Monday, 21 December 2009

I've decided to give up keepering and take up entymology instead. I managed to pick up another bug a few days ago- the Noro Virus this time- and it's been a real healthy specimen. Which is more than can be said for me.

What this means is that I've had fewer adventures on the hill to tell you about. So what has been happening?

Just a few days after my last blog I shot ANOTHER hind with 'carbuncles'. She was a yearling and the reason I'd selected her was that she had a broken foreleg. The growths weren't as extensive as on the first hind but still way more than I've come across previously. I wonder if it's anything to do with the fact that she'll have been lying up a lot with her injury. I did take photos but they make it look like I was out stalking in a London Pea-Souper. With the way that the weather has taken a turn for the colder, I suspect I'm going to have a lot more trouble with lenses misting up.

And talking of which, the TV news has been full of stories of mayhem and carnage as Britain enters it's next ice-age. Maybe we've been missing out up in this neck of the woods (we've 2"-3" snow) but it all appears to be rather exaggerated. Correct me if I'm wrong.

But on the estate now, we're winding down for Christmas. The hill ponies are all back from their outposts on the various beats. The farrier is up today and they are all being reshod. Any hinds shot today will have to be 'handy' ones- and I use that term in it's very loosest sense-that can be dragged to a land-rover or boated across the loch.

Other than that, pheasant feeders will be topped up and land-rovers cleared out prior to tomorrows shoot. This is a little rough shoot we have to ourselves once a year, but it still requires a bit of planning and organising.

And that's about it. I have to say I'm REALLY looking forward to resting up for a few days. It feels like it's been an almighty struggle this season and our cull numbers back this up. Normally 3 of our beats aim to have 100 hinds each by Christmas but it just hasn't happened. We'll just have to hope that this snow sticks around for a while and we get the benefit of it once we're back to the cull in the new year.

Before I go, I'd just like to thank those of you who left comments. Your messages of encouragement were a much-needed tonic.

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Over the last few days we've had clear skies. Night-time temperatures have dipped to a cool -7 Celcius and the days have been brilliant and crisp. That description might also have applied to the washing on our line, though a metaphor involving armour-plating would maybe be more appropriate, if I could only think of one.

The photos I've (hopefully) posted with this blog show a beast that I shot last Friday. I had stalked into a group of about 100 animals and was sorting through them when I noticed a large yeld hind with a 'protuberance' on her belly. From that distance, and the fact it was shaded, it looked for all the world like she had some of her guts hanging out. (Although she did seem remarkable calm about it. Certainly more calm than I would have been!) Anyway, it was that that put her top of my 'hit list'.

When the smoke cleared and I walked up to her I was surprised to see that it wasn't her guts hanging out but this large area (for want of a better word.) It has to be said that it's not terribly unusual to see one or two of these things on an animal but never so many or so big.

I had to skin that area of her belly to gralloch her and found nothing unusual under her skin except a slighly enhanced blood supply. Furthermore there was nothing out of the ordinary with any of her lymph nodes or internal organs. In fact, she was in really good shape- apart from being dead.

I'd be interested to know if anyone else has come across this condition, or what causes it. And, yes, I realise that one of my pics makes her look remarkably like a kangaroo!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Looking for signs of life.....

I must confess I'm starting to loose faith a bit here. I've no idea if anybody reads these ramblings other than my parents. Please leave a comment- abuse if you like- but SOMETHING to let me know that I'm not totally wasting my time here.

Oh, and hi Mum.

Monday, 7 December 2009

What a drag!

The sun shone today. So- after phoning Sky News- I took some photos as evidence. You can see there is a fair amount of snow on the far tops. (Earlier this week we had it right down to the bottoms of the glens. 'Orrible wet stuff it was but it did make belly-crawling on grassy slopes a doddle- unless you were trying to crawl uphill.)

I'd already had a good day, managing to bag 3 beasts in the morning. Then the last stalk of the day was right on the top of a hill. The wind had dropped to nothing, the sun was in my face and the snow was crunchy and very difficult to move on quietly. With a lot of care I managed to get to within 100 yards of a herd without them becoming aware of me.

As a result, I managed to shoot a couple of dry hinds before the rest ran off. "That's a horseful" I thought " that'll do nicely." Then the herd stopped and right at the back was another lovely big yeld hind, standing apart from the others.

I can resist everything except temptation. As she was standing bum on to me, my only option was a neck shot. It was a long shot- about 220 yards I estimated- but as she was facing straight away from me the chances of a wounding were extremely small. At that angle you usually drop them in their tracks or dont touch them at all. Sort of "do or DONT die". Wouldn't you know it, she dropped to the shot.

