The greatest challenge of them all - Simon Ward offers some tips that will improve your chances of success.
The flight, the speed and the challenge - there is literally nothing like grouse shooting. The long periods of waiting followed by sudden adrenaline-fuelled action as coveys appear from nowhere. This is an amazing bird of wild moorland landscapes with a strong instinct for survival, and as a consequence presents a true test of shooting skill - and of your ability to stay calm under pressure! So how do we meet this challenge?
The basics hold the key
First and foremost, your gun wants to feel and look like an extension of your arm for all forms of shooting but none more so than for driven grouse. If you want your gun to shoot consistently where you are looking, you need to use your lead hand to lock the muzzle onto your chosen bird. Then your lead eye needs to be locked over the breech once you have completed the mount of your gun.
A right hander's lead hand is his left - so in effect the ‘wrong' hand does all the work. It is the pilot. Vice versa for the left hander. Train yourself to understand the importance of keeping your cheek glued on your stock after you hear the sound of your shot.
At this point you haven't finished. Your pellets don't travel at the speed of light, so allow them the time to exit your gun and arrive on your target before you dismount. In my experience many grouse are missed by head lifting while either being too inquisitive to see the result, or rushing to get to the next bird.
With grouse shooting, the bird is very dark in colour and often you are seeing them against a dark heather background without the luxury of a silhouette against the sky. It's a game of ‘now you see me, now you don't'. Their camouflage is so good as they weave over the heather it is very tempting to raise your cheek off the stock to take a peep to see if you connected. But trust me, the more you take a sneaky peep, the greater the chance of grouse flying on unscathed.
So remember... keep your cheek glued on the stock and eyes glued on your chosen bird until you see it fall to the sound of your gunfire...
Nose over toes
Grouse shooting is unique in driven sport, for on no other quarry will you be shooting birds mostly at or below eye level. To the pheasant or partridge Shot this can feel very odd and slightly unnerving. But any seasoned moorland Shot will advise that your balance and head position for low driven grouse needs to be ‘nose over toes'. This way your mount will be true and your shot will be on target. Accurate gun mounting is crucial to your success. You can practice at no extra cost in the comfort of your home. The Edwardian big Shots didn't hesitate to do this. And a visit to a shooting school with a grouse butt will undoubtedly sharpen you up.
The other key factor here is to be decisive. I know it's stating the obvious, but almost all first-timers on the moor simply leave it too late. By the time you have mounted onto a bird that is coming low and fast, it will be on you and gone. You only have to look at magazine photographs of grouse shooting scenes, and you will see people with their gun out of their shoulder and birds almost upon them.
So be positive, select a bird 60-70 yards out, focus on it to the exclusion of all else as you mount and take your shot. Firstly you'll be amazed to see the bird fall so close to where you are standing, but secondly, it will soon become so much easier.
Once you arrive in the butt, position the butt sticks or frames provided. They will form your safe boundaries of fire both in front and behind the line of butts. If you are in one of the three end left butts it's a good idea to position yourself in the left-hand-side of the butt - vice versa for an end right butt. This gives you your safe angles of fire and greatly reduces the risk of taking a potentially dangerous shot and peppering the flankers on either end of the line. I can assure you that they don't take kindly to being either shot or shot at!
Keep checking: It is possible in all the excitement, to get disorientated as to where the flankers and Guns are. So be particularly vigilant not to move around in the butt too much, and for goodness sake don't step out of the confines of the butt and the sticks - this is very dangerous territory. Also, keep checking the position of the flankers and Gun line.
In the butt: Handling a gun safely in such a confined space as a grouse butt can sometimes be easier said than done, especially when sharing the butt with a loader and two guns. If you are double gunning, practice a few gun exchanges with your loader before the drive gets under way so you can get into a good rhythm.
Safety catch: And once you go to exchange guns with your loader remember to manually put the safety catch back on “safe” whether you have had one or two shots. Always!
Shot fallout: Remember, your shot fallout doesn't finish after 60yards. If in doubt, don't pull the trigger. Accidents also happen when a Gun tries to get the upper hand on a quartering grouse between him and the next butt. Following the bird too far can be really dangerous.
Behind you: Not all of your opportunities will come in the form of angled, incoming or crossing in front of you. There will be shots behind the line as the grouse pass through.
Feet: Good footwork is essential and raise your muzzles in the air (an absolute must) as you turn. Remember to keep well within the butt. Get into position swiftly, giving you time on your shot. But don't rush - be smooth and instinctive.
Finally: Stop shooting forwards when you hear the horn. Earlier still if you can see beaters... no bird is worth the risk.