Into the Highland Mist

NAH Staff Writer Larry Weishuhn hunts the Scottish Highlands

“Upward and onward!” said a smiling Tim Fallon. 

I had always thought the Scotland’s Highlands would be the easiest of my hunts for red stags throughout the world.  That thought had gone out the window at least a thousand feet in elevation ago.  I was walking about a hundred feet up hill, stopping to catch my breath and rest before heading ever upwards and we were being pelted by a stinging cold rain.

I pushed back my Tyrolean hat to wipe away the sweat off my brow.  In so doing I looked over at Stefan Bengtssen, 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!

At the Dallas Safari Club Convention Fallon and I had met with Patty Curnutte from the Global Sportsman.  The year prior she had arranged a fabulous hunt for us in Austria for among other species alpine ibex with Hunt Austria, Miesenbach.

After a short visit we agreed to hunt Scotland with Stefan’s Scandinavian ProHunters.  We, amounted to Tim Fallon, Tim Doucet, Larry Bell and I as well as our respective wives Susan, Marit, Ellen and Mary Anne.  The wives would tour the castles and areas around Loch Ness while the men hunted.  Before leaving for Scotland we learned we would be staying at Leys Castle, a gorgeous old castle from the early 1800’s, where we would be hosted by the owner and his staff.  I invited a cameraman to film our hunt for an episode on my DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon.

Before heading to the highlands, I spent a couple of days hunting sika deer, introduced to Scotland years ago.  Walking the hills and heather we did see some sika deer, but only young stags and females.

Leys Castle, our “camp” was not a “typical hunting camp”.  Enjoying a meal fit for kings and queens, Stefan sat between Tim Fallon and me.  “Tomorrow you two and I are hunting red stag on an estate about 30 miles distant. The property is very large and has many stags. You’ll want to be certain to take your rain wear.  Once we spot shootable stags we’ll be walking.”  Before I could ask how far Stefan continued, “Our stalk could be a short one, but I suspect it will be rather long and all up hill. We’ll glass from the bottom of the valley.  The stags will be near the top of the ridges and mountains!”

After meeting our guides, we drove the low country and soon spotted two herds, one comprised of hinds, calves and very young stags.  The second, near the crest was a herd of only stags.  “The roar is a month away and the sexes stay separate until it starts.  Before going after this mob of stags, let us look down the road.  If we don’t find closer stags, we will go after the big group.”

We did not find any more stags close to the road!   So it was, wade the river and up the hill.  And up!  And up! And up!

Our stalk started about 9 am.  The walk up was slow and deliberate, but also tiring!  Half way up the mountain we realized we would have to work our way around the back side and then come up over the top.  Hopefully the stags would still be bedded or feeding below the crest. 

By the time we reached the top it was three o’clock  The head stalker eased over the top.  A few minutes later beckoned us to move forward. 

The last twenty yards we crawled on hands and knees then wormed forward on our stomachs.  Then we started glassing the twenty or so stags bedded below us.  Just as we started evaluating them, fog rolled in and totally obscured them.  Ten minutes later the fog cleared and we noticed another mob 150 yards below and to the right of the initially sighted stags.  The second group held bigger stags.  “Like the one on the far right of the second bunch.” I heard Tim Fallon say.

“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 5x5 with crowns on both sides.”

“Your stag is 390. The one I’m looking at 385. Due to the crosswind, we’ll need to allow about 6 to 8 inches of wind drift, possibly more.  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.

The next forty minutes we laid prone and ready, in the rain.  Sometimes we could see the bedded stags and sometimes we could not.  All the while we were beset with midges, small fly-like demons that were feasting ravenously upon our exposed skin.

After what seemed an eternity, I heard Stefan say, “They’re up!”.  I  quickly got on my scope, found the stag I wanted to take.  I was shooting my Ruger Model 77 RSI (full Mannlichers stock) in .270 Win, topped with a Zeiss Conquest scope loaded with Hornady’s 130 grain American Whitetail ammo, a load my rifle really liked.

I allowed eight inches of wind drift, took a deep breath, let it all out and then gently squeezed the trigger.  I saw the bullet strike about 6 inches farther back than I had hoped it would.  Obviously the wind was blowing harder than we thought it was.   I heard Tim shoot. 

I knew I had hit my stag a bit far back, but still where I should have gotten part of his vitals.  With my second shot I held for 14-inches of wind. At the shot, my stag dropped. I bolted in a fresh round and kept the scope on my downed stag.  He did not move.

I looked over at Tim.  He had a big smile on his face, as did I!  When we were certain both our stags were down I reached for his extended congratulatory right hand!

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.

Our stags were smaller in body, as I had been told they would be, than any other stag I had previously taken in Austria, Argentina, New Zealand and North America. They were also more reddish in color.

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 a wee dram or two of single malt hoisted in honor of Scotland’s red stags and all involved in our hunt!