“Upward and onward!” said a smiling Tim Fallon. I shook my head, then followed Tim’s gaze to the crest of the Sottish highlands, then looked at the wet heather at my feet! I was tired, but did not want to admit it! We still had at least a mile to climb before to get to the top of the backside of the mountain we were on. On the opposite slope of the mountain were bedded many red stags.
I reflected upon how foolishly, I had always thought the Scotland’s Highlands would be the easiest of my red stag pursuits throughout the world. That erroneous thought had gone out the window at least a thousand feet in elevation ago. Wrong thinking, I had not prepared for a hunt such as was unfolding. I started strong, but now I was walking about a hundred feet up slope, stopping to catch my breath and rest before heading ever upwards. If the acute incline was not enough, every step up we were being pelted by stinging cold rain.
I pushed back my Tyrolean hat to wipe sweat from my brow. In so doing, I looked over at Stefan Bengtsson, owner of Scandinavian ProHunters with whom Fallon and I were hunting. Stefan was smiling and seemed to be enjoying the moment. Truth was, so was I, this in spite of growing bone-tired, out of breath and getting wet! As I was to learn a couple of years later, had I been wearing a Drake Waterfowl rain jacket, I would have at least stayed dry!
Our Scottish Highlands adventure had actually started at a Dallas Safari Club Convention. Fallon and I had met up Patty Curnutte, The Global Sportsman to discuss some hunting possibilities. The year prior Patty had arranged a fabulous hunt for Tim Fallon and his wife Susan, and Dr. Tim Doucet and his wife Marit and me in Austria where among other species we hunted and taken alpine ibex hunting with Hunt Austria, Miesenbach. Our hunt in the Alps has been nothing short of fantastic!
After a brief visit, we agreed to hunt red stag in Scotland with Scandinavian ProHunters. We, amounted to Tim Fallon, Tim Doucet, Larry Bell and I as well as our wives, respectively, Susan, Marit, Ellen and Mary Anne. Our wives would tour castles and areas around Loch Ness while husbands hunted.
Before leaving for Scotland we learned we would be staying at Leys Castle, a gorgeous old castle established in the early 1800’s, hosted by the current owner and his staff. I decided we would film Fallon’s and my hunt for an episode of my “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show, which now appears year around on Pursuit Channel.
Our flight to Scotland was a pleasant, almost easy one. We arrived in Glasgow ready for the adventure.
After stowing our gear in Ley’s Castle we checked the zero on our rifles, mine a Ruger M77 RSI in .270 Win shooting Hornady’s 130-grain American Whitetail ammo. My full-length stocked Ruger was still dead on. It seemed an appropriate one for hunting Scotland. Before heading to the highland mists for red stag, we spent a couple of days “stalking” free-range sika deer, introduced to Scotland many years ago and looking for roe deer. Walking the hills and heather we did see some sika, but only young stags and females. Alas, I was looking for a mature stag. The only roe deer we saw were does, post-rut we learned is not an ideal time to hunt roe deer!
Leys Castle was not a “typical hunting camp”. It was a destination fit for a king and his queen! We were enjoyed scrumptious, epicurean delight meals. Our third evening in camp, Stefan, who sat between Tim Fallon and me, announced as he looked at the two of us, “Tomorrow Larry, Tim and I are hunting red stag on an estate about 30 miles distant. The property is quite large. It has a huge red deer population with many stags.” Then looking directly at the two of us said, “Be certain to take your rain wear. It will be raining tomorrow.” He continued, “We’ll hunt with a stalker and likely drive the one road which traverses the thousands of acres on the estate. When we spot a mob stags we will be going after them, on foot.” Before I could ask how far we could expect to walk, Stefan continued, “Our stalk could be a short one, but I suspect it will be rather long, and, all up hill. We will glass from the bottom of the valley, off the road. But if we don’t spot any stags, then we’ll head into the hills and glass distant slopes. The stags will likely be near the top of the ridges and mountains!” After several toast of proper Scotch whisky, beds started calling for our presence…
Next morning after a thirty-minute drive we met our “stalkers”. After introductions we drove the low country as Stefan had mentioned. We soon spotted two herds of red deer, one comprised of hinds, calves and very young “spiker” stags. The other, near the crest of the highlands was a large herd of stags. Said Stefan, “The roar is a month away. The sexes stay in separate herds until the brunft (breeding season) starts. Before going after this mob of stags, we will look farther down the road. If we do not find stags closer to the road, we will come back and go after the big mob up there!”, pointing to to the distant top of the ridge.
