It’s not often that I get the chance to shoot driven grouse, so being invited to shoot in East Yorkshire was a rare treat. Typically, the weather conspired to turn a busy day into something totally different. With deep snow lying thickly on the moors, the main drives were exchanged for a series of shorter drives on some of the low ground, but despite staying off the tops, a bitter wind still came scouring down from the north to make my eyes water and my nose drip. Infact, the wind was so strong that grouse flying into it hardly managed to do much better than a moderate walking pace. When the beaters lifted them downwind, they came low and extremely fast in a combination of small groups and large packs of twenty or thirty.
It was an odd experience to hear the report of my shotgun as little more than a metallic “tap” – as soon as the bang was made it was blown away downwind. As the birds continued to pass by me unscathed, I started to wonder if the meagre and unimpressive bangs that I was making were really being made by proper cartridges and not joke ones. Mercifully, I connected at last and pulled the downy trousers off an old black cock bird. The falling bird and the scattered feathers vanished immediately into the wind, but I had discovered that these buzzing meteors were mortal. Inevitably, the drive ended about two minutes later, just as I felt as though I was discovering some form, and I watched a picker-up gather the fallen shape a few hundred yards behind me.
In the calm after the storm, a neighbouring gun began to mooch about and look for a picker-up, and I offered the services of a certain black labrador puppy who happened to be corkscrewed to the ground behind me. Scoop was thrilled to be of use – she bounded through the snow and quickly found a small fan of blood where the bird had fallen. Wagging her tail madly, she began to follow a trail through the heather and then pounced wildly into a tussock of frozen grass. Rather than reappear with a grouse, she pulled a large and thoroughly unimpressed rabbit out of the snow, which she then brought back to me proudly. Thankfully there were not many people watching, and I killed the rabbit and put it away before taking her back to the blood and starting her again. This time she did me proud, running straight off a few yards out and picking the grouse cock which had buried itself in under the snow. Without a dog, I doubt that we would ever have found him, so Scoop was elevated from rabbit catcher to the hero of the hour.
The wind was making things fairly unpleasant, and the grouse were being quite unpredictable in the snow. I watched a pack of sixty birds land on a bank of white which had been polished as smooth as glass with ice, then bend their heads down into the spindrift and slither back the way the had come through tufts of black heather. At one point on the last drive before lunch, a party of six golden plover came past my butt like a bolt of lightning. They were gone before I had even tried to raise my gun, and as the packs of grouse blurred past always just out of range, I sulked pettily about having drawn a duff peg number. We spent the afternoon shooting pheasants on a fantastic drive over a broad river where Scoop was again called upon to retrieve, this time from a swirling frothy pool beneath a waterfall. I was very pleased with her, and realised on the drive home that I was actually more satisfied by her finding the fallen grouse than I was by shooting a bird of my own.