Wednesday, 29 September 2010


It's been a lousy week thus far. Mist and rain have stopped play. We hang about the lodge hoping that the mist will lift and, boy, does the time pass slowly.

By the time we reckon it's too late to head out and look for a stag, it's too late to be doing much else. I've managed to get around a few more traps, and to strim new paths in my middens (fenced off and baited areas where we set fox snares). Strimming in the rain had me coming home looking like a hedgehog. This afternoon I started reloading bullets in anticipation of the coming hind season.

If last winter is anything to go by, I'll need enough that I could start a small war.

At least the combination of East winds and leaving my ground quiet might mean there will be stags on my ground next time I look. That would, indeed, be a silver lining to all this cloud.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Traipsing Round Traps

Unusually for this time of year, I've had a couple of days freed up. This is due to a combination of few stags on my ground and few guests in the lodge.

What I'd most like to be doing with my time is putting out medicated grit for the grouse. Tests on some of the grouse shot earlier indicate a high worm burden but, for now, my hands are tied. The medication can't be made available to them until after we've finished shooting and we've just heard we're doing 2 extra days next week as well as a couple at the end of the month.

So second choice is to get round my traps. They've been much neglected of late (as always at this time of year) and it's a source of frustration, especially as I'm seeing more stoats than I've seen in a looong time.

I also grabbed the opportunity to take my spaniel pup out while on my rounds this morning. She managed very well indeed, all things considered, although she did need a couple of stints on the lead when the 'RUN' sign started flashing in her head. The fact that I came back with a voice and what hair I left with speaks volumes.

My gundogs have always been spaniels and I love their energy. (I alweays reckon that, if you could only harness it, you could power the house off them.) My colleagues are mostly labrador men and they have great pleasure in trotting out the old chestnut:-

"What's the difference between a labrador and a spaniel?"

"A lab is born half-trained, a spaniel dies. half-trained."

What can I say? Many a true word is spoken in jest!

As a parting shot, I'd just like to mention that the first radio programme of my African exchange is being aired this coming Friday (1st October). It's where all this blogging started and you can catch it on Radio 4 at 11am. And, by the way Mr Speilberg, I do all my own stunts.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Softly, softly...

Well, the forecasters weren't kidding. Last Friday we saw our first snow. Granted it was on hills 20 miles distant but snow it was. And you'll hear no complaints from me, neither. I'd rather have "blin' drift" than heat and midges.

So we finished our grouse season on a high (and I'm not talking altitude here) and ended up with our best numbers since 1999. And so onto the stag stalking....

Today was my first day and there was a lot to think about. Regular stalkers with me will be familiar with my little pre-flight checklist mantra. It goes:- riflebulletsbinocularstelescoperadiobackupdragropestagropesdogstickguest. However on top of that I had to make sure that I had all the ancillary gear in the right places.

Fergus (freshly shod) taken down to his paddock on the beat. Saddle (with correct length of girths) and head collar in the land rover. Horse feed at the farm (ok, so I forgot this. It's grass on tonights menu- sorry Fergus!). Radio batteries all charged. Rover filled with diesel. Etc, etc etc.

As it turned out, all this preparation was to no avail. We saw pleeenty of deer but only 2 mature stags that might have met our requirements. And when we stalked in we ended up with 100 hinds and a small but rather solid looking ridge twixt us and our intended. Stalemate.

Still it was nice to be moving quietly and carefully about the place rather than marching all over creation as we have been in recent times......

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Summers End

Sometime during the night of my last blog, Autumn kicked in. Overnight we went from balmy to blimey!!

Of the next week we managed only 2 full days (though it was blowing a gale on one of them). The other 3 days were curtailed because of thick mist- with a liberal dose of heavy rain and high winds thrown in for good measure.

But everywhere we look we see reminders of the season. The Rowans and Bird Cherries are heavy with fruit- and even heavier with birds guzzling said fruit. The leaves leaving, the last of the colour is fading out of the heather and the bracken is starting its transition from green to yellow to rust.

The rain has allowed a good many salmon up the river, at long last. And I even managed to catch one on Saturday. (I wont tell you how many hours I've had to put in for that one fish. Suffice to say that, were I on the minimum wage, I could have bought a whole shoal of the blessed creatures by now.)

And, yes, we're still driving grouse. This is our last week however and I think all of us are now looking forward to getting stuck into the stag stalking after this. One thing is for sure; even the stags on the most far-flung corners of the estate wont be safe. After 5 weeks of being in the beating line, we're all as fit as butchers dogs. Heaven help the guests!

Yes, it's really feeling like it's time to swap the flag for the rifle. Apart from the weather telling us the year is wearing on, the grouse are getting harder and harder to drive to the butts. (The weather is wilder, the grouse are wilder and are stronger fliers, also they are flyer- ie more cunning- and they are starting to pack together in large numbers. All this makes it more and more difficult to make up a bag.)

So roll on Autumn, the stag stalking and the rut. After all this grouse activity, it will be a shorter season than normal. Mind you, it sounds like the whole of Autumn might be foreshortened- they're predicting snow for the end of the week!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Insecticidal tendencies...

We're now well into our grouse season and, as our pre-season counts indicated, we're having a bumper year. The average bag for each day is hovering around the 100 brace (200 bird) mark. This seems to be the case regardless of where on the estate we're going or who's doing the shooting. (No offence, but shooting ability varies greatly from person to person. And no-where is it needed more than on a day of driven grouse.)

A season like this really raises the moods of everybody involved. It's just as well really as it's turning out to be a bumper year for midges too. For the past week we've had a high pressure system sitting over the country. This has given us a week of dry, settled weather. And no winds.

For those of you who have never experienced the Scottish midge, I have only one thing to say to you- lucky swines!! Pound for pound, the midge has got to be the most voracious bloodsucker on this earth. And at this time of year when it's mild and the wind speed drops below 4 knots, they come out in their millions. And that's no exaggeration.

Through a combination of their diminuitive size (say 1-2mm long) and this sheer weight of numbers, they are tough cookies to deal with. Swatting them is like trying to swat smoke. Repellants are like Gentlemans Relish for them. They'll tunnel through loose-weave clothing (wool socks!) and exploit the smallest chinks in your garbs defenses (button flies-aarrrgghh!!).

I confess I would have lost my sanity lang syne if it weren't for one thing; the midge net. This is a fine mesh net with an elasticated hem that goes over your head. It's simple, effective (for your head, anyway) and makes you look like a complete dork. However, so does running about the hill, frantically waving your arms and screaming like a girl.

No, as far as discoveries go, the midge net has to be up there with the wheel, fire, and the Venetian blind (without which it would be curtains for us all.)

They've got to be worth their weight in gold...... but I reckon I could get double that if I timed it right.