Alastair Robertson: The birds appeared from nowhere

Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
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THINGS must be going well in the London building trade when a son, who digs out basements for people who can’t afford a £2 million move, asks you to shoot grouse.

By October the price of driven grouse has admittedly dropped from the high days of August and September before the clocks go back. So you can pick up a day’s driven grouse for around £500-£700 or less, which is cheaper than a lot of pheasant shoots.

This year there have been no end of grouse moor agents and owners, mainly in the North of England, offering end of season discounts, as, on the whole, it has been a good enough year. And stocks of grouse, like some shrubs, need pruning to stimulate fresh growth.

So off we went to Donside, where the son had once been an under assistant keeper living in a caravan. His head, he claimed, froze to the pillow in winter. He had put together a syndicate of nine friends and acquaintances at just over a month’s notice, which takes some doing as most shooting people are by now engaged with pheasants. (Neither is it terribly easy to convince a wife that blowing £700 on grouse is a lifesaving necessity).

We arrived to the sight of 40 beaters and pickers up in their shoot day finest. Compared to pheasant beaters – a motley crew at the best of times – grouse beaters in October are a smart lot; keepers from neighbouring moors in their estate tweeds helping out for the day.

The butts were thoughtfully equipped with dog mooring rings. I gave Crumpet to the son and kept Waffle, who at the first shot began to whine piteously and tried to strangle herself getting out of the butt.

As predicted the birds appeared from nowhere, first of all dots in the distance, then eyeball to eyeball and gone. The glory of grouse is being able to fire in any direction at any bird, high or low, crossing or going away. Just avoid the butts either side. Our own damson gin for elevenses. Preen preen. Then two drives back to back in brilliant sunshine, the warm wind with the birds, and then against them, which made no difference to their speed or agility. Remaining alert on top of the world, in bright sunshine looking over two counties, is hard. The moment the mind wanders is the moment the birds will appear. Homemade venison sausages, game terrine, baps and Snickers for lunch. Last drive slightly shorter because of the fading light. Waffle retrieved four of my birds before the beaters’ dogs swept up everything at the end of the drive. Our bag was 70 brace and the team hit rate 3-1, according to head keeper Les. Or was he being kind? Not my hit rate, that’s for sure. Magical day though.