I had a couple of days booked with members of the forum but had a new scope on a new (to me) Steyr .270 rifle and moderator and needed to get it sorted so I booked in with Mike at Carlton Moor. I arrived to find his magnificent captive stag kicking off and intimidating the hell out of the other stag in the paddock and was staggered to find that he was only 5 years old.
After the formalities we got to the superb indoor tunnel range that Mike has created and what started as an hour's session turned into a major tutorial on rifle zeroing and I learnt more from Mike in the next couple of hours than I had learnt in many years previously. After reattaching the scope to the rifle, cleaning it comprehensively and fettling it the rifle was grouping very tightly but I had used most of the 20 PRVI and 8 Federal rounds that I had had bought. During the time on the range Mike's evening stalk called to cancel and he agreed that I step in, Mike thought he had some more PRVI in the house and went to get them but came out and said he couldn't find them and we'd have to use Federal. Mike kindly managed to find whatever gear I hadn't bought with me and set out in search of his reds. We arrived at the location and I was ready to load the magazine and then discovered that I had left the ammo back at the ranch and Mike hadn't got any with him. We decided to go and have a look anyway and it was going to be Sod's Law that we saw a cracker but actually we heard nothing roaring and no sign of a beast anywhere. It was interesting that whilst Mike's captive stag was well into the rut he hadn't heard a wild stag roar yet this year. I left Derbyshire much the wiser, saw ground that I had driven past hundreds of times in the past but hadn't realised that it was populated with fantastic reds and had a rifle that courtesy of Mike would shoot straight.
The next morning saw me heading for Scotland and a stalk for a sika stag with Brian (Jamross65) near Stobo in the Tweed valley, I had hoped to drop in for a few hours salmon fishing in the morning but decided that it was a much better option to watch Wales get to the World Cup semi final and didn't leave myself enough time for fishing and went straight to my rendezvous with Brian in Peebles. I wasn't too optimistic as it was raining all the way up, not hard but that very "wet" rain that soaks you right through and the rain continued as we got out of the Land Rover and got ready to stalk. My new scope had not come with caps and we had to improvise with latex gloves and set off into the forestry. Stobo is a beautiful estate, perfect for deer and, from the sign that we saw, there are plenty of deer there.
We were heading for a high seat but we had time to have a look at a clear fell area at the top of the hill so we worked our way up through the wood towards the clearing. I had never stalked sika before and Brian had briefed me that they were extremely wary and would take off at the slightest hint of a problem. As we went up through the wood into the clear fell area we saw a red squirrel which was a great start and then a sika calf that Brian said had been orphaned but survived spooked in front of us and away into the woods. As we progressed Brian stopped and said there was a stag on the ridge about 100 metres ahead and that it was a belter but skylined. I got a good look at the black shape and the long white tips to the antlers and tines through the drizzle before he went over the ridge and out of sight. Brian figured that with the wind in our favour we had a chance of edging down the hill and around him to get a safe shot but we had to be careful that no hinds were there to signal our presence. We made up the ground quickly, heard a few deer going off in the forestry to our left causing us no concern but with our eyes fixed firmly on the open space to our right. Suddenly Brian dropped to the ground, he had seen the stag but signaled that there was at least two hinds with him, as we looked a little more it was apparent that there were getting on for a dozen hinds and with all those eyes we were going to have some challenges getting a shot at the stag. We crawled forward though the sodden moss and grass and finally got to a point about 70 metres from the stag which was at the rear of the group, feeding away from us. I took the latex glove off the scope and crawled ahead of Brian to try for a shot but to my horror discovered that a little water had got onto the lenses and I frantically tried to wipe them dry. Finally I lined up on the stag and saw that there was not only a hind behind him but that there was some bracken that might catch a bullet between me and him. I needed to change the angle slightly and see if I could get a clear shot but as I crawled over another fallen log the stag saw me and despite Brian using his call the whole lot hightailed out at high speed and the chance was lost.
In one sense I was gutted at the lost opportunity but on the other hand we had done a really good stalk into within 70 metres of about 12 sika on open ground and I had seen a magnificent sika stag and his hinds in beautiful countryside. Brian reckoned that the head was within the top 10% on the ground and it was a privilege to see him.
We quickly headed back for the high seat that was set to cover a point where deer might emerge from the forestry to get into one of the many fields intersecting the forestry. We sat getting wetter and wetter, quietly talking about the estate and its deer, the good news was that my scope was getting better but nothing showed. We decided that the light had probably gone and I unloaded and passed my rifle down to Brian before climbing out of the seat. A movement caught my eye and there in the gloom was another stag coming across the field in our general direction but he was still 200 metres away, would surely wind us before long and the light was too poor even for the illuminated reticle on the scope. He was a smaller stag but still quite nice however we wished him well and made our way back to the relative dryness of the Land Rover.
Brian was naturally upset that I hadn't got a stag but I assured him that I'd had a great evening, I'd seen some of his sika including one outstanding stag and the fact that I was coming away blank was no reflection on him. Brian is a great host, a total enthusiast, knows his deer and ground intimately and works tirelessly to try and ensure success for his guests. Stobo along with the neighbouring Dawyck hold a big population of the best sika in the borders, anyone looking for a chance at sika would do well to contact Brian, you won't be disappointed.
I bade Brian farewell and went to my hotel tired, very wet, ready for a bath, hungry but really content. The next morning after a really good meal, a deep sleep, jacuzzi bath (got to get one of those) and excellent breakfast I launched my car south heading for East Anglia and after 5 long hours, (you know it's going to be a long journey when after two hours the satnav lady says "continue for 120 miles") and rolled into my B&B for the night at about 4pm. The next part of my saga was about to unfold.