Stalking stories: How a dedicated vegetarian became a hunter

Photo credit: Byron Pace

Chris Dalton relates a successful effort to get newcomers into deer stalking, with a client who started as a vegetarian now established as a stalker on her own ground

May is coming up, and that’s when I find some of the ‘big boys’ on my ground. But big bucks aren’t foremost on my mind. Instead, it’s one of my clients, Sue, who sent me an update that has really got me thinking.

Sue has featured in my writings before, and I would definitely not class her as fitting the archetypal stalking model – in fact, she would be probably be as far removed from it as you could imagine. However, I am passionate about deer and their management and I think it is incumbent upon us all, where possible, to introduce and encourage others to become involved, particularly if they express an interest. I take any opportunity I can to ‘engage with’ non-stalkers (though I hate that term; it makes me sound like a politician) to discuss and put forward the facts about what we do. Sue, I like to think, is one of my success stories in this area.

Sue came to me a lot of years ago now after some promotional work I did trying to encourage more women to come along and try an introduction to stalking. Sue was the first lady to contact me and ask if I would take her stalking and show her what it was all about. She went on to explain that she had never shot anything, and was a vegetarian of some 35 years. This was on ethical grounds after an early visit to a school abattoir – which is probably enough to put most folk off meat. She was not sure if she could actually take a shot at a deer, but wanted to try, as the thought of stalking had a great appeal to her. I like a challenge! Sue worked as a pharmacist, and I would describe her as a bit of a hippy, but when she sets her mind to something she gives it her all, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking her out over the years. She progressed through taking her DSC 1, which as an academic was fairly straightforward, and went on to working towards her DSC 2, which was more of a challenge. We had some fun on gralloching techniques and knife work, but she got there in the end.

Early May saw her second visit to us, and we accounted for her first deer after a challenging stalk crawling up a tram line in a barley field to take a young roebuck from sticks. I remember that stalk as clear as if it was today. I still feel it’s a huge privilege to take someone out with no prior hunting or rifle-handling experience, and select and shoot a deer from an ethical and sustainable management plan, which will end up on the table. And Sue went through with the eating part too – we sat down at the Garryloop table and enjoyed seared roe strip loin from that buck, cooked with onions and garlic, which was to die for.

The ‘horsebox’ accommodation – who needs five stars?

Sue takes up the story from here.

“After four years with Chris at Garryloop, Ayrshire, I was now living in the Highlands and had the opportunity to stalk on an organic farm, Laikenbuie, near Nairn that is owned by my daughter’s partner’s dad, Peter. It’s 150 acres of fields, bog and mixed forest, and only populated by roe. It’s quite small, but it’s a nice size for me. I shoot about four deer a year just to go into Peter’s freezer. While I was there I noticed an old horse transporter with a shed at the back, and asked Peter if he had any plans for its use, at which point he did some brief renovations and a few months later I moved in. I am known as Mrs Horsebox! It’s basic living there; I have never had as few material things as I do now, and have never felt more content!

“The main change for me was feeling isolated from the stalking community. At Garryloop there was always Chris on hand to discuss things with, his wife Anne, who does bed & breakfast, to have a natter with, and most weekends there were other stalkers to swap stories with. Now, I was here on my own.

“Often when I was stalking I would hear Chris’s voice in my head. I would find myself thinking, ‘What would Chris do in this situation?’ The first time I gralloched a deer on my own I even sent him a photograph! I had an arrangement with the farmer that he would butcher the deer, but after a few months he said, ‘I’m not doing it anymore, so you need to learn!’ After a short panic I went to see a local butcher, who showed me the basics, then had a go myself. Peter was very polite the first time I gave him the cuts to put in his freezer!

Sue started out as a client of Chris’s, having been a vegetarian for 35 years, and has graduated to stalking on her own

“When things are going fine, I am still learning a lot, but it’s when things go wrong I go up that steep learning curve. Last year I had a missed shot. Luckily by then I knew a local stalker who had a tracker dog, and he came over and the post mortem began. It was a downhill shot, over uneven ground. I also had a Woofer (volunteer) from the farm with me, another factor. It was amazing to see the dog at work. We pinpointed where the deer would have been and began looking at the minutiae of the grass for traces of blood. We found nothing and the dog found nothing. I felt relieved, but I had lost confidence.

“It made me rethink my practice. I don’t practise very often owing to the noise, the price of ammo for the .243 and not wanting to disturb the sheep, which are often all over the site. A friend came round with his .22, and I enjoyed using it; it was smaller, lighter, quieter and cheaper to run. So I bought a second-hand Brno .22 and now regularly go out practising with this. It feels natural to hold, and I realised I have actually been feeling a bit intimated by the .243. Using the .22 has made me feel much more comfortable with it. The other thing I realised was that the sticks I was using were old and rickety, and it’s no wonder I wasn’t getting a steady shot, so I invested in a new tripod type with a quick release handle that are great, steady as a rock.

“For me, living on my stalking ground is amazing. I can sit at my table eating porridge and see a deer wandering down in the bog, or draw the blinds up in the morning and see a deer grazing a few yards from the horsebox. But the best bit? Falling out of bed at first light, stepping out the door and ready to hunt.

“So my advice to the ladies out there, maybe glancing at this over a cup of tea, is to give it a go.”

For stalking opportunities Chris can be contacted on 07710 871190 or via http://www.ayrstalk.co.uk

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