Brother Scott and I were full of anticipation as Monday morning dawned cool and clear across the old forest. We were in the field by first light, Brother Scott and Mark (FallowStalker) going to an old growth regeneration area while we planned to go along the Blackwater river. The dark spruce stand that seemed so eerie two years ago was gone, having been recently clearcut. However, the clearcut also made spotting deer easy, and within 1 minute of getting out of the truck we had seen a large and mature Sika stag with a partially broken antler (we would see him again on several more occasions), multiple sika hinds, and a trio of red hinds. Things were looking good straight out of the gate.
After moving through the clearcut we stalked a trail along the river. The sun rising along the Blackwater made me stop and take a picture to capture just a fraction of how Scotland enamors me.
Along this bit of low ground we continued to see deer, both sika and reds. As we began to climb the hill we saw a small red stag, but alas he was moving along through the thick bracken and provided no shot. At the top of the hill I had my breath taken away. There, about 250 yards distant – of course on the wrong side of the fence – stood a monstrous Sika stag with towering ivory tines visible to the naked eye. He stood and eyed us in challenge, before casually ambling over the hill. To his left was a nice young red stag also showing no fear. Oh how I wanted to go outlaw at that moment. After a bit of mental self-indulgence in just how I would take the shot, we continued on. Coming to a stop under one of SikaMalc’s favorite trees we settled down for a watch. Right about the time we thought we had waited long enough a whisper said “here he comes…”.
Unfortunately, I could see nothing, as a stag even more monstrous than hilltop stag came to a stop behind a tree. Repositioning the sticks had two effects: 1st; I could now see the stag and, 2nd; He could now see me. He was truly monstrous, but not daft, so off he went over the rise. We gathered back at the lodge soon afterward for a hearty and proper Fry Up as we eagerly discussed what we saw.
That evening we went back to the same area, but approaching from a different angle to compensate for the wind. Deer were again seen, but no shots presented. All in all, it was a very promising first day.
Day 2 found the teams trading spots, with myself and Malcolm (and Todd the wonder dog, of course) heading to the regen. The weather was changing, and not for the better. Winds were picking up with some strong gusts, with a continuous drizzle. The deer were not out and about, and those we did see were close ones bumped out of their beds. Seems the only thing voluntarily moving was us. There was one highlight though – as we came to the crest of ridge, where the Scots pine made their final stand before giving way to heather, we bumped out a young Capercaillie. On my last trip I had seen Black cock, and on this trip Red Grouse and now Capers. The birdwatcher in me was quite satisfied with this turn of events.
For the 2nd evening hunt, in spite of the worsening rain and strong gusting wind, we went back to the monstrous stag meadow. As we eased up quietly we did indeed see deer. First 3 hinds and then a black stag. I took a knee and found him in the scope, while braced on a small bent sapling. His antlers were quite distinctive with a clubbed look, but he was a mature beast so the decision was made to shoot. As I started the final trigger pull I felt a huge gust that moved the sapling significantly. At the shot, I saw no deer – only branches. I have never been more sure of a miss in my life, but we dutifully searched for any sign of a hit. We saw nothing, but Malcolm was more skeptical of the miss than I – perhaps thinking “..how can you miss a broadside stag at 60 yards?”. Since this one spot was accounting for very consistent sightings I placed a trail camera there. A retrieve of the camera card the next evening showed that old club antler was still around.
The third morning was a bit calmer (it would be the calm before the storm) and we headed back to the same spots as the first morning. Oh, but this morning would be different. Old broken antler made his appearance near the parking spot, as did his 3 hinds. Walking through the clear cut I was not paying attention, figuring we had at least 100 yards to go before we would have any chance to see a deer. A hiss and whisper from Malcolm came to my ears as “Red…..gust gust… bedded…. Tree at crest…. Pay attention….
