The magical Highlands
The region around Inverness in the north of Scotland is full of lakes and lunar landscapes called the Highlands. These lands really deserve to be called ‘High’ because you have to be really fit to scramble and climb upwards, crushing the land beneath your climbing boots.
The hardest thing wasn’t needing to be fit, although even though I’ve run three marathons in my life this challenge literally knocked me flat each evening (without mentioning the Scotch which might have had something to do with it, but that’s another story).
In addition to being fit, you have to be mentally strong and more cunning than a fox to stalk these large northern animals. They perch like lookouts along every metre of the ridge, spotting the slightest movement below them and alerting the herds.
I’ll take you in my backpack on my grand deer stalking adventure. We set off up the first steep slope at 11am; Gimmie my guide (or ‘gilly’), our camera operator Charlie Jacoby and me, because Gimmie had identified a young deer lying in the sun, out of the wind. After careful sighting, it was a 10-point future stag about 7 years old. We watched for a moment and suddenly we turned round and saw a herd of big deer on the ridge to our right, they saw us and galloped off. We followed them in our binoculars for quarter of an hour and intended to take our 8-wheeled off-road “Argo” 4×4 and track them. When we arrived in the valley, we saw 7 horses and 4 riders in our binoculars. It was the worst news of the day because their presence had emptied the zone. With not a deer to be seen, we abandoned the area after a well-deserved picnic.
An hour’s drive later, Gimmie tried his best by going to another valley. A fine strategist with the eyes of an eagle (a born warrier), he drove us to the foot of a downwind zone where we saw our first does and fawns, 27 of them in total. If there are does, there must be bucks close by, Bingo! We saw the crown of a massive set of antlers, and nearby, a young deer from that year.
Stalking the Big One
Without hesitation we started climbing up against the wind to the left side of the mountain. We turned and backtracked a bit to get around to the right so as not to scare the does away.
Out of luck, we stumbled upon two deer busy grazing just 100m from the path to our firing point. We watched them, but they were also too young, so we returned to the starting point and gambled everything by choosing the central path. It was the most exposed to the view of the animals. Some does saw us, but the two stags were still there.
We have to try before the deer move away, let’s set up to take the shot here, says the guide. A distance of 160 metres from the target is a first for me, my heart was beating faster and faster in my chest, would my 243-calibre rifle hit the bullseye?
That was when the large buck who had been lying down got up, and not counting the points is especially bad luck. I breathed deeply and waited for the command, “shoot” but the guide didn’t give it. A moment of intense concentration, the aim was perfect, I pressed the trigger… The stag turned, and was hit in the small of the shoulder, a perfect shot.
The young deer came over wondering what had happened, but we stayed hidden in order not to demonstrate the link between the cause of the silencer noise and its consequence. He wandered away calmly and at last we went to see the masterpiece. A magnificent 14-point Scottish stag. The monster of Inverness finally flushed out. My first deer and certainly the last because next year I will try fly-fishing, I promise.