April sees the beginning of the roebuck season, and as such Chris Dalton warmly welcomes an Australian client with a keen interest in roebuck stalking and management.
I have found, having been an outfitter for a long time now, that you build up a group of regular clients who come back each year at broadly the same time. It’s nice from my perspective to welcome these guests back for several reasons – not least they know our setup, much of the briefing and introduction to any particular area is negated, and I know their capability, both physically and with the rifle.
Some of our ground can be a bit challenging – especially if I want help dragging a big Ayrshire or Perthshire stag off the hill. Equally it’s nice for the guests as, again, they have experienced what we have to offer and have obviously enjoyed the experience previously.
After all, why wouldn’t they? So all round it makes my life and the ‘team’s’ much easier in the long run. In May, I welcomed Joey back from Paraburdoo, a remote mining settlement in Western Australia.
Joey works as an engineer mining iron ore for Rio Tinto, operating a ‘small ‘ truck with a payload of 240 tonnes! Joey had hunted stags with me in the rut in October the previous year and wanted to try for a decent roebuck to go alongside the grand Scottish stag that he had mounted on his wall.
I have no issue with clients wanting to try for a trophy animal, but this subject seems to be getting bad press at the moment, which I feel in some respects we’re handling badly by not being up front about what we’re doing. An estate that can produce good quality bucks/stags each year, of the type that would be sought for a trophy, is doing so by managing that group of deer ethically and sustainably.
If you are not, you won’t continue to produce good bucks. Most of the deer shot will be female or weaker bucks to maintain the age spectrum and balance, and numbers will be at optimum density. Almost all the hunters I take out eat what they shoot and all of what we shoot goes into the food chain – indeed, Joey is a hunter with much of my own ethic – very much into eating what he shoots and wanting to learn and understand about the long-term management of deer.
During his time with me in the rut, we spent most of it selecting cull stags. He was also keen to understand our deer stalking qualifications, and so the DSC 1 and 2 process and training featured in many of our nonhunting hours in the hotel – usually over a beer or a wee dram – after all, the stalking is very civilised stalking in October.
The same luxury would not be afforded during the short nights of this month! The weather for the four days of Joey’s trip was good – cold nights with warm sunny days and a light breeze, no midges yet. We shot a representative six-pointer on day one, so the pressure was off!
I collected Joey shortly after 4am on day two and we drove up the track to the hill. I had opted to stalk out onto the open hill this morning. Roe will live quite happily on the open hill all year in some cases. They tend to favour the valleys and stream gulleys where you will often find maybe a few scrubby willows or small saplings.
I love this type of stalking, which is similar to the more traditional hill stalking – often you can see the deer from some way off and then you have the challenge of getting in to them with little or no cover. That was exactly the scenario this morning.
I glassed what seemed a nice buck around 700 yards away moving across the heather; he was making steady but determined progress across the heather and heading for a grass plateau in front and below us. Now this may work well, as once out of sight and with a nice breeze blowing straight at us, we can move quickly to the top of the ridge, from where we would be looking down at the buck and he would by that time hopefully be in range.
Off we set at a fair rate, turned the corner and were confronted by a large group of red hinds feeding across the track about 60 yards away. They had no idea we were there but, I needed to get past them as they were between us and the ambush point. I was considering the options when the lead hind started to take her charges across the hill track and away to our right. That route took them out of sight of the buck, which was below us.
I showed myself and that pushed them off and away, so we got away with it. Continuing forward with the sun rising behind us, we rounded a bend in the track and could see the buck, which was now browsing fairly happily about 350 yards in front of us. The wind was still good but we had no cover – just a flat plateau of young heather that had been flailed last year.
Our salvation came in the form of a broken dry stone wall that still had some intact sections. If we could crawl into a spot that would allow a length of wall to cover our approach, we might get in to him. We went for it and got a section of wall, maybe five feet wide, between us and the buck and moved directly at him, slightly altering our position every time he moved. And we made sure we kept our section of wall in between us and him.
It worked a treat and when we were about 30 yards from the wall I held back with the dog and Joey eased forward, slid up behind the stone and having checked the buck’s position looking through a crack in the stones, slid the rifle over the top and got into a shooting position.
While I could see Joey all set up, I couldn’t see the buck and didn’t want to move – I didn’t want to spook our target. It was down to Joey to wait for that broadside heart-lung shot. It seemed ages before the shot went off. I did not hear a strike and could not see the action, so I waited in case a follow-up shot was required.
But all good – the thumbsup came and we had a search in the long heather, or rather Zosia did. Good training for her and saving us quartering the hill to locate the buck. She was on him in no time, dead after a dash of maybe 35 yards to a lung shot, but it’s amazing how difficult it can be to find deer in heather. That was two nice roebucks accounted for, plus Lorna’s first trout taken on the hill loch, and Joey passed his DSC 1 – happy days all around.
Dinner that evening was a brown trout starter, followed by some delightful roe liver, sautéed in onions and garlic with seasonal vegetables from Dunkeld. Oh, and an Aussie bottle of red.