Chris Dalton’s urgent call

Credit: thatadamlad / Getty Images

Chris Dalton finds a ‘quiet’ week disturbed by a call to urgently control a problem stag inside planted forestry

No doubt many of you enjoy having a nicely laid out plan for the week ahead – I certainly do. Recently I had just such a week lined up. I was going to put a day aside to get some assessment work completed for level 2 portfolios.

I also needed to go through and check out a couple of new plantations to make sure everything was OK. There were some seats to check, and some to move, and on top of that, I was sure the Memsaab would have a few jobs for me.

It was very relaxed; I had no clients to worry about, so I could lie in until 5am before checking my computer for emails – bliss.

Then everything changed. The first email of the morning was from Gavin, a forest manager I work with. A contractor had been checking the new trees inside the deer fence, and there was a stag in there, he told me. Could I sort it out?

I have been heavily involved in a forest creation scheme up at Kinnaird Estate in Perth and Kinross where I am the deer manager. This is a large scheme involving deer fencing, ploughing and planting an area of around 400 acres.

That’s larger than most farms, and we’re not talking about flat arable land. This is the edge of open hill, with valleys, deep stream gulleys, rough willow scrub blocks and deep heather. There is no high point where you can glass the all the terrain, and it’s full of dead ground and hollows.

Some of the plough furrows are almost a metre deep. Stalking for one deer would be searching for a needle in a haystack. 

Planting had finished a few months ago. We had tried, largely successfully, to walk out any deer before the fence was secured. There were inevitably a few stragglers who got locked in, and since locking the gates, we had stalked and shot around four roe and a similar number of reds.

The contractors had also installed a deer leap, essentially a wooden platform similar to decking set into a steep bank next to the fence, which naturally encourages deer to walk onto it and jump down to the other side. Once on the other side, they can’t clear the two metres of fence to get back.

Chris reaches the top of the gully – now the wait begins

Deer will naturally follow the fence boundary when they are enclosed, so that channels them to the ramp. We had witnessed first-hand a red calf using the leap.

Deer hoof prints below the leap showed that other deer had used it too. There had been no other sightings of deer for a month, so I had thought we had removed them all.

Clearly this had been optimistic, as we now had news of a stag still within the boundary. The forest manager and estate owner were keen to have him gone; there was an eye -watering sum involved in fencing and planting this area. No pressure then.

My well-laid plans in tatters, I booked a hotel room in Stanley and headed up north first thing the following morning. I wanted to be out before first light to check the wind and work slowly down the central glen.

Wind usually prevailed from a quarter that allowed me to stalk from the lower access gate, so I didn’t have to drive through the ground. This morning it was fine, so I was stalking into the wind from the off. It was little more than a gentle waft now and again, but it was something.

I was early, so I had to wait for the light to let me glass properly. Once I had good visibility, I looked for maybe quarter of an hour. There was nothing vaguely resembling a red stag to be seen.

I knew this patch well, and on any ground, there are areas deer will favour, so I headed towards a basin where willows grow. The basin is quite damp, and I had often seen red deer and roe feeding here, particular in the mornings and evenings.

I stalked slowly up to a vantage point overlooking the hollow and glassed down into it. There was still no sign of any stag… or was there? Under a large boulder, I caught sight of something reflecting the morning sun. At first I could not make it out clearly, but then movement confirmed that I was looking at antlers glinting in the sunlight.

It was a cool morning, so my stag was couched out of the wind on the highest face to catch the sun’s first warmth. His position was well thought out. He was looking down on a wide area, making him almost impossible to approach.

However, in my favour the sun was rising behind me, so he was looking directly into it when he glanced in my direction. The breeze was still in my face, so I thought I might be able to engineer something. 

I found a deep ditch and slowly crawled forward along it until I was under the hill he was laid on top of. I was now about 300 yards from him. Edging up the side of the hill, I could get up to a knoll where I should be able to see him.

Zosia’s keenness assured Chris that he was on the right track

I reached my chosen vantage point and peeped around the corner of a rocky outcrop. There was the boulder where he had been – but my quarry had vanished. Bugger!

Below and to my right I could see the boundary fence. Apart from a small section I had the whole fence line in view for 500 yards, so I was pretty sure he hadn’t gone that way.

The top boundary was about 150 yards behind the ridge above me, so I gambled that the stag would work left and follow the top section of fence out of sight.

I legged it quickly back down the valley I had just come up, across the road and up the gully on the other side, bringing me to a high point 200 yards or so from the opposite boundary fence.

The wind was still good, so if my hunch was wrong, I could always work back and see if the stag was browsing behind the high ground.

I got to just below the high point and knew I had made the right choice. Zosia’s nose was in overdrive, pulling forward so she could smell deer – in fact, I had to hiss to get her back in. So he was there, or at least some deer were.

I eased the rifle up and set the bipod out in front, then inched up behind the rifle peering over the ridge, a small GSP also pushing her head up under me – she did not want to miss out on the action!

She successfully got herself under the Meopta rangefinder strap, so I had to extricate her before I could glass in front of me. Nothing, but again there was dead ground to my right before the corner of the deer fence was visible. Zosia sat, nose pointing right, intently watching, quivering.

A quick check with the rangefinders – nothing was much more than 200 yards, and I have a backstop on all fronts.

It seemed ages, but was likely no more than a few minutes, when my stag appeared at the fence corner – light-coloured head with four points, good body weight, young, but clearly a cull animal.

I was glad he wasn’t a beast of better stature, as in any event he would have had to go. He was wary – I have no idea why, as I was concealed and did not move, but I am convinced deer have an innate sense of danger. He stood erect, head up, sniffing the air.

Unfortunately for him, that presented me with the perfect neck shot, and at the relatively quiet crack of the moderated Browning, he dropped with barely a twitch.

The problem stag is defeated and Chris’s work is done

Job done, all involved on the estate with the trees pleased, a GSP enjoying red deer kidneys for breakfast, and no more deer inside the fence.

It was hard work dragging him all the way into the carcase tray in the truck, but by the time was done I had warmed up a little. Now I could head back for my well-earned breakfast.

For stalking opportunities on Kinnaird Estate, Chris can be contacted on stalking@kinnairdestate.com, www.kinnairdestate.com or 07710 871190.

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