Category Archive 'Upland Hunting'

04 Feb 2019

The Holy Grail of Upland Hunting?

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Wikipedia:

The Himalayan snowcock (Tetraogallus himalayensis) is a snowcock in the pheasant family Phasianidae found across the Himalayan ranges and parts of the adjoining Pamir range of Asia. It is found on alpine pastures and on steep rocky cliffs where they will dive down the hill slopes to escape. It overlaps with the slightly smaller Tibetan snowcock in parts of its wide range. The populations from different areas show variations in the colouration and about five subspecies have been designated. They were introduced in the mountains of Nevada in the United States in the 1960s and a wild population has established in the Ruby Mountains.

The Himalayan Snow-Cock is a large grey partridge-like bird, 55–74 cm (22–29 in) in length and weighing 2–3.1 kg (4.4–6.8 lb).The head pattern has a resemblance to that of the smaller and well marked chukar partridge. The white throat and sides of the head are bordered by chestnut moustachial stripe and a dark broad chestnut band stretching from the eye over the ear, expanding into the collar. The upper parts are grey, with feathers of the rump and the wings are bordered with rufous. The upper breast is grey with dark crescent bars. The lower breast plumage is dark grey, and the sides of the body are streaked with black, chestnut and white. The undertail coverts are white. The legs and orbital skin are yellow. Sexes are alike in plumage, but the female is smaller and lacks the large tarsal spur of the male.

12 Aug 2018

The Glorious Twelfth

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“A gentleman will be wearing tweeds weathered to the same consistency as the suit of armour his ancestor wore at Agincourt.”

The twelfth of August, known as the Glorious Twelfth, the first day of grouse hunting season was established by the Scotch Game Act of 1773.

In honor of which, and in order to keep it in print, NYM is republishing, Gerald Warner’s 11 August 2008 Telegraph essay, “Better to kill a fellow gun than wing a beater.”

This week sees a significant date in the British sporting calendar — and it has nothing to do with the Olympics. The Twelfth will inaugurate the grouse-shooting season, though it also becomes legal to take a pot at snipe and ptarmigan if that is your bag. For dedicated sportsmen, the driven grouse, flying high, is the quarry of choice.

Grouse shooting is still conducted on some scale, despite the problems that have afflicted it in recent years. There are 746 upland properties in Britain, covering nine million acres, that shoot grouse and 459 of them are grouse moors. The sport supports the employment of 700 grouse keepers and represents 12 per cent of total United Kingdom shooting provision, which contributes £1.6 billion to the economy.

So we are talking about a significant economic activity. That, however, is not the atmosphere on the moors, among the participants in a sport that, second only to hunting, is the essence of Britain (one feels compelled to eschew Gordon Brown’s horrid, synthetic neologism “Britishness”). The heather is in bloom and there is a feeling of keen anticipation. Of course, the shooting will actually be better in a month’s time, when the birds have been fully nourished and matured, but the Twelfth has a ritual significance that cannot be gainsaid.

This is still rather a smart sport: even the grouse has a double-barrelled name: Lagopus lagopus scoticus. There is a correspondingly acute awareness of social nuances among the guns themselves. A novice kitted out in brand-new knickerbockers and deerstalker might as well wear one of those conference badges saying “Hedge fund manager”. A gentleman will be wearing tweeds weathered to the same consistency as the suit of armour his ancestor wore at Agincourt.

If he has been obliged to replace his Barbour since last season, he may take the precaution of driving his tractor over it several times. Nor should the olfactory sense be neglected: if you cannot out-stink the wet gun-dogs, your bona fides may be suspect. It should be noted, too, that protocol dictates that shooting another gun dead is an unfortunate accident; winging a beater or, worse, a keeper is unforgivable.

It is not necessarily ill-bred to shoot a human quarry: some of our best-born sportsmen had form. The Duke of Wellington was more lethal on the moor than on the battlefield. While visiting Lord Granville in 1823, he accidentally shot him in the face. When shooting at Lady Shelley’s, he hit one of her tenants who was hanging out her washing. “My lady, I’ve been hit!” moaned the victim. To which Lady Shelley replied: “You have endured a great honour today, Mary — you have the distinction of being shot by the Duke of Wellington.” More recently, Willie Whitelaw notoriously winged a keeper and simultaneously shot an old friend in the buttocks, after which he courteously gave up shooting.

Shooting, like hunting, has its distinctive humour and literature, including the cartoons of Mark Huskinson and books such as Douglas Sutherland’s The English Gentleman’s Good Shooting Guide. The classic works of fiction are surely JK Stanford’s chronicles of that veteran sporting gun Colonel the Hon George Hysteron-Proteron, known to fellow members of his club as “The Old Grouse-Cock”, whose game book ran to 20 volumes after he had shot “about 200,000 head”.

Such prolific slaughter would be condemned today. A common complaint is that roaring boys from the City are ruining shooting with their vulgar drive for extravagantly big bags. Over-shooting may be frowned on, but historically there are precedents that are far from plebeian. By the time the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury died in 1841, he had killed 10,744 partridges, 8,862 pheasants, 4,694 snipe and 1,080 woodcock — but no grouse: in Georgian times, it was wall-to-wall partridge. In accomplishing this record, he had fired more than four tons of cartridges.

