Rachel Carrie's first grouse
Having never experienced the thrill of grouse shooting before, Rachel Carrie found that it was worth the wait. But she also received a stark reminder of the threat that all forms of shooting are continually under in the UK...
The start of the 2013 season marked a "menage a trois" of firsts for me... my first experience of walked-up shooting, my first experience of grouse and, unfortunately, my first experience of the anti-shooting community.
On Saturday, August 17, I was to add a new feather to my game shooting cap as I embarked on the pursuit of the Michael Schumacher of all game birds. My success at the British Side-by-Side Championships had earned me an invite onto the moors.
I was forewarned that this would not be the kind of shooting I am accustomed to. But I have one firm rule surrounding shooting invitations – it would be rude for a lady who loved to shoot as much as I do to turn down any kind of invitation to do just that. Since most invitations up until now have come from my father in the form of him calling: “Annie get yer Gun!” I eagerly accepted the chance to try something new. And so, grabbing my beloved side-by-side, I headed for the hills.
Submerging oneself in a minefield of pot-holed, uneven, heather-clad land, optimistically weighted down with what felt like a tonne of lead, windswept, sweating, donning uncharacteristically sensible stalking boots and gaiters doesn't sound all too appealing to begin with, and only confirms that this was most certainly a million miles away from the shooting I had become accustomed to/spoiled by. It goes without saying that walked-up shooting, particularly of the grouse variety, is certainly not for the faint of heart and one of the most physically challenging days I've had yet. That said, trooping through the tough terrain of the Yorkshire Moors, gun in tow, trying to remain calm, professional and focused all the while bursting with excitement at the prospect was actually a lot of fun!
To my surprise and delight though, walked-up grouse wasn't just feathery DTL as I had at first expected. Halfway over our first stretch of moor I spied what looked like low-flying fighter jets, the first large covey of incoming grouse breaking the heathery horizon. They were coming straight at us, a magical sight and one that I'm hoping I'll see more of in my time. Unfortunately they didn't come within range, but for the rest of the morning I adopted a new, more upright and intent pace and for some reason I kept on catching myself humming Steiner's The Charge of the Light Brigade.
My morning slog over the moors turned out to be well worth it. A couple of missed opportunities including a snipe under-foot and the drama of almost losing the other half to a rather well hidden bog hole later, and I finally got my prize. One shot – a long one requiring lots of lead – and it epitomised what I had hoped grouse shooting was about. I felt completely satisfied and proud that not only had I kept up with the big burly men of the Yorkshire moors, but I had also managed to bag my first brace of grouse, and just in time to celebrate with a sloe gin.
Loading up after lunch – with a little less lead this time – I couldn't wait to tackle our new grouse hunting ground. I felt seasoned now, I knew what to expect, I had my target memory and realised the stories were without exaggeration – grouse really are that fast and I was ready for the elusive little so and sos!
My excitement was short-lived. Unbeknownst to us, we weren't alone on the moor, and as it turned out, the hunters were being hunted. As we had spent the morning seeking out grouse, a pack (or rather two Transit vans full) of anti-shoot protestors had been driving around the moorland roadways looking for us.
For anyone looking on, you couldn't have found a bigger contrast than the two worlds that were about to collide. One side respectably dressed, fitting in and blending harmoniously with the beautiful surroundings of the moors. This side knew the moors, lived alongside it, respected it, took care of it and at these special times of year celebrated and enjoyed the hard work which had resulted in the management and conservation of it.
The other side was a far cry from anything harmonious, caring or conservational. This side looked criminal, cold, cruel and damn right scary. Dressed in black hooded tops, and faces hidden with balaclavas, they instantly represented nothing more than hoodlums as they made their way up the hill towards us, at first armed with purpose. All guns were quickly slipped and secured into the nearest vehicle and, once our opponents had formed their cluster surrounding us, we could do no more than simply await their next move. A few moments passed and... nothing! I was at least expecting a well versed and rehearsed chant – a billboard or two to appear. A bit of fist pumping perhaps? A rhyme? A rap! A bit of red paint, anything! I began to wonder if these were in fact sabs at all or a street dance group who had lost their way on the treacherously winding roads!
Eventually when asked if we could help, one of them spoke up: “You are cruel, you have bred these birds in tiny cages and disgusting conditions just so you can shoot them.” Up chimed the next: “You've paid thousands of pounds to come here today and I bet your shooting coat is worth a few hundred quid.” “How would you like it if I shot your dog?” “Why don't you buy your food from a supermarket like everyone else?” I couldn't believe what I was hearing! But then what did I expect? Did I honestly believe that anyone with an ounce of compassion, real understanding or knowledge about the moors, its eco-system and wild inhabitants would be trundling around it in thuggish attire with their faces covered? Of course not, they would be stood in line with us, wind in their face, exhilarated by and passionate about their surroundings. The surroundings we had invested in, the surroundings we love.
It was clear from the comments that they were completely ignorant to the reality of our wildlife and its conservation. I doubt any of them had previously ever set foot on a moor and I am confident that not one of them had ever encountered nor cared for a living creature. It was hopeless trying to reason with or enlighten them. Their lack of knowledge about their “cause” had already led us to believe these masked crusaders weren't interested in animal welfare or the environment at all and they were little more than a rent-a-mob paid to fill content gaps in the news sections of organisations such as LACS. Such organisations count on charitable donations, monies entrusted to them with the expectation that it will be put to good use in pursuit and condemnation of the perpetrators of hideous acts of animal cruelty. Yet here they were spoiling perfectly peaceful and well-managed moorland whilst intimidating and ruining the livelihood of those who kept it.
The “protest” was pointless – they hadn't uncovered an ounce of animal cruelty (nor would they), they hadn't achieved anything good or carried out any charitable work. Instead two hard-working men had lost their livelihood for the day. The rest of us heading home with a rather frightening and sobering thought – if this continues and keepers cannot make a living, who then would look after the moorlands?