Saturday, 22 December 2012

On The Silver Screen

Well I managed to survive until the Christmas break. Out of the last 6 working days, 5 have featured mist, wind and lashing rain.

On the last stalking day I managed to bag 4 beasts. Although it was a refreshing change to get more than one shot off, it did come at a price. That price was that this required 2 trips with the horse.

 I got so cold waiting for Eric and Fergus to return that any distraction would taking pictures of  my misery, for example.

On a similar note, I had a filmmaker-Rob- out with me a few weeks back. He was doing a promotional video for wild venison. As luck would have it, the day he came out was a fair representation of what a days hind stalking entailed.

As we trundled away from the larder in the morning, Eric asked as to whether he had a rain cover for his (rather expensive looking) camera. When he responded in the negative, Eric offered to fetch a bin-liner.

By the time we came off the hill, that bin-liner was in tatters. Those tatters, however, were still being carefully wrapped around the camera after each sodden attempt at a take. By the time the stalking party was down on the flats of the glen, the misted lenses rendered the camera useless. Which was a pity as a pair of salmon were putting up an excellent display of spawning in a shallow pool just a few yards away.

As it turned out Rob returned for another day and managed to get the shots he needed. You can get a sneak preview of the drier parts of our first outing on . Hopefully I'll be sharing the second outing with you soon.

Finally, I'd like to thank all you folk out there in cyberspace for your continued support. My last blog must have had an air of despondency about it. It garnered a few comments of encouragement which were just the tonic I was needing.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and all the best for the coming year.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Army Fatigues

As I suspected, that's been a full-on week. The snipers have now vacated the village hall and I suspect they'll be near the end of their journey home by now.

As for me, I feel near the end of my tether. Sure, it's been a busy week. And there's no doubt it takes more energy and effort to take a guest stalking than to just do it yourself. But it's more than that. Stalking red deer on the open hill is not something you can do half-hearted. Do that and you'd be as well not bothering.

I've been stalking nigh every day since the start of October. Every day I've been giving it my level best (to use a particularly inappropriate expression for the hill) and I'm starting to feel a little.....frazzled.

It's been a day of rain, sleet and snow. High winds and low spirits. As I type this the storm is still raging outside. But for now I'm sat in front of a roasting fire. I've a glass of wine at hand and Lil'Lots asleep at my feet.....and the whole weekend in which to recover before I do it all again.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

New Bloods

A couple of blogs ago, I mentioned that we'd behaving a different sort of group coming stalking for the week. Well they're here- and they couldn't be more different from the group who were staying at the lodge last month.
This lot are dossing down on the floor of the village hall. There's not a square inch of tweed to be seen. And, although a lot of them have never stalked before, they know one end of a rifle from the other.
They are a group of army snipers and this is 'Adventure Training' for them. When I hear that expression my brain automatically replaces it with 'Busmans Holiday'.
A lot of them were here for the first time last year (see blog of 16th December 2011) and it's great to catch up with them again. But it's also nice to see there are some new faces with them. This means we'll get to give the new bloods a blooding. As I've said many times, I love introducing 'virgins' to what I consider to be the most challenging and rewarding of all fieldsports.
It's also great to see that the weather has improved; although some would not see -10C as an improvement. As you'll see from the pics we've also had a bit of snow. Not enough to shove the deer right 'in aboot' but enough to have totally stymied the delivery driver who took his van down my drive to deliver one tiny parcel.
Speaking personally, my only regret about the snow is that I have to leave Lottie (my young terrier) at home. She's not yet steady enough not to dance about while I'm stalking in. This isn't too much of a problem on 'black ground' but she sticks out like a sore thumb on the snow.
The forecast sounds like there will be a lot of rain arriving at the end of the week so maybe it'll be 'business as usual' for us both come Monday.
In the meantime, there's a lot of miles to do with this lot. And they don't ever seem to need to stop for a 'breather'. Unfortunately.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Water Biscuit

Those of you who live in the uk will need no telling about the weather we've had this last week. Flood warnings are in place the length and breadth of the land.