In the succeeding generations the 6th Lord Walsingham shot 1,070 grouse in one day on Blubberhouse Moor in Yorkshire in 1888. He fired 1,510 cartridges during 20 drives and twice killed three birds with a single shot. In the following January, he shot the most varied bag ever recorded: 191 kills of 19 different species, ranging from 65 coots to a rat and a pike shot in shallow water. The seal of royal approval was given to large bags when George V downed more than 1,000 pheasants in one day in 1913.

The scale of events on Tuesday will be much more modest. Ticks, parasitic worms, floods and raptors have taken a heavy toll of the grouse. In Scotland, long regarded as the doyen of upland game terrain but plagued with problems, this season is predicted to be slightly better than last, but it is very patchy. Grouse stocks are reported to be up by somewhere between 20 per cent and 50 per cent in the Lammermuirs, but further north the ticks have done a lot of damage.

Yet the devotees will have their sport, rewarded for all their efforts by that heart-quickening moment when the sky first fills with the quarry. It is the timeless experience that, years ago, caused the Duke of Sutherland’s loader to exclaim excitedly: “Grace, Your Grouse!”

A more modern complement to the outdoor sport is the competition among restaurants to be the first to serve grouse on August 12. In 1997, this reached a new pitch of extravagance when the first birds shot on a Scottish moor were rushed to Heathrow and transported on Concorde to New York where, thanks to supersonic flight and the five-hour time difference, they were served to diners at the Restaurant Daniel the same day. A similar extravagance featured a courier parachuting into the grounds of a gourmet hotel to deliver grouse.

The Twelfth is a day for extravagance, nostalgia and enjoyment. Here’s to good sport for now, and the perpetuation of a great British rural tradition.

26 Apr 2018

“An Element of Immortality”

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William Harnden Foster, New England Grouse Shooting.

Terry Wieland, in Vintage British Shotguns (2008), writes:

There is, at the root of all this, a passion. For years I pondered the question of why I, and others, become emotional about firearms, new and old. Almost always, the passion is directed at finer guns. They could be the largely hand-fitted, hand-finished Winchesters of 1900, or the Colts of the same era, or the best bespoke Purdys and Lancasters. Or, they could be medium-quality boxlocks of the years before 1914. Different guns appeal to different people, but there are common threads.

The common thread here is hand labor –the skill and knowledge that flows from a craftsman’s head through his fingers, into the gun that he is making. That magical quality stays throughout its life, and that life can be very long — virtually infinite, in fact. These guns are made with steel and wood, crafted in a vise with a file, tempered by fire. A thousand years from now, that gun can still be shooting, or made to shoot once again, provided a man exists with the skill and the knowledge and the vise and the file and a piece of steel.

The magic simply does not exist with a gun fashioned from polymer, stamped out by a machine. No matter how well it functions in the short term, it is still a product of a disposable age. Fine guns are not disposable. They are made to last forever.

A man and his dog go out to hunt grouse, and he takes with him a hundred-year-old English shotgun. He may be the gun’s sixth or seventh owner. Each of these participants –dog, man, gun, bird — is an essential element in a timeless ballet, but each participates within its own cycle. A grouse may live for three seasons, a dog may hunt for ten; the man will hunt for 50, but the guncan go a-birding for a century, and the grouse as a species outlasts them all.

This metaphysical reality of hunting is one of the things that intrigues serious bird hunters so much, and gives us all a feeling of participating in something much larger, and older, and more important than ourselves. There is an element of immortality about it.

16 Aug 2008

The Glorious Twelfth Makes A Convert

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Urbanista Amanda Platell takes to the moors for one of those journalistic visiting the rustic primitives who shoot think pieces, and finds the shooting sports and the pursuit of the red grouse nothing like what she expected.

Like many townies, my prejudices about the Glorious Twelfth were well and truly fully formed. The official start of the shooting season was nothing more than an ancient ritual to massacre thousands of defenceless birds.

The killers were a bunch of men with Prince Charles cut-crystal accents looking down their long aristocratic noses at ordinary folk like me, city folk, you know, the kind who have to buy their own furniture. Their dogs would have better pedigrees than me.

So it was with some cynicism and not a little trepidation that I agreed to take part in the Glorious Twelfth last Tuesday, the traditional start of the shooting season, on a moor on the Durham/ Northumberland border. …

Odd, isn’t it, that we city dwellers feel squeamish at the thought of an animal being bred and ultimately shot in the wild, yet feel no pangs over the battery chickens or pigs raised in appalling conditions for our table.

But I wanted to put my prejudices to the test and, more importantly, to try better to understand the problems facing our beleaguered countryside, bled dry by a government that neither knows nor cares about voters outside of their urban heartlands.

The Daily Mail does a fine job of demonstrating just how clueless it is, illustrating a red grouse (Lagopus lagopus) shooting article with a nice picture of a capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), and identifying a picture of a shooter aiming a great big over-and-under shotgun as the “traditional image” simply because the man in the picture is wearing tweeds. Amanda’s side-by-side double is, of course, far more traditional. Nobody cares about waxed cotton versus tweed.

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