Over the years I have heard many stories of shooting grouse in the snow and indeed I can remember a beaters day in a blizzard 3 years ago which we abandoned half way through due to extreme cold. However my walk and stand day on Dufton Fell on November 24th encountered real snow which had properly covered the moor.
The drive up to our moor is along one some 4 miles off road with the last mile and a half being very steep in places. I followed Frank our keeper who led the way on our polaris bike up the fell. When we got through the old mined areas the road became covered in snow and icy, however my old discovery managed to ascend and on arriving at the hut I leapt out and was shocked by the temperature difference compared to the bottom of the hill and the amount of freshly fallen snow everywhere. Immediately we could see a pack of 200 grouse on the side of a hill where some heather poked through. The excitement of this though was tempered by the fact that only one car had followed me. I had two teams of 11 shooting along with 8 helpers so was nearly 30 people short. Vehicles arrived in dribs and drabs and after well over half an hour we had everybody safely up though several cars were abandoned in the mine area.
I quickly got everybody organised into two teams and after a safety talk took the standing team to the first line of butts. After putting everybody into a butt and checking they knew exactly what was going to happen I went up onto the lefthand flank to help with the flagging. I had heard that grouse become unmanageable in the snow and will not drive so I was somewhat worried as to what might happen. It was very cold particularly as whilst flagging you are not generating any heat by moving around! It took ages for the walking team to come into sight and bring the drive through and it was obvious that it was very hard work walking through the snow drifts. The good news was that grouse went over the guns and quite a few were shot. It was as if the snow had disorientated the grouse and they had forgotten where the butts were.
The teams then swapped around and I took the walking team for their turn to stand as the weather started deteriorating with more snow falling amidst banks of mist. Frank must have been very close to not lining out but by closing in they did manage to bring the drive through again with several good packs going over the butts. It must be said though that by this time the day was definitely not for the faint hearted. We then stopped for lunch of hot soup and hot dogs made with Mrs Ewbanks Cumberland sausages. Which were just fantastic and really hit the spot.
I then gave the two teams the option of stopping if they wanted to. However slightly to my surprise everybody proved to be made of the right stuff and the consensus was to carry on. Our third drive was the long drive out to Meldon Hill called lang drive for obvious reasons. We had by now a stiff easterly wind which although freezing is ideal for the drive. I put the guns out along a natural gulley which hides them nicely and took my place on the flank. Frank sensibly only took the walking team half way out and as they arced around grouse started gathering on the slopes in front of us. The numbers of grouse collecting was staggering. In the snow you could see everything and I cannot imagine that there has ever been more grouse on this bit of the moor. I got depressed as a pack of 250 birds split of and went over the end 2 walking guns who actually shot 3 of them. Almost immediately afterwards a huge pack went over 8 of the 11 standing guns several of whom reloaded and got more shots of. This was followed by a tremendous drive with shooting for everyone. I estimate that we had perhaps a 1000 birds in the drive an extraordinary number for a moor as high as ours. We are obviously worried about next year and worm levels but our worm counts are low. The snow is still there three weeks later and it looks like being a proper winter so hopes springs eternal that we will get away with it and perhaps have a record season for the fell next year.
Unfortunately by now it was nearly dark and we did not have time for the last drive which was fully loaded with all the grouse we had seen. We still had to get safely of the fell, pick up the abandoned cars and get down the steep icy slopes which is far more difficult than going up them. To cut along story short we did all get safely off the fell much to my relief. The bag was 26 Brace and afterwards in the bar at the Tufton Arms we reflected on a special day which although it did not go to plan will remain in everybody’s memories long after most other days have been forgotten.