Haste ye back!
A couple of years back I had a family out on a tour. They were up from the Cambridge area and holidaying in Deeside. The day went very well; the weather was kind and the wildlife co-operative. As the day went on, I found I was getting more and more questions about the workings of the estate. The father, in particular, seemed interested in the deer management side of things.
It transpired they were a farming family and the father was also a shooting and fishing man. Although he managed the deer on his farm, he’d never tried stalking proper. I told him he owed it to himself to try it at least once.
So mid-January 2018 saw Rob and his daughter, Ellie, return. The hills were a very different from when they’d last visited. The colour had leached from the vegetation; the small birds were all but absent; snow capped the hills and the temperature hovered around the freezing mark.
The position of the deer meant we had to climb from the glen floor. Gaining 1000 feet took a tad longer than when we’d done it in the Land Rover 2 years previously. When we got there, we found the deer had moved. We followed them on. Again they moved. This happened 3 times.
Eventually we got into the deer late on in the afternoon and a long way from home. The deer were couched, hampering both animal selection and a humane shot. There was no option but to wait. I’m sure Rob enjoyed the opportunity to observe the deer, up close and personal, at home in their natural habitat. I’m also sure the novelty had worn off good and proper an hour and twenty minutes later when they eventually started to rise and start grazing. To his credit, Rob overcame the discomfort and cold fingers to make a perfect shot on a mature, dry hind.
We returned to the rover at dusk. Rob was a weary but happy man.
Next day was Ellies turn to shoot. The weather had gone from crisp and clear to windy, wet and dismal. Unfortunately my guests were undeterred.
Spying was incredibly difficult but in a lull in the driving drizzle I finally managed to spot some deer. They were miles away!
After togging up, we set off into the sodden gloom. Progress was slow as I stopped many times to make sure I wasn’t going to bump deer that I’d failed to pick up from any distance away. This payed off when I spotted a single hind with her calf between us and the main group of deer. I switched my attentions to her, suspicious of her being away from the herd.
To cut a wet story short we managed to get stalked into them, sheltering in the lea of a heathery, rocky spur. The Danes have a saying; ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’; Ellies’ shooting was a match for her fathers and she grassed the two in quick succession. On closer inspection the hind turned out to be blind in one eye and her calf was so poorly developed she still had vestiges of spots on her coat.
To sum up Rob and Ellie had two very different days, yet both came away effusive about their experiences. Both worked hard for their sport, enduring hard miles and harder weather. But a days stalking is so much more than that. We explored nooks and crannies of the Scottish highlands that virtually nobody else visits. We saw golden eagles and white hares, heard dippers sing and ravens croak. Our prints joined those of mouse and weasel, stag and hind, grouse and woodcock in the fine dusting of fresh snow.
Rob and Ellie left with a greater understanding of one of our most iconic species, and the challenges facing their management. I was left with that glow of pleasure I get when I introduce a newcomer to this amazing experience.
Haste ye back, guys.
Andy Malcolm, January 2018