It was good to be back in highland Perthshire for our annual hindstalking foray. This year an old friend, Giles, was with us, hoping to get his first deer. The weather forecast was atrocious for our first day on the hill, with stern Met Offi ce warnings about torrential ?rain events? and winds gusting at 80mph over the summits. In the event, conditions were nowhere near as bad as predicted. I sometimes wonder if the Met Office these days overplays its warnings if there is the faintest chance of severe weather causing disruption. Anyway, after a few shots at the target we set off for Dalnamein, under the good care of a bright young stalker, Benjamin. It must be a bit of a challenge for a youngster to be in sole charge of three old codgers aged 50-plus, as well as a full-bore rifle, a Land Rover, a Polaris six-wheeler and a gillie. Yet Benjamin was undaunted, exuding an air of calm professionalism as he explained his strategy for the day and how it might be affected by the weather.
As it turned out, the overnight rain had transformed the burns into a network of raging torrents, and the impossibility of wading across these watery barriers did indeed cause Benjamin to alter his original plans. The mist was an added complication. The one type of weather that makes stalking virtually impossible is thick hill fog; the beasts seem to be able to see through the murk as though operating by radar, whereas we humans have no such ability. All too often, the result is that the stalking party wanders around constantly bumping into deer, which are only spotted as they are in the act of departing.
Luckily, large parts of the forest were below the general cloud line, and the lower, drifting veils of mist were only patchy. Benjamin had matters well in hand and, after a lot of spying in rather poor light, we managed to find plenty of deer to keep us occupied.
A tricky stalk
Giles certainly had to work for his chance: he ended up having to do a lot of crawling. Meanwhile Martin and I sat back in the heather, drinking coffee and exchanging helpful observations as Benjamin and Giles wormed their way through the rain-drenched grass and sopping wetmoss. The first couple of stalks failed due to swirling wind and awkward ground ? but the third attempt saw Giles being guided on to a welljudged firing point at a range of 150 yards.
From our own position in a hollow some distance away, Martin and I heard the shot ? but no corresponding thump. Any uncertainty was eradicated, however, as soon as we saw a thumbs-up from Benjamin. We found the beast, a yeld hind, lying stone dead. Giles was delighted, as were the rest of us.
Debbie, who normally looks after the ponies but was piloting the Polaris on this occasion, was called up on the radio. She soon appeared, emerging from the mist in her vehicle. As she helped to heave the beast into the back, Martin remarked that you wouldn?t find many women willing to look at a dead deer, let alone load one.
Then we were off again, and it was my turn with the rifle. We had spotted a group of hinds standing, in apparent indecision, on a heathery knoll. After a good technical stalk, we crawled in behind a slight rise and were relieved to find them still in the same place. Though they hadn?t detected us, they seemed to be about to move off. After a rapid target indication from Benjamin, I snapped off a shot. The chosen beast instantly sprang out of sight. When the time came to move forward I confess I was beginning to have a few misgivings, and kept a round up the spout just in case. In fact, the hind was lying dead just 60 yards from the strike, in a peat hag. A second yeld hind to mark an excellent day out on the hill.
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