Red deer in the S­cot­tish High­lands

SA Jagter Hunter - - INHOUD - By PIER­RE MARAIS

“Li­ke all the tracks in the neig­hbour­hood this one was a re­lic of the gol­den age of stalking... The sun fell brig­ht on the loch be­hind us. A­way to our left, moor­land swept up and wes­t­wards to the cor­ries un­der the peaks of Cor­rour and Ran­noch... It is well said of a T­chai­kovsky symp­ho­ny that it le­ads men to the ed­ge of the In­fi­ni­te and le­a­ves them for mi­nu­tes ga­zing in­to that. So­me­thing of the sa­me could be ex­pe­rien­ced that mor­ning in wa­t­ching the swell of the far a­way moors lif­ting in­to the g­rey screen of an au­tumn ha­ze that lay thick in the dis­tan­ce, and beyond that lif­ting a­gain to the cle­ar moun­tains, up to the last cur­ve of one peak, and the­re va­nis­hing, at the ed­ge of the In­fi­ni­te.”

The­se are the words of WH Mur­ray, from his book Moun­tai­neer­ing in Scotland. Cor­rour E­sta­te al­so hap­pens to be the pla­ce, w­he­re we found our­sel­ves that mor­ning, stalking red deer.

Two y­e­ars ago, Pie­ter le Roux, or Piet Lon­don as we know him, ar­ran­ged a hunt at Cor­rour E­sta­te in con­juncti­on with his brot­her Sak­kie and friend Se­an Cap­stick. I saw pic­tu­res of that hunt; the sce­ne­ry and sto­ries had me on the ed­ge of my se­at. Cor­rour E­sta­te is si­tu­a­ted in the S­cot­tish High­lands a­round Loch Os­si­an. It is a 23 000 hec­ta­re e­sta­te, with a very strong emp­ha­sis on con­ser­va­ti­on. The e­sta­te has a wi­de va­rie­ty of bi­rds, fish and wild­li­fe. Walk and stalk is the on­ly hunting met­hod al­lo­wed on the e­sta­te and the he­ad stal­ker, Do­nald, is a thi­rd-ge­ne­ra­ti­on stal­ker.

Red deer are com­mon in the a­rea; the ma­les are cal­led stags and the fe­ma­les, hinds. Out of se­a­son, the stags stick to­get­her in the hig­her slo­pes whi­le the hinds keep to the lo­wer-lying a­re­as. W­hen the rut starts, the stags fig­ht a­mong e­ach ot­her and e­ven­tu­al­ly bre­ak a­way to find a ha­rem of hinds. W­hen we ar­ri­ved in midd­le Sep­tem­ber,

the rut had just star­ted. Ge­ne­ral­ly, the a­rea is con­si­de­red mar­gi­nal for red deer, but the a­ni­mals ha­ve le­arnt to a­dapt to the high­land con­di­ti­ons.

A stag with ant­lers ha­ving 12 points is cal­led a Roy­al and one with 14 points is re­fer­red to as an Im­pe­ri­al. We we­ren’t the­re for them, they are re­ser­ved for se­lect En­g­lish clients. We we­re af­ter the smal­ler stags, the on­es e­ar­mar­ked for the e­sta­te’s cul­ling pro­gram­me.

PREPARATION

Fit­ness is key to hunting the S­cot­tish High­lands. We all knew we had to be fit and star­ted trai­ning way a­he­ad of the hunt. The ter­rain is very steep and ge­ne­ral­ly so­a­ked due to the high rain­fall. The stal­kers and their gil­lies are kno­wn to ma­ke you work hard for your deer. On the first day, we wal­ked 22km up and do­wn moun­tains.

The next im­por­tant is­sue is clo­thing. The lo­cals we­ar tweeds, which re­pel wa­ter. E­ach e­sta­te has its own co­lours and the­se can­not be u­sed by ot­her e­sta­tes. For this trip, we got spe­ci­al wa­ter­p­roof boots, gai­ters, wa­ter­p­roof pants and rain jac­kets. Wit­hout the­se, it will be a very long, wet day in the moors and the moun­tains.

You can hi­re a rifle at the e­sta­te but we broug­ht al­ong our own rifles, two .30-06s and one .308. Stags weigh be­t­ween 80 and 100kg w­hen dres­sed (up to 200kg on the hoof) so the­se .30-ca­li­bres are i­de­al for red deer.

Ge­ne­ral­ly the e­sta­te is not o­pen to the pu­blic for hunting. Ex­is­ting clients go back 30 y­e­ars and the e­sta­te is ba­si­cal­ly al­ways ful­ly book­ed way a­he­ad of the hunting se­a­son. Piet was just lucky to get a hunt for us. Af­ter his pre­vi­ous hunt he sent the e­sta­te a cour­te­sy mail to which they did not re­ply. T­hen one day out of the blue, they con­tacted Piet, in­for­ming him that the e­sta­te had a three-day o­pe­ning. We sub­se­quent­ly found out that a spe­ci­fic client had pas­sed a­way and we we­re of­fe­red his spot.

