Autumn this year has been warm. Very warm. I have just returned from the south of Ireland – the stag season had just closed, yet few trees had really turned and t-shirts were still the attire of choice.
Thankfully, while I have been away working, some decent rain has come to the Angus Glens and much of the country. The rivers are up, and the salmon can finally make their last push to begin spawning. With a few days left of the season, there may even be a chance for me to bag another fish before the close. We will see.
I look now to the hind season and roe does. The red rut is always awesome, and this year I sampled the Irish sika rut as well, but when it comes to hunting, the pursuit of hinds is always something I look forward to for my own personal pleasure. Yes, the weather tends to suck; yes the days are short; and yes it’s cold, but I love it. It is hunting in its purest form. There can be no question or accusations of ‘trophy hunting’, and there is no denying that this time of year forms one of the most important time frames for effective, sustainable management. As most people know, it is the management of the female component of any population which drives the dynamics in terms of overall numbers.
It brings me great satisfaction to know I have helped play a small part in the management strategy of wherever I am lucky enough to be hunting. Of course, it also comes with the great benefit of filling my freezer, with the bird hunting season firmly thrust upon us as well. Venison sourced on my own permission, wildfowl successfully shot, and game birds taken home will mean that come February, I am well set for the following six months.
As the mornings cool, and the pre-dawn frosts become more regular, I begin to think about our organised wilderness hunts. It may seem a strange time of year be camping out, but it is the ideal combination of affordability, challenge and variety of hunting.
Last year saw two parties join us on two separate hunts – one in November and one in January. We have been lucky that every group of people joining in our hunts have bonded, and made for an unforgettable all-round experience. It’s not always like that, as I know from other trips and hunts I have been on. Sometimes one person can shift the mood in camp, positively or negatively. But that doesn’t happen here. Maybe it’s the type of hunters who want to come on a wilderness hunt, in a location with no mobile signal, wi-fi, shower or heating. A place where we cook food over a fire, sleep in a communal tent, and use an outside toilet consisting of little more than a box with a two-foot hole dug below it.
It takes a certain person to seek this out, and know that we are responsible for all our own actions. We make it clear to everyone that although we are there to help each other, we must all be prepared to graft and consider the consequences of pulling the trigger. We remove the convenience of mechanised vehicles as much as possible, requiring all game to be transported manually to base camp. When your animal drops, there needs to be a plan to get it out. That could mean a drag. It could be a pack out in pieces, but there is no stalker to look to for the hump home. No one is going to get their hands dirty for you when it comes to the gralloch. At the very least, if experience is limited, hunters must be prepared to participate and learn.
Unusually, the snow remained in place for most of the season, with Scotland in the grip of one of the most bitterly cold winters in many years. One consequence of this was that our camp location had to change owing to the barrier of deep snow filling the only track in. These things happen, and we adapted to the cards that we were dealt, instead moving to the opposite side of the estate where the track out lay higher, more exposed to the wind, and mostly clear of snow.
On the November trip, I had the pleasure of my dad joining to lend a hand, with my brother still firmly out of action following the injury detailed in the December 2017 issue of Sporting Rifle. We wouldn’t know it at that point, but he would be laid up for a further six months after falling and smashing his knee open on a shoot. It required surgery in June of this year to finally get it on the mend.
A staunch group of friends had come together as a team of four, spending three days facing every type of weather Scotland could throw at them. From gale force winds dumping waves of snow, to whisper-quiet mornings under the harsh sun, we had it all. It wasn’t an easy few days, but everyone managed at least one animal each, with some tallying a beast a day.
Unfortunately one of the crew damaged a muscle on day two, having to sit out the last day of hunting. As it turned out, the hunter had done some quite serious damage, knocking him out of the game for many months, with surgery needed to aid recovery. Sometimes these things happen, and usually, as in this case, it’s not when doing the hard graft. It’s doing something that feels silly, like landing a bit awkwardly after jumping off a peat hag, or grabbing a backpack at a funny angle.
The January trip brought even more snow and colder conditions, but the hunting was equally as memorable and enjoyable as the hunt two months before. Indeed, on numbers alone it was more successful, albeit with one hunter fewer than the maximum of four. It was just one of those trips where very little went wrong, and we totalled nine hinds for three hunters over the three days – all of which were extracted by hand.
One of the aspects I enjoy the most about these hunts is the detachment from the outside world. It simply isn’t possible to communicate with anyone else apart from those hunters in your party. No one sits staring at a phone screen. People make conversation. They tell stories. Joke and laugh. This is how it should be.
For information on Wilderness Hunts, visit www.thepacebrothers.com