So there I was with 3 big hinds, my horse 1 mile and 1000 vertical ft away, the land-rover 1 mile in the other direction and less than 2 hours of light. Oops!

There was little option. When Eric- my ponyman- eventually arrived with Fergus- the pony- we loaded the 2 largest beasts on the saddle and they headed off. And the last beast? I attached my drag rope to it and hauled it back to the 'rover.

Before I'd even started squeezing the trigger on the third beast, I'd known that this was the only likely solution. (In these parts you ask questions first and shoot later, pardner.) I rationalised that the uphill and flat parts of my drag were in snow and the vast majority of the rest was downhill. So that was all right.

And the theory was good -actually I've dragged deer from here before. Just not quite as big as this one. By the time I was back at the rover, I was lathered. And my reward for all this effort?

I got to skin 2 of them back at the larder while my sweat chilled. (We only skin our best, clean shot yeld hinds. They then get sold privately at a better price than we get from the game dealer.)

When I at last got home I would have liked nothing more than to have settled down in front of the fire. Instead, it was a quick turn-around and off out to a local ceilidh followed by an hours drive to my parents for the night.

No rest for the wicked? Just call me Damien.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

My 'guest' from Wednesday was as good as his word and forwarded the photos of our day. Please dont adjust your set- the pics may look poor but it was really Wednesday itself that was poor quality.

Are you laughing at us??

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Missing a beat

If you're wondering where I've been, I've been laid up for the last week and a half with a chest infection. Not good.

So I have little to report. Even less because the weather has been sodden awful and my colleagues have really struggled to get on with their hind cull in the interim. It may have been exceptionally wet, but it's also been very mild and that has meant that the deer have been more on the outerim.

As for me, it has come as some consolation that I wasn't missing an Indian Summer as I nursed my Cabin Fever. Unfortunately, it looks like Providence has saved some crappy weather for my return. There seems no end to it.

Yesterday saw my first full day back at work. I was lucky to be joined by my very good friend, Gordon. The weather was as bad that we were resigned to doing odd jobs and we were actually topping up pheasant feeds (the keepers and farmers here have a little rough shoot at Christmas) when I spotted a Roe doe on a sheltered face. I fired Gordon off to stalk it while I sat in the land-rover and had my tea and sandwiches and got gently rocked to sleep by the rain-laden gales.

To his credit, Gordon took a lot of time and care and got the animal despite the poor conditions and poorer visibility. Of course, things WOULD cheer up a bit once he'd dragged the roe- and his sorry arse- back to the vehicle.

But this was just a ruse. In the clearer spell we spotted a hind and calf on another, more distant, face and we couldn't resist the temptation. Halfway through our hour-long trek to get to them the skies opened again. When we eventually got to our vantage point, our binoculars were unusable in the driving rain. It was just a case of setting the rifles up, trying to guage the right moment with our naked eye, flipping the scope caps and shooting.

We got the pair of them and, as is often the case when you find them off on their own like this, the hind proved to be ancient. When I inspected her teeth back at the larder, they were worn nigh on down to the gums. A good one to get.

So we returned home to a hot meal, a hot drink and a roaring fire. As Gordon put it, you cant say that being out on a day like this is enjoyable. Rather, there is a grim satisfaction to be had in prevailing against adversity. And, like banging your head on a wall, it's great when it stops.....

If Gordon forwards the pictures he took, I'll share them with you. Watch this space.

Friday, 13 November 2009

A Big Day

I thought I'd use this opportunity to post some photos. I had an ol' regular with me today (I use the term advisedly- oh hi, Ken, how ya doin'?) and we had a good day. We ended up with 7 hinds/calves in the bag and finished the day boating the last 2 across the loch as night fell. Very atmospheric.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Falling behind

There's one thing that strikes me when I read through past blogs and that is just how much rain features in them. This means that either I'm an inveterate whinger OR we've had a barrel-load (!) of the stuff this Autumn. I prefer to think it's the latter.

So, in a bid to break the habit, let me tell you about Saturday, Sunday and Monday. After the total washout that was Friday (DAMN!) we woke to clear skies, zero wind and hard frost. And it stayed like that for 3 days. Bliss. And by the Sunday night we had temperatures down to -5.

I can't tell you how good it was to see the sun again and to have some of the mud and standing water dried up. But there's a definite feeling in the air now and somehow you know that Winter is just around the corner.

It's not just because the trees are mostly bare, nor is it that the colour is leaching out of the heather and grass. The passing of the Red Deer rut and the spawning of the Salmon signal the last breeding of the year. The time for expending energies is ending. Now comes the time for conserving what reserves you have, living quiet, battening down the hatches.

