Stalking with the Curse

I had a group of three hunters and their girlfriends who wanted to come and stalk with me in Perthshire, but due to work commitments the only time they could all get to Scotland together was early April. So arrangements had been made and they had booked into one of the estate cottages, which meant collection and delivery to and from the ground was very easy. One of the party was subsequently delayed with work, so for the first two days we were accompanied by just Juan, who Tony was looking after, and Louis, under my guidance. Both were experienced hunters and true sportsman, which made life even easier, and they were keen to get a representative buck. Neither of them wanted to shoot anything in velvet, and at this early juncture in the season I was not interested in shooting any trophy buck should one present. At the time, it was also was early days in my management of the estate and I really wanted to understand the situation regarding the roe quality and distribution before taking any of the bigger bucks. I had seen plenty of roe in my early recess so I was confident there was no shortage, and the new owner was embarking on some re-structuring, part of which included some woodland creation; so in these areas I would need to be harder on the roe. European hunters are generally uncomfortable about shooting roe in velvet, but I explained the situation and they came to understand I might ask them to take a buck in velvet and went through the reasons for this.

The ladies were going to come along for the stalk on some outings, but after travelling for a long time with a late arrival in Edinburgh, they declined the first early morning foray, electing for the evening stalk instead. After collecting Louis, he chatted about his hunting experiences chasing bucks at home in Spain – roe were his passion and he had shot them for a good number of years, but never a Scottish roebuck. He also explained that his girlfriend was something of a jinx, and that while she had been out with him on many outings he had never shot a roe when she was with him. So we potentially had two firsts coming up. It was also the first occasion that I had clients out with me on this estate, which actually made me nervous, though I was not entirely sure why. I think it may have been the general unfamiliarity with the ground and the deer on it at the time, but anyway you have to start somewhere, and I had done my early recces and had a plan. The other factor was that this year had been cold and I had noticed at home that the bucks were a bit later cleaning than normal but in any event we would soon see.

The first morning was cold with a touch of frost and very little wind, but I took that as I had decided to head off to the boundary on the east side of the estate. This was a large tract of open hill bounded by a big forestry block. The hill came into little glades and stream valleys and the roe loved it out here – you could see them at any time of day a long way out in the open, which was fine for them, but meant they were tricky for a stalker to get at. It was also here that one of the new woodland schemes was planned, so roe numbers would need to be reduced, making it the ideal place to start our foray.

We had not gone far when something white in the distance drew both of us to a heather-clad bank about 400 yards in front and a similar distance out from the forest edge. Glassing had us easily identify a good buck in velvet, with the added bonus of what appeared to be a fairly easy approach following the contours of a ditch, mostly out of sight, to a small hill which would get us about 140 yards from the buck. It was that easy – we crawled for around 15 minutes and Louis worked up to the top of the hill, adopted a nice prone position, rifle comfortable on a mound, and took the shot. One good buck in the bag, taken from an future re-planting site which was due to be fenced, along with two happy chappies and a hound who had his kidney.

Now we could concentrate on a good clean buck, ideally taken with Louis’ girlfriend present.

Despite stalking roe for several years, this was the first Louis had managed to shoot in the presence of his girlfriend

That evening had me lead up a very spectacular but deep gulley, past a lovely waterfall with both louis and ‘the jinx’ behind. We did not see many deer but it was a really nice evening, and when we got to the top of the gulley we had a lovely view out across the open hill, so we sat for a while just taking in the view. We were watching some reds feeding on the high hill when Louis hissed to get my attention and gestured to the gully below, where two roe bucks were feeding not more than 40 yards away, totally oblivious to us, one of which was clean. He slowly got the rifle into position rested across his knee, which looked slightly awkward but he seemed comfortable enough, and we waited. It was ages before the buck presented a shot; the angle was wrong, but he eventually worked away from us and came up the bank, finally turning broadside to an immediate shot – the buck stood stock still for a moment, clearly totally bemused and unharmed – and then ambled off, followed by the younger buck. There might be something in this jinx!

On the evening of day two with ‘the jinx’ along we tried again. This time I went up some fairly steep hills that bounded the open hill, almost above the estate house. Again, I had noted a lot of sign here in my early forays and had seen several does, so the bucks would be around. I had briefly spotted a decent clean buck up here a few days ago, he was quite light in antler colour and so clearly had just cleaned of velvet. This time the hound Oscar was indicating in front so there was something here somewhere. My pace dropped and glassing increased markedly, it took some time but I spotted a doe in the heather laid on a ridgeline. We eased forward slightly and then a second deer was clearly visible – this was the buck – a decent head, light coloured and clean. Here we go. We were in full view but had not been spotted yet, the wind was good, so we commenced a nice slow crawl forward to a ledge to a position around 130 yards to the buck. All went well and Louis got into position. The buck was browsing unawares – I looked back to ‘the jinx’, who was in a great position and could see all the action, and she gave me the thumbs up so I turned my attention back to Louis, who was by now totally focused on the task, oblivious to us with the rifle set, waiting for the chance. It seemed ages, although in reality was probably no more than a few minutes, and I was getting nervous but I need not have. The moderated 6.5×55 cracked and the buck toppled off the ridge and into the heather below, gave a few kicks and was still. What a great stalk and one of those that I will always remember, it was so nice to see the sheer elation (and emotion) of two people who had worked towards something for a long time and finally it had happened with me present – a great feeling for any guide. I also very much enjoyed a glass or two of excellent rioja with some chorizo they had brought with them when we got back to the cottage – Tony had accounted for a nice, clean little four-point buck with Juan that evening as well, and with a double cause for celebration, well, it would be rude not to.

Freed from the jinx, it’s time to reflect on a challenging but successful few days

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