Using gundogs to track stags

While tracking red stags with two American clients at Kinnaird, Chris Dalton needs a little help from man’s best friend.

October, as you would imagine, sees me at Kinnaird Estate in Perthshire, stalking red deer in the rut; a significant and highly sought-after period in the sporting calendar.

We have enquiries many months – often years – in advance for hunters to come and spend time on the hill with us and experience this in person. It is a special time, and if anyone has not experienced this first hand then I would move it rapidly to the top of your bucket list!

Some folk come to pull the trigger of their camera rather than their rifle,
and others just to be out on the hill watching the activity. Last year it was great – cool and fine conditions meant our rut was full on from early October.

The most sought-after period is usually from mid-October to the end of the stag season, and last year we had Stu Snr and Stu Jnr from Seattle. Both had Scottish rutting stags at the very top of their ‘to do’ list, and had booked 18 months in advance to get out onto the hill with us.

The weather forecast was generally good, but there was a tricky wind that was mostly predicted to be blowing up the hill from the woodland, which is where we approach from. This would make the start of the stalk a little challenging, and would, on occasions, require a circular loop to get into the wind – but it was all achievable.

This is where it is essential to know where your deer are likely to be and the approach routes that will get you into position without being winded or seen. However, you can get away with a lot more in October than you ordinarily do on the open hill.

For most of the year, if you spook a small group of deer and they run across the ground in front of you then they will take any other deer with them, and you are done – or at the very least faced with a long stalk to a different and undisturbed area.

However, this month, all the deer seem to do is run around. You have stags corralling and rounding up the ladies and trying to hold them together under a watchful eye.

The other stags are watching and waiting and trying to nip in and steal a few away when they can. If they achieve that then the dominant stag will be tearing after him to give the interloper what for and get his ladies back, so it is a total hive of activity.

In this situation a few deer running across the hill is perfectly normal. Additionally, you have the added advantage of stags roaring frequently, so they often give their position away and allow for an unseen approach.

I pick up the tale on day four: the Stu’s had their stags, so to say they were happy would be a massive understatement. These were true sportsmen, appreciative of our efforts for them, enjoying the privilege of hunting on a stunningly beautiful estate in the autumn. Many photographs had been taken and memories made.

The busy October period sees stalking packages sold months in advance

We had headed out early that morning before first light, as I wanted to get to a part of the estate that was a long way out, and had to traverse some fairly steep valleys and watercourses across the hill. It was a cold morning, close to a frost, but still, so the water in these valleys covered our noise as I led into the valley ahead of us.

From this vantage point I could see the back of a good number of hinds on the edge of the ridge around 500 metres in front. I did not see a stag, but there would be at least one there, likely a few more in the locale. I was not after shooting the big guys now, as I am in a phase of building up the quality of the stags, and have been doing this for three years now.

The approach was relatively easy, and a small rise in the ground created an area of cover shielding our approach. From here we could use that high point to get a view, and should be in range if a shootable beast was around.

It went seamlessly. I sneaked around the corner of this rocky outcrop to see a good stag holding the hinds just at the side of a peat hag. To his right, around 80 yards away, was a second stag watching the group.

The sun was behind us, and I could see the stag holding hinds was a corker; 10 points, well-formed and all symmetrical, he was staying to spread his genes! The younger stag, good body and decent head of six points, could go.

I beckoned Stu (Snr) forward, and he took what appeared to be a solid heart/lung shot – it certainly sounded good!  The stag bucked a little and was off, obscured from view as it was immediately behind the peat hag and out of sight.

What was clear was that it did not exit left or right up the hill, as I would have seen it, so I assumed we would find him a few yards from where he disappeared – wrong.

After a 10-minute wait, we moved forward up the peat hag to look for the stag. There was no sign of him anywhere. I told Zosia to “Show me,” and she was off like a French exocet missile, straight to the horizon and out of sight, downhill into the bracken below. I cursed under my breath, “Silly bugger, it’s up here!”

She came back after around 10 minutes, and I cast her off again with a “Steady, show me” repeat performance. I now begin to wonder, so when she popped back up, panting like puffing billy, I put the tracking lead on.

Off we went, with Zosia pulling me on the same line, which also happens to be a well-used deer trail, and the line the hinds took when they ran after the shot.

After 600 yards, she pulled me down the valley and into thick bracken, down towards the bottom of the valley. I was beginning to think she was having a laugh and taking me for a walk; but unsure, I stopped, let her off, and gave her the ‘show me’ command again.

I was stood halfway down the hill side, and had a vantage point overlooking the valley floor. I could see Zosia running down the trail, and then cutting left, where I lost sight of her under the bracken canopy.

Then she started to bark. Crikey, she had it! It was couched in the thick bracken, still alive but close to death. A speedy follow-up ensued, and the stag was dispatched.

The shot was just a little back and high, and had missed all the vitals. Ordinarily that stag would not have run far, and the recovery would have been much easier. But pumped up on testosterone and rutting hard for weeks had clearly made a difference.

No hunter wants to wound a deer, or for the beast to suffer, so Stu was as relieved as I was to find the stag. Fortunately, we had a good dog on hand, and recovered the deer as soon as we were able.

I was delighted, as the training was starting to pay off, and she certainly earned her wages on this occasion! She was presented with a rather nice bottle of Scotch the following day, which she graciously offered to share with her owner.

I recall the comments I have made to clients many times, and mentioned on more than one occasion in this magazine, “Trust your dog”. I need to listen to myself more often!


Chris kitbag

Rifle: Haenel Jagersport 10 in .243
Scope: Meopta 3x12x56 R1R
Binoculars: Meopta range 10x 42 HD
Knife: Emberleaf Garron Custom
Boots: Ariat Catalyst Defender
Kit: Merkel UK ltd 
Roe sack: Apex Predator Napier


For stalking opportunities, Chris can be contacted on 07710 871190 or
www.ayrstalk.co.uk

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Posted in Features, Hunting

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