Born on the Glorious Twelfth
Despite being born on August 12, Andrew Reed had to wait until his 60th birthday to experience the thrill of the moor. But it was worth the wait, says Marcus Janssen, who joined him and his team in North Yorkshire last year for their first ever walked-up day.
Everyone should have a brace of daughters like Charlotte and Clemmie. Not only are they beautiful, vivacious, sociable and great fun, but they’re thoughtful and generous, too.
So thoughtful and generous, in fact, that they saw fit to buy their very lucky father Andrew Reed – who was born on the Glorious Twelfth – a day’s walked-up grouse shooting in October on Bransdale Moor for his 60th birthday.
And it gets better. As I had put them in touch with James Chapel at William Powell Sporting, Charlotte and Clemmie very kindly invited me along. “Make sure you put your gun in the car,” said Charlotte.
Yes, it was very tempting, but as this was Andrew’s day, and none of his party of four had ever shot grouse before, I would tag along as their official photographer instead.
The day began as so many shoot days do, with breakfast in the grouse shooting capital of Yorkshire – Helmsley.
I joined Andrew and his guests – son-in-law Jonty Graham, and friends Chris Parker and Chris Stidston-Nott – at The Black Swan for a full English, and we were soon joined by our host for the day, James Chapel, who explained what he had in store for us.
The 14,500-acre Bransdale Moor is divided into six main beats and, because fairly thick fog was forecast for the higher ground, the plan was to shoot over a lower-lying beat known as Harland which skirts the steeper, western edge, making it less well suited for driven shooting than the flatter, central parts of the moor.
James then explained the important role that walked-up days can play in managing grouse on the more marginal areas of a big moor like Bransdale. “They’re a great way of thinning out older and less fit grouse that have been displaced from the more favourable, higher ground by younger, healthier, stronger birds,” said James.
“There tends to be a lower quality of heather on the edges of the moor – more bracken and white grass – and in the North York Moors this is where the ground tends to be steeper.
"So the best way of shooting areas like this is to walk them up with dogs.”
After breakfast, we headed out of Helmsley in convoy to our rendezvous point at the recently refurbished Stoneley Woods Manor where we were met by beatkeeper Brandon Wearmouth who looks after Harland. “The great thing about a walked-up day,” explained Brandon enthusiastically, “is that we can be completely flexible.
"We have a lot of ground we can shoot over, and we have all day, so we can go at whatever pace suits the Guns.”
That is true of walked-up days – although they lack the high-octane buzz and anticipation that is synonymous with driven grouse shooting, the success of the day doesn’t hinge on the military organisation that is so crucial on a driven day, so there tends to be a more relaxed atmosphere.
After the all-important safety briefing from James, boots, gaiters and cartridge belts were donned, guns were sleeved, the packed lunch was stowed in the back of James’ pick-up, and we all clambered into the vehicles and headed up onto the moor.
Anyone who has ever set foot on a grouse moor will know that they’re truly special places, and so I was pleased that as we disembarked from the vehicles, the conversation was centred around the scenery and just how lucky we all were to be there.
“We’ve only been up here for 15 minutes,” exclaimed Salcombe Shooting School-owner and former Royal Marine, Chris Stidston-Nott, “and I’ve already seen more grouse than I’ve ever seen before.”
Despite the foggy conditions, spirits and hopes were high.
And although the morning fog did throw up one or two challenges in terms of visibility, it also had the effect of sound-proofing the moor, creating this incredibly serene and otherworldly atmosphere.
As we trudged through the heather in a straight line, our eyes peeled for the distinctive silhouette of a grouse breaking from the heather, we could hear their distinct “go back, go back” calls coming from somewhere out there in the gloom.
And it wasn’t long before we caught sight of our quarry as a cock bird got up in front of Chris and immediately arced to his right, disappearing into the fog before he even had a chance to raise his gun.
“Bloody hell, they’re quick!” he said, genuinely surprised.
Fortunately, a second bird followed suit moments later and this time he was primed and ready. Two shots in quick succession and Chris’s first ever grouse tumbled onto a carpet of thick heather.
“We’re off the mark,” announced James with a smile, as Mole, his legendary black lab, nonchalantly delivered Chris’s grouse to hand.
There is unquestionably a much greater element of hunting with walked-up shooting than there is on a driven day. Don’t get me wrong, driven grouse shooting is phenomenally exciting, but it is a different experience – and I think that it is this aspect that strikes a chord deep within us and awakens our hunter-gatherer instincts.
And it’s an immensely rewarding way of harvesting grouse as you really do have to work hard for each and every one.
So, if you’re the sort of Gun who likes a lot of lunch and not a lot of walking, this might not be your cup of tea.
Fortunately, Andrew and his guests really enjoyed the physical exertion and challenge of traipsing up and down steep gulleys and through thick heather whilst focussing intently on the horizon ahead.
Over the course of the next few hours, we covered several miles of moorland with good numbers of grouse – and the odd rogue pheasant – presenting the team with truly exhilarating sport.
It did take the team a little while to get to grips with the king of gamebirds, but by the time we stopped for a picnic lunch back at the vehicles at around midday, everyone had accounted for at least a brace of grouse each, and there were beaming smiles all round.
“I now get what all the hype is about,” said Andrew as the mist finally lifted to reveal the full splendour of Bransdale and the surrounding moors.
“It’s as much about the place as it is about the birds themselves – yes, they’re fast, deceptive and seriously challenging, but just getting to spend time up here, and having it exclusively to ourselves, is incredibly special.”
Andrew’s sentiment was echoed by his guests, too.
“You really do need to concentrate,” said Chris. “Which is hard to do when you’re surrounded by such breathtaking scenery.
"It’s not the sort of shooting you can take lightly, though – if you don’t get onto them immediately, they’re gone and you simply don’t have time for a shot.”
After a leisurely lunch of sandwiches and pork pies under clear blue skies, and with eight brace of grouse and three pheasants already in the bag, we headed for a flatter and more open part of Harland.
With the team spread out to form a longer line so that we could cover more ground, it wasn’t long before small groups of grouse – twos, threes and fours – as well as a good number of snipe, were breaking in front of us.
Jonty was the first to add to the tally, dropping a curling bird a long way in front which Mole retrieved to hand, before Chris Parker, who was using a 20 bore, added another to the bag with his second barrel.
In the end, the team accounted for 14 brace of grouse and three pheasants for a total of 171 shots (an average of 5.5 shots per bird).
“It’s been magical,” said Andrew, as we made our way back to the vehicles, the setting sun in our faces. “It may have taken me 60 years to shoot my first grouse, but thanks to my daughters, I’ve been bitten by the grouse bug and will definitely be doing it again.”
Like I said, everyone should have a brace of daughters like Charlotte and Clemmie.