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........