Sunday, 31 January 2016

Highland Deer Stalking Part 3

The week races by, we are either on the hill, or drying out in the cottage. Where we feast on venison from home and cakes from the supermarket.  There is no internet so evenings are filled with military history programs on obscure TV channels. Even the comedy was military history. I quite like military history programs but I'd not considered how much better they'd become in the presence of real fans.  I once watched a whole 3+ hours of a marathon on TV with a committed sports buff, previously I'd not been able to work out why marathons were even televised, but there I was enthralled. I've gotta tell you, you've never watched Dad's Army until you've watched it with two guys who are playing the 'more obscure than thou' game, each topping the other with ever more arcane facts about the uniforms and weaponry used in the show.

The last couple of days we all spend together further up the glen, where we are stalking in twenty minute sessions  from the mobile bothy of the Landrover. Drive a bit stalk a bit. Now we're on the really exposed hillside, the snow has mostly melted but the wind is fierce. Even the ghillie is wearing a smock.
As the Landy rattles up the glen crunching the pebble and ice road beneath its fatter taller tyres I'm in the front, to my left sitting motionless on the steep wall of the hill is a Hind.
SBW: "Look theres a deer there!"
The Ghillie: Oh aye. Is that right
The ghillie seems almost pleased that we're going to knock in an easy one early in the day.
Mr Grendel: Don't say that we've got to drive back down south with him [adopts whiney tone] Did you see that? The Ghillie said I was the best when I spotted that deer"
The hind is sitting on the hillside staring at us, I poke the rifle out of the window and chamber a round.
The Ghillie: "Wind the feckin’ window up then you’ll have a rest."
still the deer doesn't move, 'Feckin'' window wound, I give her a round, still she sits and stares at us.
I give her another.
The Ghillie: Why’d do that? She's deed.

The Hind in question is the easiest retrieve we done all week, right up until I'm standing on top of her I can't work out why she didn't get up and bound off into the gloaming. At first sight I assume her injury is a broken leg from a fall, the bone has been severed by a round. From the black edges of the wound it looks like she's been hobbling about on it for a few days, the intact part of the leg is swelling but not yet gangrenous.  While the Ghillie gralloch's it suddenly occurs to me, it's almost exactly nine years and eleven months to the day that I had shot that first deer, which had also had its leg shot off.

During one of our short stalks from the Landy, which usually involve the Ghillie getting into position, with me trying to join him in time to take a shot only to watch the deer bound away. We find ourselves hiding behind a rather improbable wall. Its not three feet high and runs all the way up and over a windswept hill, and down the other side for no discernible reason. I ask the ghillie why anyone would build a wall there?
The Ghillie: "Sheep like ‘em", he looks into the middle distance for a while and adds, "wall bulldin’ and fecking, there’s not a lot else to do"

The Bambi Basher has brought a Ruger No.1 with him, chambered in 25-06. The quarter aught six is a cracking round, popular with highland professionals and Fox shooters down south for it's flat trajectory and reputation as being a lightweight that can still stabilise the 110-115gr pills which the .243's struggle with. If you don't like falling block actions you can start your own blog.

The Bambi Basher realises the Falling Block action loads better working with gravity, than against it.

The Bambi Basher and Mr Grendel have both gone out of their way to make sure my first Highland Stalking was a success, pushing me to the front. I suspect that they also enjoyed sitting it the warm watching the Ghillie beast me along through the binoculars. As the last day was drawing to a close the Ghillie had one more stalk in mind. Having dismissed my shooting and the Bambi basher's rifles Mr Grendel is in his sights.

Ghillie: Mr Grendel do you think that little rifle of your can get me a Hare for my soup?
We are all looking out of the Landy's windows with our binoculars, no one wants to be the first to ask what we're supposed to be able to see.
Ghillie: You see those little rabbits I painted white for you?

As we are now on the highest bit of the estate the wind, which lower down is like invisible tin-snips on your ears, is really fierce.  Mr Grendel's first misses, but his second vaporises the Hare's skull at a measured 187m!

Ever the Highland Professional the Ghillie made sure everyone goes home with a fitness-appropriate stalk under his belt, and at least one withering remark stinging his ears.

