This proved to be my best October ever. I managed to break my Jonah and get some brilliant stalks in, not huge animals but great days out with Jamross65 and Moray Outfitting. It's taken me a while to really express them and I till have my time on Skye with Scott MacKenzie to write up. Very wordy, a few pics but if you have trouble sleeping.... here it all is.
The weather the previous night had been dreadful. The Tweed was up eight feet by the time I arrived at the meeting place next morning, having driven some 400 miles over night through the storm.
We all met up and drove to Stevie’s hut for lunch, where hot cups of tea and coffee as well as rolls were available over stories and jokes. As the afternoon wore on we all talked about what would happen that evening, who would go where and what we would be likely to see.
When we arrived we all stopped to look at one side of the area we would be stalking, in a clearing, lying in the sun was my first view of a Sika deer; some 350-400 yards away he looked relaxed, but we knew he had seen us.
After spreading out Brian put me in a high seat with a great view of the edge of the woods with a rising bank facing South East. There was forest behind, with grass bank in front and perfect back stops along the left and top edge. I was assured before he left that the deer, when, not if, they came, would arrive from the corner.
I climbed into the high seat, it was wide, sloping and not the most comfortable, which was a boon, as had it been, I’m sure I would have fallen asleep as I was down the previous night’s sleep. Then it rained, quite a short sharp shower but enough to wet me and the seat. But something happened to put a smile on my face, just ahead of me, on the rising bank were two vivid rainbows and somehow this made me feel that it was going to be a positive evening. The sky cleared, the sun came out and I knew it was going to be great.
The down side of the sky clearing was that the temperature really started to drop then. It had been about 12 degrees C when I got out of Brian’s truck, by the time I got back in after dark it was two. I had taken an insulated jacket as advised but I was still cold and started to shiver.
BOOM, someone along the hill was doing well, I later learned Alan had made a clear miss. This could only bode well I thought….. I continued to shiver. The sun disappeared, the sky grew slightly darker but was crystal clear and I saw movement in the corner… pheasants, each time I caught a view from the corner of my eye it was them, strutting and flapping about.
I turned to check their movement again and there he was, a ghost, four or five yards out without me realising, even though I had seen the tail feather twitch of the pheasant next to him. It felt like he was looking right at me, all I could really tell was that there were antlers and that he had a vivid frown, just like the DSC photos.
I had heard that they were hard to shoot, but I had just had my rifle out on the range with custom made ammo, so I knew exactly what it and I could do. I put the cross hairs on the stag, which was quite small and young, and began to watch him. He was ultra curious, not moving, but looking around and occasionally grazing the longer, soft grass around the clearing. I got a chance of a good broadside and knew the Hanoverian was in the truck, but he kept turning to face me, despite the fact I knew he had not seen me, but more likely something on the track behind me. My sights settled under his chin, the gorget patch like a magnet for the cross hairs. My shivering stopped, things all became clear and I put an even pull on the trigger. I had estimated the distance to be 120-140 yards, but was later informed by Brian it was exactly 185.
His head whipped back as his body dropped on the spot. I reloaded and regained the sight picture as I saw an antler move. I waited with the scope on him for a few moments but there was nothing. I was shaking with excitement and the release of the shivering I had held in before the shot. I waited what felt like an eternity, but can’t have been much more than ten minutes before I unloaded and climbed down, walked up the hill towards him and saw his eye move to look at me. I had shot him straight through the spine but somehow, unable to move, he was alive and his eye followed me.
I moved away for another five minutes but nothing changed, he managed to move his head and wave his antlers a little. From what I had heard about these animals being tough and what I had just seen, I took no chances and put another through his neck from about 8 yards, knowing the soft bank behind was up to the job.
I gralloched him and dragged him down the hill, I waited around for a few moments before Alan and Larry arrived to shake my hand and congratulate me on my first Sika. I could see well with the moon in the clear sky and I’m sure they could see my ear to ear smile as we waited for the others to come down with their beasts.
The next morning Brian arrived to meet us at 5 and we all went back again to the woods. I was put with Larry on the other side of the hill from the previous night, and instructed to walk up to a high seat with a ride known for being full of deer in the morning.
I walked up a track and Larry showed me where to go, I followed the track as the day started to get light, enjoying the dawn, the landscape and the glow from the previous night as I walked quietly, but apparently not quietly enough to a bend in the road.
I was whistled at by a stag some 30 yards distant, he charged off sideways into the woods with a hind and calf and continued to whistle as he went. I continued, chastened and with a smile, along to the second high seat, where I had been instructed to sit.
