Red alert for Chris Dalton

Amid a busy September for Chris Dalton, he finds time to take an American visitor out for a roebuck – or an opportune red stag.

September can be a mixed bag for us. The roebucks are usually starting to move again after the rut and we are anticipating the red rut starting, and therefore find we have clients booked in for both species.

We monitor our ground throughout the year and can assess how the forecast cull plans match up to the actual cull achievement. We will therefore know where we can shoot some of the more mature beasts to allow potentially better quality bucks or stags to develop.

It was against this backdrop that Bill and his wife booked to stay with us on their tour of the UK from Idaho. Bill is a seasoned hunter and an active member of the Idaho wild sheep foundation, and it was fascinating to chat to him over dinner and gain an insight into how things are managed in a different country and also for a species I was totally unfamiliar with.

Despite different hunting regulations – tags, draws, government permits and the like – there are many similarities, as you would imagine when it comes to the management of the species in general.

It was also a pleasure to take out a knowledgeable hunter who appreciated the hunt for a wild species and understood that no guarantee of success could be given.

That should actually take some of the pressure off an outfitter, but I find the opposite is the case, as you really do want to achieve success for a man like Bill. He had never seen a roebuck, and this is the species he particularly wanted to shoot. He was with us for only a couple of outings so that added yet more pressure.

As it transpired, my regular stalker and cameraman Shaz was looking after him – I had other commitments and so the two of them went off hunting. The first evening brought poor weather and they did not see anything, and the following morning proved much the same, though they did see some does. Chatting to Shaz over breakfast, I sensed he was desperate to find a buck for our guest.

They team set off again the following afternoon. Shaz had planned to go down into a lovely valley not far from the house. This was one of the first blocks I managed when I made the move north with Anne.

It consists of three areas of original sheep pasture planted up around 20 years ago; consequently, as this was a relatively recent grant planting scheme, the woodland was landscaped. So we had smaller blocks of sitka spruce interspaced with larch and some native broadleaf along with open rides and gullies.

Chris volunteered to take on the recovery – which proved tougher than expected

The section he was headed for was The Pipes, which involved crossing a ford to head into a lovely open glade and valley that is favoured by the roe. It’s a nice stalk, requiring slow progress as you enter the head of the gully up a narrow track between some hardwoods and conifers.

As the mature block of spruce ends, there is a high seat where the trees come to a point, and a further ground box set looking across a stream onto the far hillside.

Fifteen years ago you would only see roe in the valley but for the last ten years we have been seeing reds in increasing numbers. We are not far from the Galloway Hills and this is where most are coming from; drawn to the trees and with the more arable nature of the ground and availability of food, they tend to stay.

So a stag was a possibility, though it was a good buck we really wanted. Shaz decided to stalk Bill to the ground box, which is a converted IBC container too small for more than one – so he would leave Bill in the box and go and sit with the dog in the tree line around 30 yards behind the box.

It was a reasonably nice evening and they both anticipated something moving out of the trees before dark. If not, they would stay until the last possible minute of daylight to give every chance of a buck showing. Again, very little moved. There were two does during the vigil but no bucks – strange for this valley, but that’s roe for you.

As the light was fading, Shaz saw movement in the trees to the right of the box, and a large red backside could clearly be seen – but the head was obscured as it was feeding away into a small basin in the treeline. Shaz could not move – he told me later he was desperately willing Bill to have seen the deer.

Minutes later, he was relieved to see the rifle poke out of the small side window to the right of the box, so at least Bill was on the case. The deer remained partially hidden for quite some time before slowly emerging from the tree line to give the team a good look at the business end.

They had a stag all right – some stag with 13 points and jet black antlers. Not much girth on the beams or head, but he had huge body weight. This was an impressive and majestic stag in anybody’s book.

Though Shaz couldn’t move to give any advice, Bill is a seasoned campaigner and he waited for the stag to turn perfectly broadside before executing a perfectly placed heart shot. The stag ran forward 30 yards before collapsing – job done.

Well, almost. This was a stag weighing in at over 20 stone and he was 180 yards the wrong side of a steep gully and at least half a mile from the car, with no access for the pick-up. It was nearly dark by now, and pitch black by the time they were done with the gralloch, so recovery would need to wait until the morning.

It was a cool September night so there was no issue leaving the stag out for a few hours. If we do this, though, I insist on being out to recover as soon as practically possible the following morning.

The next day was Bill’s last morning, so I volunteered to return for the stag while the guys went off to try a final outing for Bill’s roebuck. Recovery should have been straightforward but a tree down on the access ride required chainsaw attention so I could get through it, and when I got to the beast I had a fair tug to get it into the Argo tray and home.

A bit of grunting and blowing had the stag in the Argo and from there it was all mechanical aid back to the chiller. As it happened, Bill did not get his roebuck, but I think the consolation prize was well received. He is already talking to fellow hunters about a return trip. 

For stalking opportunities contact Chris on 07710 871190 or www.ayrstalk.co.uk

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