I hunted red stag at the Glenmuick Estate in Ballater, Scotland September 28th and 29th. I also observed a driven grouse shoot a couple of days later at Invercauld Estate, next to Balmoral and supposedly the Prince of Wales (good ol' Charles) in involved in leasing some of that estate for his shoots. 'Guess he needs a little more room to roam.
Here's a couple of "mood" pictures:
'Saw this family crest later in our trip, but it has a concise motto that sums up the Scottish spirit:
The way these "hill stag" hunts work (as opposed to a "trophy stag" behind high fence that costs) is you go with a gillie (guide) in a land rover towing an Argo (the second day it was a Polaris)on a trailer. You glass from vantage points, then you hike around hills to a point where the gillie leaves you for a bit while he goes on (usually crawling in the heather) and puts together a final plan. He comes back and you follow him, crawling, while he drags the rifle in its slip (case) until he sets up the rifle, including putting one in the chamber, tells you to slowly crawl up beside him, and he tells you when to shoot. Both times we crawled for at least 300 yards, downhill. As you can see in the pictures, there is zero cover, kinda like Pronghorn, except with no bear grass. You shoot the animal the gillie determines is on the decline. You might see a bigger stag, but they leave the ones in their prime for breeding. Now I know some of you independent types don't want anyone carrying your rifle and telling you when and what to shoot, but, if you want to hunt stag in Scotland, these are the traditions and the rules you follow. It's not particularly an easy hunt, there is plenty of cardio getting down and back up these hills, but granted, they handle everything, especially retrieving the game animal.
The first stag on the first day is 9 points. He was lazy and wouldn't get up, lazily "roaring". My gillie "roared" several times to get him up. When he finally go up, he started trotting to the left, at about 180 yards. After flying all the way over there, anticipating this hunt for months, crawling like I've never crawled and seeing him start to trot out of sight, I got excited and pulled the shot. Right height, but heard that horrible "thump" of a gut. Thankfully he laid right down. I'd had an opportunity to put another one in him and asked the gillie, but he said "no" and explained later that if he hadn't gone right down after a second shot, chances were good he'd run for miles. Again, their game and their rules, so he politely told me he'd go finish him. I watched him take 1/2 an hour to cover about 140 of those 180 yards, the whole time me praying as hard as I could that the animal would expire; he put his head down many times during that time. But, it wasn't meant to be and the gillie dispatched him with a shot to the base of the skull.
Gillie's dog anxiously waiting him to return with the plan"
The second day was very warm. A different gillie (David) took me this day. At the base of the hill, before we started up, he said "it's aboot to get wah-rum", and it did. Felt like a usual opening day of Texas whitetail season. Same routine - hiking, him going ahead, then crawling like crazy. This guy too wouldn't get up, so I sat over the scope, terrified he'd get up when I wasn't looking and not be able to pick him back up in the scope, for about 1 hour. Finally he got up, I shot while he was tearing up the ground with his antlers, and he dove into the ground and never got back up. This one felt like it had all come together well.
It was a tremendous experience, even if I did only pick up about every third word the guys said. I would go again in a heartbeat. They sell almost every bit of the stags. I just get the skull and antlers. I of course, could have done a shoulder mount, but didn't want to spend any more expense and it's a bigger hassle getting that shipped and finished. They even sell the private parts to, you guessed it, Asia.
The driven grouse hunt was interesting. It's a community wide event with beaters, dogs, vintage English shotguns, and American men dressing in funny clothes (ok, I know my hat was funny, but I had to. My dad wore one a lot.)