In the autumn of 2015 I recounted in Sporting Rifle some of my Scottish sika safari. I had booked a few days’ self-guided sika stalking with Highland Forest Sporting based around Lairg and Rosehall in Sutherland. My contract allowed me to make unguided outings and to shoot two sika spikers. Should I shoot more beasts then I would pay for them according to quality based on a rate card. My modest two spiker aspirations were just what I wanted, as I was stalking sika for the first time in my life and mainly wanted to learn more about the species and their behaviour.
On that trip I shot my two spikers. Both shots were the result of meeting engagements in the forestry and were taken off sticks. The first of the two beasts ran a fair distance after the shot and was found dead around 100 yards from the spot. The second spiker ran into rushes and was located by my dog, also dead.
I learned a good deal about sika in my prowls around the extensive forestry blocks that I stalked. I also observed several big sika stags, active and aggressive in the rut. Watching these big fellows made me resolve to return for a representative head for my trophy room. I was unable to revisit in 2016 but returned this autumn for four days in the forestry.
After the usual briefing, I set out along a wide ride for my first outing just before first light on the Monday morning. I had an imager with me and picked up a target with it within the first two hundred yards of my stalk. One white blob became two and then became moving deer-shaped white objects. Keeping very still I alternated my binoculars and imager until the early light revealed a hind and follower. These blocked my way forward and spent 20 minutes or so alternately grazing and staring into the adjacent woodland. Hoping a stag might emerge I waited expectantly, but eventually the two beasts drifted off into the trees.
Moving on, I saw frequent evidence of deer fraying and thrashing. Here and there young fir trees had been stripped of their bark and the grass moss and heather in the ride had been ripped and ragged. I continued to prowl along the ride way, stopping every few yards to glass and peeping very cautiously into the crossing rides as I came to them. Heading downhill now, I approached the grass and bracken covered shores of a loch. I was just in time to glimpse a good-looking sika stag making his way back into the forest cover. It seemed likely that he would reappear in the evening and I decided to sit for him.
That evening was still and mild so, well larded with midge repellent and with a head net, I picked a spot in a clump of young firs overlooking the woodland face. As I waited I enjoyed the view of loch and forest while the evening shadows lengthened around me. It was a bucolic scene and I daresay my thoughts drifted from my assignment. And then, he was there! Well clear of the woodland, right out in the open, the stag was standing alone and staring straight at me. I sat as still as it was possible to sit until at last he dropped his head and began to graze. Then I swivelled stealthily towards him and found that I did not have a clear line of fire; obstructed by reeds, grass and small bushes, I could not fire from where I was without risking the bullet disintegrating.
The stag showed no inclination to move out of the low place he was in and, with the light diminishing by the minute, I eventually decided to crawl to my left to find a firing point. I set off on hands and knees, moving only when the stag’s head was down. The stag started to run towards my position, probably mistaking me for a rival. He stopped just as I found a firing point and stood for a shot, clear in slightly higher ground. I squeezed the trigger and he dropped on the spot. His kicking legs and some head movement concerned me so I hurried forward and dispatched him with an insurance shot to the back of the head. (He was in fact shot all right but I was not going to risk a chase after a creased beast.) I then had time to admire my trophy. Without knowing much about sika I thought I had a good representative head, which was subsequently confirmed by pro hunter, Iain Thompson.
Having achieved my ambition by close of play on the Monday evening, I had three days in which to collect a sika spiker. Hunting the forests entirely on my own, without any pressure whatsoever, was delightful. I recorded several moral victories over sika stags and hinds going about their business unaware of my presence. On one of my outings, as I breasted a hump, my eye was drawn to a horizontal black line. After puzzling me for a moment I recognised it as the spine of a sika spiker. I got on my sticks and was already squeezing the trigger by the time he raised his head.
The spiker ran off the ride without any reaction. He left no paint or pins where he had stood or at the place he had run into the trees. A little look under them did not reveal my beast. My heart sank. I must have missed and I walked away in low spirits to summon Iain and his deer dog Angus, a jolly black cocker. Back at the scene, Iain instructed Angus to hunt and, as he always does, sat himself down under the canopy. Angus was ‘here and there’ at speed and after some minutes returned to Iain and indicated he had found the spiker by sitting 10ft in front of him. He then took Iain to the beast which had run directly under the trees for 80 yards and then made a 90-degree turn before running 100 yards at a right angle to his original course. Smart work Iain and Angus!
The beast was found dead and the shot was good – an engine room shot through both lungs. From the moment he was shot he was a dead deer running. Iain reminded me that sika are very durable and that it’s always worth making a dog search after an engine room shot.
On seeing Iain and Angus emerge from cover with my spiker I experienced that immediate mood swing that all experienced stalkers will recognise from finding a lost beast. I was really pleased both for myself that he was found, and for Iain that the remote call out was justified. So on my second sika safari I enjoyed not just the mechanical aspects of deerstalking but also the gamut of emotions that touch those who stalk wild deer.