My first Highland Stag

My 2nd Highland stag

A royal stag – my latest hat rack

A couple of weeks ago I thought I would treat myself to a stalk on a rare week without guests. Asa, who is my gillie/keeper for the 2015 season, and I went out and scouted one of the estates we work with, trying to find the rutting stags with the hope of getting my first ever Scottish red deer. We walked for what seemed like miles –  this estate is very flat and hard to stalk – and we used every high point to lie up and scan the ground ahead of us. Eventually we found the stags and worked out which beasts were in charge.  If you are patient you can see the whole drama unfold in front of you in.

The one we left with the hinds

One of the younger, more impressive stags we left with the hinds

The next day we came back a little more prepared knowing where the deer were likely to be. We scanned the area through my old Leica binoculars and as to be expected, the deer were nowhere to be seen. But then, further down the shallow valley, I spotted a small group of around 15 hinds. I said to Asa that is where the stags will be – find the girls and the guys are never far away. They were around 1.5 miles from us and we had walked nearly a mile already from the car. My best approach, with the wind in my favour, was to try and get down into the stream that a million years ago had made this shallow but extremely wide valley. So we crept down as fast as we could to the valley bottom and walked along the water. There wase a small group of ruined shielings by the stream and Asa decided to wait there, tucked up, watching my progress out of sight from the herd.

CLOSING IN
On I went, rifle in hand, knowing in my heart that 3/4 of the way along the river I would loose the favourable wind direction as the river snaked around about half way to where I wanted to be. A hind and calf bolted from cover down in the valley and I thought it was all over. I carried on for around another 100 or so meters to a small rise, crawled on my belly to the top, and through my trusty old binoculars I watched the hind and calf join the rest of the herd. They did not seem as badly spooked as I was expecting, but they did all stand up to greet the two arrivals. I knew I was in trouble – the group of hinds was well over 65 not the 15 I thought I had seen (they must have been much better camouflaged that I’d realised) so more eyes to spot me. The target beasts were there – 7 stags with them; 3 young but impressive boys, a switch, and a very poor headed beast being kept at bay by two more big old boys fighting in among the hinds, both pushing away the younger smaller stags. After watching the two for some time I got back down to the valley floor and tried to get to my expected firing point.

My 1st Highland Stag

Blooded after my 1st Highland stag

Just as I rounded another twist in the river, the hinds had full sight of me and I thought it was all over as they bolted to my left. I was gutted, but thought perhaps some of the stags may have stayed on – my intended targets had already been pushed to my left by the dominant stags and I hoped, if nothing else, I might be able to get rid of the old switch. So I kept on going about 300 meters. I caught a glimpse of the smaller cull stag grazing about 160 metres to my left. I crept on my belly up the bottom of a peat hag to a slightly raised position so I could see the stag clearly. I was around 150 metres from my chosen target and he was completely unaware I was there. I got the rifle into position, chambered a round, looked through my old but crystal clear Schmidt & Bender scope, lined up on the kill zone and then squeezed off the trigger. The boy was straight down. I stood up to mark exactly where he went down, and the herd of hinds got up, along with the two big stags. I had managed to get within 100 metres of them and they had no idea. I quickly found the older stag and chambering another round, put a shot straight through his hart. With that shot, the switch ran from his hidden location on my right. He stopped briefly and my third shot went out in the space of around 40 second. I had not just shot my first Highland stag, but my second and third. I was so pleased – but then it dawned on me. I now had three to get home and the 1.5+ mile drag was not going to be much fun.

THE GRALLOCH AND DRAG
We gralloched the three beasts and Asa insisted I was blooded with my first. Realising there was not going to be enough time to extract all three before nightfall, we hid the two smaller animals where it would be hard for the ravens and eagles to find them, and dragged the big boy home. It nearly killed us after such a long day stalking. The next morning at first light Asa and I went back up the riverbed and extracted the last two back to the butchers. We had done the best for this group of deer; taken one good trophy, two inferior quality cull animals and left the best of the stags to do their job with the hinds.

I will be putting up my favourite venison recipe to accompany this as we have plenty to get through now. We have availability for hind stalking this season – just drop me a line via william@theshotgunchef.co.uk or call me on 01851 830727. Prices start from £400 per rifle for 3 days stalking, taking up to 5 hinds.

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