UNITED KINGDOM: Scotland Stag Hunt

VertigoBE

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This is a hunting report from a few years back, my first (and only so far) hunt on stag. Since then I have only had a chance of doe’s and fawns due to the timing in the year. Stag’s are only allowed to be hunted between July and October 20th in Scotland.

It was the last day of the season in 2014, 20th of October 2014. The day before my parents, my younger brother (then 23) and myself (then 26) had left from Belgium by car at 5 o’clock in the morning, to make the long drive North to the Lodge on the estate. We would be meeting (for my brother and I) for the first time with a group of about 24 people, 1/3rd hunters, 2/3rds outdoor enthusiasts, to spend a week in the Scottish Highlands. What my brother and I did not know when we were driving to the Lodge was that the 20th was the last day open on stag. We both had not hunted big game much before, mostly small game, and some awful “battues” (driven hunts) in the Ardennes.

Following the lead of our parents, who knew some people already from a visit the year before, we got introduced and introduced ourselves, to the most welcoming, kind and warm people one can imagine. The leader of the party, Roger, who organized this get together for at least 30 years already and who was the single person my brother and I knew there, approached us, with an announcement to make.

When my brother and I took our first steps in hunting (coming from a fully non-hunting family), Roger was the man who took us under his guidance, and showed us how to be hunters instead of shooters. Explained and showed us the ethics of hunting, the love for nature and the importance of the people around you and the friendships you form with them. He is one stand-up gentleman and I am very grateful to have him in my life.

We thought that we might only get a chance to hunt doe’s and fawn’s that week. Asking for everyone’s attention, he explained to the full group that the two brothers, after he discussed it with our father, would be hunting their first stag the next day. Two tag’s, one for each, would be available. Applause, congratulations filled the air, and obviously my brother and I didn’t know how to hide our excitement. Many times before we had heard the stories of the extremely challenging hunting in the Scottish Highlands, and to have a chance at our first stag was just unbelievable.

That night for me the sleeping was difficult, my eyes were open and I could see Stag’s burling all through the night. But before we go through what happened next, first some descriptions of where we were.

Lodge is a large house at the bottom of a valley, next to the river, in the middle of the Scottish Highlands. To get there, after leaving the public road at the village, you will be driving over a gravel road for at least 45min, just to get to your destination. The location is from a hunting fairytale I’m sure. As we are relatively far from civilization, and the closest inhabited house is a few km away, the deer are all around us. At night during the rut, under a starry sky, hearing the stags burling to each other on the slopes of the hills next to the lodge, their calls echoing between the hill sides, there is something almost spiritual about it.

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A bird’s eye view of Lodge. It happens quite frequently when hunting up in the mountains, that the Royal Airforce will have Fighter Pilots (or once even a Hercules C-130 with escort) flying through the valley, actually beneath where you are standing. The pilots upon seeing us then have to wave up, to us.

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A view of the river , with the Lodge in the background. One of the more sunny days we experienced there (pic is actually from another year) During a trip in another year when the weather was more ice, snow and blizzards, I got to experience its temperature while attempting to cross it by jumping from rock to rock, but falling 2 meters from the far side, on my back into the water. I had as much water in my hat as in my boots. We still continued on up the snowy mountainside for another 5hrs of hunting though. As the Stalker said, “don’t worry about the cold, we’ll be climbing soon”.

The hunting in the estate, is one of stalking only. Together with the PH, who is called a Stalker over there, you go into the highlands, for often very long marches, sometimes up to 15km a day in extremely rough terrain. The terrain is so rough that there are only three ways to reach you if something happens: By foot, by helicopter and by pony. Ponies, being so surefooted, are used to bring the game back down the valley, after having hunted up in the highlands. But first you need to get up on the mountains. This usually means 2-3hr climbing straight up the slopes of the hills as you can see in the second picture. The Stalker’s, if you let them, will do this climb without stopping or looking back. It is a good idea from time to time to call softly out to them, remind them that you are there too and that they need to wait up for you so you can “take a picture”… Or some other excuse to catch your breath. The weather in October and November in Scotland, is often a mixture of snow, sleet, rain, or water in some other form, but almost always around freezing.

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The ponies, being used as pack animals to carry the deer.

Monday morning arrived early for me, as sleep was hard to find, but after having had some bacon and eggs and having prepared a small lunch to take into the highlands off we went. My brother, myself, the Stalker and his Ghillie (a Ghillie in Scottish hunter parlance, is a Stalker-in-training, who usually takes care of the pony during the hunt and various other tasks for the Stalker) and of course 2 ponies. The rifles they used were stainless steel (Sako’s or Tikka’s?) in .308 Winchester with either Schmidt & Bender or Swarovski scopes. Some of them also had the same model, but in .270. But all of them had bipod’s and all of them had a suppressor.

First a quick test shot each on a 100m target to confirm the rifle zero was still true and for the Stalker to have a little confidence in our abilities. After this, the hunt was on. I let my brother go first, and off we went to the other side of valley, to start creeping up on a little stream coming from the top, where the Stalker thought he could get lucky.

