First time on the fell
For previous Really Wild Future Face of Fieldsports winner Ella Morgan, nothing could have prepared her for a first day's driven grouse shooting.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime – 16-year-old Ella Morgan, the winner of the junior category of The Really Wild Face of Fieldsports, had won a day's driven grouse shooting on Raby Castle Estate, courtesy of Lord Barnard.
I had a good idea how Ella would be feeling during the build-up to the big day; that addictive concoction of excitement, nerves, anticipation and curiosity. A mixture that is an intrinsic part of the days, weeks even, preceding a notable day in the field.
For many of us, nights devoid of sleep come hand-in-hand with the anticipation of sporting dates in our diaries. The build-up often almost equals the thrill of being out there, mud beneath our boots, wind in our face, rod, gun or rifle in hand.
That said, standing in a grouse butt is the crème de la crème, the ultimate, the pinnacle – or so I've been told. Usually the reserve of the super-wealthy or the lucky recipient of a golden invitation, this was special.
Raby headkeeper Lindsay Waddell had kindly offered a place on his keepers' day in late November to the lucky competition winner. A selection of his friends and those who had helped through the season made up the remainder of the team.
Ella is a country girl through and through, but the opportunity to shoot the king of gamebirds was on another level.
In Ella's words
I have grown up around shooting and gundogs, mainly through my mum's work as a dog trainer and from where we have lived. Most of my involvement with shooting has been as a beater or picker-up, with limited opportunities to shoot. So when I found out that I had won a day's driven grouse shooting at Raby, I couldn't believe it. It is something many people only dream of doing.
I had a shooting lesson with instructor Tom Payne, who explained the safety aspects of grouse shooting and prepared me the best that he could with some great advice.
Beginning to realise just how different grouse shooting was, I was prepared for a baptism of fire. And so, on the eve of my first day on a grouse moor, my mum and I set off on the four-hour journey north to Middleton-in-Teesdale, full of excitement.
The day finally arrived. The weather looked promising as the morning dawned bright and cool. Lindsay had explained to us how a number of days that season had been jeopardised by low fog, and so our fingers were crossed. You are at the peril of the elements on a grouse moor.
Nevertheless, we were soon snaking our way through the rugged upland landscape, en route to our rendezvous point with the rest of the party.
The scenery was breathtaking – I was told that these drives were at about 2,000ft above sea level – we could see for miles. Every so often the light changed and with it so did the colours on the heather-clad hills. The air was clear and cold. It was a tonic for the senses.
Although I was a little anxious to begin with, I was made to feel so welcome by Lindsay and all the Guns and guests that I was soon quite relaxed. We had a long climb up to the first drive which warmed me up nicely before settling into our butt. We were joined in ours by the very knowledgeable and likeable Charles Nodder, who we chatted to as we scanned the horizon for signs of our quarry. From wildlife facts to sporting anecdotes, it was the perfect proof that good company can enhance a day's sport ten-fold.
Will Pocklington helped me set up my butt sticks, explained the drive and stood with me as my minder and stuffer, giving me a great deal of confidence. Everyone had told me that there is nothing quite like grouse shooting. And they were absolutely right. These wild birds were being driven towards us over the rough, harsh landscape from about two miles away, and they gradually began appearing over the butts in singles, pairs, threes, and small coveys.
I was taken aback by their speed and agility – blink and you miss them! One minute there is nothing and then, suddenly, an eye-catching flicker of movement, a flurry of birds and a gunshot. The first few caught me off-guard. It was exhilarating.
We had four drives in total – two of which were return drives – with a short stop for some pack-up and a hot drink in between. With each drive came a new canvas of colours, gradients and distant views. The grouse had clearly become absolutely familiar with their territory, using the contours and ridgelines expertly as they cut their way through the line, jinking and gliding at a great pace.
At the end of each drive I enjoyed watching the pickers-up working their dogs through the heather and white grass – particularly the numerous cockers, my favourites. They quartered the dense cover with unwavering enthusiasm and energy.
Throughout the day I had plenty of shooting and an unforgettable time, surrounded by lovely people and stunning scenery. To top it all off, Lindsay kindly gave me a couple of brace to take home, which were delicious – the first grouse I have ever eaten.
The whole day had been a wonderful experience, and one that I shall never forget.
A bright future
“It was great to meet Ella on the morning of her first day's grouse shooting,” said headkeeper Lindsay. “It was not to be an easy one for any of us that day, with a strong cross-wind blowing everything out of the top of the drives. Chances on such days are fleeting, hard even for veterans, but I've no doubt the scenery and the whole experience will be something that will stay with Ella for a very long time.”
Ella was chosen as the Really Wild Future Face of Fieldsports at the CLA Game Fair 2014 by a panel of judges made up of representatives from the CLA, GWCT, BASC, Countryside Alliance, Fieldsports Magazine and the Really Wild Clothing Company. All agreed that she makes the perfect young ambassador for our country sports.
On the day in question, her excitement, impeccable manners and interest in all aspects of moorland management, upland wildlife and how the day was run as a whole were testament to this. With such shining ambassadors within the next generation, there is no doubt that our country sports are in safe hands.