I’ll try and keep this brief, but I sometimes have a tendency to waffle on a little, so please bear with me. Here is a bit of an article covering a couple of the stalks I had up in Sutherland with Sikamalc on the SD week.
Firstly I would like to say a huge thank you to Malc and Sandra for being such excellent hosts as always. Also, a big thanks to all the guys who take the time out to help Malc out with the guiding. Your experience and knowledge of the estate is excellent, so thanks Alex, Andy and Mark.
Secondly a thanks to all the attendees of the week, you sure provided a good craic for the week!
I have two particularly memorable stalks to recount; the first was from the Tuesday. It started as all good Scottish autumnal days do…pissing it down with rain. The clag was in and it was that persistent drizzle that can soak you through to the skin. Myself and Simon decided we would head out round the back of the cottage we were staying in, on the other side (of the newly named) brokeback mountain. We stalked through some newly planted forestry re-generation until we met up with the access gate to the fenced in mountain. It is completely fenced in, but there are loads of deer in there. You can see them occasionally from various parts of the estate. When we climbed the gate we could hear, in the distance reds roaring…it all sounded promising!
Simon and myself had recently been stalking elsewhere, and as I was the one who drew a blank then, he kindly agreed to let me have the first shot of the day. We were in a pair for both safety reasons and also it’s a long way from any tracks…something we were to realise in abundance later in the day.
We stalked for a good three hours along this valley bottom, constantly glassing the side of the mountain. We saw nothing, however we could hear the reds roaring getting louder and louder. We also were coming across fresh slots and droppings on an increasingly frequent basis. After about four hours we decided to cut up through the trees on the side of the mountain, in the hope we might stumble into something laid up as it was starting to get on a bit. It was at this point we heard a sika in the distance whistling, only once mind, and it was virtually drowned out by the constant roaring that had been getting increasingly louder throughout the day.
That stalking was hard going, big clumps of heather and grasses that probably hadn’t had people walking across them for years. Bearing in mind I only have little legs it was quite a struggle at times.
We reached a sort of plateau in the trees where it flattened out and the tree density was less. As it was about 11:30 at this point we decided to have a snack and glass the surrounding hills. We had now come to learn that all the roaring was actually coming from the neighbouring estate, with the fence line stopping them enter this estate. We were however still hopeful that there would be a stag in there somewhere trying to get at the hinds on the surrounding hills. The weather had turned by this point and was glorious sunshine, the views were fantastic. Sat there listening to the reds roaring next door was also quite an amazing experience. There were stags all over the place, with one big lad trying to dominate all the hinds.
We decided to carry on up before cutting down the fence line to see if there was indeed a red knocking about. After maybe another 20 minutes or so I could hear Simon hissing behind me. When I turned round to see what was up I could see him pointing at a sika stag in the distance, it was a fraction under 500m away, uphill. The stalk was on. There were three little hillocks between us and the stag, as he disappeared out of sight we made our way as quietly as possible over the ground, over the first hump, the second and then onto the top of the third. I stood between two trees, dropped to one knee and started glassing…damn it, it had melted away like all the other sika that I have ever tried to stalk. It was maybe 10-15 seconds of glassing around when I lowered my binos to have a look. It was only then I realised he was right in front of me, 200m away feeding on a step bank, perfectly broadside.
Out came the bipod, and I assumed a kneeling position, cranked the scope up and turned on the illuminate reticule (it has very fine crosshairs and a mature sika stag is very dark). I set the set trigger and bang. I heard Simon say good shot, so I asked if it had gone down as I had lost sight of it...“on the spot mate!”. Happy days, my first sika ever on the deck! We continued to glass it as we could still see a bit of movement, having heard the stories of sika getting up and running after perfect shots I didn’t want to risk losing the beast.
After a good 5 minutes we decided to get a bit closer, working together. I would cover it with the rifle while Simon closed in behind me and then I would move forward whilst he covered it with his binos, never losing sight of him. When I got to within 5m of it I could see there was still a bit of life in the old boy so I quickly put another round into his neck followed by bleeding him and that was that. 6 hours from start to finish, stalking into reds which weren’t on our boundary to come out with a sika stag, and what a cracker he was too.
Did I say 6 hours from start to finish, well, that was a little bit of a lie…there were three and a half hours of dragging him out to go yet, followed by another half an hour getting in a truck to recover him back to the larder. Bearing in mind the weather had turned long before I made the shot it was now a roasting day, probably near to 20 degrees. We dragged him somewhere between 3 and 3.5km to the point where a truck could pick us up. Needless to say I owe Simon a drink or three, I think I would still have been there now if it weren’t for his help.
half way back on the drag...
It was an epic day. My longest days stalking by far in some of the most stunning scenery one can imagine. All the while, listening to a whole glen of red stags roaring their knackers off to each other. The culmination of which was my first sika and what a stonking stag he was. Well chuffed.
