Just over six years ago I did what Paul at Barony has done and what Rockingod hopes to do. I bought my own woodland. I was encouraged to do this after a stalking trip in Argyll where I met a group of Danes. They were over for a week of stalking and a week of property viewing. They explained that sporting leases are so expensive in Denmark that they could buy a place in Scotland for the equivalent of three years rent and had a selection of land agents particulars of Scottish woodlands. I was surprised at how cheap some of the non-commercial forests were so I cashed in a useless pension plan and went to work myself.
I bought a forest in an upland area of Inverness-shire with a good population of Red, Roe and Sika and in the first year erected a log house on site to use for family holidays and stalking trips with pals. All went well and although the wood was five hours journey away by car I had no shortage of company for the trips. I soon got a circle of regulars, many SD members, who came up to stalk. Most had never stalked Red or Sika before and it was thrilling to see someone get their first beast.
Then trouble at work forced me to sell up. I built a house just inside the gateway to my forest and myself and family moved up here. I quickly realized that I would have to make the place pay for itself so decided to rent the cabin out for holidays and stalkers. I have been stalking for forty years and have taken days, weeks and seasonal leases before so have an idea of what makes a good hunting trip for stalkers. Therefore in the spring I began to clear areas, put up high seats, re-seed deer lawns and cut access paths . I cannot begin to describe what hard, time consuming work this was. I was out every morning with chainsaw and stepladders. Then it was knapsack sprayer killing off sections of wire grass and re-sowing with pasture mix. Then I sat for hours in the seats to discover where the deer approached from and how the wind influenced the job. Then it was another round of branch trimming or more felling to give better fields of fire. At last I was happy and ready to receive guests.
In July Tartinjock and family came to stay. He was the first and was followed by Robbo25, Fab2 and Mike through August. All SD members and all shot a Red Stag. I had no-one in September but had a booking from Herne for a week in October followed by a two week booking from Russ Andrews. Both these lads wanted to shoot a Sika as neither had even seen this species in the field.
I will refer you to Herneís article on his stay and stalk and tell you about Russís trip.
Russ arrived and after getting settled in we discussed what he wanted. I showed him the cast antler from my best Red Stag and he was keen to have a go for him as well as trying to get a Sika. Russís arrival had coincided with the rut reaching its height. Roaring could be heard all day, not just at dawn and dusk, so we set off at 5pm to climb to the area where Herne had shot his Sika the week before and where, as well as the other big Sika we saw that night, I knew was the favoured territory of the big Red Stag.
We reached the same rock that Herne had taken his shot from and immediately saw a group of hinds with a ten point Stag to our right and below us. They were moving away through the re-stock and the Stag was pushing them on. Russ settled in between a stump and a small spruce while I got behind another tree in a mounding hole. We took in the magnificent view across to Glen Affric then the roaring started. Within a small wood to our front about 300 meters away the primeval coughing bellow of a mature Stag shook us both. He was answered immediately by another beast just over a hillock. The two animals had a real roaring contest with the noise getting closer and closer to the woodland margin. The hairs on my neck were standing up and my dog was quivering with excitement beside me. I was excited so I donít know how Russ must have felt behind a rifle. Then with a crash of branches he emerged and stood for a moment behind some birches. What a cracker! A 13 pointer with massive thickness. I got him in the viewfinder of my camera and waited for the shot. He gave a couple of grunts then turned and trotted over the hillock to confront his rival without offering Russ a clear shot.
What disappointment but I whispered to Russ that we should wait here for a few minutes as there was so much activity we should see something else soon. The dog then sat up sniffing the air. I lifted my spyglass to see a three year old Stag walk from the nearest wood and stand side-on looking over at Russís position. He was only 80 meters away and RussísĒ Swede ď boomed, the shot was good. The Stag staggered a few paces then collapsed dead. A good heart shot.
The next evening we walked to the high seat that I had seen the palmated Sika from after Fab2ís visit. This was at the intersection of two rides where I had done a lot of clearing and re-seeding work. We went earlier than before in the hope of getting in position before any deer emerged. Alas the lawn had two Red Hinds already in possession and we had to let them run off hoping they wouldnít make too much fuss. Russ climbed into the seat and I sat with my back to a tree a little away. It was a very still evening and after half an hour the birds started up their twittering again after the disturbance. A short time later I caught sight of a Sika Stag looking out of the trees along the upper ride. I just saw his head and shoulders then he withdrew. He re-appeared to the front and again in typical Sika style just showed a little of his body. Again he vanished. The three piercing squeals of a rutting Sika to our left took our attention and later Russ remarked how inadequate is the description of this sound as ďa whistleĒ.
Immediately a huge Sika Stag broke cover up the ride and galloped down towards the seat. Hearing a rival this lad had violence on his mind. I saw Russís elbow come up off the seat rest as he prepared to shoot and watched the Stag run into dead ground for me just 40meters from the seat. I heard the shot and the bullet strike and lifted my head up in time to see the Sika fall in the long grass. The antler on the upper side was visible and even from there I could see he was a belter. I helped a shaking Russ from his seat. He was blown away with the experience-the noise, the running deer and now the quality of his first Sika. It is perhaps difficult to see from the photo but the left top is slightly webbed so I think he is a relative of the other palmated Stags in this spot.
So thatís my first Stag season over. I must say I have enjoyed it immensely. I have met many new and interesting stalkers and the satisfaction and pleasure I have gained from getting a lad his first deer has been tremendous. The Sika shot by Herne and Russ are quality animals and their first too. What could be better?
I look forward to the hind season now and meeting with everyone again.
And next yearÖÖ. I still have the big Red and the palmated Sika along with others. Fancy a trip up?