I was warned that the Highlands gets into your blood, and after my 2014 trip to Scotland I immediately began planning a return. For the second trip though, some changes would be made. Our first trip saw an overnight flight (getting all the quality sleep that you can expect when wedged between 2 fat people – sarcasm intended) to Glasgow, car hire, then trekking north to Bonar Bridge. Upon hitting the lodge, unpack, fire test shots, then collapse into a quivering brain dead mass before next morning’s stalk.
This time around we chose to fly to Heathrow, make a connection and fly straight to Inverness. We also factored in a couple days ahead of the trip to deal with the jet lag. However, the longer I looked at those 2 days the more I wanted to do something that involved country sports. I hit upon the answer after a couple positive messages back and forth with Frank (LeviGSP). He offered to come collect us at Inverness, take us up to Caithness, and put us on wildfowl, roe, or salmon depending on what was most available.
We easily identified each other at Highlands and Islands Airport and began the drive north with Frank the perfect tour guide. The drive up was better than any formal tour with his encyclopedic knowledge.
Upon arrival at the cottage around 1500 hrs we offloaded and were shown around our farmhouse, then asked if we wanted to get out that evening. Having gained a small bit of wisdom with age we both decided we were not up to the task and needed some sleep. Frank kindly and quietly left us and said he would be back in a bit to see to our supper. True to his word, 1800 hrs rolled around and he was in the kitchen warming a delicious roe stew that his wife had constructed. More great craic ensued over the meal, a plan was set for the next day, and that day closed.
Next morning we were up making coffee. Right on schedule Frank rolled in and after a bit of familiarization with the rifles, off we went in search of roe. Unfortunately, we could not have picked a worse day – with high and gusty winds intermingled with driving rain. The roe, being a bit wiser than us, were tucked safely under the gorse and having none of it. By 1100 we admitted defeat and went back for a proper Scottish Fry Up. Homemade haggis, locally created black pudding, sausage, smoked and unsmoked bacon, mushroom, etc…. We were in Carnivore’s Nirvana (??Carnivana??).
After eating, we stepped out the cottage door, into the connected copse of wood and had a go at the wood pigeon tucked there, out of the wind. I finally connected on my first wood pigeon and then we headed to the wet pasture below and had a go at the snipe. Needless to say, the high winds made this a low percentage affair – but we were both pleased being out and afield.
That afternoon we headed out for Frank’s Plan B. After a couple historical sight visits (Saw the late Queen Mum’s Castle Mey) we began checking several sheltered wood belts but still could find no roe. We then rolled into Plan C – ducks. We checked a small flooded depression on a nearby farm to some unexpected results. Frank got out clapping and shouting to see what would rise, and then for good measure I decided to throw a few rocks. Brother Scott was sitting in the front passenger seat watching, sleeved and boltless rifle at his side.
With the second rock, a respectable 6 pt roe buck jumped up 35 yards away, and stood staring at us – perhaps wondering why we were being such a bother. Scott immediately went into a flurry of action, trying simultaneously to get his 6 ½ foot frame out of the truck, the rifle out of the sleeve, the bolt into the rifle, and rounds out of his pocket and into the chamber. This was apparently too much for Mr. Roe, who wisely chose to accelerate his ramble to a full out run. Scott managed to come into action just in time to track the buck across the pasture.
We then went back to Plan C – and I honestly have never had such a grand time in my life. In the USA it is a Federal Crime to shoot waterfowl after sunset, shoot over anything that can be remotely considered bait or use anything except steel/non-tox shot. We proceeded to one of Frank’s carp ponds, where the fish were fed daily via automated feeder. We took along his two outstanding GSPs. At 30 minutes after sunset the flight began. Pairs of mallards, with some occasional teal, rolled in to the pond. My brother had never actually even pulled a trigger on a duck, so I was letting him have first crack. He soon brought his first duck to bag and then I began. I had a quite enjoyable time, ending the evening shooting 1 duck per 2 shells average. Not bad for using an estate shotgun and never quite getting over the expectation of having the Conservation Police show up and arrest me. I ended the night with 14 ducks brought to bag, and an experience that still leaves me grinning. When Frank complimented me on my shooting and invited me back for geese under the moon – I was already beginning to calculate how to save up the pennies to make that a reality.
The next and final morning was a last shot at roe for my brother. Right after first light we saw roe everywhere, roe does that is. The only buck seen chose to walk down the middle of a paved road (not exactly a safe shot). Of course we only had rifles along, which means that we stumbled into a covey of red grouse, and stupid ones at that, that were allowed to continue on unscathed. Such is the life of a hunter.
Our trip back south to Ardgay, to meet up with SikaMalc, was just as eventful as the drive up. Of course by this time the wind had laid and the sun was out – and so were the roe, including a nice 6 pt only 250 yards from our cottage. A brief detour along the scenic route (Tongue to Bonar Bridge, via Lairg) saw Frank hopping out of the truck to pick a batch of fresh chanterelles
to go with the ducks. We arrived at the cottage just in time for some pleasant conversation and a great meal before saying our goodbyes.
All in all, could not have asked for a better tour guide, stalking guide, or lore master than LeviGSP. Most certainly I will be back.
Part 2 – Does SikaMalc Deserve his name?