To this end, there is no birdsong to be heard; the rabbits are done with their chasing and jumping; Roe are becoming increasingly apparent as they spend more time on their feet, feeding; and the Red Deer now favour the lee slopes whenever there is a wind.

That's not to say that anything appears to be struggling just yet. Apart from moles, maybe. (The glaring decrease in molehills around here makes me think they've all drowned.) No, our hinds appear to be in good nick and the farmers are saying likewise of their sheep.

In practical terms what this means is that the deer are very quick to show a clean pair of heels (.... should that be 2 pairs of heels?) should danger threaten. In the last 4 stalking days I've had 8 hinds and each one has been the product of a seperate stalk. And that means each has been extracted individually. And that just makes for hard work.

However, just when I was beginning to despair, events took a turn for the better (for me, anyway). I managed to get 6 beasts today, from just 2 stalks. Furthermore, they were all in an area where they could be easily dragged to the land-rover. Like a trip to the 'flicks', it didn't seem right leaving the larder in daylight. But, somehow, I'll live with it.

Monday, 2 November 2009

It never rains....

Our grouse day last week turned out well. Everything ran like a well-oiled machine and when we finished we got well-oiled also. The bag was 'only' 47 brace, but the shooting was challenging- and that's what (most of ) the guests like. Spare a thought for the 3 stand-in beaters, however. They were all experienced pheasant beaters but had never done grouse before. And they thought their lives had ended. Give them their due, they stuck at it but by sundown they were ready to drop.

But there again, so was I. And I struggled to put in a half day of hind stalking next day before going home and going to my bed. I also took the following day as a 'sickie' as, by now, I was fairly convinced that my post-curling aches and pains and post-shoot hangover was, in fact, the 'flu. Whether it's your Common-or-Garden strain or otherwise, it's been a swine.

It's some consolation that the day I missed was thick mist and driving rain and would have been totally unsuited for stalking. However, that Friday was a (water-) bed of roses compared to Sunday. We got about 3" of rain in 12 hours and a mention on the national news. With an unhealthy mix of stupidity and stoicism, I fulfilled a commitment to curl on Sunday afternoon.

Getting there wasn't bad, but the journey home took twice the time and involved several detours. It also involved many breath-held sorties through headlight-deep floodwater. It was a real releif to eventually get home, I can tell you.

And now? Now I'm starting to feel as inundated and overwhelmed as those roads. Between weather, guests, catching up on essential jobs and the 'flu, I've hardly gotten out of the starting blocks with regard to the hind cull. My ponyman has sprung a surprise weeks holiday on me, the rain has wreaked havoc on our roads and washed away my most important footbridge, I'm desperately needing to catch up on my stoat trapping, fox middens and grouse gritting and I struggled to put one foot in front of the other today. Blimey!!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Logged on or booted up?

We've taken a couple of days off from the stalking to catch up with some pressing jobs. Yesterday I spent the entire day inspecting and fixing roads. I have to say that after all the rain we've had, I was expecting them to be worse. However, on the down side, I have a footbridge that is....well, on the down side. Even the brick and concrete supports are gone and they must have weighed a tonne apiece. Ho hum.

The bridge will have to wait until I have the time, inclination and materials. In the interim, I forsee the hinds learning to listen out for squelching boots.

And today I thought I'd get on with splitting some firewood. It's been a hell of a day of mist and rain (again) so not much good for the hill. Plus if I leave this pile of logs any longer, they'd be so rotten you'd be able to wring them out to dry them.

To this end I borrowed our 4wd tractor and hydraulic log-splitter. Yes, I know it's cheating but in my defense I tried to simulate doing it with an axe. This I acheived by cunningly parking the tractor so that the rain dripped off the shed roof and onto my head (representing sweat) and by starting off with aches already in place (courtesy of the first curling match of the season at the weekend.)

The end of this log pile was in sight when I faced the reality that I couldn't avoid this HUMUNGUS log any more. It took me all my strength to lift it onto the table. It overhung the table as much that I had to support it with one hip as the ram pressed down on it with a force of 6 tonnes. Unbeknownst to me it was pressing down on a burr. The log flipped up, catching me right under the ribs. That knocked the wind out of my sails! I sat for a minute or two before I was sure I hadn't done some lasting damage. Then I had to lift the blessed thing back onto the table! I would sigh at the thought, if it didn't hurt so much.

But it's all change again tomorrow. We're to be making another attempt at the grouse shoot that we had to abandon on Saturday and, this time, the forecast is good. Well, you never know your luck...

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Water,water everywhere

We're now into day 4 of mist and rain. A grouse shoot had been planned for today but after waiting around for 5 hours, we eventually pulled the (bath) plug. As a consolation, we did a couple of hours rough shooting on the lowest-and thus clearest- part of the estate.

