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Before the Fall: Grouse Hunting in the Highlands

[Off-Topic Item of the Day: I’m taking a brief break from the insanity of today by remembering the insanities of yesterday.]

Once upon a time, in the late 1970s, when I was the Managing Director of Penthouse in London and Europe, I spent a weekend at a manorhouse having, as they said then, a go at grouse hunting. I trudged out in my fresh tweeds on the first miserably wet and cold first day. With a host-suppled Purdey and limitless ammunition, I blasted away at these whirring feather balls startled from the heather, but I bagged zero zip nada. I drank from my flask in the field as did the other dozen or so men on this outing and participated in a gigantic expenditure of ammunition. The whole thing rattled me so much that I stayed in bed the next day lying that I had a bad cold. My then-wife and I fled as soon as it was polite to do so. A nasty weekend that I remember for the bizarre slaughter and the lack of central heating in the manor house.

Forty years later that miserable weekend returns with this from the ever-popular     Never Yet Melted » The Glorious Twelfth

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.

RTWT ABOUT THIS CORINTHIAN SPORT AT: Never Yet Melted » The Glorious Twelfth

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • tim August 13, 2020, 12:09 PM

    Man, I can think of a plethora of worse things to do than a grouse hunt in Europe.

    BTW, its spelled Purdey and the opportunity of shooting one would be worth sleeping in a cold room.

    To each his own I guess.

    [Thanks for the correction. I knew that but my aging brain didn’t deliver it. — GV]

  • John Venlet August 13, 2020, 12:13 PM

    As a flyfisher, I can appreciate waxing poetically about wing shooting, as it’s called in Northern Michigan. I myself do not participate, mostly cause I’d rather chase trout with a feather and fur covered hook, but I do enjoy the site of hunters chasing Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock over dogs, rather than game drivers, though I’m certain that has its own charms.

    As for how one smells, well, wading around a trout stream for a whole day, wearing what Rusty Gates called “rubber pants,” accumulating a days worth of sweat no matter how breathable the waders, mixed with the occasional bit of passed gas smartly contained by a wading belt and those rubber pants, let’s just saw that one’s olfactory senses may be a tad overwhelmed when those rubber pants are finally doffed and a bourbon is called for for medicinal purposes only.

  • ghostsniper August 13, 2020, 12:15 PM

    I never saw the “sport” in killing animals. More so in groups. I don’t watch the hunting shows on TV because of all the grab assing and fist pumping when someone kills an animal. Silly gurlz.

    If I kill any animal it’s because I am going to eat it and I don’t need a crowd around me when I’m doing it. solo or not at all.

    I have a wealthy friend that gets together each Nov with his wealthy NASCAR/country singer friends and they go on a pheasant slaughter in Kansas. They each pay thousands to attend this thing and it’s top shelf as far as that goes. There are attendants handling the dogs and all the shooters have to do is walk and shoot. Last year he bagged 165 pheasants by himself. The organization cleaned them and flash froze them and shipped them to his office where he has a walk-in freezer for storing them until the office christmas party. I’ve been to the party numerous times and the pheasants taste great.

    But you know what? They tasted better when I was 10 years old in the fields of Gettysburg acting as my dads english setter running down the pheasants he would shoot with the 1917 vintage Winchester model 12 that was his dad’s and which now stands in the cabinet over there on the wall in my office. I remember biting down on a slab of breast meat and almost snapping a molar off on a BB.

  • Jack August 13, 2020, 12:29 PM

    Royals have always loved their hunting and back before laws were enacted to stop it, were quick to imprison or execute anyone hunting on their properties. They’ve always had the very best though when it comes to shooting with some of the finest hand made shotguns and rifles to ever be produced, especially the latter and during the years of British colonial control of South Africa and British East Africa now Kenya (which allows no hunting) and German East Africa, now Tanzania.

    From the earliest days of colonization until the Brits and Germans were forced out, the hunting was literally the stuff of dreams and dozens of white hunters made big names for themselves in the safari trade and without regulation the truly huge animals were, with rare exception, all killed off never to be seen again.

    I’d have loved to have been alive, to have lived in Africa and to have hunted during those Victorian times.

