by Vincent Prétôt
Amongst the countries with strong hunting practices, Scotland holds a place of choice. Landscapes are breathtaking, hunts are thrilling, and traditions are still well alive and respected.
At the beginning of September, I had a gap in my schedule due to the cancellation of a Norwegian hunt so I contacted Remy, a friend of mine who organizes hunting trips, with simple instructions: “I am free for two weeks in early September. This is my budget. Do you have something for me…?” I didn’t have to wait long for his response that same day. “Scotland, September 1st to 3rd. 2 red stags for your budget. Half price for two hunters. I need an answer today.” Game on.
Willing to share the experience with a friend I called Victor, a buddy from Spain, explained him the situation and asked for a quick answer. He was in, and wanted to come with a friend who was willing to discover the hunt as a non hunter. Deal. In less than 15 hours the trip was booked; in 24, plane tickets were bought and rendezvous with my friends set for at Edinburgh Airport on 1st September.
Scotland is a place for sport hunting, shooting old animals and not necessarily searching for a huge trophy. They grow nicely but not very big. One must take into consideration the size of its body: the Scottish red stag only weighs only 100kg dressed, much less than the Hungarian one. If you are lucky, you can get what’s called a “royal stag”, the one with a crown on top of his main beam. But –as our stalker (guide) explained us as we arrived to the hunting lodge the next morning, the holly grail is what they call a Switch: a stag without forks on top. To compensate its missing tips, it has a pair of nice daggers on the forehead that can stab and kill others. That’s why it’s better to take them away from the herd before an accident happens.…
After a first shot to conﬁrm the hunters’ connection with Ryan’s (the guide) rifles, we hit the road to meet his assistant, who was waiting for us with the traditional pony from the Highlands. They have been used for centuries to work in the fields and carry hunters’ harvests for they have a strong body and can tote heavy loads in difficult terrains. But they have such a good temper they are the perfect hunting pal as they stay calm in any situation, even after firing.
Our column of five was then on foot. We walked through the green lawns at the bottom of the Glen (Glacial valley) and up to the so-called Highland zone that, by that time, was covered in heathers, blueberries and long strands of grass loaded with infinite dew drops, patiently waiting to fall on your shoes, pants and jackets at the slightest touch. Once we reached the top, the landscape became smoother with hills and small valleys, easier to cover. Though, as drizzle soaked where vegetation couldn’t reach, a thick fog fell, blinding the view.
Ryan lives on these mountains the whole year long, and adding he knows red deers and their habits as his own is an understatement. After an hour in the Highlands, he paused, took off his tweed beret to wipe off a drop of sweat, and explained the plan. We were taking the left side of the mountain chain in front of us, for he thought deers were sheltering from the wind and rain there. Then, we confidently followed him across the fog, in single file. Last in line: the tireless pony and I.
As we moved past a stack of peat, he frantically signed us to stop and crouch. Bellow us, a few hundred of meters away, laid a group of red deers. He quickly reacted, pulled Victor by the arm and whispered the following steps. They both crawled towards me, passed by and told me to not move. They kept going, went round a hill and then appeared on my left. Meanwhile, our spot was completely fogged, granting us with the most beautiful view of the Glen.
Guide and hunter slided downhill through the grass like reptiles. The rut had not started yet and deers are no fools: if they saw a head pop out, they would have left without asking. When so many deers are shot every year, you obviously get to understand where the threat comes from.
l lost sight of the stalkers and patiently waited for a sign, a noise, a shout or a raised arm. Time ran slowly in silence. Suddenly I heard the attenuated bang of the 243, followed by a whistle and a loud “TOK”. It still took some more minutes to finally hear a victorious cheer after which we draw towards Víctor. Then came the time for celebrating, taking pictures and reviving the cast, while Ryan grabbed the stag and placed it on the horseback to head back to the civilization.
Our small column of hunters, friends and guide went downhill after the horse, like a solemn entourage behind the king of the mountain that was being banished from its kingdom.
Vincent Prétôt – 21.09.2019