It was dismal, plowtering about in the rank heather and sprots (rushes) in the driving rain and half-light. We ended up with 3 dozen rabbits, a woodcock, a snipe and a soaking, one and all. After dropping the game off at the larder and drying and cleaning the guns I gratefully headed for home.

Upon my arrival I found my drive in the process of being transformed into a riverbed, my workshop flooded, my scullery within an inch of being inundated and the gate to one of my kennel runs chewed through by Ed. He doesn't like missing out on anything, even a day like this.

I've just seen a forecast for the next 3 days and it isn't looking bonny. We've now had about 8" in 4 days and it's looking like there's plenty more to come. On a happier note, I received some photos from a lady who joined our stalking party for a day during the stag season. I thought I'd share them with you, although it has to be said that I'm smarting a little at being upstaged by a dog.

Ed, it's the kennel for you.....once I get the gate sorted.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Devil Take the Hind Mist

The stag season finished two days ago- and with it went the 'settled' weather that was making life so difficult for us all. It's been replaced by wind, lashing rain and thick mist. Hey ho.

In hindsight (!) our stag season was a strange one. New fences, lots of West winds and a late rut all made for a leaner season than usual for 4 of the 5 stalking beats. Strangely, the 5th beat that lies in the NW of the estate was chocca with stags right from the word 'go'.

What this has meant is that, instead of putting the brakes on toward the end of the season to avoid exceeding our self imposed ceiling of 120 animals, we ended up with only 100. Not that this is a problem. Basically, we feel that if that is all we can get, we're not needing to shoot any more.

On a more personal level, I feel as if I've had a very successful season. All the blank days I had at the start were a frustration, but you can't shoot them if they're not there. But it was a huge relief when the rut eventually started and the stags arrived on the ground. Thereafter, I came home with 1 or 2 stags for each and every stalking day. More importantly, nothing got away wounded and I am contented with my choices of beasts for culling. Furthermore, I would like to think that my guests all enjoyed their days on the hill.

But this is all now water under the bridge. As is that which is in todays photo. Our first day of the hind season was cancelled due to the appalling weather and although we did go out today (still with guests from the lodge) the weather deteriorated once again and rain stopped play.

We did manage to get a hind before the mist blotted everything out but I'm looking to take at least another 149 off my beat before Feb 15th. Something tells me it's going to be a long season.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Stalk still

It's Thursday and,so far, it has been a most unusual week for weather. A high pressure has been sitting over the country and this has brought- in BBC parlance- 'settled' weather.

What this has meant for us is that there has hardly been a breath of wind for 4 days. Each morning we have been cricking our necks looking for cloud carry or waving wetted fingers about in the vain hope of discovering which direction the wind was coming from. Each morning we've set off none the wiser and taken pot luck in the hope of a pot-shot.

Once out on the hill it has been so quiet we'd have been better exchanging our boots for slippers. And,as always, our guest have worn their best rustly nylon gaiters with dogged determination. It's like Chinese Water Torture for your ears.

But, despite the difficult conditions, we're having a great week. Although we're being as selective as ever (only shooting mature stags with inferior 'heads'-sets of antlers- and leaving the best ones as breeding stock) the 5 beats have still had 20+ for our week so far.

Speaking for myself, I've gone from famine to feast. I now have so many animals on my ground that it's difficult to get to my chosen stag for all the too good or too young beasts in the way. It's a great problem to have.

But now I have to hit the hay. Tomorrow is another busy day, starting with a 7.30am kick-off at the larder. (We have to remove the heads from the previous days stags; put the carcasses in the chiller unit; remove the antlers for selling and the jaws for ageing/record keeping; wash everything down and remove the waste for burial.) Then we pick up our guests from the lodge and the days work really starts.

And the forecast for tomorrow? Settled.

Monday, 12 October 2009

I'm ba-ack!

No, the shortage of stags didn't have me committing sidieways in despair..... although after another totally blank week following my last blog, it was definately looking more attractive. Rather, 70mph winds and a resulting fallen tree made a broad band out of our phone line.
Fewer blogs, more logs.

I eventually broke my stalking duck (eh?) when I came home with a borderline stag last Monday. (Borderline as in 'iffily young', NOT smuggled in over the march in a suitcase.) Thereafter it was like the Rut Button had been pressed. Suddenly there were roaring stags everywhere- and not just the same old 'feeders' (our pet stags and definately out of bounds) that had been holding my hinds and I'd been visiting day in and day out. It felt so good to see the ground restored to how it should be at this time of year and I finished the week with 7 in the bag. Not before time!

