Monday, 12 December 2011

A Fresh Pair Of Eyes

You may remember that I recently had a young lady out stalking. It was her first time and I thought it might be of interest to all you out there to hear what she thought of the experience. So here you are!

A week or two ago, Andy invited me to spend a day stalking. As a meat-eater who is also determined to choose the ethical option – I buy free range and wild food whenever I can – I was really interested in this. At the same time, I didn’t know how I would feel about shooting an animal. But I know the deer population in the hills has to be controlled, mainly because we no longer have top predators such as wolves to curb numbers.

I had never used a rifle before, so Andy and I started off at the range. He showed me how to use the sight and explained that I’d need to squeeze the trigger gently. I was surprised at the lack of kick from the gun. I aimed at the deer target amongst the trees, hit it first time, so I was ready to head up the glen. Andy explained that, if possible, we’d be waiting for a beast to stand side on, which gave the best margin for error. I was worried I might miss the target area, and maim the deer. But Andy assured me that if this happened, he would take the rifle and shoot it properly.

We drove to the top of a hill, leaving Eric to collect Fergus the pony. Another ghillie, Angel, came with us, then went back down with the Land Rover. Andy and I set off with Ed the dog. The weather that day (swirling mist), was less than ideal for stalking, but it lent a certain atmosphere to the occasion. As we walked off, Andy explained the principles of stalking – you have to imagine where the deer would be on that day, and then try and approach them so they don’t know you are there. One of the most important factors is wind direction, because you don’t want the deer to smell or hear you coming. So we set off upwind to where Andy thought they might be. We found some very fresh deer droppings on a path, and so decided to follow their tracks. As we rounded a corner, we stopped and waited rather than push on in the thick mist. The tactic paid off as, a minute or two later, it lifted just enough for us to make out shapes on the next ridge.

Andy signalled to me to drop down, and we crawled through the heather towards them. The mist was swirling about and kept blocking our view, but then it would clear again. The deer didn’t seem to know we were there. Andy set the rifle in position for me, and showed me which hind would be a good target. He picked one grazing, side on to us, with no other beasts around it. I got into position and looked through the sight. It took me a while to ready myself for the shot, and in that time the mist had come back in, so I had to wait for it to clear again before I could shoot.
Then, when I could see properly and the deer was in place, I squeezed the trigger. Andy was a bit unsure of the shot so he took the rifle and shot it again. The gralloch (removing the stomach and intestines) revealed that my shot had hit the liver. Andy assured me it was a killing shot but with the poor visibility, he had erred on the safe side.

As I had never shot an animal before, it was now time for my “blooding”, which is a ritual performed after shooting. Andy drew blood across my cheeks as a mark of respect for the dead animal. We then radioed Eric with the pony and set off down the hill with Andy dragging the hind. As it was still morning, we dropped off the beast on the pony path and headed back up the hill for lunch. After sandwiches and thermoses of tea on the side of the glen, we set off again to look for more deer.

This stalk was much longer. It had been far too easy in the morning! But, eventually, as the light was starting to fade, we found another herd, and we crawled into place. This time I was quicker at getting into position and readying myself for the shoot. I squeezed the trigger and shot the hind. My shot was much better and the beast went down first time because I had hit a major blood vessel in the chest. Again we gralloched the animal, and then dragged the beast down the hill, this time through a burn! We met Eric and Angel on the pony path, loaded the hind on to Fergus, and walked out as the sun was setting.

All in all it was a very interesting experience. I am a keen hill walker and mountaineer, so I was doing something new in a very familiar environment. I realised stalking is a special skill and I couldn’t believe how close we could get to the deer (a necessity on a day with such low cloud) without them knowing we were there.
I certainly didn’t get any kind of thrill from shooting an animal, but I have a great respect for the skill involved in stalking, and I feel that if you are going to eat meat, wild, organic meat is the most ethical choice.

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