Malcolm came to an abrupt stop, slowly raising his index finger to point ahead into the fog. My eyes followed his line, and came to rest on the black shape of sika stag, just as it began to bound off. I muttered several unprintable words and felt that the black cloud of doom would never leave.
This was my 6th morning in Scotland, and my 5th day stalking. Over this period of time my normal state of optimism had been slowly crushed. Not only that, but my mood was infectious – Ebola infectious. Just yesterday Malcolm had made the generous offer of a return trip at a significant discount, to offset for my complete and utter lack of success. His reputation was being savaged by my horrific luck.
I had started the week extremely “chuffed” as you would say. The trip from Glasgow to the north was beautiful. The stop at the Birnam hotel in Dunkeld for a proper Scottish Fry Up was well worth it. The greeting at the cottage was warm and welcoming. The lovely Sandra was at the top of her game, producing magnificent meals daily. The first evening my brother and I walked to the top of the hill behind the cottage and were stunned with the panoramic view – a mixture of green glen, Old Caledonian forest, and highland heather.
At the end of day 1, the Finnish contingent (Juho, Matti, and Tiina) had put a respectable 6 point sika on the floor. Things were looking good. Brother and I had no shots, but we saw deer and some beautiful scenery and had no complaints.
From this point on, my personal luck rapidly went downhill, including breaking off a front tooth. By Wednesday, the Finnish contingent had scored again. Baby brother, with the guidance of FallowStalker (Mark) had made a climb up the Craig (aka Heartbreak Ridge) and after a 3 ½ wait in the chill wind took a nice stag.
I however was well into a record – a record number of stags running away, glimpses of stag arses disappearing into the trees. I had became magnetic – in a repulsive sort of way. Trying to change the plan we thought maybe we could climb the Craig – but bad luck also controls the weather – locking the tops into a fog
Instead we opted to head north to Lairg and hunt a forestry block for the second time. Here I was able to take the full brunt of bad luck. After a difficult start we were able to stalk within 120 yards of a magnificent stag. The only problem was that this was “The Duke’s Deer” as long as he remained on the other side of the fence. As the rain picked up we stalked back to the truck – dejected. The bad luck was too heavy to be washed off even by the pouring rain. As the final straw for the day – just as we were leaving a spiker red showed himself, offering me a 40 yard neck shot. With 3 witnesses I managed to completely miss the shot – and not by a small margin. The stag pranced away, while I slunk into the truck. That evening at the cottage was miserable for – I was convinced that I had traveled 6000 Km for nothing.
Which brings us back to my opening paragraph. Par for the course, it was Friday and with few stalks remaining it seemed that the bad luck would never leave. After the foggy stag bolted away we continued to stalk on. After about a ¼ mile we stopped again to glass a small glen from a ridge about 100 yards above.
Within 15 minutes I saw movement and pointed it out to Malcolm. He confirmed it was a sika – a hind. Had there been any desire to even consider a shot, that was completely quashed. She walked directly behind a tree and remained there. After a few minutes she bedded down – ensuring that if we tried to continue stalking she would bolt and alarm the entire area. We had no choice but to sit and wait her out.
Within another 10 minutes there was movement again. Thorough glassing showed nothing, suggesting it was one of the ubiquitous red squirrels. Five minutes later, another glimpse, more glassing, more nothing.
And then – just like that – the clouds of bad luck parted and the sun came out. Swaggering into the clearing was a large black stag. He walked with a deliberate and dominant gate. I had the crosshairs on him immediately when Malcolm whispered wait till I stop him. A whistle paused him and I sent 130 grains of nosler into the near shoulder – planting him on the spot. A short wait to make sure he would stay down and then we worked our way to him.
As we neared, I was Super-chuffed (if that is even a word) – and so was Malcolm. He pointed out that this was “The Big One” that had been seen only in glimpses. My luck had changed, and his reputation had been salvaged. All in all – quite a great animal for my first trip to Scotland.
Should anyone want a fuller and much more depressing version of this story and I will go on ad naseum about the first 5 days.