Our te­am con­sis­ted of Piet, Sak­kie, Se­an, C­har­les, Gra­ham and my­self. We are all South A­fri­cans, a­part from Se­an and C­har­les who are En­g­lish gent­le­man. We met in Lon­don and flew up to In­ver­ness, a­bout a two-hour dri­ve north of the e­sta­te. C­har­les, who had ar­ri­ved e­ar­lier, boug­ht our food at a lo­cal con­ve­nien­ce sto­re and w­hen we ar­ri­ved at our cot­ta­ge, cal­led S­gor G­hai­b­re, he was bu­sy pre­pa­ring a lamb shank. W­hat a warm wel­co­me!

Be­fo­re the hunt we re­gu­lar­ly chec­ked the long-term we­at­her fo­re­cast. We we­re lucky, fi­ne we­at­her was pre­dicted for the first two days (Mon­day and Tu­es­day) with so­me rains for the Wed­nes­day. »

» DAY ONE

We met up with the stal­kers who ex­plai­ned the e­sta­te’s ru­les to us and t­hen we we­re off to the shoot­ing ran­ge to check our rifles’ ze­roes. Af­ter that we split up in­to three groups. Se­an and I would hunt with Do­nald; Sak­kie and Gra­ham with Pe­ter; and Piet and C­har­les with Al­lan.

We u­sed an Ar­go to dri­ve up the back of a moun­tain to our de­sig­na­ted hunting a­rea. Ar­gos are eig­ht-w­heel dri­ve, all-ter­rain vehi­cles and are es­sen­ti­al for mo­bi­li­ty in the rug­ged, wet ter­rain. On­ce up the moun­tain we wal­ked to the hig­hest point and glas­sed the val­leys be­low. W­hen spot­ting a stag, the stal­ker will check the an­te­lo­pe’s age and the qua­li­ty of the ant­lers af­ter which he will de­ci­de w­het­her it is a shoo­t­er or not. For glas­sing, the stal­kers use an old s­chool 25x mag­ni­fi­ca­ti­on mo­no­cu­lar te­les­co­pe. W­hat a ni­ce tou­ch!

Af­ter spot­ting a suit­a­ble herd of stags we stal­ked them but they ma­na­ged to stay a­he­ad of us out of shoot­ing ran­ge for most of the day. Boy, did we walk! Ho­we­ver, Do­nald’s per­sis­ten­ce and pa­tien­ce paid off. He e­ven­tu­al­ly ma­na­ged to get Se­an in­to a shoot­ing po­si­ti­on. It was a dif­fi­cult, up­wards shot and un­for­tu­na­te­ly Se­an’s bul­let lan­ded too low, mis­sing the stag.

T­hen it was my turn. We ma­na­ged to stalk a stag that was bed­ded do­wn rig­ht at the top of the moun­tain. Af­ter get­ting in­to po­si­ti­on we wai­ted for him to get up but w­hen he did, long grass co­ve­r­ed his bo­dy and I could not ta­ke the shot. E­ven­tu­al­ly the stag di­sap­pea­red do­wn the slo­pe out of sig­ht. By t­hen we we­re very ti­red and de­ci­ded to call it quits for the day. To be ho­nest, I was de­ad ti­red, despi­te all the trai­ning – it was a very tough day at the of­fi­ce.

On our way back, we spot­ted four stags that we­re fig­hting. It was la­te in the af­ter­noon and the sun was set­ting fast but we de­ci­ded to stalk them a­ny­way. It was Se­an’s turn to shoot. This ti­me we ma­na­ged to get c­lo­se and Se­an shot the big­ge­st one of the stags. The ot­hers did not run, so we held our po­si­ti­on and wai­ted for one to pre­sent a shot. Un­for­tu­na­te­ly the­re we­re so­me hi­kers be­hind the a­ni­mals and in Scotland the ru­le is that the ge­ne­ral pu­blic has the “rig­ht to ro­am”. Any­bo­dy can hi­ke on the tra­di­ti­o­nal trails on the lar­ge e­sta­tes. Na­tu­ral­ly, the stags took off be­fo­re the hi­kers could get out of the way. Despi­te the mis­sed op­por­tu­ni­ties, it was an un­be­lie­va­ble first day in the S­cot­tish High­lands. Back at the cot­ta­ge we le­ar­ned that Piet al­so shot a stag high up in the moun­tains.

