This story takes place up on the Kinnaird Estate towards the end of last years stag season. We’d heard reports of a stag inside a fenced, forest creation plantation which Graeme had located and shot. But the animal was in a tricky place for extraction.
Recovering it on the ATV was a two man operation, with the numerous deep gullies and tricky maneuvering. Job done and with the stag safely back to the larder, we decided to make the most of the sunny afternoon and have a stalk.
A gate in the deer fence allowed access up a hill from where we could spy into a lovely glen which, on an afternoon like this, generally has parcels of hinds and attendant stags laying on the sunny slopes.
Remarkably, not a deer was seen. We suspected the pleasant afternoon had brought numerous hill walkers out to enjoy the scenery, much as we were but with differing intentions.
The following morning we set out early, well before first light. We had damage occurring down on some arable fields below he hill and a significant number of red deer were moving down late under the cover of darkness and feeding in areas of broadleaf woodland and the farmers crops.
The intention was to get into a position to intercept them as they came back up to the hill at sun-up. All worked well and with rutting activity all around us we waited for a group coming up the valley who had clearly been grazing in the fields overnight.
We spied a nice 10 point stag, which to be honest we would rather have left but as he was about to walk across our wind and likely take the whole group away he ended up in the larder.
This time an easy recovery with the ATV across some low lying heather made gathering the stag up a simple procedure.
Early season hinds on the open hill
This time we’re up on the open hill stalking hinds early in the season. Ordinarily after the stags rut we like to leave the hill to rest a while before starting on the hind, just to allow the deer a bit of recovery time and peace and let the hill settle after what has usually been a busy two weeks of stalking. We don’t mind the rest ourselves either!
This year things were far from normal as some of the deer had taken to moving down overnight into the more vulnerable areas of the estate, specifically young trees and arable crops. We needed to start to deter them.
Our tactic was to get into position early and stalk the route they were taking as they came back to lie up out on the hill during the day – hence we were out long before first light to get into a position as they drifted up to perceived safety.
We had some late rutting activity still going on in front of us but these deer were safe today. We wanted the deer coming from the low-lying areas.
Almost immediately we had deer moving, and while glassing a group heading our way we saw a hind clearly limping from what looked to be a front foreleg. We’d found our target.
Fortunately she tagged along a the back of the group and presented nicely, falling to a broadside heart/lung shot after a dash of around 20 yards.
An easy ATV recovery followed. On initial examination we could see no obvious external sign of the reason for her limp, but after skinning her back at home there was an old injury to her foreleg which had healed perfectly well and no other sign of a problem. She was actually in good condition.
So a great result and a good animal to remove from the herd.
Chinese water deer south of the border
This tale sees the team travelling south of the border to stalk some world class Chinese Water Deer (CWD) in Bedfordshire, at our good friend Paul Childerleys estate.
With Paul tied up with a busy shoot program and, as its early season and his CWD have bred well, a good number will need to be culled, we’ve come down to help manage the numbers and let Paul and his team concentrate on the winged game.
Additionally we’re also delivering some intensive DSC 2 witnessing and training over the course of the week and are down as a full team – myself, Graeme and Steve.
We travelled the day before any clients arrive in order that we can recce and check out the estate, assess the deer situation and also allocate some areas of operation and boundaries, so all know where everyone will be at any given time. While we were doing that we thought we might as well take the rifle along!
First off, I did a quick range check. Paul has an excellent range set up on the estate close to the shoot HQ.
After confirming zero I spent some time glassing across the fields close to the range.
It was a nice afternoon and I could see a group of CWD a few fields away, couched and settled, clearly enjoying the sunshine, so I made an approach using the thick hedges as cover.
All went well but my problem was a backstop, with the deer in the middle of a large field and no safe shot. I decided to wait and see if they moved or any other deer came into play.
We were bizarrely assisted by a couple of walkers using a footpath a couple of fields away who pushed some deer towards the group we were watching. This lifted our group and some started to move my way. I picked out a young CWD and waited as he slowly fed, until he had worked into a shallow basin to my left creating a backstop.