It really is feeling Autumnal now. Last week we could see a dusting of snow up towards the Cairngorms that stuck around for 3 days and on the Friday we had our first sleet (well ok, it was rain with pips in ). There's little green to be seen on the hill now and the bracken is reduced to brown, withered crisps. (Not nice to crawl amongst, the broken stems can cut you or, worse, give you 'skelfs'- splinters that nag like fishwives. (Apologies to any female readers involved in the fishing industry.) But with the hills alive with the sound of the deer, the rivers full of salmon arriving at their spawning redds and the leaves and berries on the trees blazing golds and scarlets, it has to be my favourite time of year.

But it also heralds the approach of the end of the stag stalking season. Soon the lodge will be closed and the only guests will be hind stalkers who come on 'day lets' and stay at one of the not-so-local hotels. Hind stalking-it's the same but different. Same principles, but less romantic and a lot more business-like.

But, until that time , I'll be concentrating on the here and now.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Heights of Frustration

It has to be said that I'm getting a bit despondant. It's stag stalking season and I have no stags.

Last week I was fortunate enough that there wasn't a full complement of stalkers every day. On those days, I wasn't sent out stalking and could then catch up with a lot of the stuff that normally gets put on hold at this time of year; stoat traps, putting out medicated grouse-grit, building a new midden....

But it's Tuesday and today, like yesterday and the two stalking days last week, I scoured the ground and didn't see a single shootable stag all day. Part of this is due to 10 consecutive days of West wind (drawing the deer further and further away from my ground), part of it is due to the rut not having started (after all, I have plenty of hinds) and part of it is due to the neighbouring estate having put a fence up right along our shared 'march'. A lot of my early stags used to come over from that estate. Not any more.

But as I write this the wind has swung round to the East, bringing with it thick mist and hope. I only pray that only one of these remains when tomorrow comes.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Horse Manure

Friday was the last day of our 'free week' and I was to use it catching up on those last few loose ends before we get busy with the stag stalking.

Firstly, I was going to kill 4 birds with 1 stone (hopefully my stone throwing would be more accurate than my grouse shooting) when I went down to our local town to pick up my horse, Fergus. Fergus is a Highland Pony and his job is to retrieve the deer that are shot on my beat. More of that later.

Anyway, bird 1 was taking Maisie back to the vets for a checkup after her op. She's doing great. Bird 2 was picking up more dog food. Mission accomplished. Bird 3 was collecting 4 barrells of creosote from the builders merchants. Job done. Bird 4 was collecting Fergus from his holidays at the local equestrian centre.

All was going fine until after I dropped him off at his field. Unfortunately he'd had a 'dirty protest' in the (borrowed) horsebox at the prospect of having to go back to work in the hills. (Let's face it, dead stags weigh a lot more than teenybopper girlies. And they don't have pockets full of sugarlumps.) (Nor pockets at all, for that.)

Be that as it may, after dropping Fergus off I headed for home to wash out the horsebox. Unfortunately for me, as I turned into my drive, a white transit van came barrelling around the corner. I put on a spurt (perhaps more than one!) to clear his path and in doing so clipped a strainer post.

The next 3 hours were then spent straightening bent brackets and sorting a split mudguard. Oh and cleaning the blessed thing. All time that I could have been using preparing for next Monday. By the time I was done and the horsebox returned (and, yes, like the horsebox, I did come clean) the day was all but over.

When I got home, I quickly realised that Louise had been having a fraught time with young Jack. I offered to take him down to the river for an hour. It turns out it was what we all needed.

Needless to say, I took my fishing rod. I should have known better! I managed to loose 2 salmon within 5 minutes of each other. On the upside, Jack and I had a lovely walk up the riverside in the gloaming and on the way back were lucky to have a young otter come working up the shallows, passing within 2 metres of where we stood. It was a beautiful moment that could only have been better if only I would REMEMBER MY BL**DY CAMERA!!

But I can still see it in my minds eye and it's a great picture.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Done, dusted and done in.

Today was the last of our grouse shooting- a keepers day! We haven't had one of them for a long time.

It has to be said, however, that this was no serious attempt at a 'bag'. We had 8 walking guns, 8 standing guns and 2 beaters. The Hill of Doune day was our venue and although the wind and weather conditions should have been perfect for it, there was a poor showing of birds.

During the banter before we started, I promised my colleagues that if I maintained a 100% shot-kill ratio I would buy a bottle of champagne for each and every one of them. If you knew what my shooting was normally like, you'd understand that this would be one bill I would welcome.

When the first drive was halfway in, I had my opening gambit. A covey of 7 or 8 birds came hurtling at me, low and very fast. I dropped one well out in front (no small achievement in itself) and swung on another with the second barrel. The time between those 2 shots was probably less than 2 seconds- that's how long my colleagues had before their champagne evapourated! Hey ho.