SBW:I saw lots of Grouse, how do you raise them?
The Bambi Basher's head sinks towards his hands
Ghillie: They’re wild

Testing the trigger on the Ruger 77
Ghillie: For a guy who loves his shooting, Bambi Basher always brings such rubbish rifles.

SBW: Do you mind if I use these gloves?
The Ghillie: I don't care as long as you hit the fecker.

Watching a pair of Roe I've missed bound away
Ghillie: At least you managed to shoot the one I tied up wit a dog lead last night

Watching Mr Grendel wheeze up a near vertical hillside
Ghillie: I think big Bambi maybe fitter than little Bambi.

Bambi Basher: So you're seeing (names mutual acquaintance)
Ghillie: Aye I asked her if she'd like 50 shades of Ghillie

SBW: Where do you stand on the Blaser debate?
The Ghillie: [dryness on setting one] You can tell a lot about a craftsman by the quality of this tools.
SBW: What do you shoot yourself?
The Ghillie: [dryness on setting two] Custom rifle
SBW: Calum Ferguson?
The Ghillie:[using his extra dry voice, shaken over two rocks of smugness]
Aye I’ve got two, 270 & 243
[for overseas readers: people argue about which of the many British gunsmith's is the second best, you never hear a word said against Calum Ferguson's work, the waiting list is years and for two of them, with glass, easily £10,000] 

It was a fantastic week, which would never have happened without The Bambi Basher's endless enthusiasm and generosity. Many thanks to my new friend Mr Grendel, hopefully we'll all do it again someday.

Final score

SBW 7 ( six roe and one red) Ruger 77 chambered in 7x57

BB 3 (roe) Ruger No.1 chambered in 25-06

Mr Grendel 2 (roe) + 1 hare CZ 527 re-barrled/chambered in 6.5 Grendel

For the gear hounds and kit-tarts I'll do a round up of the gear we used, and the gear we should have used, in a future post.
more soon
your pal

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Stalking Fallow With The 7mm08

A couple of weekends back I managed to get out of town for the weekend to go stalking with 
Mr7mm on the flatlands of the east coast. Viewed from the train the farms are divided into lots of neat rectangles of expensive fencing. Horse country. Up there its Fallow and Muntjac, the Fallow being more pressured never really get that big, the Muntjac being perfectly sized for living in the margins of these hobby farms are everywhere. I prize Muntjac as an eating deer, but there's not much to them, so only the most committed restaurant chef would put them on the menu, the work-to-meat ratio will never compare well to putting a Fallow in the chiller.  

The season has been so mild in the south of England its been more a very long autumn than an actual winter. Inevitably  the weekend we'd chosen had been the tipping point and the frost had given the ground a crunch with even some former puddles now ice lying in the shade. Mr7mm has some highseats but this is to be stalking on foot. As usual significantly over dressed I wobble along behind him glassing as we go. 

The site Mr7mm has chosen is that great classic stalking ground, where the woodland edge provides a browse-line and a wide ride / narrow meadow gives lots of visibility, under the pylons and power lines. The sun is behind us, and across the clear cut,  falls warming the browsing opportunity. Within a few minutes a Muntjac Doe ambles out of the wood to take the evening air. Before I can get into position she's off back into the wood. About 400m to our right a a mixed-sex group of Fallow silhouette against the evening traffic. We wait, birds sing, traffic whooshes, the power line's buzz and the occasional boom of a bird scarer. The far Fallow disappear from view. We wait. But not for long. Two Fallow Does pop out of the trees directly opposite us, even nearer than where the Muntjac had been standing. This isn't the frenzied snap shooting of highland stalking, we have all the time in the world. The deer munch a bit, chew a bit, and munch a bit. We too have time to chew over which to shoot, there's little difference in size or range. Once a Doe pauses for a few seconds longer than usual presenting a perfect opportunity Mr7mm gives the word and I drop her two steps from where she caught the round.
In the time it takes for the firm handshake [no whooping or high-fiveing - we are in England after all] the mixed-sex group reappears milling around not 50m from the dead Doe. They seem totally oblivious to the gun shot. It turns out they are acclimatised to the continual bang of the bird scarer during daylight hours. The Fallow have moved on a bit so Mr7mm gives his scope turret a twist and with a muffled crack drops the Buck to the ground. 

