Grouse-shooting visitors to Scotland spent over £3,500 each this season, before a shot was even fired over the country's heather moors. 

That's according to statistics from a visitor survey undertaken jointly by Scotland’s regional moorland groups and The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

Survey papers were completed on 22 grouse shooting estates, helping to quantify the level of visitor spend in remote rural communities adversely affected by Covid 19 constraints.

And while there were less Grouse shooters from overseas this season because of the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine rules - each visitor spent an average of £3593.18 in local communities, before adding in shoot costs.

That represents an average spend of over £450 per day in some of the country’s most remote communities, with local accommodation, food, shops and garages all benefitting.

READ MORE: Scottish Greens call for end to grouse shooting

While average spend on car hire from air and ferry hubs saw nearly £327 per person going into the wider Scottish economy, the majority of the spend was in local, economically fragile areas.

The majority of respondents were internal UK visitors, with a smaller number from the Netherlands, and the average visit lasted one week.

This economic injection, at a critical time, dwarves the average spend per trip by overseas and domestic visitors to Scotland recorded in VisitScotland’s last insights report from 2018.

The tourism body’s Key Facts on Tourism in Scotland 2018 found that average overseas visitor spend in Scotland was £624 per trip, with £234 per trip spent by domestic visitors.

Despite Covid 19 impacting the grouse shooting season this year, the survey organisers believe the shoots which did go ahead will have helped businesses to survive and retain staff.

Lianne MacLennan, Co-Ordinator of Scotland's regional moorland groups, said: “A lot of work went into sector guidance with Scottish Government but the season was always going to be different, due to the pandemic and reduced overseas clientele. 

“This survey shows how important grouse shoots are to fragile areas. There has been a lot of businesses very glad of having high spending visitors around during an awful year.

"Rural economies were disproportionately impacted by lockdown and we haven’t yet seen the end of unemployment and closures because of Covid 19."

Lowest rates of accommodation occupancy in Scotland are traditionally found in remote rural areas, highlighting further the importance of shooting parties to these dispersed regions.

The Dutch respondents in the survey spent an average of £3228.57 per person and used a mix of car, train, flight and ferry in order to fulfil their sporting holiday in Scotland. 

Between them they spent £8850 on accommodation during their trip, boosting local providers.

Alex Hogg, Chairman of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “Most Government enterprise agencies and tourist bodies are fighting over themselves to attract  high spending individuals to Scotland. 

"Grouse shooting does this. Scotland has a premium product, in global terms, and the spend helps communities.

READ MORE: UK Gov adds grouse shooting to list of gathering exemptions

"It sustains land management jobs and keeps families in homes. With the economy set to shrink, there is a relief that we managed to get some visitors in, at all, for the grouse this year."

However, the Scottish Greens branded shooting a "cruel Victorian hobby" and called for an end to grouse shooting at the beginning of this year's season. 

And the UK Government last month came under fire when grouse shooting and hunting was added to the list of exemptions for social gatherings.

As well as important life events such as weddings and funerals being exempt from the 'rule-of six' that came into force in September, grouse shooting and hunting parties were also allowed to meet in groups of up to 30 - in a move that faced heavy criticism. 

You can read more about the key facts on Scotland's tourism in VisitScotland's report here