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.