After a memorable trip to Davidís back in Aug/Sept with the kids I promised myself a return visit to Mellness for some late Hinds.
We booked another week with David and having been warned of freezing temperatures down to -20 the week before we stocked up on cold weather clothing and plenty of spirits to keep us going in the evenings.
Having driven from Hampshire dragging the trailer (I was hopeful!) and picking Russ up near Kendal, we arrived on Saturday evening to find a snow covered forest and a track packed with deep snow up to the Cabin.
Luckily the Pathfinder did what it says on the tin and with a heavy right foot in low ratio, and a few hairy moments on the way up we managed to drag the trailer up to the cabin.
It was great to be back at Mellness and the smell of warm pine and the welcoming fire made a 12hr journey truly worth while.
David arrived minutes later with that infectious smile on his face and we soon opened a bottle of malt and started to talk about the week ahead and conditions that lay afoot.
Sunday morning was spent sorting our kit and selves out and a short drive down the glen to Mauld Estate had us meeting Addie. We discussed the few days we were to have on the hill and after a few more drams headed back to Mellness.
The afternoon saw David and I heading out to spy a few parts of the ground Iíd not covered earlier in the year and we walked down the main track before cutting up into the woods not far from the first box seat.
Within seconds Gintieís (sorry David if the spelling is wrong) nose started to pick up scent and there on the ground was some fresh sign that could only mean a deer was not far ahead.
We made our way through the short width of this part of the forest following sign all the way and soon came to a large clear fell area with a perfect bowl system that would provide perfect shelter to the feeding deer.
We spied the area and slowly walked onto the edge of the clearing turning left toward a high seat.
Approaching slowly it was a minute or two before we came to rest at the bottom of the seat and David went rigid having spotted a deer feeding.
It was side on and about 250yrds from us with itís head down feeding. It was time to see if lady luck would play ball, and I hauled myself up and into the seat.
As I turned into a shooting position the now identified Sika straight at me and I raised the SAKO 85 .270 into my shoulder and squeezed the trigger. Placing another round into the breach I then looked up to see the Sika running quickly to my left.
Having heard the bullet strike I was amazed to see it running but after the initial recoil my eyes adjusted to see a large blood picture in the snow and a heavy trail left behind by the animal.
30 Seconds later and on the far side of the bowl came the first of some 20 Red Hinds! If only we had known what was around the corner and with the deer not stopping for a long range shot. They headed off out of sight leaving me amazed at the pure numbers in this group within the forest.
Walking through the clear fell in deep snow (waist height in parts) was hard going and I questioned my first shot of the week and bullet placement! Happily the deer had only run some 50 feet or so and was found with a nice low heart shot lying in the snow.
Having thanked the animal and gralloched the carcass I happily dragged the Sika back across the clear fell and onto a track in the forest which greatly improved the going. Some time later we we were back in the cabin for some drinks and a small amount of banter as Russ had not been so lucky.
Monday saw us on the Hill for the first time and thanks to David and his local contacts we were out on the Mauld Estate sitting on the boarders of Mellness for a spot of hill stalking.
We met Addie and having placed a few rounds in the target at around 100yrds we were heading up the hill through the birch scrub and heading steeply up towards the peaks and open hill.
Being a large fella the going was tough and a steep walk up the snow/ice covered tracks was lung busting stuff and with a patient guide and stalking companion we made it to the top of the birch and the start of the open hill.
We crossed a burn and followed the contour line through the snow and with little wind and deep and ageing snow the sound was enough to scare deer off at some considerable distance.
Up through the fence line and onto a higher contour we followed the hill along the side of the glen spying down into the birch and scotts pine edges hoping for a lucky start to three days on the hill.
The going was hard and very noisy and we could soon tell this was going to be more about luck, but good local knowledge was essential. The deer were not on the tops and we soon headed back down to the birch line and being unlucky on a few occasions and spooking some Red hinds. Hill day one was soon over and we found ourselves back at Addie with a cuppa tea and a large dram.
