The Scottish stag season last year was notable, throughout virtually the entire country, for the appalling weather conditions which, in some cases, made stalking extremely difficult. Yet despite heavy, driving rain day after day, mists, high winds and southerly winds, stalkers and clients made the best of it and, in most cases, managed to fill the larder. By far the majority of forests reported stags in good to excellent condition, many carrying fat until the end of the rut.
As for the rut, this varied as usual from normal to short, from early to late, though the trend seemed to be a late start in September, often finishing by the second week of October. While stag body weights have held up, there was concern in some regions that hinds and calves suffered severely over the past two very bad winters. Quality of heads on several forests seemed to have greatly improved as a result of efforts being made to kill switches.
Several forests reported a long rut and at Glen Tanar stags were actively rutting on the hill from 26 September, while at both Baddoch and Glen Callater stags had left the hinds by the last week of stalking. The condition of deer was generally good to excellent, with the heaviest stag at 17st 5lb coming from Mar Lodge. The weather also varied considerably with Ballogie, Mar Estate and Mar Lodge reporting mild southerly winds and an overall dry season, while Baddoch and Glen Callater suffered from gales, mist, rain and cold, with few fine days. These two forests also reported a shortage of mature stags and a lack of hinds, as well as more hillwalkers than usual. Mar Estate also reported a lack of mature shootable stags.
The rut appears to have started earlier than in past years and Tulchan of Glenisla noted plenty of good stags, with a dozen out of 93 shot weighing over 17st. The condition of the deer was generally good. Invermark forest recorded a ?good old-fashioned rut?, with some of the bigger stags finished before the end of the season. The heaviest stag at Invermark was 21st 5lb, while a 19st 11lb 13-point stag was shot at Glenisla Estate, where there was also a scarcity of hinds. This forest also recorded nothing but rain, mist and southerly winds, whereas at Invermark the weather was fairly good for most of the season.
While the rut varied considerably in terms of length, there was little dissension about weather conditions. ?Wet, windy, horrible and testing,? reported Black Corries forest, and few forests disagreed, other than Laggan Estate and Glenforsa (Mull), both describing the weather as good. Several forests described the weather as the worst in living memory.
The rut varied considerably. At Blackmount stags did not break out until the first few days of October, whereas at Strone Estate the first roar was heard on 27 September and stags were still roaring in the first week of November. At Benmore some stags started rutting in early September, while at Ardtornish the rut started about 10 days later than usual and carried on into November. The condition of the deer was described as generally good to very good considering the poor summer.
Ardtornish reported a ?notable lack of poor quality heads, with only a few switches seen?, while Ardnamurchan and Glenborrodale noted that there has definitely been a marked increase in visitors coming to the area to watch the rut and deer in general.
Dougarie reported the first roar heard on 5 September, but the rut got under way in the last week of September and the first run stag was shot on 3 October. Stags were in good condition with ample fat reserves. It was generally a dry season until the last two weeks, but very windy at times.
Garabal reported the rut commencing at the end of September, the condition of the deer very good and wet weather. Nine stags were shot.
While Dalwhinnie reported the condition of the deer as being ?not great?, by far the majority of forests noted stags in good to very good condition, while Coignafearn reported ?excellent, the best for many years?. Struy reported stags weighing well and rolling in fat, with ticks fewer than normal.
The rut varied considerably. At Glen Roy the cull commenced on 29 August, while at Dalwhinnie stags broke out in the third week of September. Several forests reported first roars around the middle of September, while Kingie noted that manyof the older stags had finished the rut by 11 October. An early and relatively short rut seems to sum up the majority of forests, though Mamore reported a lot of activity in the first week of October, but rapidly tailing off, and a similar situation at Knoydart. However, at Kingairloch and Glensanda the rut did not commence until early October and stags were still roaring in November. At East Monar Estate it lasted for only two days in October but carried on into November.
One word sums up the weather conditions ? wet. Iain Biggart, stalker at Kilchoan Estate, claims it was actually the worst season he can recall in terms of weather. However, at Mamore, although there were some stormy days, it was possible to stalk between the showers on all but one day. On one day at the forest the stalker was glassing high ground and noticed ptarmigan rising. An eagle then appeared carrying a struggling fox, a cub of the year.
At Glenquoich, a stalker, Donald Leggat, shot a stag which failed to react and walked out of sight. Stalker Lea MacNally thought he had missed but Donald thought otherwise. A second stag appeared, which he shot, and on going to collect it from a ravine, a fox bolted. Lea went back to look for the first stag, which he found dead with the fox eating out the bullet entry hole. Sadly, he missed the fox.
