Winter stalking kit: what you need to deal with the weather
With his years of experience on the Galloway Hills, Chris Dalton knows the importance of getting your winter stalking wardrobe right
As the weather changes with the onset of winter, so does the selection of winter stalking kit hanging in the Garryloop utility room. My morning routine is to wander in there with my cuppa and stick my nose out of the door to check if the weather matches the forecast. We live close to the coast and get very little sub-zero weather because of the sea’s influence. I have been here nearly 20 years and am yet to see any significant snowfall near the house. Though it’s a different story if I head to the high ground of the Galloway Hills. (Read choosing the right bullets for deer stalking.)
In truth, I always wear my preferred smocks, although for cooler days I will grab the Deerhunter Pro Gamekeeper in preference to the lighter Explore. It is a slightly heavier material so protects the bones a bit more if the wind chill starts to bite. As it’s fully waterproof, it can cope with anything our Ayrshire microclimate can throw at it. On this particular morning, the forecast was for cold easterlies with heavy and frequent showers, so I threw on the Pro Gamekeeper. (Read this is what to wear deer stalking )
I planned to head out well before dawn and stalk to a position where I could watch across a large glen at the head of a valley, which was felled around a year ago. The area is still covered in lush green vegetation, which is naturally attracting deer, and I wanted to be set up well before first light. As I knew my vantage point was exposed, and I would potentially be there for a few hours, I needed to remain warm and dry. I adopt the same policy as many hill walkers and mountaineers, adding base layers instead of heavy outer garments. This is much more effective as it allows wicking while maintaining heat by trapping warm air between the layers.
I have found that inners woven from natural wool are best, especially merino wool. My Seeland Climate base layer and trusty MerkelGEAR Paläarktis WNTR trousers are both superbly suited to the job. I know there are newer leggings on the market, but this pair has never failed me.
Last week, with kit on my mind, I headed out at dawn. With only the slightest hints of light in the sky, I allowed my eyes to become accustomed to the dark as I left my truck. I slowly progressed, my eyes fixed on my dog Zosia, watching for any indication of deer in front. I didn’t want to spook any browsing deer and have them charging off, barking and alerting others to possible danger. Zosia showed no signs and we soon reached the top of the banking, taking vigil under a thin strip of mature larch.
The light improved and I was able to look directly across the valley. As the stiff easterly blew into my face, I was pretty confident there would be roe down there. It was cold but any deer in the glen would be sheltered, so I settled in feeling optimistic and quite comfortable. My raised position put me above a track that traversed the steep slope of the glen.
Anyone who has ever walked across a recently clear-felled site will appreciate how tricky it is; you really don’t want to lose your footing here. If I shot a roe at the bottom of the valley, it would make for an interesting recovery. I was glad to have some new boots — solid footwear with a sound grip is essential for this terrain.
This was the first time I was wearing my Brandecosse Brontolare 11in boots, and I was genuinely impressed with their quality. It’s comforting to have this high-leg option that gives such good ankle protection. I was surprised to learn that Brandecosse was established in neighbouring Galloway, but it became clear that the boots were designed and tested among these hills and make a useful addition to winter stalking kit. (Read our list of the the best stalking boots .)
At the high point of the glen, I leant back against a larch tree, pleased that the dewy grass didn’t soak through to my backside. Zosia tucked in close, sitting rigid with her nose locked on to the oncoming wind. We both waited for the sun to come up. As things settled and I became accustomed to the surroundings, I peered through the thermal spotter fully expecting to see a heat source pinging back at me. While I highlighted some specks, none were large enough to be a deer. After the heavy rain the night before they would, like me, likely be tucked away and sheltering from the wind. The rain finally stopped as the sun came up fully. The skies began to clear and it looked like it was turning into a decent day.
Deer will often move from cover to get some sun on their backs after a wet night. I was glad of the warm winter stalking kit though, as I approached the end of the second hour of my watch. As is often the case, as I was considering calling it a day, Zosia tensed and started to show interest. Her nose tested the air as she stood up to look across the valley. Her foot raised into a point — her way of telling me there’s a deer.
It took me a while to spot them, but there were two roe browsing on the other side of the glen. I only got the occasional glimpse of them as they moved around, gently feeding under the trees. I dropped down on to the track, moving along about 50 yards before setting the rifle on the bipod.
I waited for the lead deer to emerge from behind a large beech, which felt like an age. A few minutes later, she stood still, presenting a clear line to her broadside. I steadied myself and slowly lined the crosshairs to the rear of her right foreleg. The solid crack of the bullet told its own story.
The real work starts
I took a moment to pause before starting with the real work. With the river in spate, I could not cross and so was faced with a long climb out of the valley, a mile-long walk to the bridge and another mile along the other side of the valley to a point where I could scramble down the bank. There was an even longer return journey with the beast in the roe sack. The weather continued to improve as I started the trek; perhaps an incorrect weather forecast is not always a bad thing. I was still pleased with my winter stalking kit though.
Winter stalking kit
Initially designed for mountaineers, the Montane Extreme smock is a great alternative for stalkers. Tested in challenging conditions and terrain, this softshell, single-layer smock can certainly be relied upon on the hill.
Sasta has been designing stalking clothing for decades. This highly technical, warm and breathable fleece jacket is made from recycled Polartec Thermal Pro material. Useful as mid-layer or outer, it’s designed to handle the toughest weather conditions.
Made from soft rustle-free material, these trousers are designed to keep cold and damp at bay. They have a warm lining of high-loft mesh from the waist to just below the knees, and the waist is cut high at the back to ensure that they sit comfortably even when crouching.
The Highland Pro features a Crispi walking boot surrounded by a Gore-Tex membrane to aid breathability. A built-in gaiter is sealed to the boot and has an external rubber rand to ensure durability and make this boot 100% waterproof. The result is a high-performance boot with great ankle support, grip and superior waterproof qualities.