To most people, hunting Scottish red stags means the highlands of Scotland, a hard trek up a hillside, trailing a ghillie that is as nimble and agile as mountain goat whilst you struggle on behind, wishing you had put more effort into getting fit and less into finishing off the cheese board! However, there are different options available to those willing to search, no less enjoyable but without the (sometimes very) long journey to the far north of the UK.
Our team member James undertook a trip in October 2022 to Dumfries and Galloway, an area of Scotland just over the border with England, a stunning part of the UK with strong concentrations of roe and red deer, wildfowl on the Solway Firth and also now wild boar! This trip however was in search of red stags, the first for James in Scotland having only stalked them in England before (a story for another day).
He takes over the story…
After a wonderful, albeit tiring, trip to the States, I made the decision to escape to the beautiful Dumfries and Galloway coast to decompress for a week on my return. I had previously spoken to Colin Lockerbie earlier in the year about joining him to stalk the stags in the rut and hoped to tie in two days of this at the same time.
Day 1 saw me pull up outside a small but lovely hotel in the nearest village at 6.30am where two 4x4s were waiting. Quick introductions were made to Colin and his assistant stalker for the day Ben. Having also waited for the other chap who was stalking on the other side of the estate, we set off in convoy towards the estate before arriving at the estate office. A full briefing on the day was given, we would be splitting into two parties, myself with Ben, the other stalker with Colin and heading off to different sides of the estate. I had opted to bring my “practical” stalking rifle, a moderated Kimber Montana with a carbon synthetic stock and Zeiss Conquest variable scope in .30-06 as I knew the weather was going to be inclement to say the least.
The first stalk of the day consisted of a mix of driving across the estate, a mix of thick commercial forestry and open hill, before hopping out and exploring different areas where stags had been known to be located. Apart from one sighting from far off however the morning was a blank, albeit there were signs of the deer everywhere.
The evening stalk looked to be going the same way, despite spotting a couple of stags who melted away into the forest as we stalked into them and we were walking down a ride in a large commercial forestry block on our way back to the truck when something caught my eye moving in the shadows to my right. I quietly made Ben aware and he paused in a shady spot to limit our exposure whilst we focused on where the noise was coming from. A break in the trees allowed me to spot a stag making his way through the forest, on an intercept course with the ride in front of us. A quick discussion with Ben as to the size, body and antlers of the stag led to a decision that if the chance arose, he would be a good animal to take as there were better stags nearby that they would prefer to pass on their genes. Slowly and quietly I got set up on the quad sticks, a must for this type of stalking as they provide a rock-solid base, and waited patiently for the stag to show himself. At last he broke through the tree line at a brisk walk having not noticed us at all. Ben let out a small whistle which caused him to pause just long enough to put in a shot through his vitals at around 120m. He hardly reacted but instead ran into the treeline on the other side of the ride and all went quiet. I felt good about the shot although was slightly worried about the lack of reaction. We decided to wait 5 minutes, as is customary, to allow the stag to settle and not to push him on if he was indeed just wounded and not dead. Thankfully, within 25m of the treeline we found him stone dead with a perfect shot placed, it just shows how tough these animals can be and how they can react when they don’t know you are there.
A quick gralloch, and a slightly longer drag back to the road through two streams and the odd ditch (the area is criss-crossed with drainage), we got the stag back to the road and then it was into the back of the pick up before taking him down to the very smart larder on site.
Day two dawns and having dropped a pin the night before on the estate office location, I drive straight there for 6.45am. Ben is not with us today, instead I am introduced to Kris (also known as Big Kris), who it turns out is rather a keen hunter in his off time from the forces and has hunted all over the world. We set off towards a new part of the estate, with decent hills and a lot more open than I had previously seen. It was indeed, much more like a slice of the highlands. We park up and Kris suggests we go for a “brief walk”… This turns out to be actually quite a large walk, up several steep slopes into a force 9 wind and sideways rain, typical ghillie understatement! As I struggle to keep up with this tall, evidently much fitter, man who doesn’t seem to notice the weather, I start to notice that my coat is leaking. Note to self, ensure you re-proof your coat before major hunting trips!
We pause at the bottom of a long valley and slowly start to glass our way up before spotting a group of deer browsing quite happily near the top. It is too far to make out what they are at this distance but Kris advises that he has seen at least two stags in this area, one of whom is the biggest on the estate, so we decide to work our way back down the hill, to covertly approach alongside the burn (stream/small river) that flows down the centre and is surrounded by some rushes to hide us. A damp, slow approach, the final stretch on our bellies, gets us to a small rocky outcrop facing up the valley where we take it in turns to watch the hinds and the stag who accompanies them, at this point about 800m away. After appraising him, Kris advises he is a good 8 pointer and not the big stag that they want to pass on his genes, so we devise a plan to get closer and in a position to take him. As with all well laid plans, this proves to be in vain as suddenly another stag appears to our left having come over the tops and our deer start to move. We sit tight, hoping they will settle but they move back up and suddenly the valley is deer free. Or so we think.
Up on our left is a small copse of trees, no more than 75m on each side, yet offering a little protection in all this weather and it is from up behind here that a stag appears, the same stag as before, having moved round the valley out of sight. I get set up as he starts to work his way down the slope towards us, first range is over 400m, a little far given the weather. He pauses at just over 220m and he drops on the spot as I let the round loose. Reloading, I watch him through the reticule to make sure he is dead before turning to Kris for the traditional “congratulations”.
We are just about to collect our kit and make our way up when Kris tells me to keep down as another stag has charged out of the little wood straight towards our downed stag. We watch him approach it, obviously oblivious to what has happened yet his urge to challenge any interlopers overtaking any wariness. A quick discussion ensures. This stag is obviously larger than the first one, a good ten pointer and bigger in the body, but not the huge animal Kris has spotted before in this valley. The decision is reached that this one too can be taken and must be done quickly before he runs back into the cover and we lose him. The shot is sent, but hits a little higher than preferred as I over compensated for the additional distance and the wind, however he goes down and tumbles down the hillside slightly before coming to a rest.
What follows is an impressive display of how to recover a beast, made all the more impressive by my poor efforts to drag the smaller stag, half the distance in twice the time. Eventually Kris comes back to join me and helps me with my final drag before leaving them for collection by quad.
Back at the larder that evening Colin congratulates me on managing to take 3 stags in 2 days, the best result that week, especially as the weather had been against us and the rut abnormally quiet. The stags were to enter the local food chain and be served in one of the many excellent local pubs whilst the antlers will be mementos of a wonderful couple of days spent in Scotland with great company, amazing scenery and the chance to hunt some great stags. For a first hunting trip to this part of the UK, you couldn’t ask for more.
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