By Adrian Banks
Once again it was that time of year when I went up to the Highlands of Scotland for an all important and vital hunt, culling red hinds. It was the end of October and my 4×4 was packed with all the essential gear, rifle in .308 calibre, ammo, binoculars, camo and a bottle of whiskey. The journey is always a long one, but the scenery is spectacular as the road winds through mountains and forest. After nine hours of driving I was back at the cottage situated on a beautiful Highland estate.
The hunt that starts on the Monday is not a trophy hunt where fine stags are taken, but a vital management hunt. Females that are old and with poor conditioned hinds are taken to maintain the healthy well balanced population of red deer. Sunday afternoon brought a knock on the door. It was Graeme the estates head stalker, followed by “time for a wee dram” and a smile. We sat, had a few beers and a dram of whisky or two and caught up with what had been happening since we last met.
Monday started with zeroing the rifle. This is always done at the start of the week before heading out, to make sure the rifle is shooting perfect and confidence is high. As we headed out to the hill, I could see snow on the tops. This reminded me of a few years ago when there was so much snow, we couldn’t get out. Hopefully the weather would be on our side this year. We glassed the hill with our binoculars and spotted a group of about 20 hinds.
We decided the wind was in our favour. We only needed a short crawl and then we would be in a burn out of sight and with the wind in our face. When we got to the burn, there was a fair amount of water running fast from the snow melt. This helped to muffle any noise we made as we got nearer to the group. We carefully crept out of the burn and crawled as flat as we could to get closer and set the rifle up for a shot.
The rifle was set up with a bipod out and a bullet loaded into the chamber. A quick assessment of the herd and several hinds were marked for culling. I moved slightly forward and put the rifle in to my shoulder and took the safety catch off. The cross hairs were lined up on the shoulder of the first hind and as I gently squeezed the trigger that satisfying crack of the rifle was heard and the first hind was down. I quickly reloaded and the second hind was down. The rest ran, but I kept an eye on them. In the confusion they stopped and looked, and a third hind was broad side and good for a shot. With three down, the group was now too far to take a humane shot. Plus, we now had the work of getting these beasts off the hill.
Figure 1 “Photo” Adrian Banks and two of his three management hinds taken in the Highlands of Scotland.
The three hinds were gralloched (field dressed) and bled and left on the hill while we went and got the Argo. The Argo cat is an 8 wheeled all terrain hill machine. It certainly makes it a lot easier to get deer off the hill. As we walked back, a blue mountain hare sat and watched us for a short while before he decided to bolt. You could see he was just starting to change to his white winter coat for camouflage in the snow.
Figure 2 “Photo” The argo, a much needed tool in the transportation of game from the field to the table.
The rest of the week seemed to go just as well. We even stalked the woods after a few successful stalks on the hill. A roe doe was stalked and made a perfect alternative to stalking hinds, a very old hind was also encountered. She was very thin and had a tear in her ear. This was a perfect animal to cull. For once the thick of winter comes, the snow and cold is here to stay for a long time and she would not make it through. She had caught sight of us and we froze. At this point, no shot could be taken so all we could do was stand without moving an inch. She turned and moved off through the wood. We gave her a few minutes to move away and then started our stalk, hoping she had not taken off out the area.
We slowly moved forward, glassing the wood. Had we taken the right direction? We spotted her and she had her back to us. She seemed totally unaware that we had crept up on her. We were close now and could really see how much she was deteriorating. There was a tree in front of us. If I could get to that, then I could use it as a rest to take the shot. I edged forward ever so carefully, making sure not to make a sound. I carefully raised the rifle. At this angle, there was another tree covering her vitals. Again, no shot could be taken and I could not go any further. All I could do was wait, since I needed her to move a few steps forward. It seemed like ages, but in reality it was only a few minutes.
She made those few steps I needed unaware what was to follow. Again I pushed the safety catch forward and took a breath, then squeezed the trigger. She fell at the shot, I reloaded ready to take a second shot if needed. I waited for a short time and once satisfied I moved in closer. I touched her eye with the barrel of my rifle. There was no movement so I put the safety on my rifle and unloaded it.
Figure 3 “Photo” Adrian Banks and his management deer, taken after a short stalk.
The week wasn’t all busy with stalking the hill and woods. There was work in the larder to. Each day the deer shot was loaded onto a 4×4 and taken back to the game larder. Here each deer was cleaned, inspected and tagged ready for the game dealer to take away. Every deer taken goes into the food chain unless on inspection something is found to prevent this from happening. For my personal treat, I like to take a kidney, slice and fry it with an egg and toast for breakfast.
By the end of the week, we put 18 deer through the larder, 16 red hinds, 1 Sika hind and a roe doe. Not bad for five days stalking. Although tiring, it was very enjoyable and the Scottish highlands are certainly a beautiful place to hunt. Even though I was finished, there were still a few more hinds taken to finish the cull. As usual again next year, a deer count will be done and a management plan put together to determine how many will need to be culled next season. I will take another trip up there again, which could be yet another story.