Saw a civilised start back with Addie and a lift half way up the hill this time! Reaching the top and with lungs and blood still pumping hard we took a walk out around one of the small hill lochs and up onto the highest points.
The snow here was difficult and evey few steps found me disappearing deep into the snow and often in up past the knee!! Hard going indeed and with no deer spied on the hill tops we headed for a large forest out towards the boundry line of the neighbouring estate.
Entering the 3 mile long track through the wood showed amazing amounts of Deer activity with heavy deep snow and fallen trees across the track. Deer had been digging every where and taking whatever they found underneath the snow. Again due to the sound of crunching snow and ice we spooked a couple of deer and finally if not slightly frustrated we emerged from the forest with nothing!
We took a break and sheltered on the open hill behind a rock and soon started off again following fresh tracks in the snow. All too soon we rounded a corner and there amazingly on top of the high point were some 15 Deer lying and standing on the sheltered side.
Three large old hinds watched us from the tops and we gave it a go and tried to get into a shooting position. They didnít stay long and we soon saw the lead Hind head over the top and out of site.
With sore feet from a pair of new boots! And having almost given up we walked another mile or so to spy over the edge of the hill down toward the birch and steep slopes down to the bottom of the glen.
Having come down through the snow Addie started to look into some hot spots but the wind and noise of the snow once again went against us and the ground shook and another 16 Hinds and Calves took off up the hill side and out of site without presenting a good shot.
By now I was beat. Sore feet and 6 miles or so through snow covered hill side and forest had taken their toll on a desk jockey and my head went down. But as weíve all know you should never give up!!
3 minutes later heading and heading towards East Crochail Hill forest leading down the hill to the bottom of the glen, Addie spotted a Red. It was hanging around the back gate to the forest and browsing gently at a small piece of vegetation sitting proud from some snow melt. I got down into position and stretched the bi-pod legs to maximum. It seemed an age and I moved several times to get the shot set up. Oblivious to our presence I looked through the Leupold scope and raised my head in disappointment a Spiker.
Addie took a look up and down the fence line and sure enough by a fallen tree over the fence line there were two Red Hinds.
I shot the first into her low neck at about 200yrds but pulled the shot and put the bullet through the shoulder. The Hind went up and over her back legs and lay on the fence still.
I lined up another shot on the 2nd now running Hind and saw a spot I thought she would stop and look back at us. Sure enough she did and a gentle squeeze of the trigger saw my 2nd Hind fall.
The drag back down the hill was touch but welcome and below showís me sat by the Hinds on the road at the bottom of the hill.
Wednesday came around quickly and had us back in Mellness forest with Russ heading out with David and in much need of his first Deer of the week.
I had a great day walking through an area of forest in the morning and unfortunately winding a Hind on a track. But little else was seen.
Russ on the other had a chance of a Sika but due to effect of gravity on a bi-pod in snow had a clean miss. However the imprint left in the snow made me laugh when I saw the imprints in the snow and the blast hole in the snow!
The afternoon had David and I heading out into the top part of Mellness looking for the 20 hinds spotted earlier in the week, but with fresh snow falling, high winds swirling round the rocks and hill side I saw nothing further.
I this time headed onto the open hill for the last time with Addie.
Russ stayed back at the cabin and with a bad knee and with strict instruction on having dinner ready on my return :@>
My lungs and body were now getting into this but the feet were still sore and I paid the price quickly.
The day went much as the first however once again we winded a good group of hinds as we came around the hill at a higher level and looking down on the dead ground below. The wind at our backs soon had the Deer alerted and they trotted off into the trees and forest below.
I was back off the hill early and keen to head back into Mellness where clearly the Deer were sheltering was on the cards and another go in a high seat beckoned.
I managed to get Russ out of the arm chair on my return and 10 minutes after sitting up I heard the unmistakable sound of a moderated rifle rumble around the hill side. I headed back and waited but no Russ which meant his first Deer of the week.
