Beretta BRX1 field test – Chris Dalton’s stalks red stag
After an impressive showing on its first outing, Beretta’s debut hunting rifle is put to the test again — this time against our largest native species
We are into July and with it comes the opening of the red stag season. It’s strange, though, that this date seems to drift past with little interest when compared with the buzz surrounding 1 April and the start of the roebucks. However, I have always eagerly looked forward to stalking the first of the red stags, and for the deer manager, it makes perfect sense to start early on the cull and try to get ahead of the game.
In Scotland, red deer have been off the stalking agenda while roe deer have been the focus, so it’s nice to get back out on the largest of our native species. However, there is a downside. July coincides with an explosion of biting insects, including the Scottish midge (to help with this, check out our review of Skin So Soft). As my destination was Argyll, on the west coast, which is well known for providing the perfect breeding conditions for these horrible critters, I prayed for cool and windy weather, which will hopefully ground them.
The main reason for the trip was to continue a field test on the BRX1, Beretta’s first sporting rifle. Having already shot a roebuck with it in Ayrshire, I wanted to try it out on some woodland reds.
It has been a while since I was in Argyll and I enjoyed the drive, arriving in the late evening at the hotel that would serve as my base.
Missing in action was my right-hand dog, Zosia; the hotel does not take canine guests and in summer she can’t stay in the truck. She was not happy watching me load the rifle and my stalking gear into the vehicle then being denied entry, but it can’t be helped. (If you’re looking for one, check out our round-up of the best gundog friendly hotels in the UK).
After a quick bite and resisting the temptation, with great difficulty, to partake of a wee dram, I retired in good time, mindful of the silly o’clock reveille. In hindsight, I should probably have had the dram as it turned into one of those nights when despite needing to grab at least a few hours’ kip it did not happen, so I laid awake listening to the owls instead, which were in good voice.
At some point, I must have dropped off as I woke with a start and looked at the clock, which showed five minutes before the alarm was due to sound. It felt like I had been asleep for about five minutes. Fortunately, I am not one of those folks who need hours to come round, so I was dressed, fully kitted and in the truck in little more than 10 minutes (See our round-up of the best shooting kit you need). It took me longer to negotiate the combination lock on the forest gate — these days, reading glasses are required to see the numbers, which, in the dark, using the car headlights to peer through the drizzle, is no easy task.
I had scanned the weather forecast before firming up the trip to have breezy and dry conditions. The Met Office app had predicted a fine outlook, but instead I was faced with the prospect of heavy rain and a cold wind. Looking on the bright side, at least the midges should be grounded.
As I loaded the rifle, a straight pull in .308, my lack of sleep was swiftly forgotten. I formulated my plan for the morning. The area comprises commercial forestry on a felling rotation, with some coupes under restocking that are close to open hill. Deer often migrate into here at night to feed so, with young trees, this was an area I had to monitor.
A single forest track dissected the largest felled area, and from this I could turn left or right and follow a stream. Any attempt to stalk across this site is a nightmare; the brash left after felling was not cleared and was now covered in bramble and bracken, hiding deep traps you can easily end up in. It is also the main reason I prefer clear weather conditions, which provide for good visibility. Spotting deer — even big red stags — is difficult enough in this mass of vegetation without misted optics. (See our list of the best budget scopes).
However, there was no point whinging about the weather. As I approached my first vantage point at a bend, I glassed down into the cover. The hint of fox red merited a closer inspection; this revealed a red and a big one at that, head down feeding. The illuminated display inside the Swarovski binoculars showed 135 yards, an easy shot. Initially, I was looking at a large and rather wide backside and, as this deer was alone — or so I thought — it was very likely a stag. However,
just as I had it mentally gralloched and recovered, a calf appeared and nudged mum for a feed — time to press on.
I continued, leaving the pair undisturbed, and worked away from them following a small stream, which also covered the sound of my footfall. I meandered under some old oaks, which led me to the start of the hill. I stalked this quietly and slowly, scanning in detail each new vista as it appeared. The tactic worked well and I saw numerous red deer — all hinds and calves — as well as one nice roebuck in the company of a young doe. His thoughts will soon be turning to other matters as we approach the roe rut.
This all took time and despite the improving conditions and light, with the rain finally easing, it was now two hours from sunrise and the reds would soon be moving to cover. I had the feeling that it was simply not going to happen that morning and that the Beretta would go untested. It was time for a change.
I moved quickly to another part of the forest bounded by pasture fields. Some had been cut for silage; deer like the fresh grass and will usually move into these fields at night. I hoped that if so, I might catch a few stragglers as they headed back to the trees. I looked down from the high ground and initially saw nothing save for a fox slinking along the margins.
Then movement directly below drew my attention. A small family group of reds moved into view from behind a grassy knoll. They were moving purposefully, but slowly and undisturbed, along the fence line. The first of these was a hind, followed by her calf. Behind them was a yearling hind and, finally, a stag — and a decent one, at least 10 points — with a yearling stag bringing up the rear.
They appeared to be heading towards the top corner of the field either to lie-up there or, more likely, enter the wood. I had placed a small ground box above that very spot as it is a deer highway. I quickly made up the 300 yards to get above them and set up just past the box. The hind, ranged at 180 yards, was in clear view. The shot was a steep downhill angle, awkward when taking a standing shot from the quad sticks, but I needed the high stance afforded by them to clear the cover.
Despite only having fired five shots through this rifle — four on the range and the last one accounting for the aforementioned Ayrshire roebuck — I already had total confidence in it. The superb balance afforded me a rock-steady view of my target in the crosshairs. The deer below milled around, settled and I waited for the young stag to present, which he did, slowly following the path of the deer before him. I watched and waited.
He paused, turned his head and flicked at something on his haunch, most likely a biting insect, and I had the crosshairs aligned on his high neck. I tracked as he turned his head back and straightened, sniffing the air in front. He moved no further and dropped instantly as the .308 hit its mark perfectly.
This is a superbly accurate rifle and was certainly tested in some pretty awful conditions that morning. It’s a pity it must go back — I wonder if anyone will notice if I hold on to it.