From there it was all downhill- except the walking. I take some small comfort in the fact that nobody could make much of these birds today but it was great fun trying. Our tally for the day was, ahem, 23 brace. Not including a good few Famous Grouse that were bagged back at the larder.

When I got home this evening I was relieved to see Maisie, my young Border Terrier bitch much improved. She developed a major infection in her womb at the end of last week and had to undergo surgery on Monday. The vet reckoned it was pretty touch and go for a while but here's hoping she's past the worst of it.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Rocky Road to Ruin...

It's a few days since my last post and in the interim we've had some sun, more wind and a surfeit of rain.

In fact, we've had so much rain that- as we weren't driving grouse on Monday and Tuesday- we had to initiate emergency repairs on some of our roads that had been washed out. About 50 tonnes worth of repairs. Thats a power of shovelling and, by the way, it lashed down while we shovelled. Joy.

But it was back to grouse driving today and conditions were perfect. Sunny but cool and with a nice stiff breeze. The beaters are all fit and have a good idea of what is expected of them and we had a team of guns that are reputed to be good shots.

We did 6 drives that, had we done them a fortnight ago, would have killed half the beaters. Instead we came home with slightly 'hot feet', smiles and a bag of 114 brace. When a day on the hill comes together like this, it's magical.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Grousing and wingeing

This morning there was a certain reluctance to swap bedsheets for sheets of rain. It was still pouring, and I could hear the thunder of the river (100 yards away ) from every room in the house. As I drove to work every little burn that came down off the hill showed as a white torrent through the grey veil.

Again we postponed our departure but after an hour we were buzzing with caffeine from the lodge kitchen coffee and so made our jittery, wild-eyed way out to the moors.

The rain did ease toward midday, but the pace didn't. My cold, coupled with the cold North wind and leaden skies above made for leaden feet below. However it was a real boost to see the most grouse I've seen for years.

Unfortunately the following three drives of the day matched the first only in length and duration. The icing on the cake was when my young spaniel-completely knackered- gave up and lay down 5 minutes into the last drive. There was nothing else for it, so I carried him in on my shoulders- about a mile and a half. The way I was feeling, he's lucky I wasn't armed!! I just hope I haven't set a precedent.

The guests are regulars and have stuck with us through good years and bad so it was gratifying to be able to provide them with a decent days sport. The final bag? 108 brace. Just don't ask how many shots they fired.

The enduring memory of the day, however, is the first drive and the way pack after pack of grouse flurried into flight and, with a tilt of their wings, were swept over the ridge out of my sight and into the drive. It was a wonderful sight.

When I eventually crawled through the door, it was on the television that this area had had a months rain in the last 36 hours. What great news! I can put away my waterproofs until October!!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

's wet

Long before the alarm clock went off I was aware of the rain drumming on the roof. By the time I turned up at the lodge, the waters were all up and the spirits were all down. Mine moreso at the prospect of going up the hill whilst going down with a cold.

But we loitered for what seemed an eternity, while the mist lifted and dropped until we eventually bit the bullet. From then it was a case of "who dares, swims". The mist held off and allowed us to get a couple of drives in but the rain lashed down. Everyone got soaked.

When we were eventually washed off the hill we headed for home and a much delayed lunch. For my passengers and myself it was delayed even more when I managed to pick up a puncture on the way back. Do punctures EVER happen on dry, sunny days?

When,at long last, I got home the dogs and I were like drowned rats. Hungry, drowned rats. That, however, was easily rectified. Getting all my gear dried and ready for tomorrow may not be.

And as I write it is still chucking it down out there and the forecast for tomorrow is foreboding. By now even Gene Kelley would have been shouting "ENOUGH!"

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Falling for The Fall

Today is the first of September, which means 2 things:- 1) It is the first day of Autumn and 2) There is a yoghurt in the fridge that constitutes a major biohazard.

With respect to 1), you would well believe it. Today was overcast, cool and windy. Very autumnal and very conducive to driving grouse but perhaps not to hitting them. The guests assured me that it was fun trying, tho'.

But Autumn is definitely here. The Rowan trees are laden with scarlet berries (a sign of a hard winter to come, according to folklore), the brackens are starting to turn yellow and the first leaves are turning on the birches. The swallows are flocking prior to their long migration to Africa and the stags antlers are- for the most part- clean of velvet.

The hills that were bright with the purple bloom of the heather are fading fast and it wont be long until the first frost.

It's a time of year that I love- especially later in the season when we are out stalking and the Red Deer rut is in full swing. At that time our resident population of about 3000 hinds and calves is joined by a further 1500+ stags and the noise and spectacle of the roaring and fighting and chasing is fantastic. Better, even, than the 'toon' on a Saturday night.

