After a successful few days at the Stags earlier in the year I decided to return to Caithness and stalk Strathmore for hinds with my pal Iain, again with Moray stalking schools John Allen. I was really keen to see the ground again, out with the rut and see how different it was.
Unfortunately we hit the worst of weather. It was really windy, 30 70 mph and sleet, hail and rain, with momentary dry spells. Iain and I were to shoot one day each, and on our off day we planned to take photographs, but the weather put paid to that, we chatted about who was to shoot first, and Iain preferred that I did, as he had never been there before and wanted to see how it all worked on the flat ground.
After the usual zero check we headed off in the Argo, and initials saw few deer, the weather had driven them from their usual ground and they were sheltering further up the hill by some small flat lochs. There were a few hundred in this valley. The rut time small groups had largely become large herds, but we still had a few smaller groups and these would be our plan A. John identified a small group of hinds, and off we went, leaving Iain behind a grassy mound to guard our packed lunches. The stalk was actually quite simple, a scurry along a burn initially, as usual away from the deer, John always manages to get me to stalk away from the deer initially, followed by a squelchy crawl and finally a wet slither into a shooting position behind a small bank. The deer were lying up on a small rise, 110 meters away and as luck would have it, just as we arrived a large hind stood up, and had a shake, throwing a cloud of spray into the wind. It turned broadside on and then instantly fell to the 3006 in the ribs. It was basically text book, John had me right into the correct place, at the correct time. I should have had a crack at another but was not quick enough, and to be honest was happy with results. John did a demonstration gralloch, really informative on what proved to be a very old hind in poor condition. It is amazing to us roe lads how much can be learned from a pro. Post gralloch we had our packed lunch and discussed the wind, the effect it has on shooting and some poor shooting practices we have seen and heard about, not realising how soon we would learn more about this as well.
After lunch we headed further up the hill. We knew a small group were sheltering just over the rise, perhaps 200 meters over a rise and 500 meters from where we were. The wind was across us, and everything was looking good again. Iain, John and I made good progress into them and just before the rise John went ahead 30 yards to get the exact location of the herd in the dip. Suddenly he was beckoning me over, making it clear I had to come fast and not worry about crawling. This was all new to me and I was not sure what had happened. Within seconds it was clear.
Our group of deer were to our right, in a nice stalkable place. Another group were on our march, skylined. John had glassed the second group, to see if they would spot us and give the game away when one suddenly charged towards us. Strangely it was dived by a couple of ravens and the whole thing saw really strange. John had however seen what had happened. The skylined deer had been shot from the other side of our march. We have no idea what happened to the bullet, but it must have passed us. The deers lower jaw was almost blown off, and was swinging below its face, its neck covered in blood. In a very short exchange John told me what had happened. I was shocked and disgusted to be honest, Mistakes happen but if someone was shooting at us, at skylined deer and attempting head shots in a 30- 70mph wind something was far wrong. I gave John my rifle, and asked him to finish it off, as the deer along with its herd had now winded us, bumped our herd and both groups disappeared over a rise on our ground. We waited until they disappeared, but continually searched the march, in case anyone appeared following up the deer. Alas no one came.
Initially John headed off ahead of us, he is faster than us over this ground, but once he noted that both herds were settled in a small valley waited for us to catch us. We spotted the injured deer amongst them and planned a stalk in. Light was going to be an issue soon, we had an hour at the most. I had by now resigned myself to stalking this injured deer the next day, as they were 4-500meters away and the herd of some 70 deer were unsettled, but were starting to feed.
We left Iain on a small rise and john and I belly crawled over the open ground, and for some 15 minutes all I could see was the word vibram on his soles. We stopped, glassed them and made a plan. We could see the injured deer, being pushed away by the others as it was really looking different. It was walking about the herd, as the others fed quietly. We had to get closer, as we were still a long way off and the terrain would not allow a shot, we had to get to a small rise, the only one about some 30 meters in front of us. As we got there we had a very strong right to left wind, and a herd some 250 meters away. There was no way to get closer, and light was just beginning to go. John asked me what drop I would expect at this range but in our rush to get to the injured deer I left the range finder with Iain. Luckily Johns calibrated eye put the range at 250 meters, and we quickly discussed the aim point. With the deer facing into the wind I had to aim at the point its neck joined its body, so I quickly got the cross hairs in place, only to watch the deer slowly disappear behind the only rise for miles.
We noted the main herd were slowly moving up the hill, away from the injured deer, and john hoped it would follow. We decided we would have to drop back, and move quickly to another shooting position a little closer and to our right, John dropped back, and then, as luck would have it his hat blew off! He recovered it and from his position 5 yards from me saw our deer turn and slowly follow the herd. This time the deer was facing our left and was moving slowly between the others. I could see its lower jaw swinging and attached at one side only. Our plan was to just hit the deer, to stop it. John instructed me to aim for just below the skyline of its back, midpoint of the body, and to shoot as soon as I could. I got the cross hairs onto it, and kept them on the deer back as it walked. I was considering a moving shot, when it stopped in front of another deer. It took 3-4 more steps and as soon as it stopped I fired. It kicked out its back legs and dived into the reeds.
The bullet had smashed its shoulders, and in doing so had dropped 5 inches (expected) and been deviated by 10 12 inches (unexpected by me at least), john was delighted, as was i. It was actually quite stressful, not wanting the deer left on the hill at night. If it had dropped behind the others on these massive estates it would have been difficult to find to finish off. And though we were happy to spend the day with a dog following it this is not really what we had planned. It was a horribly injury, and really concentrates the mind on safety. John took some pictures of the injury, and will post them later.
I understand that the estate owners and managers will be having words.