Dutifully scolded I went on full alert, in time to see that the “Red” was actually a red squirrel. At that point things changed suddenly. As we slightly crested the lower part of the hill a monstrous stag bolted across the clearcut. I looked around and flopped belly first onto the ground using the slight berm at the edge of the track as a perfect benchrest. I was in position just as the stag topped a hummock of moss about 150 yards out and paused. Without even thinking I saw steady crosshairs on the shoulder and the rifle went crack almost of its own volition. The stag staggered and dropped . Ten minutes of stalking and the morning had taken a decidedly positive note.
I was ready to immediately run to the stag but Malcolm, with wisdom borne from watching shot stags regain their feet said “Stay down, cover him with the scope. Did you put another round in? Good. Don’t take your eyes off him till he is done.” After what seemed an hour long wait, but was surely less than a minute, we went down to recover. While walking forward a spiker Sika actually ran to the same hummock and stood over the dead stag while staring at me. I asked Malc if I should take this one for meat, but he did not hear me before the spike made good his escape.
Now – during my last trip to Scotland I shot a very respectable stag (http://www.thestalkingdirectory.co.u...highlight=Sika), but it was clear this time that I shot an exceptional stag. Will he make medal? I don’t know, and honestly don’t care. In my book I am likely to never better this one, and am happy beyond compare. His antlers were a nearly symmetrical 48 and 49 cm in length with a 47 cm spread.
After a short drag to the truck and then to the larder the decision was made that I would go with a shoulder mount on this beast. I have said before how much I admire the European skull mounts (which is how I have preserved my previous Roe and Sika), but the cape – or should I say mane – on this old stag was beyond compare.
After the cape out we went to retrieve Brother and Mark, and were pleased to see that they also had success. Scott had shot his first Sika – a spiker – that would soon grace the table. On a side note, I had never eaten Sika before but after having 3 different meals from this spiker I could easily find myself shooting for meat alone – they are outstanding in flavor and texture, far superior to whitetail.
Of course – any day that has such a high must have a low. By afternoon the weather had become much more threatening. As we sheltered under a massive fallen pine with the rifle on the sticks I chose a counting game to pass the time. I counted seconds between wind gusts – and never got past 43 seconds. We were out to hopefully find my first red – but things were not looking good. After finally realizing that we were unlikely to see a thing, we packed up and started out. We were quiet but not terribly alert.
Fingers were pointed and smiles exchanged when we noted the suck hole in the peat bog that had nearly claimed one of my boots as I went thigh deep the night prior. I was making a wide berth around that spot when another big black stag appeared in the gloaming. I whispered from downwind “Sticks”, then “Give me the sticks” –NOTHING. I hissed and whispered louder “GIVE ME THE STICKS” Still nothing – the relentless wind was not getting my message to Malcolm. Finally, at about the time he saw me rigidly on point I growled “Give me the ______ sticks”. Now, I am honestly ashamed of this profanity, but all I could see was a stag ready to bolt and me getting quite pushy.
Malcolm came forward with the sticks, I put the rifle up, found shoulder and touched off. I was certain I saw back legs kick out and then a white rump running away. Malcolm wasn’t so sure. We looked a bit in the bracken but realized that between the rain and darkness we were not likely to find him unless he dropped nearby. I marked the shot site with several pieces of toilet tissue wedged into the bracken and we left. The plan was to come back the next morning in the light and circle till we found him, or were convinced of a miss. Needless to say, I was quite dejected.
Heading down to the rendezvous point we found a very tired pair dragging a nice red stag off the hill. Brother Scott said they were back about as far from the road as they could get and were surrounded by reds. Hinds and calves running back and forth squeaking and mewing. A young stag making himself a pest. Then this stag and another sparring just out of view. As this one walked into a clearing Scott made a near perfect heart shot. It was only then that he saw his accompanying sparring partner was quite a bit larger.
That night we celebrated with some fine bourbon brought over from the US. We also decided, that based on the forecast, tomorrow morning might be best spent in bed rather than out. No wiser decision has ever been made. During the night a storm of storms came in, bringing crashing peals of thunder and brilliant lightning. Along with the fireworks came torrential rain – rain that would continue unabated till mid-day following.
Tomorrow Part 3 – Can We Find My 2nd Sika or Will I Round it out with a Red??