But there's plenty going to be happening before that, starting with dealing with 2).

If this is my last blog, you'll know I didn't make it........

Monday, 31 August 2009

Driving grouse can drive you mad

So today we were back to the serious business of driving grouse.

This short season (0 to 5 weeks, depending on the results of our pre-season counts) is our 'harvest' and the main earner for the estate for the whole year. The people who come here to shoot pay BIG money and, accordingly have big expectations.

And thus we try to run the shoot days as smoothly and efficiently as possible. It takes a lot of doing when you have to choreograph for a troupe of about 50 people (beaters, keepers, loaders, pickers-up, guests and assorted 'hingers-oan'.)

And when you bring a drive in, to do it right you have to tailor the line to take account of the wind and the lie of the land. Or attempt to. We consider ourselves lucky this year to have so many 'switched on' lads in the beating line( some years we get nothing but 'neds') in fact we have a good many students.

For the most part, they are doing really well. However I tempted fate at lunchtime by saying that they were starting to look like a proper team of beaters. Thereafter things went all to hell.

There they were, the cream of British youth with brains the size of small planets and TOTALLY incapable of walking in a straight line, despite encouragement of the 'keepers. Pass the Strepsils, will ya?

The icing on the cake was that the heavens opened on the final approach to the butts on the last drive of the day. Hey ho.....

All in all, we did have a reasonable day tho'. The final bag was 75 brace (150 birds) but, more importantly, the guests came off the hill with smiles on their faces.

Job done.

Friday, 28 August 2009

A Red Letter Day

For some 'keepers getting allocated baby-sitting duty would definately be considered the short straw. I quite enjoy it. This morning I took 8 year old N out rabbit shooting. Earlier this week he called it his favourite thing in the whole world but today you wouldn't have guessed it.

It didn't help that it was a dreich morning, overcast with drizzle on a snell wind. I suspect his action-packed week was also catching up on him. Suffice to say that the shooting was extremely poor. Coupled with the rabbits playing cat-and-mouse (!) with us in the shelter of the sprots and brackens it made for a frustrating time.

When we returned to the lodge, the planned picnic was abandoned in favour of lunch in comfort and warmth. And who can blame them.

I returned mid-afternoon to be asked to take N and his 11 year old sister fishing. After last nights rain I reckoned the river would be perfect so I set up the rods for salmon. This was a bit of a gamble as I knew that their attention would wane if there wasn't the boost of catching the odd fingerling trout or salmon parr but I thought the conditions were too good to miss.

After an hour I was starting to regret the decision. They were starting to get bored and their fly casting was getting sloppier and sloppier. And this meant I was spending more and more time running up and down the river bank retrieving the flies from trees, thistles and rocks -but thankfully not ears, noses or siblings.

Fortuitously, I'd forseen this and had taken along a spinning rod as well. To keep interest up I also moved them on to the next 'lie' after only a few casts; "hit and run tactics" I call it but I quite like another expression a friend came up with recently. Shock and awe!

But even at this the kids were fast approaching 'critical mass'. At this point Providence threw me a lifeline and a salmon jumped right in front of us. That caught their attention!

As we'd already covered this fish with a rapala, I swapped it for a mepp spinner and with the very next cast the fish was on. I made sure N played this fish all by himself, only intervening by helping keep the rod up when the fish threatened to pull it out of his hands. A full quarter of an hour later and I tailed the fish out. A hen fish of about 7lbs and somewhat red, indicating it had certainly been in the river for a while. Normally I would recommend returning a fish like this but you only catch your first salmon once. Furthermore, I reckon if I'd thrown it back, N would have been right in after it.

All credit, 'I' was nothing but delighted at her brothers success and while he was preoccupied with cradling the fish and talking at a thousand words a minute, I had her cast over all the likely spots in the immediate vicinity.

As luck would have it, she hooked into a salmon within 10 minutes and another nail-biting quarter of an hour ensued. This time I didn't touch the rod and 'I' played the feisty fish out all by herself. Again, her first salmon and this time it was a cock fish, maybe a pound bigger than her brothers. Well done that lass!

I confess to having a twinge of concience at keeping this second fish but how could I deny her her share of the triumph. It would be fitting if these fish are used form the centrepiece of one of the lodges exceptional dinners and I,for one, would raise a glass to their captors.

When we returned to the lodge, the kids grabbed their fish and sprinted off into the house. I sincerely hope that they kept them off the furniture! As I packed the tackle away, Tom the butler came out and chatted. It turned out that their older brother had shot his first stag today.

It's a day that I hope will stay with them for the rest of their lives and on my way home I reflected on it and prayed that I'll be able to give my own wee boy the same experiences one day.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Chalk and cheese

It's been a couple of days since my last post. Two very different days.

