From royalty and oil sheikhs to Vinnie Jones and Madonna and Guy Richie, grouse shooting is regarded as the preserve of the rich and famous. David Roberts joins one shooting party as they set out on the 'Glorious Thirteenth'

After eight months of careful preparation, this was the first day of the season and the excitement was evident, not least in the gun dogs themselves.

The spaniels and labradors bounded across the moors, almost as if they had not been let off the leash during the entire close season.

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Sniffing each others tails and rolling around on the ground, they could not wait for the off.

The shooting party from Lincolnshire - seven men and one woman - were a little more reserved.

As they waited for the beater and flankers to be driven to the start point at the other side of North Moor, in Coverdale, North Yorkshire, they patiently adjusted their gaiters and checked their guns.

Perhaps they were mindful of the money they had spent getting here.

The party had paid £12,000 for the privilege of one day's shoot.

When you consider that a good day's shooting might yield about nine brace per person, that works out at just over £83 a bird.

It does help to be a multi-millionaire or at least have very deep pockets to take up grouse shooting.

Nevertheless, the predictions looked favourable.

Despite the torrential weather in June and July, conditions that grouse do not normally thrive in, the mild April and May meant many of the chicks had survived to adulthood.

This was a good thing not only for the shooting party, but for the rural economy.

With the threat of foot-and-mouth and the reduced tourist income as a result of the recent bad weather, a good grouse shooting season will plough in much-needed funds to the countryside.

The Moorland Association estimates that nationwide, grouse shooting provides £10m worth of employment, £30m is ploughed back into land management and visitors spend £3m on accommodation and catering.

Despite the positive outlook, 2,500-acre North Moor will only hold between four and six shoots this year.

With a small army of 50 beaters, flankers, picker-uppers, and gamekeepers used for each shoot, it soon becomes evident why the cost is so high.

But this does not deter people from paying for what is seen as the ultimate in game shooting.

As the first shouts are heard from the beaters, birds begin to fly through the line of buttes.

Flying low to the ground at speeds of up to 80mph, they are the ultimate test of a marksman. Surprisingly, many of the birds make it through the buttes to freedom.

Those not so fortunate are picked-up to be sent to top-class restaurants across the country.

Some of these were to be served as early as last night at prices starting from £23 a bird - cheap, when you consider what the shooters have paid.

Stephen Mawle, the Moorland Manager for North Moor, said he was cautiously optimistic for the season.

He added that the shoots provided a vital role not only in the economy, but in the preservation of the countryside.

"Without grouse shooting the moorlands would be very different," he said. "In lots of areas, there's no heather left because the land has been over-grazed over the years.

"This has happened where there hasn't been a sporting interest to retain the grouse.

"But where the sporting interest has been retained, you have heather."

Everyone knows the grouse shooting season begins on the 12th of August - but not this year. Apparently no one wants to shoot grouse on a Sunday, so the date was switched to the 13th.