A lifetime’s shooting ambition fulfilled. Wes Stanton does the thing he always wanted to do before he dies: driven grouse on the North Yorkshire moors
Rain, rain and more rain. The forecasters had got it spot on. But while the weather gods did their worst to dampen my enthusiasm, they’d have had to send a tsunami to stop me – as today, after years of dreaming, would be my first driven day at lagopus lagopus scotica: the red grouse. I’d been on a walked-up day before, as a thank-you in return for a day’s bracken cutting on a grouse moor, but there’d been 30 of us and the average grouse per gun was one-third – 4½ brace total. The best bit of the day was a learning experience: I now know that the bright green, lush vegetation on a grouse moor is to be avoided, not walked upon. I fell into a deep bog up to my chest in brackish water, and nearly broke my ankle in a rabbit hole. I never fired a shot.
This time would be different: I’d be shooting double guns at Farndale, and I’d be with an experienced loader. Sadly a matching pair of Boss over-and-unders is not part of my shotgun collection – OK, I may be a heathen, but I really didn’t want to shoot a side-by-side at driven grouse. The lack of success that’d be likely to precipitate would be equivalent to taking a banjo into a lowland field and running about trying to hit cows’ arses with it. And it’d be cheaper. A lot cheaper. Even if I had to buy the banjo. And the cow, come to think of it.
So I settled upon my Browning 525 Grade 1 and borrowed another one from a friend. His shoots exactly the same and the stock measurements are identical – pretty much a carbon-copy of my own in terms of barrel length and balance. Both of these were deposited in the Feversham Arms’ gun safe – a plush establishment in Helmsley, just half an hour away from the moor. A swim, sauna and meal followed by a bottle of wine was the perfect way to relax before our day at the grouse.
“Dots at first, they quickly grew in size; hugging the contours the birds dipped and banked until they were on me and gone”
The guns began to filter down to breakfast and the excitement was clearly high despite the downpour on the other side of the foyer window. Soon after breakfast the headkeeper Bernard Moss arrived and after a quick headcount confirmed all were present. The tweed-clad leader of our day apologised for the weather and then politely but firmly went through the safety aspects, and offered the draw for peg numbers.
Outside our hotel, a team of loaders were on station to meet us and Pete Carr, our shoot captain, made the traditional introductions. Acquaintances made and with our respective attendants aboard we headed off in a convoy of 4X4s following the headkeeper. Turning at Kirkbymoorside we headed north, through Hutton le Hole and on to Farndale moor. This ancient road carries on past the Lion Pub (the highest pub in England), traverses through the moors of Farndale, Spaunton and Westerdale before reaching the village of Castleton. With the pub just tantalisingly visible on the horizon, the cavalcade pulled off the tarmac and onto the heather. We were now at the top of the Collier Gill grouse butts, and in these we would enjoy the first drive.