I don’t usually do blog posts so close together. I wrote my 100th post yesterday. I actually wanted to write this one for my 100th though. I guess maybe I felt the other one called ‘100th post. Mind games’, might have more universal appeal. I hope some people got something useful from it. This is more self indulgent though. A tale of what was a terribly important day for me. Luckily this is my blog, not a democracy so I can do whatever the hell I like. I hope you enjoy reading it.
I am very fortunate to have many fabulous, wonderful friends and even more so that one couple are fans of the Scottish Highlands. They take over a lodge deep in the wilderness for a week and invite some friends to join them. I felt very privileged to have been invited to go along and even more so to get invited back for a repeat visit!
The lodge is on a shooting estate and the idea is that the guests spend their time on the property pursuing the highland shooting estate activity that they most enjoy. Most visitors tend to want to go stalking Britain’s largest land mammal in his natural environment. The Red Deer Stag in the Scottish Highlands.
This is bucket list stuff for some. It kind of was for me. Let’s get one thing clear though, unlike New Zealand or other countries you cannot just sling a rifle over your shoulder and wander about the wilderness blazing away at stags. You basically have to do it on an Estate and pay for the privilege. It is a heavily and well controlled activity and is not for the faint hearted or casual shooter. The stags that are shot are carefully chosen, not just ones you happen across. It is a significant undertaking in one of the world’s most beautiful environments.
The height of the highlands may seem meagre compared to the Mountains of New Zealand, North America or Europe. The highest peak in Scotland, Ben Nevis is not even 5000 feet. They are big enough though when you spend the day clambering up and over them after a stag that is not keen on seeing you.
The Highlands are a staggeringly beautiful place to spend some time in, you can practically feel the history of Scotland as you make your way across the glens between the Munroe’s, which is what the Scot’s call the highest peaks. The pine and heather gives a wonderful fragrance. When it is rutting season you can hear the stags roaring in the distance, a primal sound, echoing off the hills and valleys. You can see them in the distance when you stop and look long enough. You can see Golden Eagles circling above. There is nothing for as far as the eye can see but the majestic Highlands.
I wasn’t here on this particular day for the view though; I had said I wanted to go after a stag. My hosts arranged for my guide and ghillie to take me up to the peaks to seek out the quarry, he doesn’t come to you.
We stood in a slight drizzle in a glen, light rain you might call Scotch mist, listening and looking at the Munroe’s all about us trying to see where a suitable stag might be spending his time. Ryan, the guide, spotted something only he could see and pointed vertically up to a point on a mountain. I really could not begin to imagine how I would survive the climb without heart failure.
It has been a long time since I have been fit so while I knew I was going to find the climbing tough I was unprepared for the exhaustion of the assault on the hill. I was blowing heavily after a shamefully short distance, but once you get into a climbing routine the air seems to come a bit easier. You just focus on the back of the guide who knows where he is going.
We spent the best part of half a day getting up to where Ryan had decided the stag would be. We dropped our gear, our bags and coats. He clambered up onto a rock and peered over the edge, he used hand signals to motion me to join him.
I crept up to the rock face and scrambled to see what he was looking at. He was right there. The stag Ryan had spotted that morning was about 150 yards away, sitting, sort of, chewing his cud if that’s what stags do, minding his own business, admiring his small harem of hinds and keeping a sharp eye out for potential rivals, just not sharp enough.
Ryan handed me the rifle and indicated he was going to ‘roar’ the stag to his feet. You don’t shoot a stag when he is not standing. Ryan did his best stag impersonation and a very convincing stag roar echoed across the valleys.
The stag threw himself to his feet and he was steaming, literally, in every respect. He was snorting furiously, hot breath erupting from his nostrils, clearly incensed to discover a previously unknown rival had got so close to his girls without him noticing. He was magnificent against the backdrop of the Highlands and the backdrop was huge, I could see for miles. I could also see him through the rifle scope.
At this point I will remind you if you didn’t know already that I grew up on a farm. I’ve shot all sorts since I was a boy. I’ve spent time in the army. I know how to handle a rifle and I’m a pretty good shot if I say so myself. I can take the head off a thistle at about 100 yards if I’m in the mood. I’ve despatched various members of the wildlife community for food and for fun. I have little compunction in pulling the trigger of a firearm in most circumstances. I had also taken the toughest shot no young man should ever have to take when I was just 18. I had to do something completely heart breaking which I will take to my grave. I know what happens at the far end of a weapon. I’m good with it and I’m good at it.
In my sights here though I have the most majestic creature you’ve seen, angry, on his own turf in a place of incredible beauty and almost spiritual significance to me. This is the land of my ancestors. I sighted him correctly and pulled the trigger.
The heart shot was mortal but he was a large stag and you could see he had felt it rather than dropping like a stone which was what I had expected. It was awful. He staggered, puzzled and pained, he fell, now dead but the mountain was high and the drop sheer. He tumbled down the steep face with the noise of his antlers clattering on the rocks as he went. After a short time he stopped and I went down to him, still warm, surprisingly small in death.
I looked at him and looked around me. I’d stalked and shot my stag on a Scottish mountain, I’d ticked a huge item on a list of things I had always wanted to do. I’m very fortunate to have been given an opportunity few will ever get.
I was really rather more sad than proud though. Elated or course at what I had accomplished but also upset. I’m glad I did it because it was something I wanted to experience, but I actually don’t want to do it again. It’s a personal thing, I have no problem at all with those that enjoy it and I understand why they do, it’s just that I don’t want to.
Thankfully I still get invited back and can walk in the Highlands, see the eagles, hear and see the stags, take some amazing photos and enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the world’s most amazing places. The Scottish Highlands, the land of my ancestors.
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