My goodness?, said Jason, as a red droplet fell from his brow and plopped on to his binoculars. ?I am actually sweating blood.? And he was, too.
Well, sort of. He was certainly dripping with perspiration, and it had mixed with the smears of dried blood on his face. The fact that the blood in question had originally belonged to a red deer hind ? Jason?s first ? is a mere detail. By then, we had been on the hill for most of the day and were beyond caring about details.
The three of us ? Martin, Jason and I ? had found the going hard right from the start. After following Ben, our stalker, up the steep side of Glen Tilt, we were blowing like steam locomotives. When we stopped for a breather, I noticed that Jason?s face had gone the colour of sloe gin. I don?t suppose my own face was much better. I know Martin?s wasn?t. Indeed, the three of us probably looked like an illustration from a medical textbook.
Introducing someone to the sport
?I don?t suppose we?re the least fit people you?ve ever had out on the hill, are we?? asked Martin, when he regained the power of speech. There was a significant pause while Ben apparently racked his brain to remember anybody worse than us. Thankfully, he did come up with an example. Or perhaps he was merely being diplomatic.
As usual, the first hour or so proved to be the worst. Once we were over the steep stuff above the river, we found ourselves on an undulating plateau of hummocky ground, intersected by steep ravines roaring with waterfalls and dotted with isolated aspen and rowan trees. The view across the Atholl hills was spectacular, a tonic for the spirits, as always. Glen Tilt on a glowing autumn day is an unforgettable sight. Martin and I have been going there during the same week for about a dozen years, and each time we try to introduce a newcomer to the glorious experience. This year, it was Jason?s turn.
The weather may have been co-operating with our plans, but the deer were not. Being immediately after the rut, there were a lot of stags still around, and the hinds were very jittery. Even when they tried to settle, a stag would invariably chivvy them on. Time after time, we found our path blocked by outlying stags. The result was that, though we could hear stags roaring everywhere, getting within range of any hinds was proving very awkward. Repeatedly, Ben and Jason would leave us hidden in a hollow while they made their final approach, only to come back, shrugging, 20 minutes later. Jason?s first go at hindstalking was certainly no stroll in the park.
An amazing retrieval
Eventually Ben managed to get Jason into position. We heard the shot and a thump. But it took another shot to fi nish the job, and by then the hind was at the very bottom of a steep cleft in the mountain face, down beside a narrow torrent of white water. There was no way the ponies could get within 200 yards of the place. What to do?
Jason?s first hind was not to be wasted. To our astonishment, Ben insisted on extracting the carcase. Having gralloched the beast, he hoisted it on to his shoulders. Then ? incredibly ? he somehow managed to climb straight up the side of the ravine, before traversing around the steep hill to a place the ponies could reach. It made me dizzy just watching him. It was a remarkable feat, well beyond the call of duty.
I suppose every deerstalker remembers their first beast. I am certain Jason will remember his. Not only because he ?sweated blood? to get up the hill in the first place, but also because of Ben?s extraordinary retrieval of the hind. Memories are made of such stuff.
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