Grouse Counting and Gundogs

I’m sure you have all heard of grouse counting, but have you ever wondered what it is? Grouse counting is done twice a year as a survey of the grouse to help assess the health of the population and how well they are doing. This information is used to make decisions about how best to manage the grouse moorland.

Grouse counting is carried out twice a year by moorland keepers in the UK; in the spring on pairs and in the summer on broods. It helps to determine whether grouse shooting can take place on an estate during a particular year or not. LWDG Featured Expert Lucy Hall explains how the grouse counting is done, and how important these times of year are for moorland keepers.

The process of counting grouse can be quite complex, and it’s important to get an accurate count. In this blog post, we will discuss what grouse counting is, how important it is for moorland keepers, and how it is done. We will also take a look at some of the dogs that are commonly used for this task, and explore why they have been traditionally used for this job.

The History Of Grouse Shooting

Grouse shooting has been taking place in the UK for centuries. The first mention of grouse shooting dates back to the 15th century, and it was often used as a way to provide food for the aristocracy and their guests. Grouse shooting became increasingly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was used as a way to raise money for estates. Grouse shooting continued to be popular in the 20th century, and is still a popular pastime today.

There are a few ways to count grouse, and the method used will depend on the size of the estate, the number of birds that are being counted and the dogs being used. The most common method is known as the ‘walk and stalk’ method, which involves walking through the moorland and counting the grouse that are seen.

Grouse counting is an important survey for moorland keepers, as it helps to determine whether grouse shooting will take place on an estate during a particular year or not. It is also a good opportunity to assess the health of the grouse population and to look for any potential problems that may need to be addressed. Grouse counting is carried out in the spring on pairs and summer on broods.

In the spring you are counting the number of breeding pairs to gain an idea of how productive the grouse will be (or not) when the chicks hatch around May. In the summer you are counting the broods to ascertain whether or not to shoot that year come the start of the season on the 12th of August.

Grouse counting can be a challenging task, but it is essential for ensuring that the moorland remains healthy and productive.

Moorland Management

Moorlands are an important part of the UK’s landscape. They provide a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, and they play an important role in regulating the environment. The moorlands found in the UK are managed by moorland keepers, who work to ensure that they remain healthy and productive.

Moorland management is a complex and challenging task, as moorlands are constantly changing environments. Keepers therefore need to have a good understanding of the ecology of moorlands in order to be able to effectively manage them. They also need to be able to work closely with other stakeholders, such as landowners, farmers, and conservationists.

Moorland management is an essential part of preserving our landscape and protecting our wildlife including our grouse populations.  It is a challenging and important job, and it is vital that we have skilled moorland keepers to carry out this work.

The role of the moorland keeper is essential in preserving our landscape and protecting our wildlife. By managing the moorlands effectively, they play a key role in maintaining a healthy environment for all.

How Are Grouse Counted?

Moorland keepers tend to use a grid system to count grouse. On each moorland beat (area) they will plot a quadrant area to be counted, which will differ in size depending upon the size of the beat – the larger the beat the larger the area to be counted.

Counting this designated area provides keepers with an average count for that particular beat. The same areas are counted in the spring and summer counts year on year.

When using setters and pointers, the dogs will use the wind and naturally quarter the ground. Starting at the first point of the quadrant the dogs will work the wind – this could be into the wind, a cheek wind or a downwind, and will of course change each time as you count the four sides of the quadrant.

Once scented grouse, the dog will go on point. I am sure many of you will have seen the static point of a pointer or setter. The dog will typically remain in that position until given the signal/command to move by its handler.

The dog will then move into the point and flush the birds – it is the handler and keeper’s job to count the grouse that flush. They will log the number of cocks, hens and young counted.

The dogs are trained to drop on flush, so each time a bird lifts from the heather the dog will drop. This makes these dogs ideal for the job, especially with the broods, as they can slowly flush the birds thus making it easier to count the large broods.

On one count you will generally need a team of around 3-4 dogs, though this depends on the size of the count and obviously the weather – if it is hot you will want to take things slower with your dogs and therefore give them more time to rest and recuperate.

This system provides keepers with a good idea of how many grouse are present on that particular beat. It also helps them to identify any areas where there may be more or fewer grouse than usual, providing valuable data that can be used to monitor the health of grouse populations.

Grouse Territory

Grouse are territorial birds, and they will defend their territory against other grouse. They will also defend their territory against predators, such as foxes and hawks.

Moorland keepers need to be aware of the territorial nature of grouse, and they need to respect the boundaries of each grouse’s territory.  By doing this, they can help to ensure that the grouse remain healthy and productive.

If they don’t, they may end up disturbing or even displacing the grouse. This can have a negative impact on their populations and can lead to them becoming less healthy.

Dog Breeds That Work Our Moorlands

In order to carry out a good grouse count, you need a good gundog! Many people think that grouse counting is only for hunters, but this isn’t the case. Gundog enthusiasts can also get involved by helping to collect data on the grouse populations.

There are a number of dog breeds that have been specifically bred to work on our moorlands. These dogs are essential in helping the moorland keeper to carry out their work and play a massive part in a successful shoot season.

The dogs that are traditionally used for grouse counting are the setters and English pointers.  Over the years with the popularity of the HPR breeds these have been used as well, given their similarity to the pointers and setters in their work.

Other breeds such as Labradors and spaniels have and are used to. It really depends on what method/dogs have been used on that particular estate over the years.

Setters and English pointers are well suited to the task. Originally bred to hunt game birds in large areas, these breeds are naturally wide-ranging in their running, fast and full of stamina enabling them to cover the ground well and run over the tough terrain for long periods of time. Together with their strong sense of smell, they are super for locating the grouse.

Similar to the setters and pointers, the HPRs are also a good choice for grouse counting as they also have great stamina, are wide-ranging, good hunters and have a good sense of smell.

In this episode, we learned about grouse counting and how it impacts whether or not a particular estate will allow grouse shooting in a particular year. We also heard about the different dogs that are commonly used for this activity and why they’re so well-suited for it.

If you enjoyed this summary, be sure to listen to the full episode for more information on grouse counting. Thanks for listening and thank you to Lucy Hall for providing this blog and podcast!

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