City can seem a pretty quiet place at this time of year – for the action, you need to head to the countryside. “Glorious” August 12 being the start of the game season, keen shots will today be filling their hip flasks, pulling on wellies and heading up in their droves to the high moors of the north of England and Scotland to down the first grouse of the year. Over the next few months ptarmigan, snipe, partridge, duck, woodcock and – most popularly – pheasant will be coming into season and subsequently finding their way to cooking pots and restaurant tables around Europe.
It hasn’t been an easy couple of years for the shooting industry. Thanks to the recession bookings for shoots were down across the country last year, while this year’s particularly bitter winter looked like decimating grouse populations, adding to the misery. However, the news is good. A strong grouse breeding season has meant numbers of young are looking healthy, while bookings for the shoots over the season are recovering from last year’s dip.
“It’s certainly looking much healthier this year,” says Chris Horne, director of Guns on Pegs (www.gunsonpegs.com), an online service for booking shoots. “Despite the recession it’s a sport that’s growing in popularity – it’s not a closed world of aristocrats and super rich anymore.”
In fact, it’s anything but. In the past nine years The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has increased its membership from 105,000 to 130,000. According to the association, 480,000 people shoot live quarry annually in the UK, while shooting contributes £1.6bn to the economy every year.
“Being a gameshot on a reasonably sized shoot costs no more than membership of a good golf club,” says Christopher Graffius, the association’s spokesman. “That money sustains the rural economy and the conservation of the landscape.”
Graffius advises anyone wanting to experience that thrill for the first time to get used to clay pigeon shooting first – clay facilities around London include the West London Shooting School in Northold, Bisley Shooting Ground in Surrey and gunmaker Holland & Holland’s shooting ground in Ruislip. “They’ll turn you into a competent shot, and you’ll also find opportunities to go on shoots through them.”
Once you’re a competent shot, you can think about acquiring a gun. New, mass-produced shotguns from makers like Browning and Berretta can be bought for around £1,500. But for something to really make you the envy of your shooting party, it’s worth investing in something custom-made. You can either get these second hand or have them made to your own specifications. A brand new gun by the likes of Holland & Holland or Mayfair’s William & Son can cost tens of thousands of pounds, but there’s nothing else like it.
“You’ve got a unique item that’s completely bespoke and handmade,” says Paul West, gun-maker at William & Son. “It’s fitted to you and decorated with beautiful engravings, and it’ll last for decades.”
When buying a gun you’ve got lots of options to consider. You can go for an over-and-under (one barrel on top of the other) or a side-by-side – the latter is considered the quintessential English gun. You can choose different kinds of firing mechanism – the boxlock, or the more complicated (and therefore more prestigious and, of course, pricey) sidelock. Length of barrel, type of grip, the spread – or “pattern” – of shot after it leaves the barrel, even the piece of wood which becomes the stock are all things to be decided in a session with a gun-fitter, who will also assess your posture and shooting style.
“It’s a similar process to choosing a bespoke suit,” says Daryl Greatrex, managing director of Holland & Holland. “Then you’ll have upwards of 20 people involved in the making of each bespoke gun.”
Now that’s got to be something worth trudging up a moorland to put into action.
ACCESSORIES TO GO WITH THAT BIG GUN OF YOURS...
1. SILVER HIP FLASK www.williamandson;
2. HUNTER FLASK SET £95, www.davidlinley.com
3. CARTRIDGE BELT www.rayward.co.uk
4. SWAROVSKI BINOCULARS www.williamandson;
5. SLOE GIN DRINKING CUPS £850, www.hollandandholland.com
6. PELTOR EAR DEFENDERS £145, www.williamandson
7. GUN SLIP £260, www.williamandson,
8. DOUBLE GUN SLIP £1,700, www.rayward.co.uk
A second hand pair of Browning C2S sideplate, 20 gauge over-and-under shotguns, with an elaborate engraving of pheasants in flight.
William & Son Brand new pair of side-by-side guns made by Paul West and his team, with an elegant Arts &?Crafts-style scroll pattern. £80,000 (or £40,000 for a single gun).
A pair of 28 bore single trigger, side-by-side guns made in 2007. Engraved with a game scene in a decorative scroll border.
WHERE TO EAT GROUSE IN LONDON
Expect to find grouse breasts served with a fresh onion puree, spring onions, baby gem lettuce and wild flowers for a summery take. Whole poached pheasant and partridge will be coming later in the autumn. 1a Launceston Place, W8 5RL
The grand City restaurant will be serving roast grouse from next Monday with braised artichokes, creamed curly kale, sauteed baby onions and bacon, game chips and truffled bread sauce. 147 Leadenhall Street, EC3V 4QT www.harveynichols.com
Boisdale of Belgravia
The clubby home of old-fashioned, Scottish-flavoured luxury is running a £27.50 deal for roast grouse with a glass of Justerini and Brooks red burgundy wine. 15 Eccleston Street, SW1W 9LX www.boisdale.co.uk
A French take on grouse at Knightsbridge's smart fine dining establishment, with chef patron Henry Harris plating up roast grouse with armagnac gravy, bread sauce and a foie gras crouton (£27) from 7pm this evening. 239 Brompton Road, SW3 2EP
Grouse arrives on the menu at The Square from this evening. The dish features roast breast of grouse with a croustillant of the leg, crushed turnips and blackberries. 6-10 Bruton Street, W1J 6PU
Le Pont de la Tour
You'll find roasted crown of grouse with foie gras pomme puree, girolles and whole grain mustard jus at the Southbank restaurant from tomorrow. Butler's Wharf, 36 Shad Thames, SE1 2YE, www.lepontdelatour.co.uk
Oxo Tower Restaurant
Grouse is served Scottish-style from 7pm tonight, with haggis, swede, turnip and potato..Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House St, London, South Bank SE1 9PH