It may not seem like much time has passed since snow lay in three foot drifts across the Chayne, but August 12th has arrived and the season has begun.
We won’t be shooting the Chayne this year for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I’m not sure what can be shot. I didn’t organise a grouse count as I had planned this year, so I haven’t been able to follow how well the red grouse have fared on the hill. It would be foolhardy to go in with the gun without having a fair idea of what is on the ground, so while I may try and shoot a couple of birds later in the season to check their condition and see if I can do a worm count, the Glorious Twelfth will come and go without a shot fired.
But that’s not to say that it’s not exciting to think of the big moors up north gearing up for the season ahead. I can’t say I don’t envy the lucky guns walking the heather as I type, but given that I’ve made a fairly major comittment to my beat, I’d feel a little traitorous heading elsewhere.
As always, the press has stuck its nose into the grouse shooting season, with the same cynical articles regurgitated year after year. The newspapers always make a show at presenting a balanced argument, and even the BBC Website includes opposing arguments from the Moorland Association and The League Against Cruel Sports. The same old childish misinformation runs through all of these articles, including the vague but loaded portrayal of grouse “hunters” taking “pot shots” at grouse with “rifles”. The League Against Cruel Sports made some unusually ridiculous comments this year in relation to the opening of the shooting seasons, claiming that they intend to see grouse protected, so that they can “stay where [they] belong, on moors and bottles of whisky”. We’re all used to seeing the LACS make fools of themselves, but this is a real cracker.
A strong vein of criticism runs through the articles this year which is based solely on finance. Some journalists seem to be appalled that sportsmen are willing to spend tens of thousands of pounds on a single day’s shooting. This is the same old argument which reared its head during the attempts to ban fox hunting ten years ago, and it comes back to the fact that some people just don’t like wealthy people. I’ll admit that for a financially decrepit freelance journalist, the idea that most grouse this year will be shot by the fat and infirm does stir some feelings of injustice, but if it wasn’t for the conservation funding that these “super-rich” pour into the wild every year, there would be no grouse, and there would certainly be no black grouse.
Britain’s privately funded moorland has no parallels in Europe or the wider world, and the fact that the rich spend millions of pounds on maintenance and management every year says as much about the nature of sport as it does about the grouse themselves. It’s easy to forget amongst all the political wrangling and social backbiting that the heart of the day centres around red grouse; one of the most endearing and delicious little birds in the world.