A Scotsman, an Irishman, an Englishman and a Swede – it’s no joke, but the party assembled for a late-season red stag stalk at Dalness Estate. Jason Doyle tells the tale…
I crack the window slightly and drink in the fresh Scottish air as we cross the Clyde. The long drive from Ireland via Holyhead and Yorkshire is in its final stages, and the excitement of what lies ahead wakens my motorway-weary legs.
My Yorkshire-born passenger Pete Carr, another highland addict, wakens from his uncomfortable slumber against a rolled-up Harkila jacket. The signposts bear familiar names as the roads narrow and the highlands appear before us.
This is a drive I’ve made countless time since my first excursion to the west coast back in 2004 and my love for the stalking here has only grown since then – indeed, this is my fourth trip this season.
Progress fades to a crawl along the winding western side of Loch Lomond but the highlands rising in front have distracted me from such minor inconveniences as weekend traffic.
The first time I came here to stalk with Rob Cameron near Oban, these Munros took my breath away, and the effect hasn’t gotten any less profound.
Yes, we have mountains at home, but not like these. Every time I revisit the highlands it feels like the first time. I still get the agitated excitement of a lovestruck teenager going to meet his sweetheart. I love it here.
Refuelling man and motor at The Green Welly Stop, Tyndrum, has become a custom, and today is no different. We roll in with another purpose this time, though. We are meeting another two members of our party: Rob McCuaig and Fredrik Johansson.
Fredrik is the global marketing manager for 3M, who make the Peltor range of hearing protection. He is a Swede and a competent hunter but this is to be his first Scottish experience. Rob, an old friend of mine, has organised the trip and invited us to come and film the hunt for our channel.
He is one of those rare gentlemen whose company one cannot but enjoy and adds a tremendous amount of craic to any situation. The mickey-taking begins in earnest over a pie and chips – mostly Irishman vs Scotsman, with Yorkshireman swapping sides to suit the humour.
I can’t help feeling slightly sorry for Fredrik as he was obviously struggling to understand the variety of accents and the childish put-downs. I’m sure he was wondering what he had let himself in for.
The last leg of our journey takes us on the short drive north through Bridge of Orchy and on towards Glencoe, one of Scotland’s most famous and beautiful glens. We then turn left down the single track road into Glen Etive and minutes later we have reached our destination, Dalness House.
Dalness is exactly the type of Victorian lodge you would hope to find in a glen like this: huge, imposing and luxurious its riverside position nestled between five Munros. The views are simply awesome. Engines have barely shuddered to a halt before binoculars are already scanning the steep slopes for deer, trying desperately to spot a stag.
We don’t have red deer where I hunt in Ireland and the change of species always adds to the excitement. Rob signals that he’s spotted some deer high behind the house, and sure enough we can see a stag some 800 yards away in a small forestry clearing. He is full of rut and has a few hinds gathered close. That’ll do for now – at least we’ve seen one, so we head inside to meet the Dalness crew.
After a quick cuppa and a tour of the house, we are back outside in the company of Dalness stalker Colin Fraser.
We have a long chat about the plans for that evening and the following day, and the clarity of his intentions are a welcome change to the average deer stalker’s vague way of telling you nothing at all about what they hope to do.
After an uneventful session on the target, we head off in convoy towards our accommodation, a charming cottage further down the glen.
Our overnight dwelling is found down a long and rutted 4×4 track where Glenceitlein meets Glen Etive. I can scarcely remember a more idyllic setting for a deer stalker to rest.
With River Etive to the front and a Munro guarded valley behind, this is a paradise for hunters like us. The cottage itself has been recently refurbished to a very comfortable standard and we are quickly before a roaring open fire, beer in hand and resuming the three-nations banter competition. Scotland, with the addition of Colin’s dry wit, now have a serious advantage, and the home side soon takes the win.
Before Colin leaves us for the evening, a map is produced and he discusses the morning stalk with Pete in detail. Pete is very familiar with these parts, having stalked Glen Etive for more years than he would like me to mention, and with Colin’s approval we will be heading out under Pete’s guidance the following morning.
The cull plan is set – our target for the stalk will be to take out a young stag or two from a group that are hanging around the bottom of the glen. Fredrik will shoot, I will film, and Rob will act as ghillie. That night the Glen comes alive with roaring stags as Britain’s largest mammals follow their hinds to the glen floor to feed. The anticipation is palpable.
I’ve often closed the car door quietly to avoid alerting deer of my presence, but this is the first time I’ve gently closed a front door with the same motive. There were deer all around the cottage during the night and we have to be careful not to spoil our stalk before it gets started.
We glass hard into the gloom but everything is just shapes and shadows – we needed another 20 minutes of light. Colin had assured us the deer would move back uphill before light, so we gather some ground, heading for a vantage point from which the stalk will hopefully take on a more definite purpose.
The roaring has dropped off now, but as we climb the knoll a roar echoes from high to our right. A nice stag, picked out more by his movement than the rising light, is trotting along the mountain side. He is following a hind and in an inaccessible area, so we quietly move on and leave him to his courtship.
From the top of the knoll we glass up into the glen. Heavy drizzle and strong wind impede visibility but Pete manages to spot a small group of deer 600 yards in front. We can’t tell what they are but we plan a route to investigate.
Using a stream for cover, Pete and Fredrik quietly make their way forward with me following. Rob stays back to observe. The terrain lends itself perfectly to our stalk, and 10 minutes later we are on the deck, crawling up a gently rising bank and hoping that the deer haven’t changed location.
Ideally one has one’s quarry in sight regularly during a stalk to avoid losing them as they move but that isn’t possible here. We are stalking in from below the animals, a situation best avoided. Luck, however, is on our side this morning and as Fredrik reaches a shooting position, two young stags are in sight and no more than 70 yards away.
The round finding the chamber is enough to give the stags our position, but it’s too late and the first stag crumples to a perfect neck shot. The second runs another 70 yards before turning broadside to look back.
Unfortunately, just as Fredrik’s trigger breaks, the stag moves off again, causing the 7mm Rem Mag bullet to hit slightly too far back. But the advantages this calibre offers to a situation are immediately evident as the animal stops again, almost immediately allowing Fredrik to expertly and rapidly place a finishing shot.
The rest of the morning is spent sharing in the joy and excitement that a successful hunt brings. As hunters, we always strive to deliver a quick and humane death to our quarry, but sometimes things don’t always go to plan. It’s how we rectify these situations that we should be judged on, and this stalk ended as quickly and humanely as was possible in the circumstances.
Pete and I had to leave again that afternoon, but the guys stalked for another day and Fredrik’s highland experience was everything he hoped it would be. For me it was just another unforgettable time spent in my favourite place, doing what I love and with great company.
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