Yesterday I was giving fly-fishing lessons to 3 kids and 1 mum. We started off praciticing on the lodge drive in the driving rain. Mum and 2 of the kids had done some before, but 8 year old N had never tried it before. He took to it like a duck to (rain) water.

At one point Mum asked me what made a good cast. "One that catches a fish. " I replied. I reckon there's more horse manure spoken about fly-fishing than any other subject......with the exception of wine perhaps.

In the afternoon we went down to the river and I took N straight to a highly likely spot. He cast like he'd been doing it for years and was into a fish within minutes. It took him another 6 or 7 minutes to play it out but he ended up landing a bonny wild Brown Trout of about 1lb 4 oz. The look on his face made my day!

Today all the guests are off elsewhere so I caught up on a couple of jobs. I started off going to the 'Inners Brig' and getting the last of the 'floorboards' replaced. It has been a work-in-progress for a good few days so it was fine to see the job through. It was even finer to see it through without any of the tools ending up in the river. Wonders will never cease.

As I was working, the morning sun was glinting off the river and the only sound was the rill of the water. If only you could bottle moments like that.

I took an early finish to go to a bank appointment. (I suppose you could call it flexitime as I was out spotlighting for foxes until 1am last night.) It's a 60 mile round trip and my wife had the car so I had to use my bike. It's a '95 fireblade and it's limits far exceed mine. I just wish the bank wasn't so near.

Two very different days, same glow inside.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


This is the height of the grouse shooting season and thus it feels strange to be having a "guddle aboot". In a nutshell, one of our regular guests has taken the lodge for the week and has come up with just his wife and 3 kids. So instead of highly organised shoot days with 30+ beaters, loaders, pickers-up and 8 shooters we have 'take one of the youngsters rabbit shooting for a couple of hours, take out the lunches then have the rest of the day to catch up on jobs'.

It's very pleasant in a way but this is our best season for grouse for a long time and it's a bit frustrating not to be making the most of it. Och well, we'll be back in top gear again next week.

After all the rain we had on Sunday, I thought the river would be perfect to try for a salmon this evening. When I got there I was disappointed to find the water level about 20cm down on what I expected. Still I flogged and flailed my favourite lies until there was a foam on the water but to no avail. Then as light was failing I misjudged a cast and lost my favourite fly in a tree. He was an old campaigner and had taken a few scalps (possibly the wrong metaphor when referring to salmon!) a Julius Ceaser amongst flies. Rest in beech, Julius.

Monday, 24 August 2009

What on earth am I doing here?

Let's face it, mysterious benefactors became extinct around the time of Dickens last book, didn't they?
Apparently not, as I found out on a September morning in 2007.

It seemed a morning like any other. My colleagues and I meeting up for a brief fat-chewing session before going over to the lodge to pick up our guests for the days stalking. It was a fine clear morning and all the better for following a night of ground frost; thus marking the end of the Reign of the Midge. We stalkers also believe the frosts trigger the Red Deer rut so are doubly glad to see them.

So there we are, discussing winds and deer movement, when Fred, our Head Gamekeeper appears. "Listen lads" he says "The laird and N O (one of our regular grouse shooting guests) have had a chat and are wanting to offer an exchange. It'll mean one of his wardens from his reserve in South Africa coming here and one of you going over there. It'll be for two or three months and family can go too. Is anybody interested?"

If I hadn't been nonchalantly propped against a land rover, I would have been reeling! "Yes" I hear myself reply but I somehow feel far removed from my voice. And with that, my world changed.

I remember spending the rest of that day- and a good chunk of that night too- with my thoughts in an absolute turmoil. Where was this place? What would I be expected to do? What preparations would be needed? How would Louise (my wife ) and Jack (my, then, 1 year-old son) deal with it? These and a thousand other thoughts roiled and boiled in my mind.

As it was, the exchange didn't happen until January 2009, which is maybe just as well, seeing the amount of preparation it required. But happen it did, and what followed was just an amazing experience.

So amazing that I had to keep a daily diary to make sure I would never forget a moment of it (if you knew how feeble my memory is, it would stun you.) So I kept this diary and emailed it to a few friends and to the laird and to N O. N O liked it enough that he put it on the reserve website ( and I got requests from friends of friends to be included on the mailing list. It was real-life, bona fide, adventure. Give the website a visit and see.

Since coming home, I've had lots of positive feedback (and a comment on the website calling me a wanker) and have been cajoled into doing this blog. What have I let myself in for?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Once in a lifetime

You've no idea of the path I took to get here. Six months ago I would never have dreamt that there even was a path. Still, by the strangest of chances, here I am. Read on and find out what I suspect is an adventure that is going to change my life.