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Upland Keeper

In these years of good grouse numbers ? and bear in mind, if the medicated grit works as well as it seems it will, there could be a lot more of them ? don?t think that all grouse shooting is going to cost quite as much as some would have you believe.

The fact that many of those who shoot grouse year in, year out were aware that this year was going to be a good one rather set the tone for the amount that they were willing to pay for their days on the moors.

Overages are always contentious, especially when the starting figure is as large as they can be for early season grouse rates, so it?s not surprising that, in big seasons, many estates waive the fee over a set amount and, therefore, your grouse actually start to become cheaper ? if you hit the maximum fi gure, and then exceed it. In that scenario, every subsequent bird you then shoot makes all the others less expensive.

These back-end days are keenly sought after, and for many who have been lucky enough to get a late season day this year for a flat-rate fee of around £6,000 to £10,000, and then are fortunate with the weather, their grouse may well end up costing less than they would usually pay for a pheasant, and not a £50 one at that. That may come as a surprise to some, but the reality is that it is often indeed the case.

I am biased in my vision of which is the more sporting bird, and I am also of the same opinion as an old headkeeper of mine who could not understand why many grouse Shots took themselves off to shoot 150 pheasants and thought they had had an excellent day, yet considered 75 brace of grouse a poor do. I will leave it with you to make your own decision on that one.

Booking early is key

Sadly, though, for any of you who are thinking you would like such a day, I fear they are all gone for this year, with many of those who had grouse to spare becoming fully booked to the season?s end some weeks ago. It is one of those things which, if you are serious about it, you will get an order in early in the season to ensure you don?t miss out.

If the day is kind ? a fair wind being the most important thing, providing you can see, of course ? with no low cloud or hill fog, then for yourself and perhaps eight of your friends, you may well shoot in excess of a hundred brace, and that, for November, or even December grouse, is a sporting day worth waiting for.

These birds are not for the faint-hearted, as many a competent pheasant Shot has found out to his cost. Cartridge-to-kill ratios tend to go out the window if the day is on the stormy side, and bearing in mind these birds can do around 60mph without a wind, in a good 20mph to 30mph ?strong wind? they move into another class. Great fun it may be for the participant, but on those days when many a hat disappears off down the hill, don?t expect to reach much of a bag ? that is if the keeper and beaters have managed to put the flying missiles over you in the first place.

Don?t make the first move

That is the only downside of late season grouse. These birds have seen it all ? Guns, butts, the lot ? so it comes as no surprise that the slightest movement too soon and that great big pack of birds that was heading for you is now heading in the opposite direction, and picking-up most of the rest of the drive as they go.

Fieldcraft now comes into its own, with drab colours for jackets and shirts, and perhaps more important, no movement until the grouse are ?on you?, especially if they are coming into the wind. They can turn around faster than many can get the gun up ? quite simply, with a turn of the wing they are gone, back from where they came, straight over a frustrated keeper?s head.

So, refrain from waving your gun barrels in preparation for the shot, and resist the temptation to duck down in the butt, as when you look up they may well be gone. Also, do not, as I have seen too often, have the nearly white spaniel or Labrador tied up outside the butt, as any fidgeting around (and who could blame the dog for that) will be seen from a long way off by the birds, and they will veer away. All you will do is bless the rest of the line with birds which may otherwise have come to you.

Lack of movement is the key. All wildlife spot movement before anything else, and a stationary figure is simply part of the landscape, but move and the game is up, if you will excuse the pun.