One of the great bonuses of working as a stalking guide is some of the folk you get to meet; they come from all sorts of backgrounds, have some fascinating stories to tell, and a few prove to be real characters. One such guest, who first came to hunt with us a few years ago now, was Angelo. Although he now lives in a remote cottage in Northumberland, Angelo was born in Greece and moved to South Africa at a very young age, making his living from – among other things – photography. He moved to the UK around 17 years ago and still does some photography work, alongside the restoration of fine old English shotguns and rifles. While most folk approaching the age of eighty would probably have given up, he still loves hunting which is clearly in his blood. Over the course of our stalking outings we had always chatted and compared past experiences, yet this was the first time he had brought his photograph album with him.
Don’t get me wrong – my excursions involve some wild living. I take clients a long way off-road to some remote farm and set up camp, cooking on a fire in the evening and dishing out beers from the cool box. But we have electricity and hot showers (most of the time, unless some bugger has got there before you and run the water out of the tank on the roof!) But Angelo’s black and white photographs were a glimpse into a different world.
He showed me a picture of his hunting rig: a battered old Land Rover towing an equally battered old trailer packed to the hilt, mostly with 50-gallon fuel drums but with a bit of room left over for provisions and other essential survival items. He’d set off in this with a couple of trackers and stay in the bush for several months – I would be worried setting off to the shops half a mile away in it. No maps, no roads, just a basic idea of the region he was heading to and that was it – he just went off and hunted.
He would camp and follow a spoor of buffalo or lion for days, relying on the skill of the trackers to get them back to camp and hoping that he didn’t upset them – at which point they would just up and off and leave him. If you got to a ditch or valley you built a makeshift bridge, if you broke down you fixed it, and if you got to a swamp you walked through it or went round it! Angelo also explained that he would simply shut the photography business for two months while he went on these annual jaunts. He kept paying his staff while he was away and nearly went bankrupt two or three times, but hunting was the priority!
Then he showed me a picture of the cameras. I had not expected that they would be enormous things that must have weighed 50 kilos each, and that’s before you added the lights on top! It was like something you used to see on the early BBC outside broadcasts. No wonder he’s about to embark on his second set of knee replacements.
No maps, no roads, just a basic idea of the region
he was heading to and that was it – he just went off
Despite the knee problems, Angelo followed me round and hunted without complaint. He had come in early September to try for a decent roe buck and maybe a stag if we could find one – but the good roe was a priority. Now early September in our part of Scotland can be difficult to say the least, the cover is a nightmare and a least a foot higher than the roe, who are usually still quiet after the rut.
Our first couple of outings had been hard work: it was difficult for Angelo to move on the clumpy heather, which played havoc with his bionic knees; the midges were plain murderous; and it was really warm and humid with absolutely no wind. The deer clearly did not like it, even the reds were playing hard to find and apart from a few fleeting sightings we had no luck. In these conditions the deer are mostly out in the dark when its slightly cooler and the insects don’t bother them, meaning that they are back well into cover by the time we can see and are out in the forest.
You always try your best for any client, but I really did want to get Angelo his first decent Scottish roe buck, particularly because he had already shot most things in his time, including a huge Cape buffalo three inches off the contemporary record. Accordingly on the second morning I changed tactics. I elected to go close to Garryloop before first light and look over a recently cut barley field bounded by the river Girvan on one side and a small broadleaf wood on the other. We left very early and drove into the farm while it was still dark, walking the short distance to the rough track from where I could survey the field. It was still warm, calm and humid with a fairly big moon and the slightest hint of wind, which was drifting from behind us to the field – drat!
Nevertheless, the Swarovskis came good and due to the excellent light conditions I could see a roe out on the edge of the field, around 500 yards away. It was clearly a buck and, given that I could identify it as such from the distance in such low light, very probably a good one. My problem now was how to get in close. There was nose chance to approach via the field margins as walking on dry stubble is much like walking on frosted grass – it sounds like walking in a bowl of cornflakes, not that I have ever done that! The hint of wind was wrong as well.
On the other side of the field, however, was a harvested potato field that would ensure the wind would be blowing across below the buck, with the added advantage of the river muffling any noise we made. There was also a bridge over the river, which would ensure we were close enough to the buck if we could get to it undetected. Plan formulated, we wasted no time and were off – but progress was slow as we simply could not afford to make any noise and it seemed ages before we got to the bridge.
From here, the field was not in view as both side of the bank were lined with thick thorn and mature trees, however Oscar, the hound, had nose in full radar mode so I knew we had a deer close. Getting over the bridge was also problematic as it was old and lined with wooden planks which creaked, so again is was a painstaking inch-by-inch creep, but we managed it. Oscar was on point as we stepped off the bridge and I was confronted by a cracking buck, stiff legged, staring intently in our direction – clearly with such acute hearing he was aware of something, but not sure what! Regardless, he was getting ready for the off, so time was of the essence here. I deployed the sticks, slowly and quietly, and eased left to allow Angelo a slight gap to get off the bridge and position his rifle on the sticks. I dared not speak or look back, but just hoped he would realise what was required.
At that precise moment our buck decided he had had enough and ran across our front. Yet before disappearing, as often they will, he stopped broadside to us. In a flash Angelo had the rifle on the sticks, took control of them and fired off a shot. The buck went down. I have to say I was slightly surprised at the speed he moved – however I suppose if you are used to dealing with a charging lion in the savannah then a roebuck in Ayrshire is easy!
Angelo had a great buck, not quite a medal but nevertheless an enjoyable hunt. I was equally lucky; I had the pleasure of keeping company with a man from a breed that is nowadays very scarce.
For more details on stalking opportunities with Chris visit www.ayrstalk.co.uk or call 07710 871190
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