Just had a fantastic couple of days stalking in Caithness with Moray Outfitters. Having done my DSC and numerous trips in Dallas forest I knew Andy and John well, but had never been up to Caithness, other than on the way to dive Scapa flow. I had planned to share a few days with Iain, my stalking buddy and wader repair colleague. However at the last minute he had to cancel, so plan B kicked in. Quickly buy a caravan and invite the family, it was the best idea I could come up with at short notice!
It is a 5 hour drive up from Aberdeen, and once the van was set we went off to find Strathmore Lodge, so I would be on time for my first day. I met Patrick, the stalker and had a brief chat, now totally fired up about the whole thing and having seen the ground / heard the roaring stags I was raring to go.
Day one started with the traditional crack at the target, and happily the 3006 was spot on inch high at 100. Patrick was looking after me today, so off in the Argo in the general direction of the roaring stags. We spotted deer along the way, and he pointed out all manner of interesting stuff along the way, like the kind of grass that is safe to walk on and the areas that I would quickly sink into. We stopped and glassed the area, looking for a suitable stag, and clearly the area to be was some distance away. A large stag with a broken antler was really kicking off, and with him he had a lot of smaller stags waiting to sneak in. Ok, it was going to be a long stalk, but unlike most of my stalking it was flat, so would not kill me! I had a new Z Aim sling with me, a cracking bit of kit that really stabilises the rifle on your back. What was particularly good about it was I did not have to keep a hamd on the sling or rifle whilst walking or crawling, so could have both hands free in case I slipped or wanted to sneak a spy at the stags with the binoculars whilst still walking. Patrick led me along a convoluted burn path, keeping low to get into the stags. We stopped a couple of hundred meters away and watched the spectacle, lots of roaring and carrying on, but a really good stag was lying a short distance from the melee. He was a solid beast with a good head on him, and looked to be the most suitable stag to take out. Our plan was to belly crawl into position on a small mound some 100mtr from him, and see what happened, as they were moving about a fair bit and things were changing fast. However, after squelching into position we found him asleep, 80meters from the rest of the deer, and about 100 meters from us. There were 7 other stags mooching about, with the boss going bonkers in the middle. We considered taking him, but he was moving so much that it was looking difficult. So we waited. Patrick told me that all the time he was dozing his bladder was filling and sooner or later the stag would stand, stretch and pee. However the stag was not playing and just kept dozing, giving a small roar, and then dozing again. We considered a neck shot, but as we were comfortable and in no rush decided just to wait for the right moment. After a while he began to scratch and get restless, and Patrick told me to get ready, and that if the chance of one of the smaller stags presented then I could take them, and he pointed out the ones that were on the cards. One more whuff and roar and he was on his feet, broadside on and stretching. I was on him right away and launched the 165gn at him, into the armpit and he charged off, tumbling into the burn 30 yards away. Alas I watched my stag too long, and did not take a crack at the smaller stags, that initially stood as if waiting for guidance, before following the hind herd as it flowed away over the (small) hills behind, stags in tow.
As always I was surprised by the size of the stag, as roe are my normal quarry. Patrick and I huffed and puffed trying to drag it out of the reeds and burn, before deciding to collect the argo, and drag it up a bank and peat hag, so to allow us to roll it into the argo below. My kind of stalking, and for the first time stalking red deer that evening I was not dead on my feet from all the climbing. Though it is flat in Caithness, there are still small hills and burns making getting in close wet but reasonably straight forward with the right guide.
Day two and I was stalking with John in a totally different area, at the loch at the head of the river Thurso. The size of the estate was becoming clear, I could go any direction as far as I could see, and I could see and hear a lot of deer. Scanning from the car, we could see stags roaring in basically every direction, but decided to go for plan A, a stag pretending to be Monarch of the Glen on top of the nearest hill. He was a good big fellow, and was roaring at another group of deer perhaps 800 mtr away on another hill face. The wind was initially against us, so we did a long u shaped walk round him, all quite easy going, though a bit wet in places. On the way in we glassed our plan B and C, but decided to stick with plan A. We had a few worries along the way, with small groups of deer popping up from within the reeds from time to time, but John rightly predicted their direction away and most just melted away without disturbing plan A, who was still shouting at the stags across the moor. We crawled in about 60 meters, and popped over a mound to find our stag close by, on the sky line and happily roaring across the valley.
We got comfy, and I started to put up my bipod, but john stopped me – not yet. Ok, that confused me. However John know we would be spotted if we moved to much or raised up so was right, and quickly the stag dropped down our side of the hill and lay down, here we go again! I pinged the stag, 66 meters away. John carefully placed his binoculars onto the ground in front of me, and asked if I could take the stag in the neck. At this range it would be no problem I assured him. I placed the rifle on the binoculars, and waited for the stag to raise his head, which he quickly did. He dropped his head to the shot, and probably never heard the bang. We stayed put until the hinds moved off to inspect my very smelly prize. Now this stag stank, big time. He was a spectacular animal, a 9 pointer but wow the whole mound he was on stank! John expertly gralloched the stag, giving me a demonstration quality display, I learned so much, and I though I know what I was doing! It was not yet mid day.
John knew I was keen to get a stag worthy of mounting on my wall, from my first Caithness trip. I had done this twice now but he told me that as they were probably a little behind with the cull I could go for another large stag, or take a few smaller ones. I was keen to continue, so we made a plan to stalk to the face our plan A was shouting at when we arrived, there was a lot of activity there. It was another long stalk, into a burn and rapidly along to get close. When we got to within range, after crawling perhaps 100 meters the very active main stags were further up the face, and were slowly mooching away from us. There were so many deer, so many eyes getting close to the large stags was not going to be possible without a really large detour, and now the day was getting on. However, a small group of young stags were quietly feeding nearby, so it was bipod down whilst John assessed them. Short of 200 meters, and any one of the ones in front of me was fine. The closest I could see was broadside on, head down in the reeds and very slowly mooching along, so this time it was an easy couple of minutes until he stopped, and I took the shot at his shoulder, he immediately dropped out of sight. Another stag, jumped out of the reeds, slightly closer and ran to just beyond where the first staggie had dropped, john told me to take him, and when he spun round to look for the source of the noise he presented another broad side shot. This time he stayed on his feet, wobbling before trotting 5 yards and dropping. I pinged him with the range finder, and he was 230 meters away. What a day!
John and I squelched over to the stags, lying on a very wet hillside. John gralloched one and I did the other, before John went for the Argo, and I caught up with the afternoons emails, unbelievably Caithness has superb 3g internet and a constant mobile signal. I have to say it was a superb couple of days. Even the family enjoyed their impromptu holiday and best still they want to go back next season. I plan to visit again briefly for the hinds, and perhaps 3-4 days next season chasing the Stags again. Cheers to John And Patrick, anyone even thinking of a stalking trip far north should chat to Andy or John from Moray outfitters.