Was chatting with a colleague a few weeks ago - he was off to the north of scotland with his wife and a group of other friends to a highland lodge for a week of trout and salmon fishing. His wife, M, brought up on farms in South Africa was keen to learn about deer stalking and go out on a stalk. Would I like to join them and in particular could I take his wife out stalking. I spoke with the chap who was organising the trip and the head stalker on the estate over the possibilities of a stag or two. Lets just say that they were charging the cost of decent German scope for a days stalking.
I rang JayB - he fell of his chair at the price I had been offered and invited us to come across to see him. An offer I was not going to turn down. Any way my colleague and his wife arrived on my door step in Edinburgh last Friday afternoon. Immediately took them down to Granton and onto my old 25ft wooden leaky folkboat - brilliant sail across to Fife and back followed by very good meal cooked by Mrs Heym and too much red wine.
Saturday morning we first went across to Fife to the range I use for practice and zeroing to give M some shots with the rifle. This was to both build her confidence and for me to guage how proficient she was. She told me she had grown up with 22rf and 303 in south africa on the farm. Set up a target at 40 yards - gave her some sticks and my 22 rf and told her to shoot a couple fo magazines full - 20 rounds later we went up to the target - all 20 through or around the one inch bull - and all within a 2" circle. Not bad for somebody who has n't shot for many years.
So took out my 7mm rifle. Moved the target out to 70 yds and let her have a few shots off the sticks. Was very happy - five rounds again well within a three inch kill zone. I was confident that provided we got close she would be more than capable of taking a clean shot through the chest of a stag or Roe buck. Given that we would be stalking in forestry, any shot would be off sticks rather than a solid rest - thats why I asked her to take some shots of sticks.
After a good drive north avoiding the speed traps on the A9 on the Saturday up to north of Ullapool. A long walk and fishing highland lochans on Sunday and laughing at soft southerners getting defeated by wee loch trout - they are a bit different from southern stocked Rainbows, Monday morning dawned bright and still. After driving across from the west we turned up on JayB's doorstep at not too an ungodly hour. After coffee - thanks Mrs JayB, we went down to one of his two blocks of woodland. It was new ground to me, but JayB did show us on the map the most likely spots and where he had fed and tethered the tame stag. It was also very calm - when I stalk I like wind, and the more the better. Wind in trees makes a lot of noise, I also make a lot of noise when I squelch through the bogs, a novice stalker makes even more noise - they never realise who noisy dry heather is. Wind blows your smell away. And most importantly - well lets just say midges.
We set off with JayB's words "move at the pace of black treacle" in our ears. We moved slowly. We moved slowly enough that the midges did have to try very hard to keep up with us. We put on midge hoods - try that you buggers. One thing worse than midges, is a midge net full of midges!! Any way lots of signs of deer, lots of smells of deer, and even quite a few sounds of deer, But could we see any (reminds me of Rudyard Kipling's How Leopard got its Spots - you know the bit). We sat in a high seat hoping that something would pop out - our little bitty friends appeared. We carried on stalking and came to the boundary fence - and yes we saw deer the other side of the fence (only later did a I realise that too was JayB's ground. We went back down a ride. We heard movement - out jumped a Sika hind and calf, get ready I said to M, rifle up out cam another beast - but it didn't stop - a wee nobber but no chance of a shot. Now 2pm so we worked our way back to the car - both shattered. M told me she really enjoyed just the excitement of possibly shooting something. Pity though the tame stag had escaped or that I could nt read a map.
After coffee and fruit cake we called JayB and made a plan to go up to his other bit of ground.
And guess what - we saw a really good Sika stag and yes the rifle was in the boot in its slip - we don't shoot from vehicles - not sporting or legal. JayB dropped us off - still not a lot of wind. M and I had a consultation. We came to the conclusion the high seat was probably as good an option as any and less likely to spook everything. So we quietly walked up the track and down the ride to the high seat. Now JayB builds a mean high seat, just looking at it gave me vertigo. Any way I overcame my fear of height and invited M to climb up first - I passed the rifle up to her - unloaded of course and climbed up. The highseat is wonderfully large - more than enough space for two and few hundred thousand midges. We doned midge hoods. We tucked them in tight and sat down for the wait. I stuffed my hands in my pockets, and like all good guides dozed off for a quick snooze. Midges had other ideas and soon awoke me from my slumbers. I had a scan through the bins - a roe buck had just appeared about 200 yds away on the other side of the big ride. Yes it was across the boundary. A few minutes later he was joined by a Sika hind and calf. Too far I indicated to M, but hopefully they will encourage others out. They didn't and they disappeared. "How much more of this" M asked - "we have done the hard work lets wait a bit longer" I replied. Nothing was so obliging.
We had about 20 minutes of daylight, and the midges had got the better of us. We decided to stalk slowly up the ride. Our plan worked. 150yds up I spied a wee spiker Sika buck just sticking his head up out of a patch of reeds. We tried to stalk a bit closer, but when we put our heads up at 100 yds he was already away. We carried on - at the top of the ride and across the track I was a Roe Buck and Doe - too far for a safe shot, and very difficult to move closer. "M - get ready I am going to call them in". She looked at me somewhat confused. Three good squeezes on the Buttalo call they both came charging in just as the book says they do. The doe comes right at us and 20 yards stand broadside for a perfect shot. The buck meanwhile comes five yards behind us in the trees offering no. We both burst out laughing.
We walk back down the track happy - M delighted that she had seen buck and not at all sad that we had n't shot anything. Little did she realise how lucky she was - gralloching a beast in amongst the midges would have been another experience.
I too got a lot out of the day - nothing like showing somebody else something that you have a passion for. M had n't realised what is actually involved in stalking deer, and its not a question of just shooting - and more the better for that.
And thanks JayB - we will be up again.