Shooting grouse – with Simon Ward
Simon Ward on the challenge of driven grouse.
We have all seen the photographs in the magazines – grouse, hanging like grapes, they look unmissable. And yet no-one appears to be shooting. We have all heard the advice – shoot way out in front.
So how come when you actually get to the moor, grouse are nothing like as easy, and few of your fellow Guns shoot anything like as quick as they advised the previous evening over dinner at the local hotel?
Is it a myth? Do we really have to take our shots way out in front? No, it's not a myth – quite simply, grouse are mesmerising. So what are the facts? How far should we be shooting in front? As long as the horizon is safe on a day of normal weather conditions, you should look to take your shot when the oncoming grouse is 45 yards away, the reality being that it will have travelled 10 yards by the time your shot pattern is out there to meet it. And when the birds are flying downwind, they will be quicker still. Of course the grouse will be ducking and weaving in flight, too – now you see them, now you don't, then suddenly they appear, heading for the line of butts. At this point, though, it is getting late to pull the trigger, certainly if you want to shoot two in front. If you're doing it properly then you should be able to shoot two in front and two behind (providing you have a loader!).
Already you can see we are talking about challenging shooting and limited options due to the fact that your adjacent butts are now a major safety consideration. So how do we stay in control and not be so mesmerised? Preparation is the answer. If you are properly prepared then you will be so much more confident. You will enjoy far more success from being organised rather than rushing your shot.
In some ways it is like a theatrical performance – there will inevitably be some first night nerves. But while you don't want to forget your lines, your jitters can give you an edge.
Another major problem is judging distance. You would be amazed at how many people get it really wrong by 20 to 30 yards. Generally, they overestimate. Thankfully this can be easily rectified on a shooting ground that can imitate coveys of grouse. Also try some DIY range judging, maybe at home when walking the dog. Turning back the years it was not uncommon before the beginning of a drive for a Gun to pace out 50 yards in the heather in front of the butts and leave a marker – you could do the same, looking for a rock or big clump of heather for your reference point. But be sure to check with your shoot captain so he knows what you are doing.
Those Guns who hesitate to fire their first barrel will find that the birds are on them all too quickly and as a consequence there is only time for one shot to be taken in front, and the second barrel will be fired at a retreating bird. For the less experienced grouse Shot, this has to be treated with caution and one should be very careful about swinging one's barrels horizontally through the line. When you shoot, come from underneath the bird. Very often Guns forget about moving their feet and simply twist their bodies to take the shot, which almost inevitably results in a miss. Also, always stay within the confines of your butt – do not step back out of it to take a shot at grouse flying away. As you turn, move your feet and keep your eyes on the bird throughout.
Five key tips
1. Head forward
2. Nose over toes
3. Front hand to point
4. Trust your instincts
5. Be safe
Don't forget to be safe at all times. While grouse moors are beautiful, they can also be dangerous places. Turning to take a shot behind, be alert and, again, I must stress the importance of keeping the barrels vertical as you turn.
Over-under or side-by-side? The classic English gun will be in its element at grouse. So it doesn't matter which barrel configuration you choose and either 28 or 30" barrels are fine. And 25s have their own following. Fire the choke barrel (½) first; your second barrel will be ¼.
For early-season grouse, 28–30g shot will be fine, while later in the season up to 32g of 6 shot (though I like 5s) are ideal. And don't forget your shooting glasses – they are an absolute must, both for visibility and protection.