Like just about every member of the upper class, the Downtonians are heading north to start shooting some grouse. The 12 August–The Glorious Twelfth–was and still is the official start of grouse-hunting season, when eager sportsmen (and women) hit the heather moors of Scotland and the north of England to hunt this delicious bird which, as it flies low to the ground at up to 80 mph, also offers sportsmen a significant challenge. Red grouse is the type most commonly hunted in Britain (of the four species of grouse to be found here, one is protected, one so rare that most sportsmen avoid shooting them, and one lives in areas so inhospitable hardly anyone seeks them out), and its meat is flavoured by its diet of heather, blueberry, cranberry, and bog myrtle. All the grouse you find for sale is wild: attempts to rear it in captivity have all failed.
Wealthy people like the Sinderbys and the Crawleys would often rent shooting estates in the north from hard-up aristocrats, or buy one of their own and host lavish shooting parties that saw astonishing numbers of birds killed over just a few days. King Edward VII was a keen sportsman and made the rounds of the great shooting estates along with his son, George, who was known for his rather distinctive shooting style: one arm straight along the barrel, turning to shoot birds behind him with a quick, jumpy step. Shooting weekends were highly formal: after the morning drive the guns would meet up with the ladies somewhere on the estate for a multi-course lunch. After that, the ladies would sometimes join the drive, typically as observers, before returning to the house to change into gowns for tea. At the end of the day came dinner–tails and tiaras were de rigeur, and there was usually a ball the first evening. On other evenings, non-shooting guests would stage amateur theatrical performances rehearsed while the men were out on the morning drives.