Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Deep Freeze

It's starting to feel like the coming of the third ice age. We've had snow at some point every day for a week. And there's a whole lot more coming in the next 24 hours, they say.

Fortunately for us, there has been little wind with it so there hasn't been much drifting. Even so, we now have a level fall of about 50cm.

With that depth, we can only take the rovers on those tracks that have been snowploughed. And the snowplough will only look at our major routes that are relatively flat.

As I've said, it's really unusual to have THIS much at this time of year- and it's caught us somewhat on the hop. The last day and a half have been spent putting chains on the tractor tyres; tracks on the argocat; batteries for the snow bike and snowtrac on charge; tyre pressures done on all 14 wheels on the snowtrac (WITH a footpump, no less!). Hell, I've even dubbined my ski boots.

Of course, before we could do all that, all those aforementioned pieces of equipment had to be dug out of their various lairs. No mean feat in itself. And we still have horses, dogs, pheasants and pet stags to feed. The simplest of jobs becomes a Herculean task with this much snow.

But even this cloud has it's silver lining. At night we get hugely entertained by the news bulletins telling us of the chaos and carnage that 4cm of snow has brought to St Albans.

Friday, 26 November 2010

An Icy "Blast!"

As I mentioned, the weather has taken a turn for the cooler. Normally I welcome weather like this but this this year the snow and ice seems to have put me into meltdown.

Within 5 minutes of leaving the house on the first snowy morning, I managed to put my rover into a ditch. Fortunately the only damage was a strained arm. I got this from patting myself on the back after the rover pulled out without a mark on it.

Which all proved to be rather premature. The very next morning I met a snowplough on a bend. It turns out they are the motoring equivalent of a tin-opener. Oh my.

We Could Be in for a Long Winter

After my last blog, the weather just went from bad to worse. You'll see from the pics that our river was in full spate. What you dont see is a similar torrent of water coming out of my clothes and boots each evening.

Ironically, I had a (long overdue) pair of waterproof leggings 'in the post' while all this was going on. And what happened when they arrived? It snowed.

Not just a dusting as you would expect for this time of year but a level fall of nearly a foot. And there's more afoot.

The stalking has not been going smoothly for me. Sure, I'm bringing home beasts every day but I just don't seem to be getting right in amongst them. And I've been hampered by mist,rain,sheep (they're like an Early Warning System for deer), farmers gathering said sheep....need I go on?

Last Friday was one of those rare days of no perceptable wind at all. And it stayed like that all day. I had a guest stalking and we got into an early stalk. We could have had a longish shot but I opted to be sure and get a bit closer. We'd done all the hard work and just had to find a bump to shoot from when the deer all jumped up and ran away. An eddy of wind had taken our scent right to them. Curses.

An hour later and the same thing happened again with a different group and an approach from a different direction.

And an hour after that (and after a BIG climb forbye) we cautiously peeked over a ridge to find that yet another group had skinned out- again after trying an approach from a different direction.

We eventually got a beast at last knockings after a 500 yard belly-crawl. (There's desperation for you.) And even then we were 'stretching the barrel'. I reckon it was our 6th attempt. It was a day of much gnashing of teeth.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

An Uphill Struggle

As I write, the hind tally for the estate now sits at about 120. Of that, I've brought home 45.

I'm doing my utmost but every time I set foot on the hill, the enormity of my task comes crashing home. I'm seeing hundreds of deer and if I'm going to acheive a meaningful reduction in their population (like we're planning) it's going to take blood sweat and tears. And not just for this season either.

Of the last 8 stalking days, I've had guests for 4 of them. I'm full of the cold. The weather is grim. And my ponyman got lost in the mist for 5 hours yesterday.

I find myself fantasising about a holiday. Warm seas, cold beers, rest.......but that belongs to another universe. Back to the here and now, it's time to knuckle down.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Brass Monkeys

It's been a tad inclement these last two days. Heavy snow or sleet showers have been driving through on strong Easterly winds. And I've been trying to do a bit of catching up on my hind numbers. Unfortunately the weather's more conducive to making me number.

The good news is that the forecast is really good for tomorrow. The bad news is that I wont be able to get going until midday as Fergus is getting shod.

And thereafter the forecast is full of foreboding. As soon as I'm finished this blog I'm going internet shopping for some new waterproofs. (Strangely, the knees seem to have worn out on my old ones.) I hope I can find some that live up to their name because I have a nasty suspicion that I'm going to be needing them......

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Highs and Lows

When we've had a bumper year of grouse like we've just had, it's common for we 'keepers to have a 'Keepers Shoot'. Those key individuals who have helped us during the season also get an invitation. It's often the thought of this end-of-season shoot that keeps these folk coming back. (The other way of doing it- it's called 'paying' for it- is a more expensive habit than cocaine.)

So it was a green but keen crew that headed up onto the hill yesterday. There were about 20 'guns' and a handful of beaters. You could have cut the anticipation with a knife although this was tempered on my part by a healthy dose of trepidation. And the reason for this trepidation? Well it might have had something to do with the fact that the Red Grouse is generally regarded as being the Most Difficult Bird in the World To Shoot- and that's without the icy blast that was rocking the 'rovers on their suspension.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried. I shot like a demon and finished my day with 10 birds for 20 shots. After one particularly cold drive the lad in the next butt paid me the compliment
"You're on fire today!"
I peered through watering eyes until I recognised the bluer-than-usual face.
"Th-th-th-th-thanks Alan!" was all I could spit out in response.

But it was a grand day out.

And today? Today I was brought right back down to earth. I took another day off hind stalking to get round my grit piles. (We're prioritising. With grouse densities like we've got, we will have to get our medicated grit out quick or we'll start losing birds to disease.) It's an important job, but that doesn't make it any less monotonous.

And then, when I got home, I had to put down old Fudge. He was a Springer Spaniel born to a bitch of mine 12 years ago. I was there when he came into the world and he grew up to be the best gundog I've ever had.

I've spent 5 minutes staring into the fire, trying to find words. An anecdote? An epitaph? In the embers I saw a walked-up shoot on the high moors. And in front of the waiting guns a young, glossy spaniel picking a grouse that 3 labradors couldn't find.

Goodbye Fudga. I have ONLY fond memories of you.