 The guys I've done most of my stalking with are very committed to simplicity and use fixed power scopes with simple reticles. Mr7mm has one of those Swarovski's with the turrets so you can move the scope to range by twisting to one of three pre-set markers on the turret. Very impressive bit of kit, with that little bit of extra light transmission and the red dot instead of a reticle, it was just that little bit easier to get on target in the dying half hour of the daylight. Very nice bit of kit, but literally the price of a NEW Blaser. Yikes! Amongst other 7mm rifles Mr7mm shoots today its a SAKO 85 in 7mm08 with 120gr bullets, doing just over 3,000fps and what a great set up it is. With the combination of; lightweight bullets, the moderator, the 85's stock design, and several layers of clothing, the load recoils so lightly its not far off shooting a really light .22LR. Colour me impressed.

The following morning we make another outing to a different piece of ground, where we see a spectacular opportunity for a Muntjac Buck, which sadly doesn't end up happening. It's called Hunting not Shopping. At our next stop we get a perfect broadside on a Fallow Doe. Which somehow I mange to shoot through the liver. We skirt round the hedge she's hidden behind and Mr7mm hastens her end with a head shot. Slightly deflated from where the day before's text book shot had left my confidence I except Mr7mm's offer of some of his sausages, and burgers, and with plans for the afternoon back in the smoke I head for home. We've not set a date, but one day I will return to the flat lands in search of that freezer full of Muntjac, and while I'm at it I'll get him to give me a few pointers on sausage making. Dude's got skills.
More soon
Your pal

For more about the 7mm08 Remington you can read Hodgeman's thoughts HERE

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Highland Deer Stalking: Part 2

The Ghillie's Office a short walk between desks

What are you doing for your birthday?
I'm going to be on a freezing hillside in the snow and rain, lugging a rifle along as I'm beasted up and down the highlands by the ghillie. 
My happy place

There have been a lot of stories told about the highland stalking experience, often from a money no object perspective. With everything sporting on these islands there is a kind to historical theatre on offer for them that wants it. You can go to estates where the Stags are brought down off the hill on the backs of especially stubborn ponies. Led by kilted locals of similar temperament. You’ll be guided by Ghillie's and Keepers wearing patterns of tweed unique to the ground you’re standing on. On the really big estates there’s enough water courses to have Argo-cats to get about. This story takes place on a relatively small estate of only 5,000 acres. The estate sells Grouse shooting both from the Butts and Walked Up, Pheasant, Reds, Roe and Mountain Hare. On the big estates you stay in the grand baronial mini-castle. We are self-catering in a cottage down the road.

“Yes I’ve done it, where you crawl about all day in the mud and bog, you shoot a deer and on walking back you’re 200 yards from the cottage, I bet you love it”
Unknown Toff - met at Pheasant shoot