    Otherwise, the Monty Python vid was hilarious and from our viewpoint, reasonably accurate.

  • Jack August 13, 2020, 12:42 PM

    John Venlet, I’m an avid fly fisherman too and as a matter of fact I just got up from my tying desk, where I was putting together some Clousers for a Fall salt trip.

    I began fly fishing when I was young but I was never one for chasing trout, primarily because there were none where I was and because I could never see well enough to thread a tippet through a 12 or larger hook. And then damn, trout are as finicky as a teen aged blonde on a boat full of boys.

    I live on a large lake and I fish fresh water occasionally with single handed rods but I fish the salt more often and for that kind of fishing I switched from single handed rods to switch and spey rods. They’re much easier on old shoulders and they will shoot a scandi or skagit head and large flies with ease. Takes a little getting accustomed to but they are very enjoyable.

  • John Venlet August 13, 2020, 12:50 PM

    Ghostsniper, your mention of the cost of shooting those pheasants brought to mind a friend’s recent attempt to bag an elk in Montana two years ago. Cost him $5 grand for a week at a place which supplies the guide, lodging, and meals. Cost him another $5 grand for plane tickets, elk tag, mountain hunting capable rifle and ammo, tips, and other miscellaneous items. He was rousted out of bed each day at 3 a.m. for the hike to the “spot” for the sunrise shot, and if no shot was available, the guide would bugle a bit, and they’d then hike to where they heard the bugle reply. This was repeated as necessary. This went on for a week, everyday, day in and day out. Well, he came home with the rifle, the ammo, and an empty tag, and $10 thousand bucks lighter in the wallet. Huntin’ can be ‘spensive.

  • John Venlet August 13, 2020, 12:58 PM

    Jack, I know about being an avid flyfisher. The first time I landed a trout on a dry fly, some thirty odd years ago, I immediately sold all my golf equipment for pennies on the dollar and have not looked back since. Last Monday, the 3rd, I returned from a trip out to Colorado, chasing trout in small mountain streams, such as Chalk Creek outside of Buena Vista, CO. We weren’t catching monsters, but plenty 15 to 18 inch Rainbows were landed out of pools no bigger than a double sink, with fast water on either side.

    I too have problems, nowadays, with threading those tiny hook eyes, on size 18 Blue Wing Olives for instance, and tying up my handmade leaders using the Blood Knot. Readers are called for, and donned. This tying business is made more difficult when night fishing, though at least typically the flies are larger, size 8 to 4, depending on the hatch in Northern Michigan.

    There is something about casting a fly on a lake in the early morning, or late evening. Throwing on a rubber legged bug and tangling with a Bluegill, Smallie, or some such lake fish can be a real riot. Enjoy!

  • Missy August 13, 2020, 1:10 PM

    Oooh…”huntin’, shootin’ and fishin'” as they say there. I got dragged to such a weekend in 1972. I didn’t have to shoot, thank you Mr. Jesus, but my hands and feet turned first blue, then white, then something else from the cold during the longest and most wretched dinner of my lifetime. This frisson of enjoyment was followed by an awful argument with the swine who took me there, and I was dispatched, mercifully alone, to a heat free “guest room” with a mattress clearly filled with feldspar.

  • Gordon Scott August 13, 2020, 1:18 PM

    The density of game in the UK is a lot higher than it is in the US. But man, those pheasant hunts. They are very thick on the ground in southern South Dakota.

    40 years ago I got paid $40 to drive two hunters from back east. They had flown into Yampa County Airport in northwestern Colorado and needed a ride to a lodge about two hours south. It was good money, back then. Nowadays the damn deer are so thick in Colorado that it’s dangerous to drive at night.

    A few years ago I had to cover about 60 miles at twilight heading west into Montrose. I was freaking scared. They were everywhere.

    As we got to Montrose there were groups of 5 or 6 just standing by the road, daring each other to jump in front of me. One group stood by the portable electric sign warning of deer ahead. I gave up on driving on to Ridgeway that night. I stopped at the first motel on the edge of Montrose. The next day, heading south, I saw ten-foot fences on the side of the highways to keep the damn idiot beasts from cavorting on the roadway.

