Just back from another trip to Caithness, with John Allan from Moray outfitters, and this trip was special in a number of ways so I thought I would share.
I am a regular at Strathmore, taking 3 or 4 trips a year, it is a challenge in some ways, as it is reasonably flat, and so careful stalking and crawling is needed. But at the same time it is reasonably easy, physically it is not difficult, and with care and following the excellent stalkers instructions success for me has been good. John recons if you can stalk here you can stalk anywhere.
This trip was with Donsider, his first trip stalking stags in the flat lands, he is more used to the mountains. And he brought some weather with him, it just poured all day and night. It was blowing a gale and simply lashing down. Loch beg, at the top of the Thurso river was down by 15 feet but all the burns were flooding and we knew we would see it rise. The ground was soaking, basically everywhere and stalking was getting difficult day one. Roads were rivers, puddles lochs, John and I tried a few stalks but the wind and rain were beating us, and the only real chance we had was blown as we simply got too close before we could see the deer, we had no choice but to stalk in and then bumped the stag. What was good was that the rut was full on, and deer were roaring despite the hellish conditions. We abandoned hope early afternoon.
Dave and John in Bugger this mode - or looking for a lost contact lens!
Next day was better, we drove in to huge floods, the Thurso was in a raging spate and clearly Loch Beg had filled, rising 15 feet over night, in a great big dirty flood. Burns and streams we would normally step over were in flood and our stalking may be restricted by river crossings this time, but it was calm, dry and even a little bright, and the deer were roaring all round us, it was spectacular!
A little flood
Donsider and John headed out, as the stags were close early on, and I tagged along behind, however they were mooching away from their overnight feeding and working away from us, and with the wind working round plan B had to come into force. I would head back and get the argo, the others would head out round the wind and find the deer. A bit of a walk. I parked up as directed and did some business on my phone, awaiting the signal to come over. And when it came Johns message was a little cryptic “take the argo over but be quiet and slow” ok, how would I do quiet in the argo? I chugged in slowly to meet a jovial John, and a bedraggled looking Donsider, they had a stag, WAY over there, and it was a Royal – what a result. But they also had some stags behind us, and John was keen for me to have a look. We had a quick stalk, but John had a change of mind, he had seen a stag a little way away he liked the look of. We chatted about the stags and I commented that I would like a royal one day, I am not really a trophy hunter, but like the idea of a royal, and Donsider had done it again!
Donsider and his stag
This was to be an epic stalk, we drove the argo in a few hundred meters, then walked a few hundred meters, and then crawled a couple of hundred meters through the reeds and puddles, to get close enough. Eventually we were on a raised bank, with the herd in front of us. John told me to stay down whist he spied the deer, he had a quick grin and then were back into hunter mode – he was up to something!
I got onto the rifle and had the stag broadside in my sights, he was a cracker, big spread. But he had a hind right behind him and I knew my 3006 would punch through at 160 meters. Then a hind made us, perhaps just a little but the deer reacted and the hinds started moving. The stag stayed, but turned his back on us. It was all going wrong. John quickly sussed the situation and barked at the deer, and the stag turned again and started walking slowly almost side on, I needed him to stop. John lowered the binnys just as the stag stopped and looked in our direction, just for a second. The crosshairs were right into his shoulder and I fired, just as John focussed back on the stag, and just in time to see him drop on the spot. We had a quick chat, John was happy it was down, I was delighted and knew he had gone way beyond the norm to get me a stag, it was now well after 1800. We chatted as we approached the stag, and I got the feeling John was up to something again. As I approached I kind of guessed, 6 points on one side noted as we walked in, a quick count and 6 on the other, a royal, John knew all the time! I was elated.
John and I (i am the fat one without the antlers!)
The stalking there is spectacular, and I will be back in a week for another trip, last days of the stags and first of the hinds, it is addictive up there. I think it is ideal for stalkers like me, with an injury or two, or if hauling yourself up a mountain is just too much. I hope to report back with more success next week!
I left Sauer and maxwal up there, and look forward to them adding to the story, with news of more stags