We had only climbed for about an hour, before the Stalker motioned us to lay down and pointed at my brother to get him to crawl over. After what seemed like only a few minutes a shot rang out, and a follow up was never necessary. My brother had just taken his first stag. A nice 13yo old. (I’ll stop the description here on my brother’s stag, and not provide a picture either, for anonymity).

Having called over the Ghillie to approach us with the ponies and after packing my brother’s stag on one of them, we were soon again under way. Due to the nature of where we were making our climb, alongside a little stream that dropped into the river Tilt, the terrain was much more irregular. Smaller streams still, would cross our path as they would be perpendicular to the first stream. What happened in one of those smaller valleys could not always be seen or even heard crossing over to the next ridgeline.

Not long after the Stalker again motioned us to get down, pointing at myself to approach. Quickly but silently throwing off my back pack I started crawling on my belly, barely allowing myself to breath in order not to make any noise. Reaching the stalker, I got to see what made him so excited. About a 10 meters away, around 40 meters above us a very old stag was looking after his two hinds. He was standing on a little ledge, turning from time to time to look at all sides, to make sure no other stags were approaching.

The Stalker had already installed the rifle on its bipod in front of him and started moving to the left, creating space for me to get behind the sights. A perfect broadside shot presented itself, but the Stalker told me to wait. The stag was looking at that time away from the hinds. “Let’s wait till he turns again facing the hinds” said the Stalker, “it will make the Stag be more at peace when receiving the round and he’ll be less likely to try to make a run for it, as he has his herd in view”. So we waited and waited, until the Stalker started saying, “well if you want go ahead, it might be a long time before he turns again”. At that very moment the stag turned, I lined him up in my cross hairs, just behind the shoulder as I was told, and tried to have the softest and steadiest possible press on the trigger I could manage. The rifle bucked and off went the round precisely to where it needed to land. The stag took one step, then slowly a second step, and came crashing down from the ledge, tumbling and rolling downwards about 15 meters. The hinds obviously took flight over the next ridge. A scene that will remain etched in my mind for as long as I live.

Upon reaching the stag, we saw that either from a previous fight, or either from the fall, one of the forward tips had broken off, but this only added to the character. As it was my first stag, the stalker smeared some of the stag’s heart blood on my face as he had done previously for my brother.

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Me being a very happy hunter. Notice also the broken tip.

The picture does not do justice to the myriad of emotions I was feeling. A gorgeous 10point 15year old stag.

This is still by far my fondest memory of hunting. And it was all over before lunch time. We even went on a second stalk that afternoon, just to have more of a physical challenge (without rifle).
 
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VertigoBE

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Hope you guys liked this, didn't really know what a hunting report was supposed to contain, so I wrote it in a way that I would have liked to read it.
 

Uncle Sauce

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Very enjoyable read @VertigoBE and great photos - Congrats and thanks for sharing!
 

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Thank you for sharing your stalking with us. I appreciate the story.
What an incredible place to go hunting.

Congratulations on a very nice Hill Stag.
 

Red Leg

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Well done and well written. Thank you.
 

Nyati

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Great story, congrats and thanks for sharing !
 

Sika98k

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That’s a great Highland stag, well done. Blair Atholl is one of The places in which to go stalking in Scotland.
 

WAB

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Well done!
 

Alistair

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Blair Atholl is certainly a beautiful place. I've taken a few weeks on the hinds there over the past 5 years, but usually in January when it's shrouded in snow.

One day I'm going to spring for an expensive trip there. The big house, a cook, myself and 6 or 7 other shooting buddies, a week in late August. Two days stalking with the ponies for extraction, a day on the grouse and two to try for a salmon. It won't be this year though!
 

gillettehunter

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Lovely area. Great hunt report. Thanks for sharing.
Bruce
 

VertigoBE

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Blair Atholl is certainly a beautiful place. I've taken a few weeks on the hinds there over the past 5 years, but usually in January when it's shrouded in snow.

One day I'm going to spring for an expensive trip there. The big house, a cook, myself and 6 or 7 other shooting buddies, a week in late August. Two days stalking with the ponies for extraction, a day on the grouse and two to try for a salmon. It won't be this year though!
Hello Alistair,

this is exactly the concept that we have every year access to in the Atholl estate. A group of about 24 people, but only about 8 hunters, with two chefs to cook every evening. :)

I haven't tried the salmon fishing there, if I'm not mistaken you would need to go to Dominique's place for that. We haven't had a chance on grouse either, but we do get access to grouse from previous hunting parties that were left behind, for the chefs to cook. Absolutely delicious!

We did do some trout fishing in 2019 though, but this was outside of the estate.
 

Tally-Ho HUNTING SAFARIS

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i hunted scotland years ago in September
still the most amazing scenery i have experienced on a hunt, truly beautiful

weather crazy and the miggies a nightmare
rest was absolutely great
 

cpr0312

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Thanks for sharing and congrats!
 

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