The start of the Shooting season in the United Kingdom is the 12th August, known, for that reason, as The Glorious Twelfth. The form of the shoot varies from family to family, but for many the format is a Walking Day (as opposed to a Driven Grouse shooting day). Red Grouse live, for the most part, in the hilly moors of Northern England and on the heather-covered moors of Scotland. They eat heather and berries, some insects and gravel…which they use to break up and digest the heather.
At the start of the season, when the grouse are young, they stay in the heather when a line of ‘guns’, inter-dispersed with gundogs, keepers and family walkers walks across the moors. Often they will flush with a loud fluttering of wings and a ‘go back! Back! Back’ call at people’s feet, or not far ahead of the line, usually flying forward, but sometimes sideway or back over the line. To panic the predators, the grouse will often flush out in ones and twos (a brace), but can come in a small or large ‘covey’, making the choice of which grouse to aim at problematic. Sometimes the young grouse will hold tight in the heather and the line of guns will pass by, and the grouse may then take-off moments later behind the line, requiring the guns to turn, check where the grouse are and that it is safe to shoot, aim and fire. All that blends natural hunting instinct with safety training and experience, leading to an adrenalin-fuelled, exciting sport. Grouse tend to fly fast and round the contours of hills, often weaving from side to side, and crossing the flightpath of other grouse in any of three dimensions. They are consequently difficult to shoot and it takes some experience to do so.
The Gun Dogs, bred and specially trained to find the grouse, point or flush them out, stay fairly close to their owners, so that the grouse do not flush too far away, out of range. And when the grouse are hit, they obediently rush to retrieve them. Gun Dogs have ‘soft mouths’ that do not crush the birds bones, so that the grouse are easier to pluck and cook.
The Grouse season lasts through to 10th December, but most moors stop shooting at the start of October, when the weather turns colder and wetter.
Grouse are one of the Three Game that a Sportsman must bag for the infamous MacNab: bagging a salmon, stag and brace of grouse in one day. A Royal MacNab is a more jocular sport which includes bagging the cook as well!