DAY TWO

On day two we we­re pai­red with a new hunting part­ner and we al­so swop­ped stal­kers. My new part­ner was Gra­ham and we hun­ted with Pe­ter. Sak­kie and Piet hun­ted with Do­nald, and Se­an and C­har­les with Al­lan. We hun­ted a­round S­mall Hill on Pe­ter’s be­at (his de­sig­na­ted hunting a­rea for the day). We spot­ted se­ver­al herds of stags and hinds, but red deer ha­ve »

» keen ey­e­sig­ht and it was very dif­fi­cult to get within shoot­ing ran­ge. Af­ter se­ver­al fai­led at­tempts we ma­na­ged to sne­ak within 230m of a de­cent stag and Gra­ham, w­ho­se turn it was, drop­ped the a­ni­mal. It was his first red deer. We con­ti­nu­ed hunting but I did not get an op­por­tu­ni­ty to shoot.

A­not­her high­lig­ht of day two was C­har­les’s stag. C­har­les is an ac­com­plis­hed wings­hoo­t­er, but has ne­ver shot an an­te­lo­pe in his li­fe. He ma­na­ged to shoot a very ni­ce stag and with this being his first, he had to en­d­u­re the ri­tu­al of ha­ving his fa­ce sme­a­red with a litt­le bit of b­lood. He was a true hunter at last! Piet ma­na­ged to get a mag­ni­fi­cent 11-poin­ter and Sak­kie shot two stags.

DAY THREE

On day three I was the on­ly one who still had to bag a stag. The te­am de­ci­ded that Do­nald would be my gui­de. The pro­blem was that the bad we­at­her had mo­ved in, co­ve­ring the moun­tains in mist. Do­nald took me to a re­la­ti­ve flat, low-lying a­rea in his be­at. Alt­hough the ter­rain was e­a­sier the rol­ling mist ma­de for so­me chal­len­ging hunting.

We slo­w­ly dro­ve al­ong a track, pas­sing an old, a­bando­ned sto­ne lod­ge. Do­nald stop­ped and we spot­ted a stag with a group of hinds. They di­sap­pea­red in­to the mist, but we fol­lo­wed and ma­na­ged to ca­tch up with them. The­re was o­pen ground be­t­ween us and them so we had to ci­r­cle a­round, u­sing the lie of the land as co­ver. Af­ter a very long stalk and leopard cra­w­ling through a swamp, we ma­na­ged to get in­to po­si­ti­on. We could not see the stag, but we could he­ar him bel­low. The­re we­re so­me very ner­vous hinds to our left and they star­ted mo­ving off. That cau­sed the w­ho­le ha­rem to mo­ve and the big fel­low sud­den­ly ap­pea­red from be­hind a s­mall ri­se in front of us and mo­ved with his ha­rem. They all stop­ped at a­bout 400m, so we ci­r­cled a­round a­gain, but the group mo­ved on o­ver the next hill.

We wal­ked o­ver to the hill and cra­w­led up to the top. As we look­ed o­ver the hill, we spot­ted the w­ho­le herd be­low us. The stag had roun­ded up his ha­rem and was wal­king from one hind to the ot­her. This was our op­por­tu­ni­ty. We leopard cra­w­led in­to po­si­ti­on and I got re­a­dy. The stag was 180m a­way and u­na­wa­re of us. W­hen he tur­ned si­de-on I ai­med for the he­art/lung a­rea and squee­zed the trig­ger. The bul­let flew true and af­ter co­ve­ring a­bout 40m the stag col­lap­sed. My hunt was do­ne.

On Pe­ter’s be­at, Sak­kie ma­na­ged to shoot two mo­re stags! In to­tal, we got ten stags be­t­ween the six of us o­ver three days.

That nig­ht we in­vi­ted the stal­kers o­ver for din­ner. The S­cots are a jol­ly bunch and we had a mag­ni­fi­cent e­ve­ning a­round the fi­re­pla­ce. We in­vi­ted them o­ver to South A­fri­ca for a “Ka­roo stalk”, w­he­re the­re are de­fi­ni­te­ly less swamps and mo­re roc­ky out­crops.

We con­clu­ded that stalking in the S­cot­tish High­lands is not for the faint-he­ar­ted. Af­ter a cou­ple of whis­kies, Do­nald wry­ly ad­mit­ted that the first day was in­deed a tough one!

LEFT: For glas­sing the stal­kers use old s­chool 25x ma­gi­fi­ca­ti­on mo­no­cu­lar te­les­co­pes – a ni­ce tou­ch.

ABOVE: Our hunting te­am, from left to rig­ht: C­har­les, Piet, Se­an, Gra­ham, Pier­re (aut­hor) and Sak­kie.

Piet with a­not­her good stag.

Gra­ham ma­na­ged to bag this stag. The re­al trop­hy a­ni­mals are re­ser­ved for se­lect En­g­lish clients.

This stag was my first one. It took so­me hard hunting to e­ven­tu­al­ly bag it.

Piet and Pe­ter with Piet’s stag. This pic­tu­re gi­ves you an i­dea of the steep ter­rain that you ha­ve to na­vi­ga­te in or­der to shoot a stag.

Ta­king a bre­ak in the S­cot­tish High­lands – the hunting was not e­a­sy.

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