My other particularly memorable stalk was an evening stalk in the old forest right on the boundary of the estate. We had decided to head out a little earlier, so there I was mooching through the old forest before popping out on the banks of the river which marks the boundary. With the river to my right, and a steep bank heading up into the forest on my left I made my way along. The wind was not in my favour, but I wasn’t really expecting to see much until I had gotten to the far end and got up into the old forest. To my right on the far side of the glen I could hear old JB roaring a way (apparently he’s known to be particularly vocal, and has been recognised the past few years). A tornado jet flew overhead and salmon were jumping in the river to might right.
The weather was once again stunning (not great for stalking in the rut, but great otherwise). I took it very slowly, glassing the whole bank to my left (which stretched out for a 3-400m in an almost straight line away from me). I heard bracken snapping up on the bank and so started to glass it only to see a red hind staring right at me. I froze for what seems like ages, but was only maybe a minute or to, before something else took her attention and she carried on trotting away. I went another 20 or 30 paces and glassed up on the bank again only to see a hind and a calf staring at me, again I froze, but again something caught here attention and off she went without an alert call.
Red hinds definitely mean red stags as the rut was in full swing. Sure enough a few seconds later one ran past where the hind had been stood…gone. It was the stag that had disturbed the hinds. I moved another 15m or so further along and then set up the rifle on my sticks just in case. No more than 30 seconds later he re-appeared, but only part of him. All that was in view was his front shoulder and lower neck. I lined the cross hairs up and down he went! He was a real fighter by the looks of things with one of his antlers snapped off and a number of tines also snapped or chipped.
It was at this point I started to panic a little about the drag…there was a deer fence between me and the downed stag. Happily, there was a gap right next to me under the fence where the rain had washed the turf away. Thankfully this drag was only 60m compared to the sika stag’s 3km+ drag out.
I green gralloched him, looked up and saw a golden eagle circling overhead, a little cliché but fantastic nonetheless. As it was still light continued on my way. Not really expecting to see much I turned my attention to JB on the other side of the glen, roaring away and chasing off his younger contenders. I glanced back at the forest and it was then that I saw another stag in the forest walking up the bank, some 150m away. I immediately switched my full attention back to this lad rather than the big bugger on the other side of the glen.
Another 100m along the fence was a gate, which had fallen down many years before and was now used as one of the main entry and exit points for deer into an out of the old forest. I approached it and could no longer see the stag I had just seen. I went through and started glassing some 40-50m up the bank into the trees. It was then that I noticed him pop out on the skyline…staring right at me. I froze and must have been stood frozen for 20 minutes looking through my binos at him; he was a small but nice looking 8 pointer. I’m guessing he was still quite young but in good condition. He eventually dropped his head to feed, at which point I took the opportunity to lower my binos and raise the rifle.
Still frozen to the spot I then noticed another, what looked to be 8 pointer (also small), stood no more than 10m away from the first. It took a while but I noticed he was actually on the other side of the deer fence which denotes the boundary with the neighbouring estate. I couldn’t believe it. Two young 8 point red stags just stood staring at me no more than 80m away, but neither was interested in the other, when considering nearly every other red stag in Sutherland was rutting like mad.
Anyhow, I stayed glued to the spot in case a chance arose to shoot the on my side of the boundary line. I stood there for a good 45 minutes, my legs and arms were stiff and I was starting to get a bit of the elvis leg. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement, a sika stag trotting along towards me. Suddenly he stopped, I thought he must have clocked me, but no he then started thrashing the turf and bracken in a wallow that I had not seen from where I was. He pee’d in it, then lay down, stood up, thrashed some more, had a shake, laid down again, rolled around a bit, stood up again and shook and then he trotted off behind me. This happened for about 5 minutes, and the maazing thing was he was no more than 8m away. I could hear the individual droplets of water drop into the wallow when he shook. Simply quite amazing. By now the light was nearly gone and I turned back to the two red stags to see if there was any possibility of a shot on the one my side of the boundary.
Unfortunately he was still skylined and so I turned around to see if I could still see the sika that had just stood next to me…only to see two less than 40m away walking around in the woods immediately behind me. I really couldn’t believe it.
This was my 5th trip to Scotland stalking and I’d never before had an opportunity to shoot a sika as they are so difficult to stalk into and yet there were two less than 40m away from me. It was only the sika hind that was with one of them that alerted them to my presence at which point they slowly trotted off into the old forest. I turned back to the red to see if was still there and sure enough he was stood with a suitable backstop, nicely broadside. I picked up my sticks and slung my rifle and walked back through the fence the way I came. Never before had I had four mature stags all within 100m of me, and so I thought I’d had such a great evening I’d leave them all be and get out of there. After all I still had a scrapper of a red stag to deal with back at the larder.
So, that was just two of the outings I had. In summary, the scenery is amazing, the range of stalking on the estate Malc has his lease is amazing; open hill, old Caledonian forest, new forest and forestry re-generation areas which also hold good numbers of deer. It’s all tough stalking, and you really do need to be a slow and as alert as possible, but when you do manage to tie it all together, man is it worth it!
Thanks again for having me Malc, really enjoyed the week. I certainly have some amazing memories!!! Thankfully I also had a camera with me for most of the trip, just a shame I couldn’t get a shot of that sika stag wallowing and thrashing next to me in the old forest…maybe next time.