I arrived in Peebles for my second attempt for a sika stag with Jamross on a day that couldn't be more different than my previous visit. On that occasion we had stalked in driving rain to within 80 yards of a stag that Brian later told me would have been the biggest off his ground for the year and got stymied by water in the scope, then a bit of brush in the way and then the deer spooking when I moved a few feet to one side to get a clear shot.
Earlier this week the weather was perfect tourist weather and Scotland looked just fabulous. We went off to pretty much the same place that I had missed my chance last year and Brian put me in a high seat overlooking a piece of clear fell of about 150 yards x 200 yards over which there had been much deer traffic over the past few days. I sat for an hour and saw nothing at all and then as arranged Brian came up to pick me up and we went another high seat overlooking a ragwort field at lower level as the light faded. A few hinds came out but if there was a stag we were past the point where Brian could see a bullet strike and we called it a night.
Deer were moving right through the day and Brian reckoned that there was no need for a stupid o'clock start the next morning so we left the hotel at 8:30 and went on to the estate to have a wee look and immediately saw a stag grazing out on one of the tops but the wind, such that there was, was wrong for the approach so after a brief discussion on tactics decided to put me back in the high seat that I had first used yesterday which was not too far from the stag we had seen and, given the amount of deer in the area, I just had to see something but agreed that after 90 minutes Brian would come up in the Land Rover and get me. The 90 minutes passed without a sniff of a deer and when Brian came up he decided to go back to the high seat and then cut down to an open area on the left below the spruce. Just as we were about to cross the fence a hind popped over the ridge 200 yards in front of us in the area that I had been watching. She was followed by 14 more and we felt there had to be a stag there, the rut wasn't really on but stags were with groups of hinds. The hinds were spooky and one hind in particular kept looking directly at us although we were sure she couldn't see us and the wind was with us. It took 5 minutes to cross the fence because we could only move when this hind had her head down and we watched for about 15 minutes with no sign of a stag and the hinds began to feed back over the ridge and Brian was going to leave them and continue on our original plan when he saw the tips of a stag's antlers just over the ridge - not bad at 200 yards!!! Sure enough a cracking 8 point stag soon showed itself but never came over the skyline and the whole lot started to go back over. We waited until we were sure that all the deer had fed back over the ridge behind some windblown trees and then headed directly for the windblown trees hoping that there was not a hind in the spruce on our right to give us away. Just as we got to the trees Brian froze, the stag was just on the other side, about 40 yards away and again skylined. We crouched and waited to see if he would take a few steps towards us or better, feed in behind the dead trees, but he stayed still looking our way with the hinds out of sight behind the trees. The stag eventually slowly went behind the trees and out of sight. We decided to try and go round the other side of the trees and catch him coming out. As we came round the first dead tree a couple of hinds could be seen but were not aware of us. Then without any warning the bl**dy wind changed completely and a strong waft of breeze from behind us instantly spooked the lot of them and they were away up the hill. A blow on Brian's sika whistle stopped the stag briefly but only for a second, no time for a shot and he was still skylined anyway.
We thought that was that but a quick peek round the corner revealed a hind a little further up the hill feeding quite calmly over the brow so now that the wind was round to a decent direction for stalking the top where we had seen the stag first thing and where we were now only 100 yards from but with the wind behind us, we retreated and made a long stalk right round the hill to come at it from the other side and 30 minutes later we had crawled the last 20 yards and were lying on the very top of the hill waiting for something to come out of the spruce below us. About 30 minutes passed with no sign of a deer and Brian said that that was that and we stood and headed down the slope for the Land Rover to complete the circuit. We had gone about 50 yards and Brian suddenly said "Oh ****!", there 30 yards to our left were three hinds that had just stepped out, no sign of the stag but he had to be there, however we had been caught with our metaphorical trousers down and the deer soon high tailed out back into the trees and that was indeed that!!
Twice in two years I had been within seconds of a trigger pull, or a couple of paces, of two tremendous sika stags within about 50 yards of the exact same spot. Brian asked if I would be back - damn right I will, and if I ever get my stag I feel that I would have earned it but the name of the sport is deer stalking not deer shooting and I had had two fabulous outings in fantastic weather and beautiful scenery with loads of deer in the company of a good stalker and good bloke and enjoyed every second of it. Roll on 2013!!!