When the blizzard hits

As temperatures dip below zero, Chris Dalton is tasked with taking out a DSC2 candidate in Perthshire, hoping the snow doesn’t make stalking impossible

Last winter saw me heading up to Perthshire to do some DSC2 work with Shooting Show cameraman Shaz. We had three guys booked in to do this: Padraig and Killean from Ireland and Storm from Northumberland. Hinds on the hill are ideal for DSC2 candidates: usually I put a package together over three or four days, where even if training is required before witnessed outings, we can get all of them through the required three culls given reasonable conditions. Storm had done two roe already, so he just needed one more beast.

I had a wary eye on the weather as the forecast was for extremely cold conditions and snow – now that can make things difficult. If you get snow with freezing weather, then approaching deer in the open is challenging to say the least. However, I do have roe and fallow on the ground as well, so if need be we could concentrate on the lower ground and get into the hardwoods where we might be able to stalk quietly.

Shaz and I arrived on the Sunday evening and went for an initial recce to see what the conditions were like on the hill, and were faced with sub-zero temperatures and about 12 inches of snow. Stalking was a bit like wearing my grandfather’s old studded pit boots on a tiled floor – noisy would be an understatement. No point venturing far out on to the open hill in that unless it changed dramatically – the forecast was for as low as -15C that night.

Padraig’s snowbound outing was a success…

Depending on the time of year, when stalking the estate we either stay in the Tayside Hotel in Stanley or use one of the Kinnaird estate cottages. This time we were all in the Tayside Hotel, which is one of those really great traditional sporting hotels you occasionally find – nothing is too much trouble, breakfasts are whenever you want them, it’s always warm and there is good pub grub waiting for you when you get in.

We met the guys at the hotel and planned the following morning’s stalk. All had stalked with us before and were ready to go, so fully briefed, we were in bed reasonably early and off well before first light as I wanted to get to the edge of the moor in the dark before heading off into each of the beats. Shaz was away with Storm to the far boundary, and I put Killean in a high seat – he was on his own first so no witnessing, just a brief on cull beasts so he could practise his gralloch if he scored. I took Padraig myself.

I had Zosia with me, my young GSP. Witnessed outings are great when I am bringing a young dog on. Apart from briefing Padraig on the cull plan and a rough direction of stalk, having shown him maps and the lie of the land, I would let him take over with me following immediately behind him, so I could concentrate on the dog as well as observing Padraig. I was in the steadying-up phase of Zosia’s training – so if either of them needed a tap with my sticks I could oblige.

Padraig, who is an experienced stalker managing ground for sika and reds in Ireland, had elected to use a stream with fast running water to cover our approach to the edge of the hill where there was scrubby birch and willow. A good plan, as the weather would have most likely pushed the deer down into the trees where the snow lies less deep and they could access heather and shoots. Padraig asked if I would take the ATV up to the bottom of the glen so he could use the river as cover and to dull down any noise we would make in his approach.

…and a roe doe followed not long after in the same trip

We were in position an hour before sunrise, but it was bright early because of the snow, so Padraig set off straight away. Zosia was already interested so I knew there were deer not too far away in front of us, but I am not allowed to take any active part in the stalk, nor can I indicate deer to the candidate – he is on his own. So I followed, and was pleased to see Padraig pick up on the sign the dog was giving. He had stalked with me and Oscar before on numerous occasions, so he knew well enough to watch the dog. Padraig stopped 10 yards further on as we rounded a bend in the stream gulley, and glassed in front. Outlined clearly was a young stag no more than 80 yards away browsing on one of the isolated junipers – an easy shot but out of season so we moved on. Good training for the dog as well, who was sat looking at both the stag and then back at me as if to say, “What are we doing?!”

Fortunately about 200 yards further up there was a small group of about 15 hinds and calves. They were moving from some birch trees on our left and looked as if they would cross the gully right in front of us. Padraig made a swift assessment, whispered to me his plan and set off quickly to gain a high spot on a bend in the river where he could glass the party. I eased up behind him and also glassed the group – there were more deer than we originally saw, perhaps around 20 in total, and there was clearly an old hind and a small calf at the back of the group and closer to us than the others. An ideal cull beast, which Padraig had clocked as well. He told me he would take the calf first, then if the chance presented the hind immediately afterwards, and set up the bipod. He had ranged the shot at 170 yards and from a benchrest position he was easily capable of that.

The calf dropped to his shot, followed swiftly by the hind, which moved forward about 10 yards before stopping perfectly broadside to see what the noise was about. She managed a brief run of 10 yards before dropping.

A successful morning, a good training exercise for the young pointer, a textbook stalk and subsequent gralloch, and a relatively easy recovery as the Outlander was parked about half a mile from our position. All in all, a good morning – hopefully the rest of the team had also achieved success, but we would not find that out until we met for breakfast back at the hotel after a welcome hot shower.

Over the next few days the success continued with several red hinds and roe does accounted for, despite the weather plaguing us throughout.

For stalking opportunities Chris can be contacted on 07710 87110 or www.ayrstalk.co.uk

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