A late rise, and a heavy breakfast under our belts, and still the rain persisted. Three days of being covered with sika, and now we were covered in rain. Around noon it let up enough that we went to determine the outcome of my shot. Four men, 2 dogs, and an hour scouring later we could no evidence whatsoever of a wounded or dead stag. For some that would be a sigh of relief, but for me it left me quite unsettled. I told Malcolm I was done stalking. Fortunately, he was a wiser than I figured I needed to get back on the horse that bucked me, but with the caveat “Reds only”.
We used the mid-day to visit the game dealer in Ardgay, which was an eye opener for me. In the United States, the sale of venison unless farm/pen raised is strictly illegal. When I mentioned this to the dealer he gave me an extensive tour (which would make it’s own write up). He showed me pallets, yes pallets, of vacuum packed red grouse headed to Norway. He mentioned that the stags were just starting to come in, and with ours included he had 6 on the hook.
That evening, while Mark and Scott went out to their preferred spot, while I took an unarmed walk to the moors to collect my thoughts. While rambling through I came within 30 yards of a young 6 pt sika that was as surprised as I. After a short stare down he headed to the other side of the bern. I decided to leave the path and head uphill through the heather. This resulted in kicking up a pair of grouse. On topping the hill I spied a decent congregation of Red Hinds, with one young stag trying to act the harem lead. With my soul more at rest I returned to the cottage for the evening meal.
Friday morning dawned with the first frost, present only on windscreens and low ground, but frost nonetheless. Malc decided we should visit JayB’s piece of timber, but this was uneventful. We knocked off early and made a trip to the Tesco in Tain. This gave me a chance to load up on items to take home (my eldest daughter attended University in Oxford and developed some particular tastes that are unavailable outside the UK).
Friday evening I sat the highseat. It was a pleasant but fruitless sit, with the only visible living creatures in the vicinity being a bat and several million midges. There was one redeeming moment though – and that was proof that a thermacell works against midges. For those that don’t know what I am talking about, a thermacell is a portable device, about the size of a flask of whiskey. It uses butane to heat a pesticide soaked pad to make a cloud funnel that kills and repels insects. We could not have hunted bear in Canada without them for the blackflies, and they work just as well against midges. In the high seat I was able to remove my face mask and observe a cloud of the little monsters held at bay perhaps 3 feet above my head.
Brother Scott and Mark spent the evening back along the moor where I had taken my previous walk about. They came in chattering with excitement, having seen several excellent Sika stags, including a 10 pt that they were certain was Gold. Unfortunately, all of these passively resting stags sat just the other side of the bern, on the next estate.
Saturday morning dawned crisp again and you could sense the major change all around. Malcolm and I went looking for a red, to the spot where Scott had shot his. Scott and Mark decided this was the morning to climb the Craig.
We were soon in the most perfect spot, a small hill overlooking a saddle intersected by a deer fence. The slots along the trail looked more like a cattle feed lot than a deer trail. What we saw though was only a single red – a red fox that is – slipping along and never stopping long enough for a shot. As we walked slowly out I had an inescapable feeling that my quest for a red was rapidly drawing to a close.
Abruptly my luck changed. A young 8 pt red jumped up from his bed, unsure what we were. He ambled down hill while Malcolm got the sticks set and I got ready. He stopped, briefly in a clearing, the crosshairs found his chest, I snicked off the the Tikka’s safety, and……..
He walked away before I could pull the trigger. The picture in my head was beautiful, an “almost” shot. That I decided had been my chance and I had not acted quickly enough. Not cheerful, but resolved to the fairness of it all, we headed to the truck.
As we drove out I asked Malcolm if we could stop at the clearcut so that I could walk up and retrieve my game camera. On getting out of the truck, I grabbed the .270 “just in case”. I did not even load it until the first crest - the spot from which I shot my sika. I paused there, reliving the glorious moment, while I slipped a round in the chamber.
Continuing on, I decided that the clearing had been too active for me to just barge in. A stealthy approach might yield a hind close enough for an iPhone picture – so I edged to the shadows and oozed forward .
Upon coming to first view of the clearing I was stunned – there, 75 yards away – standing in the sunlight with a bright shining RED coat was a stag. He was unsure of what I was, and I was unsure why God had chosen to bless me with this obviously deaf dumb and blind creature. Recovering from shock I braced the rifle on a limb, found the crosshairs on the chest, and gently squeezed the trigger.
The stag made a brief 30 yard run before dropping into the heather. I was almost unsure that the entire event had transpired. Collecting my wits I moved forward and found my first Red Stag lying in meadow. I took a few photos, then headed back down the hill to gather Malc.
Opening the truck door I said – “Well, lets go get the quad, I have a stag down”. Malcolm first thought I was pulling his leg, then perhaps that I had found the missed Sika after all – until I showed him the phone pictures. Off we went to gather the quad, then back we came to gather the stag. Not only was it a second moment of glory – it fulfilled the wisdom of my great uncle – the first big game hunter in the family. When young I had asked him what was the most important thing to know and his response was “Always shoot them uphill from the truck”.
The drag down was easy and the gralloch simple. Malcolm expertly loaded the stag on the quad and tied him down.
Scott and Mark had watched the commotion from atop the Craig and chose to walk down directly to us. Just as we were putting the beast in the larder they showed up – and handshakes and congratulations were passed all around.
Upon return to the cottage I took a moment to check my trail cam. Lo and behold, the last several shots were my red stag, taken moments before his demise.
That evening was a gloriously rich meal prepared by Sandra. We all sat around, content that they week had been an epic and memorable experience. All that remained was to pack for the flight out the day following. The next day was uneventful, the flights undelayed, and the trip home peaceful. When I first came I was asked if I would return to Scotland. That answer took some thought. Thought is no longer needed, Scotland runs in my veins, as addicting as a drug but far more powerful. When will I be back – Soon, very soon.