Ask any shooting fan what the most important day of the calendar year is, and there will only be one answer. The 12th August is a sacred date, dubbed by some the ‘New Years Day of hunting’, for it marks the start of the 121-day grouse shooting season – commonly known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. But how did it all begin? We decided to find out…
The early beginnings – 1773
The first concrete law to put restrictions on when you could and couldn’t shoot game appeared way back in the Game Act of 1773 – “An Act to explain […] the preservation of the moor or hill game”.
Enacted on the 24th June, the Act stated that no-one would be allowed to hunt or even buy “black-game” or “grouse, commonly called red-game, between the tenth day of December and the twelfth day of August.” In that instant, the 12th August clearly became the first day of the season – though it had not yet naturally gained the name ‘Glorious Twelfth’.
The fine, “not exceeding twenty pounds, nor less than ten pounds”, might seem trivial now – but today would amount to between £1,400 and £2,800! It just goes to show how determined the authorities were to ring-fence the season.
Licenses change the game – 1831
Fast forward to 1831, and another Game Act was introduced to further clarify the law surrounding game hunting – this time introducing the concept of licenses, which still exists today.
“Before any person takes, kills or pursues or aids or assists in any manner in so doing, or who uses any dog, net, gun or other engine for the purpose of taking, pursuing or killing any game, woodcock, snipe or coney or any deer must take out a licence to kill game.”
While it’s wordy, the concept of licenses was a seminal moment for the sport. Not only did it mark the end of ‘Royal Forests’ – the monarch’s protected hunting grounds that had been around since the 11th Century – but it was an indication of how popular game shooting had become. Perhaps the most popular was partridge shooting, with George Edie noting in his famous work, ‘Treatise on English Shooting’ that partridge shooting was “the genteelest and best sport we have.”
Did You Know: Because Sundays were (and often still are) seen as a holy day, Glorious Twelfth cannot start on a Sunday. The last time it happened was in 2012, when it started on the 13th August instead. Shooting is still banned on Sundays during the season.
Image credit: FieldSports Magazine
The sport grows in popularity – 1853
The biggest surge in popularity for grouse shooting came in the 1850’s during the Victorian era. The introduction of widespread railway networks across the UK suddenly allowed more people than ever to reach the moors – which until then had largely been the shooting domain of the farmers and lords who owned them.
What’s more, the advent of ‘breech-loaded’ shotguns (loaded from the back rather than the front) allowed easier and faster re-loading. As a result, the bags from a day’s shooting in those days were often enormous, with records of over 2,000 a day in some cases!
The impact of rationing – 1940’s/50s
World War 2 hit Britain hard, and nowhere was this more evident than with the introduction of rationing. With food and goods supplies being cut off by Germany, Britain’s food imports dropped from 55 million tons to 12 barely a month into the war.
As a result, game shooting quickly went from being an aristocratic preserve to a necessary countryside pursuit. There are many examples of farmers and factory owners with large areas of land that would invite their employees in large shooting parties. The owners got lands free of vermin, and the employees got to keep the meat.
What’s more, the camaraderie created by the shooting parties lasted far beyond the end of the war and meat rationing, even leading in some cases to the creation of longstanding shooting clubs!
These days, the Glorious Twelfth becomes more ‘glorious’ with every passing season – Scotland in particular generates around £30 million a year from shooting tourism, the UK overall around £150 million. The red grouse, in particular, is the most popular bird to shoot – since it is uniquely native to Britain.
Additionally, grouse meat remains popular in the city – with restaurants across London competing on the 12th to have the day’s catch on the plate by the same evening.
If you’re heading out on the Glorious Twelfth to bag yourself some birds, remember to stay safe with Gunplan’s great value shooting insurance. With Public Liability cover starting from just £25 a year, get your instant online quote now!