This is a kind of cumulative post for a few of the guys on the forum for a recent stalking trip up to Scotland after Red and Sika stags. Foxdropper (Tim), Aaron, a guest called Tony and myself went ooop North to Sutherland to try and pit our wits and modest cumulative experience against the noble monarchs of the glen.
Brushing casually over the comedy of check-in ineptitude of the easyjet staff we arrived in good time at Inverness having decided against the 10 hours + slog in a truck. Even with 4WD rental at the other end there was barely £100 each in it when you take into account a the two way fuel for a juicy L200 not to mention the almost guaranteed speeding tickets and points courtesy of the A9.
Meeting up with the agent we collected our maps, visited both grounds and went over the boundaries and with some ok weather in the forecast we were raring to go. Mulling over the maps that evening we were confident we had the best spots sussed before the first half pint had touched the sides which was surely a precursor for a massive reality check.
First light the next day we arrived at the ground and decided to split into pairs, find a likely spot and wait up before making a few tentative, exploratory inroads into the ground with the intention of discussing things over a brunch later on. Aaron, having never grassed a red/sika before and it being his first time on this type of topography was the more inexperienced of us and was going to be mentored by Tim in the early stages. Although I've been stalking with Aaron several times it was good to see he was heeding the advice we were giving him without the slightest hint of the youthful arrogance i'm sure i'd have had at that age and was apprehensively looking forward to encountering and anchoring the seemingly bullet proof sika he'd heard about.
Bolt down, safey on, thumbs up and we made our way to our selected spots having to quickly get used to moving over lumpy tussock grass, heather & peat hag. Dead still, dead quite save for the dawn bird song and distant roar of the reds and with trails, slots and scat plastering the area we waited thinking how bloody good it was to be alive.
8 am was met with a rifle crack and I was on my phone to see who owned up - would you adam-and-eve-it. Aaron had only gone and neck shot a sika stag from the highseat at the best part of 100 meters. He was made up as we all were for him and after the congratulatory (and very jealous) texts subsided we settled back to our positions... at least some of us did.
Less than an hour later another shot rang out.......... Aaron again..... he'd only gone up the ride to the hill, stalked into and unceremoniously atlas joint shot a 9 point red stag! He was on cloud nine, we were in Room 101 and he didn't hold back on letting us know about it. Thank god it wasn't me but poor Tony had been only 20 yards from being able to see the stag from his position on the edge of the forestry block but had been looking the other way the whole time and hadn't seen Aaron stalk past him en-route to the shot. It would make you sick!
Aaron has some great pics of his beast(s) but will have to put them on here himself as I haven't received them and I think there is some technical problem sending them. The agent came with his quad to extract them and after we huffed and puffed loading them onto it headed back for some lunch to mull over how the hell we were going to top that mornings work!
No two ways about it - trying to stalk sika on foot in that terrain is bloody hard work. The reds that could be heard roaring were well off-piste so we found a good spot and waited for quarry to emerge from the woods. What I had forgotten since my last trip was that the sika really don't need to leave the sanctuary of the woods at all or even go on the rides which they rarely do other that to dash across. Once you've managed to force yourself under the canopy its like Avatar with bright, bright green belts of cropped grass so short its like Wimbledon, wheels of bright red & white agaric toadstools and clumps of ivory fungus like stuff not to mention all the hidden wallows, scrapings and a veritable motorway network of interconnecting game trails... and dead quiet.
Tim went for the seat that evening and was rewarded with a cautious sika pricket in the last hour of light but the rest of us shat out. Dragging the bugger out in the dark made us both happy in hindsight that it wasn't something bigger.
The next two days can be summed up really by the following:
Relentless piss taking from Aaron about his prowess as the great white hunter in the group... sadly we had no argument. Beginners luck puts the beast in front of you.. right place, right time and all that. Manoeuvring a rifle towards a cautious sika or stalking into a red stag, both impressive animals and both dropping to clean neck shots is hard to blag.
Worsening weather - Tony and I had the gumption to stay out in the driving rain in the mistaken belief that we would be rewarded. Tim had several close encounters with sika stags by calling near a wallow but the buggers kept appearing behind him and didn't hang around. This pretty much sums up the feeling on the second to last day, courtesy of Tony who toughed it out on the hill in the driving rain:
The last day.... The weather went from pea soup to glorious sunshine in just over an hour. We were trying a different piece of ground and if i'm honest were finding it hard to see the bright side. I elected for the seat and after a couple of hours was caught totally off guard by a pricket not 80 meters from the seat staring at me. Where the hell did he come from?! The rifle was across my lap pointing the wrong direction and it took 5 minutes painstaking effort to bring it to bear, left handed and at a ridiculous angle. Now my list of excuses for missing is long and comprehensive but ultimately I blame the fact I had removed the bipod to stop it catching on the seat rails - something I know I had to compensate 4 inches for when zeroing before we left... what a dick.
Time was getting on, it was Tims turn in the seat and was feeling pretty annoyed at myself. I texted the others to see where they were and, as expected, they were in the best spots left so decided to trudge back towards the car and find some random ride to wait by so I didn't disturb their chances. Having consistently made the wrong decision the whole trip this was the one time it came good. Diverting up one small ride a I came to the edge of the wood along a march fence boundary between this permission and the neighbouring moor. Through sheer boredom I scanned the hill in the hope of at least seeing a Red and when I found nothing turned back towards the wood. As an afterthought I went back to the fence and had a look up the other end along the woodland edge we had all tramped up at various times that day.... **** me... a red stag was staring at me in-between the wood and the march fence... our permission and stock still.
Extending the bipod I sank into the soaking tussock and looked at him through the scope, cranking it up to 12x. I got the leica out and ranged him about a dozen times and it kept coming back between 407 and 420 meters. The wind was blowing straight towards him and he kept looking at me, then to the hill, back towards the wood and then back to me. Now this is the first red stag I've ever had in the crosshairs - people will probably judge me for contemplating a shot at 400+ meters but from his demeanour I couldn't see me getting anywhere near him without him taking a few paces either side and being off-piste or in the wood. I'd waited 4 days, sat through the pissing rain and had just missed a sitter. I knew I had decent kit and, apart from my all-too-recent miss, judged myself to be a competent shot so if it came down to it I was going to have a go. My scope had a BDC turret on it so I cranked that to 400m and got myself ready. After twenty minutes he was still face onto me and I tried to inch towards him. He clocked me immediately and turned broadside facing the wood. I put the crosshairs on his shoulder and squeezed one off. He flinched but stood still, I cycled the bold and did the same again.. this time he ducked a little and I saw the round splash up behind him, bang on line but a fraction over.. of course, the ballistic ring I had on the scope was for a heavier, slower bullet and it was over compensating as I had changed to 120 gr Norma's. Still broadside and unmoved I adjusted and thump - he started wheeling like he'd taken a heart shot and looked like going down but then straightened himself out so I gave him another one. Thump - no mistaking that one, head back and down for good.
I couldn't believe it and still was picking up my pile of brass when Aaron arrive thinking I'd been target shooting hooded crows on the hill! I garbled something about dropping a decent red stag up there (.. no higher..... no... further than that!!) and we made towards it. There he was, 9 points and magnificent, my first red stag.
The drag back to the track was eventful and we passed which I would assume was his wallow not far from where he had gone down.
He went on the hook just shy of 200lb. One hell of a way to finish a trip.