I waited till dark and grabbed the car keys and for the first time managed to get down the icy track to see a head tourch emerge through the trees. A beaming smile and the words ďThank GodĒ confirmed he had one.
We dragged the deer through the clear fell in the dark!!! And back down a track to a point a ľ of a mile away from the car. Soon Red Hind number 3 was in the boot of the car and heading for the larder.
Friday Ė Our last dayís shooting.
David and Gintie arrived at the cabin as planned and raring to go. We took the car as far as we could and headed off into the forest. Within 5 minutes of being in the forest a Sika Hind crossed the path in front of us. Iím not sure who was more surprised but it ran and didnít present a shot.
Heading down through the forest and past the spot Russ took his shot earlier in the week we headed up through familiar ground and up past the location of where I took my first Red Stag earlier in the year.
We had spotted some Red stags earlier on the stalk which majestically trotted through the forest and a fine sight to see animals in that condition after such long cold conditions had been endured.
David then took me off the now familiar part of the forest and we head back around the burn falling through the rocks and around the hill side dropping as we went. Numerous clear areas presented themselves with sign but no more. I saw my first Red Squirrel for many years in the branches and then a few more deer having heard us in the snow turning tail and leaving the area.
We reached the bottom of the hill and forest and we started to head back up a track. Again thinking it was all over my heart sank. But then turning a corner we both spotted a Sika Hind standing on a crag under the scotts pines.
I raised my rifle and carefully placed it on Davidís shoulder. But the angle of the hill was too much and I needed more height to get the angle. Now many of you have taken head shotís but I doubt many like this!
David must be some 6ft 1 inches and Iím around 6f 3 inches now days. I lifted the rifle from his shoulders and without a word brought it to rest on Davidís Head!! Now some of you may scorn and Iím as safety conscious as the next best man but it seemed a good idea at the time.
The rifle was doing figure eights as our breathing was in all directions but soon we managed to calm things down and once more I squeezed the trigger and the round shot out.
Weirdly David said he never even heard the shot. Just the bullet strike and sound of bi-pod springs creaking as the rifle came to rest.
The Sika ran some 15ft and fell from the crag some 60ft to the floor below. What a week this was turning out to be.
But that was not it.
Heading back out of the forest David and I were talking and approaching a gate. He advised that the last time I was here we drove this far but he saw two many Deer up here to the right and had several lost opportunities in the past.
He then went on to say that ever since heís been walking into this spot heís only once seen a Deer. The words had only just come out of his mouth when he froze and their under the open trees feeding near a bubbling burn were three more Red Hinds!
Down with the legs, up with the scope covers and slowly along the burn bank side I went. The sun turned the sweaty mass (me) into a steaming give away as I headed into a shooting position but the wind meant I was going to wind them any second.
I got into position just as the Deer knew something was afoot and sure enough they started to run to a spot on the thick forests edge that would allow them swift entry.
I moved the rifle back into position in case one stopped and sure enough all three did so and I neck shot the smallest of the three.
My week was done. I had enjoyed some great company, some fabulous yet frustrating hill stalking and some incredible luck and good fortune in Mellness once more.
But the story was not over. Russ managed to back him first Roe!!!!
Russ had always taken a weeks stalking of Redís in the past and whilst out with David that evening they came across two Roe Doeís.
So thatís it. My Weekís late hind stalking at Mellness turned into 7 Deer shot in harsh conditions across the week with good snow melt towards the weeks end within the forest.
2 x Sika (my first ever!)
4 x Red
1 x Roe
Never done that before!
More importantly a controversial head shot that will last me forever and makes me chuckle every time I think of it.
I headed home with a trailer load of venison and whilst not wishing to take large numbers we were lucky enough to fill our freezers with some fantastic quality venison.
I would like to thank David, Laura and Angus for just the best week once again and to Addie Fraser at Mauld Estate for a few days on the hill to be rememberd.
Your company, expertise and warm hearted nature once again made a fantastic and memorable week. And once more I shall return to Mellness and Mauld Estate but this time for the RUTT and some big stags.