I awaken in the glorious any blackness of the predawn of my birthday, no street lights, no car horns, or sirens. Surprisingly considering the day before’s exertions no searing pain. It’s my birthday and just for once I have no expectations or hopes to be crushed. Just a brutal day of highland stalking with whatever surprises it throws my way. But first the sweet black taste(s) of morning. Coffee served as it tastes best, with a new day all to play for. A day with rifles and venison in it. The temperature outside the bed covers suggests that it may even be a day that starts in dry clothes. Any day that can start with dry clothes; coffee of the Italian persuasion, and eggs, eggs from shells-not from powder, has started well. As I leave my room it occurs to me that the Bambi Basher has brought a black pudding and some sausages with him. The foundations are in place for a really great day. Happy birthday me.
The cottage is picture postcard, with brass ornaments, exposed stonework and an assortment of furniture that will one day puzzle interior design students. Nice but has some strangely thought out features; in England light switches are placed where your eye falls, in Spain they’re where your hand falls, in the cottage, perhaps in an attempt to limit the amount of copper wire used, they are scattered where you’d least expect them to be. Some we never found.
I give up looking for a hall light and too lazy to stumble back to my room to look for my head torch I make for the kitchen. The stairs may have been recycled from a much larger property, they are wide enough for a town hall so its very easy to step into empty space with the banister rail you’d use to save your life well beyond reach.
Now thoroughly adrenalised and fully awake I tour the drying areas in front of the storage heaters and rearrange the now warm dry clothes. So far so birthday.
The kettle boils, the sizzle of sausages and black pudding becomes a siren call drawing fat boys from their beds, in order of size. “Morning mucker, happy birthday!” first up The Bambi Basher hoves into view.
There are two opposing schools of thought when it comes to a hill-breakfast.
Plan A; stuff your face so you’ve got enough fuel to survive all day without eating again, using slow-burning carbs.
Plan B; smaller breakfast made of protein and fat. Memories of being over dressed and over stuffed the day before, prompt me to eat the smallest birthday breakfast I’ve had in a few years and dressing, I sacrifice one layer of fleece. After the debacle of the day before where the scope came loose from the rifle, I spend a couple on minutes looking at the crumpled sheet of paper we used as a zeroing target, with its cluster of holes overlaying the back squiggle of marker pen. Absolute confidence in the equipment is a must.
The clothes I’d chosen performed flawlessly, I’d eventually gotten wet, but never cold and wet. My binoculars had recovered from being dragged though the bog a few times, my boots had kept water out until totally submerged for the Nth time. What could go wrong? The Bambi Basher has other plans for the day, so Mr Grendel and myself set off to find the Ghillie.

The Ghillie looks delighted to see us, which immediately makes me suspicious that he has some horrific fate planned for us. “Its his birthday” Mr Grendel announces. The ghillie’s eyes narrow slightly. The wind drops for a moment and I can hear to ghosts of long dead sportsman, whose bones lie where they fell on the hillside, wailing their terrible warning ‘Yer doomed! Doomed I tell yee’. Facing my way with his back to the Ghillie Mr Grendel allows himself a little smirk knowing my fate is sealed.

We clamber into the landrover, it's been raised up on significantly bigger wheels in a conspiracy to make all but the tallest sport feel as unfit as he really is. The Ghillie fires up the repurposed blast furnace of a heater, its all very cozy, my trepidation lessens, the Landy has started to feel like a refuge from the elements.

Mr Grendel: I’ve had a few Landy’s both of my own and of Her Majesties, I’ve never been in one with a heater like this!
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?

This is the highlands so the changeable weather has blown in a change. Some of the day before’s snow has melted, and being the highlands has just a quickly changed back and been refrozen as a thin sheet of ice over the snow and freezing mud. The Landy lurches and slides its way up the glen, the Ghillie’s hands shuffle the wheel like a Stig, When that doesn't work he tries to use the the tires to melt their way through the snow.

The Scottish tourist board have laid on another of those stunning moments where you’ll swear you will return, all aching limbs and inaccuracy induced shame momentarily forgotten. The clouds part like stage curtains, sunlight illuminates the hillside, heather glows with diamond sparkling dew and the Red Stag herd, some 250-300 of them, stand proud against the snow on the far far side of the glen. Emerging from the rancid cloud of tire smoke we lurch forward and the clouds bear in again. A white mountain Hare bounds past, turns to watch us, bounds on, turns to watch us, after the forth time it bores of the game and scampers away across the heather.

Mr Grendel: I like your office a lot more than mine.
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?
SBW: Do all clients say that to you?
Aye, [pause] you might say its worn a little thin, [special Scottish extra-long pause] over the years.

I give Mutley style snigger, and blow snot all over my own face. The ghillie’s expression says ‘you just can’t the the clients these days’. So far so birthday. And the torment is yet to begin.
We leave the hothouse of the Landrover, as usual the ghillie is off like the proverbial racing snake. By the time we’ve shouldered our rifles he’s away across the snow. I try to long-stride after him, stumbling from tussock to tussock. We are about the same height and it gets a bit easier as I start to stepping-stone his foot prints, wearing a bit less than the first day I’m feeling a bit less overheated and light headed. In spite of yesterday’s equipment failure I’m starting to see how this could work out. I turn back to see Mr Grendel face down in the snow, on turning back the ghillie is a field of snow, heather, and mud away. He’s now doing that exasperated waving thing again, the wind howls, more snow gusts at us, I struggle on. I’ve lost the Ghillie’s footprints and either lose my footing; my boots slipping between the tussocks, or worse still I sink knee deep between them where the thick black mud sucks. After many a slip I finally start to make some progress.