I climbed in, got my rifle up, loaded, and got comfortable. As I looked up the ride there was a hind watching me from the skyline, just visible now the sky was lightening. In the hour I sat there I counted 24 hinds and calves on the skyline pass across the ride.
I climbed down in time to walk back for the allotted meeting, reloading more out of a sense of what I should do more than what I wanted to. I walked back contented that I had managed a good shot on my first sika. I had had a great laugh with some great blokes and I was due, that day, to drive further north for another first for me. I couldn’t help feel satisfied with the whole experience.
When Brian arrived he had shot a big stag with palmation on his antler, we all piled down to the chiller and the three stags had their heads off, the carcasses were piled in the trucks and we all headed back to the B&B for breakfast and showers. A great weekend, I hope to make it back as soon as I can.
Finally, after a good nights sleep, I woke feeling like I knew where I was. At 6 am I heard Andy getting the wood burner going in the next room and started to dress. Layering up from Merino to face the changes in the weather the forecast had predicted. I stepped outside an hour later to be buffeted by the wind and Andy looking less than happy.
When we were in the truck Andy explained the plan was changing as the wind would keep in many stags, we would look at some of the lower valleys which, until the fierce recent floods had been inaccessible. Now, it was much clearer as the force of the water had ripped out much of the undergrowth which had formed the obstacles.
We stalked along the side of a river bank and unusually Andy and I were alongside, rather than me tucking in behind him, as I normally do to present a smaller sight and we dropped at the same time as we saw red, with antlers twisting in front of us.
Through the gap in the trees it was possible to see the deer moving around as his shoulder came in and out of my scope, as he moved away I could clearly see the green rising bank behind him and most of his body at the same time, when he stepped forward he presented a perfect shot, but I had a relatively small window to shoot through at exactly the wrong height, I was on one knee, leaning forward with my left hand grabbing sticks and the rifle resting on the back of my hand.
Boom. The rifle went off almost without me knowing, I had reached the point where the ‘perfect’ shot was almost an unconscious act at this range (70-80m). We watched as he did a slow circle and collapsed before gathering our thoughts, reloading and approaching with a view to using a second shot if required. As we approached we found this was not required – the gralloch, done under the watchful eye of Andy, showed that the shot had taken the blood vessels off the top of the heart causing swift and catastrophic blood pressure drop. It was 8.35am by now, so we marked the deer in case it was found by forest rangers and stalked on in a loop that would return us to the argo.
Having seen nothing more, we made it back to the Argo and I was surprised for the first time at how able they are on rough ground, despite these abilities we still had to stop 150 yards short and attach a rope to drag the stag to where we could get it on the vehicle, a tricky task in itself.
Back at the truck we managed to hoist the deer onto a folding trestle table where I continued with the gralloch, but the weight of the animal broke the table and dropped it to the floor, not before I had managed to do most of the work required. The beast went into the truck and off to the game dealer.
The day was different again this time, with grey skies and no wind to move the drizzle away from us. We drove around to a clearing which, when we arrived had a large stag and two smaller ones. I got out of the truck and entered a flooded ditch next to the road to try to stalk into the bigger animal. The arrival of Andy in the truck next to me showed that they had left and I stood no chance.
We drove on to some other clearings with nothing on view and the drizzle became heavier, the kind that manages to permeate everything, the streams were on the brink of overflowing and in all honesty I think I may have been happy to stay inside the truck and not have to get out and get wet to shoot something and get wet.
As we drove back along the edge of the clearing where we had seen several stags earlier, there was another, which seems to have entered the clearing from the road side. He clocked the truck immediately and started to make for the far side of the clearing, still some 200 and odd yards away. As we moved behind the mud bank, made from the scrapings of the turning area I jumped out of the truck and, bent over, moved towards the edge of the bank facing the stag.
I got the bipod ready and had to undo the screw to allow full tilt, such was the angle of the mud bank. I got a good sight picture but the misty conditions made me think the deer was further than he was. I also thought it was the bigger deer we had seen leave earlier so I gauged the shot at 280 yards, when it was actually 220. It was a double lung shot, but also managed to clip the spine.
Extraction was again a bit of a chore, the gralloch in the rain less than fun. This stag was covered in ticks and keds, something I had not noticed as much in the one from the previous day. As I noticed a tick walking towards my arm I flinched and cut the haunch. Marked down …..
I tried to suspend the deer in the tree to do it this time. I found it marginally easier with smaller deer but it didn’t seem to make much difference with the reds. This was destined for the game dealer too, but we managed to get some great burgers from the grateful dealer this time which makes me want to visit again.
The drive south was joyous, Tebay was fun with dozens of people doing double takes at the contents of my back seat as they walked their dogs. I won’t forget these few days in a hurry.