Thereafter it was a relatively easy shot. After completing a suspended gralloch in the hedgerow it was a short walk back to the larder. So all in all a great start to the trip stalking these unique animals.
Woodland roe, stealth & patience
We’re on home ground in South Ayrshire, and I have turned my attention to the roe doe cull in a nice mixed plantation block of broadleaf woodland and conifers.
It’s good stalking with quite a bit of open ground and requires field craft. You are often stalking in close cover and so it’s very much a case of ‘move a little, look a lot’. The benefit of a good deer dog can be seen, Zosia is an essential part of the team and as soon as she starts to pull forward and her nose is twitching then I know we are getting close. Learn to trust your dog!
We started out early as this is an area where we have had a few hikers and so I like to get out before the light comes up which reduces the likelihood of disturbance.
The dog indicated after a few hundred yards into the stalk and I could see deer above us in the half light, thanks to some good binoculars. I worked a movement in a loop to come back into the wind and over the top of the glen. As is often the case, by the time I had got to a vantage point overlooking where the deer should have been, it had moved on, I imagine into the trees, so I continued into the mature beech wood.
After maybe 30 minutes Zosia indicated strongly again and I soon glassed a couple of roe feeding the other side of a beech and willow thicket. It was a matter of stalking slowly forward and waiting for the youngest roe to come into a position where I had a clear shot through the trees. All worked perfectly and after a brief wait we had a young roe doe hanging from a convenient branch for a suspended gralloch .
Red stags fighting in the rut
For some time we had wanted to film stags fighting and to capture the rivalry between dominant stags and their younger counterparts as they vie to cover the hinds.
This this time round we actually managed it.
We were at Kinnaird Estate having said goodbye to the last of the year’s guests, but with a few days left of the stag season, we were out for an afternoon with both the rifle and the camera.
The weather was still and warm, which is less than ideal, but after glassing across the hill I could see a stag holding hinds in a sheltered and quiet basin close to the estate march where it meets a large conifer forest.
Often during the day stags will lie up in the shelter of the trees before coming back on the hill as darkness approaches. We made swift progress up the boundary, stopping to glass every few yards, and after half an hour a large stag approached the dominant stag holding a good number of hinds.
What began as a brief stand off turned into all hell breaking loose. While they were distracted and antler locked we made up as much ground as we could, and whilst we were unable to get a vantage point above them, we witnessed a vicious fight in progress.
Younger stags moved in, clearly in the hope that while their much larger counterparts were in action they may get a chance with the ladies. But all were thwarted, from nowhere a large stag appeared and after a brief chase had his way with one of the hinds. The other stags were still fighting, blindly oblivious.
As quickly as it started, the action fizzled out with much roaring and posturing and deer chasing in all directions. One such young stag came our way, and rapidly became the last-but-one stag from this year’s cull to a neck shot
The hind and the mouse
This trip takes us back on the hill stalking hinds mid-season. Work was just starting on a new forest creation scheme so we had to pay particular attention to red deer coming into the area at night from a higher hill.
It was a mid-season afternoon and I had taken the chance to get out and work into a sheltered glen where hinds love to lay at that time of day. On the way I saw a group of deer running across and out of this valley, clearly spooked, which I suspected was most likely hill walkers. A hasty re-think left me backtracking and working into the wind and across the edge of steep crags. I was looking down into the native birch woodland below, but before I got close to the edge Zosia was indicating strongly in front of me and was clearly scenting deer from below us.
As I eased to the edge of the hill I could see a small parcel of reds moving through the trees. Setting up on the quad sticks, a group of three paused at the back just long enough to allow a shot which resulted in a satisfying crack and the hind jumping and falling out of sight into long bracken.
Zosia made quick work of the follow up, but as I approached the dead hind I got a surprise. There was a mouse sheltering under her back, which hastily scurried off as I approached. Now that’s a first .