaping about in the vicinity like a prawn on a hotplate.

The desired sequence of events is that the line proceeds in an orderly manner. Grouse erupt from the heather from time to time with throaty chuckles to warm the heart of any sportsman. Said sportsman selects his grouse and briskly knocks down a bird, perhaps even two. The line stops while everyone in the vicinity marks the point of fall in the sea of purple. The line proceeds and more grouse emerge; where there’s one there is often another. More birds are shot and marked.When the line has moved forward once more to the point of fall, if the birds are not found at once by the guns, one or more dogs may be cast off to make their contribution to proceedings. That’s the theory, anyway. What could possibly go wrong?


This is a bit of alright, eh? Off the lead and the whole area is hooching with scent. I’m getting hare. I’m getting deer. And I’m getting top notes of… of… grouse. Grouse! I could find them for you.They’re over there… OK. OK. OK! I said OK! I won’t find them for you then. I was just trying to be helpful.You didn’t have to do that.With your stick. I’m at heel. I’m at heel. I can take a hint. All I was trying to point out to you was that there are grouse not very far ahead. In fact, I’d say just about… GROUSE! GROUSE! GROUSE! Blimey, You got one! Or was it two? Blinder, mate! I’ll get ‘em. OW! What was that for? You shoot, I collect. Them’s the rules, bud. Not to collect. OK, not to collect. New rules. Different rules.You could have told me before, you know… GROUSE! GROUSE! MORE GROUSE! Holy moly, you are on fire today, chief. Shall I get ‘em? Shall I? I’m only asking because that last one didn’t exactly plummet, did it? If you’re honest? It cart-wheeled, I grant you, but it didn’t look, you know, dead? More like it was lacing up its trainers, really. It won’t be there when we get there, you mark my words. I said, I think you got him fair and square, Colonel! Usain Bolt grouse Esq., if I’m any judge. I said, I don’t suppose it’ll budge.

Here we are then. There’s one. Good. And there’s another one. Well done. So where’s the third one, eh? That is the question. Innit? Where’s number three? In the library with the lead piping or halfway up the hill with his pants on fire? Told you. OK, I’m on it! Came down here, paused, took a deep breath and set off… thisaway. Bien sur, my dear Hastings, the nez, she is never wrong. OOPS! ZIG-ZAG! AND ZAG-ZIG!

Canny blighter, aren’t you Mr Bolt? OK, boys and girls, unless I am very much mistaken… X…marks… the… SPOT! I’b goddim. S’alride, I’b goddim.

Cubbin’, cubbin’, we’re cubbin’.There you go, sport, do try to knock ‘em right over next time, eh? On second thoughts, perhaps, don’t. More fun for me that way. Everybody ready then? On we go. GROUSE!

Cartoon © Bryn Parry