Luxury Travel

Enjoy Grouse Season With Bentleys and Birds for $96,000 a Day

Tweed, grouse and a chilly summer’s day—could you get any more British? Every year on Aug. 12, shooters take to the heather-filled moorlands of rural Scotland, Northern Ireland and England for the official opening of grouse season. The wild bird is considered one of the toughest to shoot. Its flight is fast—up to 70 miles per hour—and unpredictable. At day’s end, the race is on to deliver one of the most delicious meals of the year. Photographs by Matthew Lloyd and Jason Alden

It’s known as the Glorious Twelfth, the start of grouse season, and a key date on Britain's social calendar, when some of UK's wealthiest and best-connected take to the moorlands for a day of shooting with family and friends. You can buy your way into a shoot as part of a syndicate, which can run upwards of £75,000 ($96,000) for a small group, but the best option has got to be an invitation onto land belonging to someone with a title.

“We were at one yesterday owned by a duke,” said Simon Davis, country pursuits manager and a chef for the Epicurean Collection, a group of British country pubs and inns. “You need to find the right people, and get onto the right moors. It’s relatively exclusive.”

We came along to see a shoot on Egton High Moor in Yorkshire, a five-hour drive north of London. Grouse season in England and Scotland runs from Aug. 12 through Dec. 10.

(Corrects number of brace, adds comment from estate owner in slide 6 of story originally published Aug. 13.)
  1. Loaded
    1

    Loaded

    A shooting group will meet up at about 8:30 a.m. and head up to the moor in pack of Land Rovers. The weapon of choice for grouse is the shotgun, such as this Heritage 20-bore shotgun (aka 20-gauge), manufactured by Browning. The higher the bore/gauge number, the smaller the shot. A larger bore may be easier on your shoulder, but the smaller, more powerful bore will be a better shot, Davis said.

    Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

  2. The Rules
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    The Rules

    You have to have a certificate to use a shotgun, unless you’re on private land, using the landowner’s guns with the landowner there, according to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. “The certificate is the easy part of it,” Davis said.

    Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

  3. Controlled Burn
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    Controlled Burn

    The moorlands used for shooting are carefully managed every year by gamekeepers, such as the one watching the shooters here. The gamekeepers have to control the growth of the heather, by burning various sections of the land, to make sure conditions and the height of the heather are just right for grouse to make their nests, eat and take shelter. 

    Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

  4. Beaters and Pickers Up
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    Beaters and Pickers Up

    The dogs that come along on the shoot are known as pickers up, because that’s their job: They run along and pick up birds that have been shot down. On “driven” shoots, people referred to as beaters will walk ahead through an area to rustle up the birds near where the shooters are positioned. Olly Foster, owner of the 6,000-acre Egton Estate, said he employs 25 people for each day's shooting.

    Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

  5. Tea Time
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    Tea Time

    Shooting continues until elevenses—an English morning break at 11 a.m. Sip some consommé made from beef or pheasant stock, maybe with a splash of vodka to keep warm, along with chipolata sausages and English mustard. Lunch could be served in what looks like a rustic barn or hut on the outside but is smartly done up (think ski chalet) on the inside.

    Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

  6. Nice Shot
    6

    Nice Shot

    Often, the owner of the estate will reserve the beginning of the season for family and friends, then open up the land and sell daily access as the season progresses. The day’s cost is tallied in birds: The organizer can charge about £150 ($194) to £170 per brace—pair of grouse. It's possible in a good year, on a big moor, for a group of eight to 10 to take in up to 400 brace, bringing the day's total to more than £75,000, including tax and tip, according to Simon Britton, a former sporting agent who is now an equity partner at George F. White, a land management company. But Foster said it doesn't usually run that high. "A full and fair price average grouse day would be $25,000," Foster said.

    Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

  7. A Brace of Grouse
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    A Brace of Grouse

    A decent shotgun starts at about £3,500, and high-end ones can go up to about £150,000 for a pair, Davis said. This Premium Connaught 12-gauge shotgun, on the hood of a Land Rover Defender, is listed at £6,700 plus tax on manufacturer William Evans’ site. A slab of 250 cartridges can cost between £60 and £160. “You could quite easily shoot through four of those on a big grouse day,” Davis said.

    Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

  8. Back to the Bentley
    8

    Back to the Bentley

    Traditionally, the shooting party will take their game quickly back to a kitchen to eat the grouse at its freshest. This shooting party was lent a Bentley Flying Spur for the occasion. Depending on the light and the weather, the day will wrap up at about 4 p.m.

    Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

  9. Dinner Rush
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    Dinner Rush

    The grouse is usually hung to develop its flavor, and many believe it tastes better with age. But on the Glorious Twelfth, the tradition is to cook the bird as soon as possible to celebrate the season's return. “On this occasion, people have just been missing it,” Davis said. “Everyone knows that it’s come down from the moors that morning.”

    Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

  10. Preparing the Grouse
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    Preparing the Grouse

    The chefs have the task of plucking, preparing, and gutting the bird, which is often stuffed with heather and spiced with butter, garlic, and thyme before being roasted. “It’s lovely to do it with a red wine sauce,” Davis said. Younger grouse—identified by their sharp wingtips and softer beak—are preferred on the Twelfth, while older grouse often get sold on.

    Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

  11. Plating
    11

    Plating

    Head chef Mark Caplin plates up a grouse dish for an evening meal at the Punchbowl public house in London's Mayfair neighborhood. The bird was served wrapped in bacon with a game sauce.

    Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

  12. Bon Appétit
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    Bon Appétit

    Pubs serving grouse on the first day will charge about £65 for a tasting menu. “Everyone’s desperate to get their hands on them,” Davis said. The premium reflects the special day: The same bird a day later would be about £40 to £55, and slips to half that later in the year.

    Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg