Deer stalking in the Scottish Highlands.
Stalking red deer in the wilds of the Highlands is just the tonic one needs to feel at peace with the world.
The rush of intoxication as all your senses are overwhelmed, coupled with adrenalin coursing through your veins as the hunt begins, work together to satisfy your body’s psychological and physical needs in the most natural way possible.
Never mind a crate of Red Bull, a good yomp on the hill is one of the best ways to top up your endorphins.
I was on the wonderful Gaick estate, just south of Inverness which is owned by the Louis Vuitton family. I was up the hill, edging my way behind stalker Davie McGibbon, when a pair of grouse called ahead of us, almost putting the stalk in jeopardy before it had begun. We watched a herd of red deer beyond them make their way down the ravine to cross a small burn and amble their way up the other side.
“My stag was nestled within their ranks. He was an old boy and his time had come.”
Davie had spied the herd just off the plateau on which we’d been standing, and a quick hand signal to hit the deck caused a thud against my rib cage as my heart’s pace quickened.
The reason for our particular visit was to test out the latest optical equipment from Leica. Having already paved a reliable reputation in the world of optics, I wasn’t planning on being disappointed, and the opportunity to give the kit a go on the hill seemed like the best way possible to test it.
An early rise, fortified by a sumptuous breakfast, found us all outside glassing the hill with Leica equipment, as the odd herd was spotted on the landscape surrounding the lodge. Splitting into teams, we then headed off with our stalker and drove to the base of the hill, unloaded our kit, and headed towards the heavens – absolute bliss.
Davie McGibbon is the headkeeper, and he works the ground like it’s second nature. As with any hill stalk, there is a fair bit of leg work involved before any shot can be taken and, being slightly masochistic myself, I was more than willing to try and keep pace with Davie.
Halfway up and the beads of sweat on my forehead gave the game away slightly, but I was still holding my own and loving every second of it. This respite also gave us the chance to look back down towards the lodge and test out the kit on the hills in the distance. We spotted a few hinds, but the stags, which were our target, were proving more than a little elusive. A sip of water and we were on our way again.
“One thousand feet later and we had reached the top of the hill and the vision laid out before us was enough to catch anyone’s breath – it was stunning.”
We stood awhile soaking it all in as Davie looked into the distance for a wee staggie. A fellow hack on the trip was first to go, and four stags that had been spotted were soon approached. Myself and Danny, the trainee keeper, with one of the estate’s Highland garrons called Rummy, waited back as the stalk began. Highland garron’s are built like rugby props, and it is their job to take the beast off the hill on a special saddle, after the stag has been gralloched – a tough job if ever there was one.
The job done, the guys returned. And, having prepared the beast, we set off in the hope of bagging me a stag. It would be my second ever, and the nerves were already starting to kick in.
Anyway, back to where I got to earlier in this piece. The grouse were starting to get a bit annoying now but they were only doing what comes naturally to them, and how many times have you walked through woodland only to hear a song bird of some sort squawking at the top of their voice, warning their fellow woodland dwellers? This was just nature at work.
As the time went by the grouse moved on and we edged closer to the chosen quarry. Our advance was again halted as a herd to our left appeared over the horizon and looked cautiously in our direction. Any movement on our part would have alerted them to our presence.
“It was now down to patience. Half an hour passed before we could start moving again. It wouldn’t be long now.”
Davie set up the bi-pod on the rifle, a Weatherby, and I took my position as Davie whispered to me the beast to be culled. Some members of the herd were still on the move but my old fellow, towards the rear, had stopped and was looking back towards us. Eye looking through the scope, I had him. I followed his sturdy but aging body, found my spot, and fired. He fell. It was a good shot, and some distance too.
Davie looked at me and smiled, I smiled too and gripped his hand to say ‘thanks’ for such a thrilling and skilled stalk. It was time to call the rest of the team up and test one of the pieces of Leica kit, the range finder, and see how far the shot actually was.
According to the range finder, it was 230 yards and I was as pleased as punch. In no small way because the shot was clean and the death humane and instantaneous.
“Again my senses were reeling and any tiredness ebbed away as we walked back down the hill, adrenalin still coursing through my body.”
In terms of the actual equipment, I could list specifications the length of your arm but, in this instance, I don’t feel there is any need as everything, from the binos to the range finders, worked faultlessly and didn’t let us down in any department. In some ways it’s quite strange such technology is now regularly found in this most primal of sporting arenas, but that’s progress I suppose, and if it helps determine range and ensure clean kills, then I’m all for it.