There’s a sudden lightening of my load. Surprised I twist back just in time to catch my rifle while its still butt-down but upright on the ground. Sling failure. Of course the Ghillie has turned back to issue more impatient hand gestures so is watching the whole debacle. I look back the way I’ve come. I’m not sure if Mr Grendel is recovering from another plummet or just had his head in his hands in despair.
Sling mended with a bit of string - Ghillie’s pocket - I didn’t have a piece, for shame. We’re all caught up and the next stalk begins. “When ah turn round I wanna be able to touch both of you”
No more fart-arse-ing about, after all the Ghillie is in wellies boots, but his ankles never bend, most of the time he still has his hands in his pockets.
SBW: [panting] I keep expecting you to spark up a fag
The Ghillie: [deadpanning]
Aye. is that right, ah used to smoke, [special Scottish extra-long pause] it did used to irritate the clients.
We stalk up hill, we stalk down hill, occasionally we stalk across the hill, somehow we stalk around the hill crossing our tracks several times. Suddenly the Ghillie does that thing where ‘racing snake’ leaves the realms of metaphor and becomes a literal description, he basically dives down the steep hillside slithering along on his belly until the heather gives way to shale where he moves into a low crouch. I follow him, more sedately obviously. Rounding a mini-crag of cold slippery rock I find him signalling and then shouting for me to catch up. Two Roe doe have just become aware of his presence and are high tailing it away. I trudge back to Mr Grendel who’s taking a breather, sheltered behind the remains of some ancient drystone wall. We share that moment of wordless understanding familiar to all travellers in far flung lands. The Ghillie strolls past “When ah turn round I wanna be able to touch both of you”
Back to the Landrover. Once we’re back in the warm its all a laugh and a joke again. Like many psychopathic bullies our Highland Professional alternates between being hilarious and withering disdain. But on the upside he will not let you fail, even if you nearly die in the attempt.
Some more of the same later we’ve been up and down, and down and up, I’m really not sure if I’ve got it in me to climb another one, we cross a stream, and cross back again several times, taking the route down along the water course we are obscured from the hillside far above us. The ghillie turns and starts up the near vertical hillside. I pull myself up grabbing handfuls of heather until I run out of heather, I struggle on up the hill and catch him up, he takes my rifle and in his anti-grav wellies saunters on up the hill. I follow. Instantly falling through the thin crust of ice into the snow, as I push down with my hands to get my head out of the snow, both of them disappear into snow deeper than my arms, I’m like a beached bearded walrus, I roll over on to my back and manage to struggle to my feet, the Ghillie is lying prone about twenty meters above me, somehow we’re now bellow three Roe. Reinvigorated by my snow-bath I power myself alongside him collapsing behind the rifle which balances on its bipod. I’m wheezing like a broken set of bagpipes lying in the snow. Breezily he tells me to relax and let my heart rate drop, I chamber a round and at his command shoot the first one, he tells me to shoot the second, and then the third. The first bounds away and the other two drop dead in their tracks, “there you see just as easy as that”.

Obviously I’m delighted, the light is failing fast this was the last shout. We pull the first two together and the Ghillie gralloch’s , the third eludes us. As we’re driving back I’m resigned to going back up onto the hill with a dog to look for the lost beast.
Ghillie: Oh aye that's what we’ll do, we’ll wait ‘till it gets dark and is snowing before we go and look for twelve pounds worth of venison”
Suddenly I cant help but see the pantomime of him guiding us as we play at doing his day job.
The next morning I cant get up from the sofa, BB and G spend the day on the hill, as they meet him at dawn the Ghillie smirks “ I think I may have broken your pal the Bushwacker” if i’d been there all I could have done is feebly concur.
More soon
Your pal