When we've had a bumper year of grouse like we've just had, it's common for we 'keepers to have a 'Keepers Shoot'. Those key individuals who have helped us during the season also get an invitation. It's often the thought of this end-of-season shoot that keeps these folk coming back. (The other way of doing it- it's called 'paying' for it- is a more expensive habit than cocaine.)
So it was a green but keen crew that headed up onto the hill yesterday. There were about 20 'guns' and a handful of beaters. You could have cut the anticipation with a knife although this was tempered on my part by a healthy dose of trepidation. And the reason for this trepidation? Well it might have had something to do with the fact that the Red Grouse is generally regarded as being the Most Difficult Bird in the World To Shoot- and that's without the icy blast that was rocking the 'rovers on their suspension.
As it turns out, I needn't have worried. I shot like a demon and finished my day with 10 birds for 20 shots. After one particularly cold drive the lad in the next butt paid me the compliment
"You're on fire today!"
I peered through watering eyes until I recognised the bluer-than-usual face.
"Th-th-th-th-thanks Alan!" was all I could spit out in response.
But it was a grand day out.
And today? Today I was brought right back down to earth. I took another day off hind stalking to get round my grit piles. (We're prioritising. With grouse densities like we've got, we will have to get our medicated grit out quick or we'll start losing birds to disease.) It's an important job, but that doesn't make it any less monotonous.
And then, when I got home, I had to put down old Fudge. He was a Springer Spaniel born to a bitch of mine 12 years ago. I was there when he came into the world and he grew up to be the best gundog I've ever had.
I've spent 5 minutes staring into the fire, trying to find words. An anecdote? An epitaph? In the embers I saw a walked-up shoot on the high moors. And in front of the waiting guns a young, glossy spaniel picking a grouse that 3 labradors couldn't find.
Goodbye Fudga. I have ONLY fond memories of you.