From field to plate

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With our sport so often under attack from the various anti-hunting bodies and politically motivated agendas of certain charities, most hunters will have found themselves having to justify what they do on more than one occasion.

Vermin control is probably the most difficult to explain clearly and comprehensibly, as often the chain of events ends solely with the death of your quarry.

A fox is a perfect example of this. With stalking on the other hand, the end result puts food on the table, either at home or through a game dealer. There is no better or more ethically produced meat than that straight from the hill or field, and we can sit comfortably in that knowledge.

It is an easy argument to win against fellow meat eaters who scorn at fieldsports: “So what kind of life do you think your cow had before it was corralled into a slaughterhouse and turned into beef?”

Scott Mackenzie follows the red hind’s journey from field to plate on The Shooting Show

Scott Mackenzie follows the red hind’s journey from field to plate on The Shooting Show

It will, of course, have followed all the food standards, but it won’t have roamed free across the hilltops like a red hind.

It was a heated debate similar to this with fellow hunter Scott Mackenzie that instilled in us the beginnings of an idea for a film on The Shooting Show. Having long wanted to help dispel the myths against us hunters, Scott was keen to help me turn my plan of producing a field-to-plate film into a reality.

He was in the perfect situation, working for Eilean Iarmain estate on Skye. As their sole stalker, all the meat he takes off the hill throughout the season is butchered and fed to customers on the estate’s own hotel. There is no break in the chain, and the venison on the menu is from the very same stock roaming the hills above.

Scott, however, wanted to take the idea one step further and involve one of the young chefs from the hotel. By coincidence, this was something he had been trying to organise for some time, to help educate the chefs about what is involved in producing meat for their top-quality dishes.

With that I parted company with Scott, leaving Skye behind after a successful few days after foxes, with intentions to return in a few months at the start of the hind season.

As is often the case on Skye, we were very much at the mercy of the weather. Their summer had been superb, despite most of Scotland suffering a rather damp holiday period, and this showed as I ventured north once more, with many of the lochans bearing their bones along their shores.

However, as my wheels turned on the Skye Bridge, I was met with black clouds and a wall of water falling from the heavens. This was going to be interesting.

Fortunately we could be quite flexible, and as I had put a few days aside to combine some foxing forays with our filming endeavour, we could pick our day. As we watched the forecast that night, things weren’t looking good, with only the Friday offering a glimmer of hope amid the squall of incoming low fronts.

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Come 9.30am on the day in question we were already at the far end of the island where most of the estate’s stalking takes place. For now the clouds gathered, but we were dry and I was hoping it would stay that way.

Michael had joined us for his first taste of the hill experience. Although vaguely aware of what it took to get the meat to his kitchen, he was green to the experience, but certainly game to get his hands dirty.

He wasn’t going to be shooting, but would be following in Scott’s footsteps all the way to pulling the trigger and extracting the carcase. It was interesting for me to watch the reactions of someone with an open mind.

While he was used to handling the end product of our sport on a daily basis, he had never been involved in sourcing the produce from its origin. It was clear that by the end that there was a greater appreciation of the time and effort required to serve up wild game for people to enjoy.

Scott, as expected, had a good idea where to find the group of hinds he was hoping to thin out. It wasn’t a long trek, but we boarded the Argo for the first portion of the stalk. As with any hunt, you need to work out how you are going to extract the beast once it’s shot.

Argo home: The beast is down, but as any hill stalker knows too well, that’s when the real work begins

Argo home: The beast is down, but as any hill stalker knows too well, that’s when the real work begins

As most hunters will know, the real works starts once the rifle goes bang. The Argo would be our convenient ticket home.

Scott was right on the money, and in 20 minutes we were already within view of some hinds. We had popped out along the back of a forestry block that stretched far out to the edge of the rising hills, with a vast area of undulating ground lying before us.

A combination of bog, grasses and heather carpeted the landscape, which by this time was becoming familiar to me. This was Skye at its best, and what a tremendous setting to hunt in.

For some time we sat, Scott and Michael spying the group that was slowly making its way along a steep face into a shallow valley below. Scott wanted to explain how he went about selecting the right animal, and convey the process of correctly managing a population of deer. This, of course, is all part of the process of providing healthy and sustainable meat to the hotel.

With the lesson over, the stalk began. The beasts were already within a shootable range, but positioning a clear and unobstructed shot required a little crawling. Soon this was in hand and Scott lined up behind the newly launched synthetic Merkel RX-Helix.

Most of the hinds had dropped on to the forward face of the hillock and just out of view, but a good takeable beast stood just under the horizon.

The thud was solid, as the 150gr Hornady Custom found its mark. Michael looked impressed as I panned the camera around to catch his reaction. After explaining why deer sometimes run on even with a good shot, chef and hunter followed up the hind to find her lying just 20 yards from where she had stood.

You can see more of Scott and Michael’s hind stalk, including exclusive venison cookery footage, on the 25 March episode of The Shooting Show. Watch it at: www.theshootingshow.tv

You can see more of Scott and Michael’s hind stalk, including exclusive venison cookery footage, on the 25 March episode of The Shooting Show. Watch it at: www.theshootingshow.tv

Later that day, after eating possibly the finest venison meal I have ever had the pleasure to consume, I asked Michael about his experience and what he had gained from it.

It was very apparent, as someone coming from the depths of Edinburgh to the remote expanses of Skye, he was someone passionate about food, but until today hadn’t fully grasped the back-story.

There was certainly a greater appreciation after our outing, not only for the game but for those involved before it reaches the kitchen.

It is something we should certainly see more of in the public domain.

For hunting with Scott on the Eileen Iarmain estate, visit www.eileaniarmain.co.uk.

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