Only one forest reported disturbance by hillwalkers. At Kingie, John Cameron, head stalker, had two stalks disturbed by walkers failing to use paths or ridges. He also noted the most rainfall in September and October since he started recording it back in 1994.
On the whole, the rut tended to be late getting under way for many forests and was then short and sharp. At Invergeldie the first roar was heard on 24 September and Auchlynne and Suie reported the first proper rut for years. Kevin Grant, head stalker at Craiganour, noted stags holding hinds on 6 October, but some stags never went near hinds. While at Acharn Hill there was a high concentration of very young animals, and few stags were seen holding hinds, even at the end of the season. At Boreland, the rut was late and never seemed to get going, while at Corrivarkie by 5 October the rut was well under way. At Glen Bruar, stalking started on 22 September and went very well, although only half the beat was stalked.
The majority of forests reported stags in good to excellent condition, with plenty of fat. However, South Chesthill, although noting good condition overall, had several thin, young and middle-aged stags with missing incisors, possibly as a result of frozen winters. Deer were described as full of fat at Glenlochy, but quite a lot of liver fluke in stags from lower ground was reported. As for the weather, wet, misty with mainly west, south and south-westerly winds sums it up ? desperate stalking weather!
The good days could be counted on one hand and at Acharn Hill a number of days were lost. At Dalnaspidal several freak heads were shot, though many good stags were seen holding hinds during the rut. There was a great deal of hillwalker disturbance at North Chesthill Glenlyon with several stalks spoiled. A similar situation at Dunalastair and Crossmount, where almost every day hillwalkers had to be negotiated and stalks were ruined. At Camusericht, a hind was seen chasing a fox, and some nice coveys of ptarmigan were noted on the high ground.
The stag season at Invermearan was saddened and upset by the untimely death of the estate owner, Owen Besterman.
As with so many areas in Scotland, the weather generally was absolutely appalling. Constant driving rain and strong winds made life difficult for both deer and stalkers alike. Coulin suffered from 27 days of persistent rain, and at Achnashellach many burns were too dangerous to cross, thus limiting stalking areas. At Druidaig the rut only lasted for two weeks and during the second week stags were all sheltering in forestry plantations to produce nothing but blank days. The rut itself seemed to vary greatly from forest to forest.
There was a quick, late rut at Eishken, where foggy conditions made stalking difficult. But it was a different story at Arnisdale, where the rut commenced on Av. weight Heaviest 23 September and by 8 October stags were completely run, with weights quickly falling off. Here, poor calf counts for the past two springs are a matter of concern.
For several forests the rut started early. At Diabaig stags broke out on 10 September, and at Corrielair they were with hinds 10 days later. Again, an early start to the rut at Strathconon. While the great majority of forests reported deer in good to very good condition, Keanchulish noted disappointing weights and head quality poorer than normal. Kinluchluichart found stags to be in fair condition, though weights were down on previous years, while at Coulin stags were found to be lighter than last year. Corrielair has seen an increase in hillwalkers during the season, with one couple losing two dogs on the hill for over a week, both of which had vanished chasing deer.
While the weather was generally wet and windy, with southerly winds, many forests appear to have enjoyed a ?normal? rut, with first roars heard in early September. However, at Kinloch the rut was later than usual, as it was at Shinness Estate where few stags were on the ground until the end of the season, while quite a few hinds were without stags throughout the season.
At Glencanisp and Drumrunie the rut peaked in the first two weeks of October with some raging battles involving multiple stags. One client at this forest shot two switches within 10 minutes. At Reay Forest estate the stags seemed to be more ?switched on? than in previous years and a number of battles were seen, with the older stags finished by 10 October to make way for younger contenders. Poorer hinds were not beingpestered by stags until at least three weeks later than quality beasts. Dalnessie reported the best and earliest rut in years.
Conditions varied from forest to forest. At Ledmore weights held well but head quality was poorer, with many switches. There was low body weight at Kinloch after two terrible winters, while at Shinness deer were generally in very good condition, as they were at Clebrig and at Glencanisp and Drumrunie, where antlers are also improving after years of culling switches, and some nice Royals were seen holding hinds. Stags were in good condition and heavier at Reay Forest, though a cause for concern is a lack of good, strong calves. Stags were in very good condition at Corriemulzie and Dalnessie. At Corriemulzie wet, cold weather in September brought the stags down low and, mixing with hinds, caused an early rut. Mature stags were spent by the second week of October. Three travelling hummels were seen, but not shot, and a number of switches were killed on higher ground.
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