Off again for my annual trip to Scotland in pursuit of red deer and salmon. We were blessed again with fantastic weather - well, fantastic so long as you're not reliant upon rain for the river
For the stalking I was out on the Monday as second gun, although we were both planning to use my rifle on the hill. We set off at around 09:30 and headed for the high ground. From the lodge we could see that the mist was hanging on the tops of the hills, but believing that it would clear we headed onwards and upwards. When we got up on top the mist was still there - if anything it was getting thicker. We grabbed a seat on some granite and tried to scan out to the flats below us, but the mist made it impossible. After 30 minutes we decided that we'd be better off going back to the lodge and then - if the mist cleared - heading out again in the afternoon. So somewhat disconosolately we started walking back. Dropping below the mist, and with the lodge in sight at the bottom of the glen, I saw a couple of beasts away on a slope to our left. We carefully spied them and decided that, if they hung around, not only were they shootable but we could get to them without too much trouble.
So off we headed, back up the hill. As if on cue the mist started to lift, and barely 10 minutes later there was not a cloud to be seen in the sky.
Now we were back up on top we could see more of the ground, and on the skyline above the beasts we'd first seen we could now spy a much larger group of stags. After 20 minutes of lung-busting walking we approached the summit from the 'blind' side and with the wind in our faces. Clearing the summit the stalker just caught a glimpse of antler tops. We dropped back 15 yards and I took my rifle out of its slip and gave it to my colleague. He and the stalker crawled forwards and a couple of minutes later he took the shot. I gathered up our kit and we made our way to his beast - neck shot at just over 100 yards it had dropped where it stood - it was a beautiful 12-pointer, even if it was starting to go back. My colleague is well-known as a deer 'magnet' but this took the biscuit!
As the stalker went to gralloch the beast I saw the remainder of the group of stags. About 40 in number, they were moving slowly away from us around 300 yards away. Unsure of the path they would take, and toying with the idea of a longer shot, I lay down and got the rifle ready whilst the stalker searched the group for another shootable stag. Identifying a couple we got ready, but the stags were heading towards the skyline and no clear shot presented itself before they went over the ridge. Returning to gralloch the first beast (sorry, didn't get a photo) we plotted the GPS co-ordinates, had our 'piece' and decided on our plan of attack.
My colleague was heading back down to the lodge (hoping to catch a salmon and then be on for a Macnab) so the stalker and I headed away in the direction we'd seen the stags disappear. Moving to the next summit we again spied the group below us and about 400 yards away. Using the blind ground between we got within 200 yards before we again became exposed. The contour of the land prevented a shot being taken, so there was little for it but to drop off most of our kit and belly crawl forwards. Reaching the high ground we had the rifle up on the bipod but now the beasts were laying down. A couple were looking our way but, with the next knoll another 15 yards ahead and believing this would give us a better option, we crawled forwards - me first with the stalker giving a constant narrative on the reaction of the beasts!
Again the rifle was up on the bipod and there he was, the Monarch of the Glen, standing broadside on and in the clear. Sadly he was way too good a beast for us to take so we had to ignore him and spent the next 10 minutes identifying a shootable stag. We could see at least two, both with 'switchy' heads but both lying down. Over the next 75 minutes, whilst the Monarch paraded himself and enticed me to make what would have been a genuine and honest 'mistake' , our chosen beasts would occasionally get up but never present a clear or safe shot. By now we were cursing the sun as it beat down on us in the heather. Limbs ached and dampness from the peat below made its way through my thin shirt, but there was little we could do to to ease the discomfort without alerting the beasts.
Eventually fortune smiled on us and the stags started looking more restless. Three or four of them stood - then up got one of our beasts. He took a half-dozen steps and there he was, broadside on and in the clear. I squeezed the trigger and saw the bullet strike. At the sound the whole group got up and ran over the brow of the hill, 'my' stag amongst them! When the beasts came back into view they were too far away for us to readily identify whether the stag was still there. Although we were confident that he'd been hit, the stalker took my rifle whilst I retrieved our kit and we made our way slowly forwards.
15 steps later the stalker gave me back the rifle - there was the beast! He had dropped only about 20 yards from where he'd been shot but still out of our sight. Relief flooded through me. We took the GPS co-ordinates of the second stag and the stalker called the ghillie back at the lodge so he could head out with the Argo.
By the time the gralloch was complete and we'd had a drink of water we could hear the Argo on it's way. It appeared over the brow of the hill and 15 minutes later we'd loaded the beast into the back. We headed off to pick up the first stag then back to the lodge for a well-earned pint of cider!
Although I only had the one beast, by the Wednesday our party had five stags in the larder. The weather held fine for the rest of the week, so whilst the salmon fishing was a bit 'dour' it meant heading up to the loch and fishing for trout was a real pleasure.
If I could just find a way to live up in Scotland for 52 weeks of the year....oh well, next year's trip is now only 50 weeks away!