We did not find any stags closer to the road! So… we drove back to where we had spotted the initial herd at the very top of the mountain.
After parking along side the road, our stalkers evaluated the stags through spotting scopes. Moments later we waded a fast running river then, up the hill we went. And up! And up! And up! And farther up!
Our stalk began a little before 9 am. The walk up the mountain was slow, deliberate, and extremely tiring! Half way up the mountain we realized we would have to walk (slip-slide) around the back side and then come up over the top to get a shot. We hoped and prayed, the stags would still be bedded or feeding below the crest by the time we got to where we could see them and get a shot!
We finally, reached the crest of our mountain at three o’clock. There, our chief stalker eased over the top to survey what he could see below. A few minutes later, he beckoned us to move forward and join him just beyond the crest.
The last twenty yards we crawled on hands and knees, worming our way forward on our stomachs to get to where we could see the bedded stags below us. It was truly a sight to behold! There were twenty plus stags bedded below us about 300 yards away. As we started glassing, dense fog rolled in totally obscuring the stags. Visibility was down to about twenty yards!
Ten minutes later the fog broke just a bit. More glassing. We noticed a second mob of stage about three hundred-fifty yards below us and to the right of the initially sighted stags. The second mob held bigger stags. “I like the one on the far right.” Whispered Tim Fallon.
“I like the one on the far left. He’s not quite as massive as the one you’re looking at, but I think he’s a 5×5 with crowns on both sides.”
“Your stag is three hundred-ninety yards away. The one I’m looking at is three hundred eighty-five. Strong crosswind, we’ll need to allow at least 6 to 8-inches of wind drift. Could be more. Hard to tell! Nothing really to key the wind off of. Let’s wait for both to stand, when they do, you shoot. I’ll shoot on report. Just like we’ve practiced on the ranch.” Said Tim referring to the S.A.A.M. training on his FTW Ranch.
So began a seemingly eternal wait! For the next forty minutes we laid prone and waited. A cold steady rain fell. Civilizations began, conquered others and died…. Fog came and nearly went. Occasionally we could barely see the bedded stags. Sometimes we could not. All the while we were laying there we were besieged by midges, small fly-like demons that were feasting ravenously upon any and all exposed skin. Ahhhhh! I did learn, should I return to Scotland to hunt red stag, which I dearly hope to do, the next time I’ll bring mosquito net gear, and insect repellent!
After the eternity, but was in reality about 90 minutes, I heard Stefan say, “They’re getting up!”. Immediately I got behind my scope, found the stag I wanted to take and placed the crosshairs appropriately on his vitals! As previously mentioned I was shooting my Ruger Model 77 RSI (full Mannlichers stock) in .270 Win, topped with a Zeiss Conquest scope and loaded with Hornady’s 130 grain American Whitetail ammo, which my rifle really likes in terms of accuracy.
I allowed and held eight-inches of wind drift, took a deep breath, let it all out and then gently pulled the trigger. I saw the bullet strike about 6 inches farther back than I had expected. The wind was blowing substantially stouter than we thought. I heard Tim shoot.
I knew I had hit my stag a bit far back, but still where I should have gotten the back part of his lungs. With my second shot I held for 14-inches of wind. The stag dropped. I added a fresh round and kept the scope on my downed stag. He did not move.
I glanced at Tim. He wore a big smile on his face, as did I! When we were certain both our stags were down I reached for his extended congratulatory hand then turned and accepted the same from a smiling and approving Stefan!
Evening’s light was fading fast. We hurried down slope. Both Tim’s and my stags were proclaimed nine-year old by the local stalker. We could not have been more pleased!
Our Scottish highland stags were smaller in body than other stags I had previously taken in Austria, Argentina, New Zealand and North America. They were also more reddish in color. But too, they were extremely handsome and even more importantly…they were ours!
After taking care of the capes and particularly the meat which went to the landowner, we headed back to Leys Castle. That night there was more than a wee dram of single malt hoisted high in honor of the Scottish Highlands, Scotland’s red stags and all those involved in our hunt!