There's really nothing as fast as a grouse and so grouse shooting is quite different from any other type of game shooting. With other driven types of shooting the gun is pointed into the air - in grouse shooting many of the shots being taken will have the gun flat.
Of course, this brings a particular set of safety concerns, but any good moorland shoot will have very strict standards by which you will be expected to behave to reduce the risk of injury.
Practice, practice and more practice
Given the cost of a day’s grouse shooting, the distance you will probably be travelling to do it, not to mention your own high expectations, you owe it to yourself to find your nearest shooting school with a grouse butt and shoot it as often as possible.
More particularly, you should be looking to pick up your first bird at about 60 yards in front and shoot it at 50 yards in front with your more tightly choked first barrel, giving you enough time to pick up another bird shortly afterwards, or take a safe shot with your second barrel if you missed.
Your first shot will probably be flat, and your second shot will likely not be much above the heather, so make sure you know where the beaters are at all times.
Having the confidence to take the first bird far enough out is a must, and this confidence can only come with practice.
Pick one bird to shoot and stay with it
The first few birds are likely to appear alone or in pairs, but with luck you should see large groups of eight birds or more. As such, as with any other form of shooting, it is imperative to pick one bird to shoot and stay on it.
This is especially true with grouse shooting as the excitement of the occasion and the speed of the birds will mean the adrenaline will certainly be flowing. So keep a grip on those animal instincts that will come into play.
Early in August, the young birds will be inexperienced and unaware of what to expect on a shoot day, so are likely to fly straighter rather than flaring over the butts.
Do not poke
Maintain a good swing through any birds you shoot at. Grouse shooting is very instinctive, largely due to the flight and speed of the birds but avoid any tendency to ‘poke’ at them.
Quick handling and gun fit
To be successful, you need to be using guns which are lively in the hands, unlike the sort used with high pheasants which reward a more deliberate swing.
It is essential to ensure your gun fits and that you are totally comfortable shooting with it.
Shoot a side-by-side and you will enjoy a better sight of the birds than shooting with an over-under.
Shooting over-unders will benefit with a better view of crossing birds, but do not think that having a selective trigger will help, as you will almost certainly not have time to think about adjusting this as the birds come over.
The wrong pattern in the right place will still kill.
More fun with two guns
Short-barrelled guns were particularly fashionable for grouse shooting some years ago, though today there is little preference for barrel length – whatever you choose it should be comfortable.
Shooting with pairs is often common with grouse shooting, so serious grouse shooters might consider buying a pair of guns, though this is not essential.
If you are going to have a loader and have two guns, make sure you practice swapping the guns before you shoot to ensure you both know exactly what to expect once the shooting starts.
Smaller-bore guns have become more popular in recent years, and some very experienced and proficient shots have been known to take 28-bore guns to grouse, but frankly you need to be a superior shot to deal with grouse with small-bore guns.
I would always advise the use of a 12-bore gun, unless a customer specifically asked, due to the benefits of the shot pattern in a 12-bore gun.
Early in the season, an ounce load 28 gram number seven cartridge would be fine, though this would likely change as the season went on.
Grouse are fast, so everything about your shooting must be fast
Heavy or tightly choked guns will put you at a disadvantage. Ultimately, a classic game gun of 6½ 6¾ lbs will be fine, and it doesn’t have to be an English gun, though they will almost certainly have better handling.
Ensure your guns have been properly checked over before you set off – and take a backup gun.
There is no greater pain for a sportsman than a gun malfunctioning on the first drive of a grouse day!
AYA No.2 Deluxe £7,950
This is a new gun from the Spanish manufacturer, and in my opinion it offers remarkable value for money.
It is based on the classic nine-pin London sidelock pattern, which offers famed reliability. Being a mass-produced model, it does mean you can have all the style and grace of a London gun, but with less cost and easier repairs since the parts of each gun are not unique.
This deluxe model features very attractive, highly figured wood with a lighter finish to the wood than you often see on sporting guns. You also get the bolder acanthus scroll engraving, which is similar to that found on guns from Holland & Holland.
Though this will not be to everyone’s taste, it is a most attractive gun.
As you would expect from a mass-produced gun it is not as light as the London guns it so closely apes, but the balance is very good. It will take 2¾” cartridges, ejects well, and all these guns come with a 15″ stock when new so they can be easily adjusted to the dimensions of any buyer.
Spanish guns do come relatively tightly-choked and tend to have quite tight nominal bore sizes, so I would recommend having the gun bored and regulated.
With 12-bores on sale for £7,500 and the 20-bore seen here at £7,950, you could quite happily equip yourself with a pair for £16,000 – a worthy investment.
Purdey game gun £28,000
In many ways this is the classic game gun, and you are likely to see many like it on grouse moors throughout the land come the Glorious Twelfth – and with good reason.
Guns from Purdey and the other great London gunmakers such as Holland & Holland or Boss & Co. are popular not only for their looks and the name attached, but also for their remarkable handling and weight characteristics.
This side-by-side 12-bore gun built in 1984 is no exception: it is lively in the hands, perfectly balanced and at 6lbs 10¼oz is an excellent weight.
As you would expect from a gun of relatively lean years it is in superb condition, with the remarkable build standards expected of a London gun in terms of fit and finish.
A delightful piece of wood has been used to build the gun, and the action retains virtually all of its colour-hardened finish, setting off the classic rose and scroll engraving perfectly.
This gun has 28″ barrels and 2¾” chambers, and the Purdey spring opening action will definitely give you or your loader an advantage when reloading the gun.
This gun has double triggers, which I would certainly advocate for grouse shooting, since your chokes can have a big impact on the success of your shooting.
A gun such as this would doubtless make you the envy of your fellow sportsmen.
Browning D5 £8,950
Hand made in Belgium in the 1970s, this 12-bore lightweight over-under shotgun would make a superb addition to any sportsman’s collection, and would certainly make an impression in the field thanks to its elegant looks and superb finishing.
We are now, thankfully, past the time of over-unders being banned from the field, and you should certainly no feel shame in taking this excellent gun onto the moor.
This gun has a lovely curved roach belly grip, also called the swan neck, which makes for a superb comfortable feel in the hand, as well as lending the gun elegant lines.
The more highly figured the wood, the more dense it is and the wood used on this gun is very highly figured.
This has allowed a lot of wood to be safely taken out of the gun, meaning the balance is absolutely superb.
The gun positively snaps to the shoulder, has excellent balance and is a joy to move with.
There is a single selective trigger, and the gun is of course built on the famously strong and reliable Browning action.
This gun is choked at ¼ and ½, and with 2¾” chambers.
In order to counteract the increased recoil that can come with lightweight guns a recoil-reducing pad has been fitted.