Giles Catchpole and Ben Samuelson go head to head in the debate
Stalking in the Highlands
By Ben Samuelson
I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m rather hoping that Giles has done the decent thing and left the space below completely blank. How can sitting in a tennis umpire’s chair at horribly early o’clock to wait for something that is as wild as a mildly irritated dairy cow, just so that you can shoot it at close range with a high-powered rifle, possibly compare with one of the greatest sports known to man?
Firstly, think about where you do it. I’m as much a fan of the likes of Surrey as the next man, but the low parts of our country are better suited to sitting in a country pub watching a game of cricket rather than hunting deer. When you are stalking in the Highlands, you become part of one of the greatest landscapes in the world. There is integrity to being on the hill to take a stag that isn’t there if all you are indulging in is a spot of recreational walking. There is also the risk of being accused of being a rambler.
Our quarry, the majestic red stag, has better eyesight, a better sense of smell and better hearing than the fittest and sharpest of us, let alone a fat, middle-aged man like me. It is also highly unlikely that I would be able to run at 40mph. Despite that, we’ll often sight our quarry at a mile or more away and have to use our guile and intelligence, or at least that of our incomprehensibly-accented (is he actually speaking Gallic?), often strangely-bearded and always indestructible-tweed-clad companion. No other sport connects man, prey and landscape on quite such a pure and atavistic level. Most of our instincts are subdued nowadays and, one by one, are being evolved away by society and technology – but stalking brings you in contact with our ancient forebears like nothing else.
I accept that there may be a bit of a walk involved, but its magnitude can be reflected in the size of the hip flask you can take along and the gluttony permitted at dinner afterwards.
By Giles Catchpole
I would not disparage the Highlands for all the malt in Speyside. I have taken stags off the hill in September and I have culled hinds in the snows of late January, and that is hunting in a very real sense, let me tell you, and I loved it. Still do. Still would.
The question is whether I still could. I might make it up the hill, I suppose. With a 4×4 for the first stage and an Argo to get me into the tops. And I could then stalk down. But could I drag a couple of beasts out? These days?
I can creep about a wood with the best of them. I can sneak around field margins in the dawn mist after roe. I can move slowly and quietly through the trees after grazing fallow. Slowly is my speciality these days, if I’m honest. And I can happily sit in a high seat for hours waiting for a muntjac to tiptoe across the ride.
I know the hill is where great beasts are to be found. But, if I am honest, I have got all the hat-racks I require. And if I want something really spectacular, I would not have to go far, as a matter of fact. There are stags in East Anglia, which will take your breath away, if sheer scale is your thing. More points than your fingers can handle and brow tines as thick as your wrist. Some of the heads in these parts would make a moose blush. And you don’t need to scale a mountain to do it. Anyhow, the smaller breeds also have trophy heads, or tusks these days too, so there.
But the true pleasure of lowland stalking, in my view, is that you don’t have to mount an expedition. There is pleasure in planning and undertaking a stalking holiday, certainly, especially if you are doing the whole multi- family lodge, grouse, MacNab, claret-fest adventure with friends and dogs and rods and guns and all the trimmings.
But to sniff the wind of an evening, grab the rifle and sticks and lose oneself in the woods for a couple of hours is a pleasure of an altogether different hue. Solitary, primal, personal. And that is hunting too. But easier.