You really do take your life in your hands when you head out on the hill – as a close encounter with an ATV taught Chris Dalton during an August stalk last year
The peak of the roe rut for me in the south-west of Scotland is generally around the end of the first week in August. Last year was no exception – we were busy from late July with the annual pilgrimage of visiting stalkers and regular syndicate guys. Indeed, I wrote an article on the rut in the July edition of this magazine.
But then things got a bit different. As we approached the end of the second week of the month, my attention turned towards some promotional work I was doing with Eagle Review on Kinnaird Estate in central Scotland. I had two days of filming organised with a cameraman, Andrea Cavaglià, and we had spoken a number of times before the trip to sort out a plan. Andrea is an Italian who comes from a hunting family and was taken up into the Alps by his father on hunting trips almost as soon as he could walk. It’s always good to work with a professional cameraman who is also a stalker – it makes life much easier when the guy behind the lens also knows all about trying to get a shot on a wild animal. While the trip was a huge success from one perspective – we shot both red and roe deer on camera – it was very nearly a disaster from another perspective.
I have never been a great advocate of the health and safety red tape epidemic. In my military career I saw a constant increase in health and safety officers who seemed to revel in coming up with one hare-brained scheme after another and stopping anybody doing anything half the time on the basis that it might be dangerous. It seemed that expecting folk to use common sense while going about day-to-day tasks was a bridge too far. But I won’t rant too much – I do accept that there is a need for a common- sense approach to working practices and the need to prevent injury. It’s the sensible bit that sometimes gets lost in translation. But even when you take what you think are all the necessary precautions, things do occasionally go wrong, in some cases with potentially catastrophic results.
I had spent the first morning stalking on the edge of the open hill, Andrea following, in humid conditions with a thick mist and no wind. I got into a group of reds, among which was a young stag – a perfect cull animal for mid-August. Of course, on the open hill, in balmy conditions in mid- August, the midges were taking lumps out of us – challenging conditions to say the least. However, I managed to get into the deer and shot a young stag with all the action captured on film. My cameraman had me posing several shots so he could put together a piece for a documentary for the European hunting fraternity. I began to understand what an actor has to go through, all the while being eaten alive by those blasted midges – I bet Harrison Ford would not take kindly to the wee tartan biters.
I was delighted when we were finally finished, and I took the short walk down to HQ to fetch the ATV to recover kit, cameraman and stag, and work out a way down the hill for breakfast. It was an easy drive up to where the stag was, and I recovered it, Andrea and his camera, along with my stalking kit. He sat side-saddle on the machine and I started to retrace the route along the side of the hill back to the track. Easy, or so it should have been.
I have got my NPTC qualification in ATV driving, and knew what I was doing – load balanced, bike not overloaded and safe route sorted. Black mark for not wearing a helmet, though. All was well until on a gentle slope the front-right wheel ran on to a rock not seen under the moss, while the front-left wheel sank into same moss, resulting in the bike sinking left and then tipping over. What happened next seemed to be in slow motion. The equipment and Andrea all went left and clear, while I ended up with a bump on the floor and looked up to see a 1,000cc six-wheel machine – and stag – heading in my direction. The machine hit me hard across the hips, engine block first, and I gained a new appreciation for just how heavy they are. I also realised that I was totally pinned down.
A panicky cameraman, having established I was still alive, tried to lift the machine – no chance. Eventually, after much pulling and shoving and by working together, we managed to push it up high enough for me to wriggle out. I stood up and tried to take stock of whether all my body parts were in working order. Though I knew something wasn’t right with me, I quickly became more concerned with whether I had damaged my bike – I’d paid a lot of money for it! We managed to get it back over the right way up and it started; we reloaded it and I drove back down to HQ to meet the rest of the guys and get some breakfast. As we had been up since very early and it was now late morning, we had finished for a while – this allowed me to get back to the hotel, cleaned up, showered and take some time to regroup. I was still feeling rather uncomfortable – that’s an understatement.
We finished filming, and I then guided another client for few days, returning to Garryloop five days later. I had not mentioned my incident to Anne, who was none the wiser – until I got into the shower, that is, revealing hips black with bruising and a haematoma that made me look pregnant on my right-hand side along with three broken ribs. She wasn’t pleased.
Watching some of the subsequent film clips with close-up shots of me on the rifle, my eyes look like I had just got in from an all-night drinking session. I never touched a drop – that was just pain. It does make you think, though, and I have tried to reassess how I do things. Had I been alone on the hill when that happened, there is no way I could have got out from under that bike – how long would it have been before someone came looking, and where would they look?
It makes you think that maybe you do need to have a close look at how you are operating – you might not be as lucky as I was. Additionally, I am convinced the Apex Predator sack, packed with my kit, saved me a broken pelvis. I was clearly very lucky. Oh, and the bike was fine. Not a scratch.