In February, I took over the deer management of one of the best sporting estates in Central Scotland – Kinnaird, which, apart from the stalking with three species of deer present (red, roe and fallow), also boasts excellent salmon fishing on the river Tay, trout in its own hill lochs and a first-class driven game shoot presenting challenging driven shooting. The estate extends to around 6,500 acres and has a mix of open hill with lowland pasture and mixed woodland, and is bounded on one side by the Tay. My first task was to get to know the place and build up a picture of the deer density and any issues they may be causing, and also build a good working relationship with the new game shooting tenant, so there was much work to be done. I had spent a few days walking the ground before this trip and already identified some potential seat locations. On the initial trip, and, as I was travelling empty on the way from Garryloop, which is little more than a two-hour drive away, I hooked up the trailer and brought some towers and seats with me for use.
On this second foray, having identified suitable locations for said seats, I brought Dean with me – he doesn’t get out much! – and the camera; I thought we might try and get a foray in with the rifle and get some stalking action on film. However, my priority was to get the seats fixed into position and just get around the parts of the estate that I had not recced yet. The weather forecast was not particular kind and we were expecting rain and strong winds which was supposed to be the edge of one of the many storms we seem to get sent from North America. As it happened the bad weather did not materialise and we managed to get all the seats out in two days, allowing the third morning for a stalk. On one side of the estate there is a designated SSI with some native junipers. The long-term forest plan includes restocking, and I have been asked to control the deer here in an attempt to allow natural regeneration. Deer in the lower wooded areas, and in this area specifically, are not going to be particularly welcome in this regard, so there was work to be done here. I had noted a lot of evidence of red deer moving though one particular valley pretty much central to the SSI in my early recon mission, and some fairly recent broadleaf planting. It is getting late in the season for the reds so this was probably one of the last chances of actually shooting a few before things close down.
The morning dawned cold and crispy; I love stalking when it’s like this. It’s not actually the best conditions, as usually there’s no wind and moving through frosty grass quietly is challenging! But it is just lovely to be out, particularly so in such a stunning place, and one in which I had new areas to explore. We left in good time and set up in the dark, Dean sorting the camera and me the rifle. Oscar did not need much sorting – he was raring to go and the moment he got out of the vehicle his nose was up, already smelling deer. So we glassed in the half-light up to the open hill and could clearly see red deer feeding on the lower slopes – they were safe today, it was the deer in the trees where my attention was directed; so we ignored the route up to the open hill and instead headed down to the valley bottom. Oscar gave one of those looks that said, “Idiots! the deer are over there!” but reluctantly plodded along; I suppose the boss knows best.
We followed the track down across a ford, past one of the newly installed high seats – which we could see was well sited as there was clear and fresh evidence of numerous deer passing along a trail, almost under the seat. Once over the fords the trail ran through some hardwood and led us to a ridge overlooking a valley where we had seem a lot of movement on my previous visits. The valley led to an open grass banking and I suspected red deer were using this route at dusk to come down into the low pasture and trees before making the return journey back to lie up on the hill during the day. This was also bringing them into the SSI and a nearby Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve, so clearly an area I needed to concentrate on. If Oscar’s nose was anything to go by, my suspicions were correct. As we crested the rise, Dean, my intrepid cameraman, close behind, I saw a small family group of hinds – there was clearly one old hind and calf with them so that would do nicely. We had the added bonus of a prone shot from the edge of the track across the valley, and a very good vantage point from which Dean could film the action, so it was all dropping into place. The deer had other ideas however, and moved down out of sight just as I was about to squeeze the trigger on the Browning, Dean having given me the nod that he was ready and I had identified to him the deer I was going to shoot.
As I was about to move, another, larger group of hinds came up the valley from our left following the same route as the family party. So apart from inching forward slightly to give a better angle, making sure that Dean had spotted the deer and had a good position, all we needed to do was wait. The hinds were clearly aware something was not quite right but moved across us on the opposite bank, pausing to check in front. This played perfectly into our hands. I was able to pick out an old hind from a smaller group, still to come into the perfect position, but she quickly moved forward and once she was at 170 yards and stood nicely broadside – after a quick check to make sure Dean was on her with the camera – I squeezed the trigger of the X-Bolt. A satisfying crack and kick from the hind proved job done, she ran perhaps 40 yards before collapsing . Oscar gave a whine which produced some colourful language from me – all on camera (so watch out for the outtakes!) – as what I hadn’t realised was that, at the shot, hinds had run from behind us through our position and that had slightly gee’d up the hound, to say the least! I think Dean was also overexcited with the action, as by now there seemed to be deer everywhere. Back to matters in hand, a calf stood fully broadside and dropped immediately to another shot. Once again we managed to get all the action ‘in the can’.
Often with red deer the easy part of the operation is the shooting and then the hard work begins. In this case it was a relatively simple drag to the edge of the track where I could gralloch them and then fetch the car to collect them and take them to the larder no more than 10 minutes later. In addition, I had Dean with me so he could gralloch one while I sorted the other. What was that Dean? “Sorry, I didn’t bring my knife!” Great!
For stalking opportunities contact Chris on 07110 871190 or www.ayrstalk.co.uk