Today as I write it's raining - again, proper rain that soaks you to your core. Yes the ground certainly needs it but do we have to get it all at once. The weather as we all know has been somewhat testing this year and as the grouse season approaches the consequences of the last 6 months are being felt.
On the grouse moor in County Durham where we go picking up, during the winter weather the snow drifts were 15 feet deep. Our friend who keepers the moor reported that his grouse had migrated down to the lower ground in search of food and of course the snow lay on the ground for a very long time. He was anxious that once the snow had gone, being very fickle, would the grouse then return back to his moor for mating and breeding. We have been over to see him with the young spaniels for some rabbit shooting and it was very evident from the old carcasses about on the moor that all the wild life had suffered mercilessly in the snow. He reported that the broods he already seen, seemed to be quite large in numbers but a surprise unseasonal 2 inches of snow one Monday morning in early May has caused great concern for the young hatching chics.
So how does an estate plan for their shooting dates and numbers to be shot under such difficult circumstances. Well this is where the grouse counters come into their own. On this moor a few select dog handlers with their pointers and setters are invited to walk the moor to grouse count. These dogs use the air to scent and are able to locate a brood of grouse from a great distance away and hunting in a controlled manner come onto point, freezing and thus indicting the location of their quarry. On command they will rode in and once the birds flush will drop to the ground giving the handler the chance to have a rough count of the numbers in the brood. Systematically they will work the moor noting down location and numbers of grouse seen. This activity is taking place now in July and depending on numbers counted the estate can then plan if they are shooting the moor or not and how many days and brace they can take off the moor to maintain a healthy number on the ground.
So we have our shoot dates all pencilled in but are anxiously awaiting the coming weeks to know if we are needed or not, My little cockers who love a day out on the heather have got their ears, eyes and legs all crossed awaiting the phone call to say " Yes we're on!".