    I had thought northwestern Wisconsin was thick with deer. I know bikers that used to love weekend touring there, but won’t any more, because the deer will run right out in daylight. Colorado is worse.

    John V, your post reminds me of the tornado tours in the midwest. One can spend $4K to roll around the great flat plains for a week. Actual tornado sightings are not guaranteed, and one had better hope the driver has a spotter watching for other vans full of tornado tourists. They’re all whooping and hollering when they do see one. Then they pause for 3/4 of a second’s sympathy for whoever’s house out there just got flattened, then it’s back to whooping and hollering.

  • ghostsniper August 13, 2020, 1:56 PM

    Someone mentioned fly fishin’ when Venlet (Mr Improved Clinch) was around.

  • John Venlet August 13, 2020, 2:03 PM

    Someone mentioned fly fishin’ when Venlet (Mr Improved Clinch) was around.

    Ha! I’ll try best I can, Ghostsniper, to contain my enthusiasm, and my word count.

  • Skorpion August 13, 2020, 2:35 PM

    I’m with Ghostsniper on this one.
    If you’re not going to eat the beast, or if it isn’t a clear and present danger to humans, livestock/pets, or crops, leave it the hell alone.

  • gwbnyc August 13, 2020, 7:25 PM

    I’ll transplant a comment-

    “My father-in-law trod that heather on occasion.

    Doves in Argentina, too.

    And with myself and his younger son- deer, antelope, buffalo, sharptail grouse&sage hen in Jordan, Montana. A town with the distinction of harboring militia members in a standoff with the feds at one time, and hosting the medical practice of Hemingway’s son, the MD and crossdresser.”

  • John Venlet August 14, 2020, 7:07 AM

    @ Ghostsniper and Skorpion – I also don’t have a problem with killing animals for food, and while I don’t think much of trophy hunting, I understand the impetus behind it. I guess that’s why I enjoy flyfishing for trout so much. Not only does it share aspects of a hunt, or stalk of game, it allows you to bring the game, the trout, to hand to admire its beauty, and then to watch it glide back into the depths of a stream to be enticed to a fly once again. I practice catch and release, and in the 30 plus years I’ve been chasing trout, I’ve never killed one, though they are without doubt tasty.

  • Jack August 14, 2020, 8:16 AM

    My great grandfather was a farmer and cattle rancher in the Deep South in the first half of the 20th century and my grandfather was an avid bird hunter and dog trainer. He partnered the dog thing with a close friend and they raised a few very fine close ranging setters.

    My earliest memories of my grandfather, who I clung to until his death when I was 17, was riding with him on horseback, along with his hunting partner and a field hand who came along to handle horses while the men got off to shoot, hunting quail in coverts of Cherokee Rose and black berry so thick that even the best dogs would hesitate to crawl into it to retrieve.

    My strongest memory of early hunting with him was watching him get down from his horse to approach a dog who had pointed. The birds flushed, his double collected and when he returned he handed a bird to me, the first I had ever seen or touched, and told me to put the bird in his canvas bird bag. That bird was beautiful and marvelous. Then he pulled one of those old Peters paper shells from the breech of his L.C. Smith, stuck it under my nose and said ‘here boy, smell this’.

    One of my earliest and most precious memories of a man that I adored and still one of my all time favorite smells.

  • ghostsniper August 14, 2020, 8:37 AM

    As you may remember John, Rainbows is my favorite freshwater fish, right in front of catfishes.
    My fav saltwater fish, and fav of all time, is Groupers, natch.
    The best feesh sando you’ll ever consume in your whole life is the Mesquite Grouper Sandwich plate and it can be purchased at a little dive known as the Lazy Flamingo in Bokeelia on Pine Island, Florida. Sit at the tall table in front of the round window at the back and you can view the sealife in full scale, directly, as it should be.

  • James ONeil August 14, 2020, 9:31 AM

    I’ve always been a meat hunter and our freezer would contain a moose and maybe a couple of caribou while the kids were growing up.

    I used to be bothered by the idea of trophy hunting but I came around to seeing them the same as other predators, if managed property they tend to cull the old or sickly animals and help maintain the vigor and health of the rest.