For us, Monday was diabolical. Not a day for the hill at all, really. But with us falling behind further and further with our hind cull, I felt I had to go out and try.

Tuesday turned out to be even worse. And I had a guest out that day. I'd like to think we'd have had a result as well but the wind changed on us when we were only 200 yards of the beasts. Then later mist obscured another lot just at a crucial time. Excuses, excuses....

But Thursday really took the biscuit. And what a soggy biscuit it was. Again I had a guest and we were fortunate that, although we had lashing rain, the cloud base remained high enough to be able to see what we were doing.

As it was, we got a couple of beasts and a good soaking.

As I write this I can see a greyness to the very tops of the hills. But we're needing a lot more snow than that if the deer are to be shoved in to our more accessible ground.

I heard that some Danish scientists, monitoring sea temperatures off iceland, are predicting a very hard winter. Be careful what you wish for? Bring it on, I say.

For a wee while anyway.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dark Days

Those of you who know this place may already know that our Head Gamekeeper recently passed away.

He was a connsumate keeper and a truly good person. I worked under him for 25 years and would have been happy to have done so for another 25. But that was not to be.

A new Head Keeper will be appointed in due course. In the meantime, the 5 keepers that remain here are 'holding the fort'. We all know what needs to be done and are sharing the load as best we can.

Our hind cull is now well under way, time-wise anyway! The numbers seem to be creeping up almost imperceptibly.

This isn't just because we are a man down. We've also had a lot of mild weather which allows the deer to stay as far away from us as possible. And relentless west winds have only encouraged them farther out.

We've had a fair few stalking guests as well. Including, for the first time, a party staying in the lodge. They were a young bunch and good fun but there were a lot of very inexperienced stalkers amongst them. Including some that had never shot before.

It always gives me a buzz to introduce someone to the sport. It's also fascinating to see how the reality compares to the preconceptions they might have. Almost invariably they find it much harder than they thought it would be. And therefore more rewarding.

The 'virgins' in this group were no different. They raved about the whole experience. If their livers recover, we hope to see them come back next year.

In a few weeks time we have another group coming. Of a very different sort. Yes, there will be a lot of them and, yes, many of them will never have stalked deer in their lives before. However, I'm sure it's going to be a very different week for us keepers...but no less busy.

Busy is good. It's fine to have a distraction from the cloud that still hangs over us. For me, it will take a long time to clear.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Stag Party

A lot has been going on since my last post.

We've had some beautiful weather with light winds, blue skies and hard frosts (for this time of year; -5). More importantly, the rut has finally come to my beat....with a vengeance!

It's a fantastic time to be 'oot the hill' when the corries and glens are reverberating with the roars of the stags. Strangely, the intensity (and the timing) of the rut seems to vary from year to year.

It's quite unusual to find a stag that has been killed while fighting. I haven't found any in the last two years. Yet three years ago there was a strong rut and I found 3 stags that had been gored to death. From what I'm seeing, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find one or two this year.

On the stalking side, things are a little frustrating. This estate is trying to establish a resident stag herd. To this end we have about 70 stags that stay all winter and are fed. This gives them a big advantage. And a big body. And a big set of antlers.

Unfortunately for me, a lot of these animals find their way onto my patch. And there they hold the hinds against all comers (as it were, ahem). This means that every time I take a guest out stalking I have to make my excuses as we pass these stags over.

So each 'feeder' becomes an obstacle that has to be circumvented in the quest to find a 'shootable' stag. Furthermore, they are also such stiff (ahem, again) competition that the wild stags take one look, get a serious dose of, and disappear off from whence they came.

Fortunately nearly all the guests we have are regulars or experienced stalkers. And- all credit to them- they understand our policies and agree with our selective culling. Which is just as well really, seeing as I've just blanked for the second day in a row. Ouch.

Monday, 1 October 2012

A Rough Start

Time's up!! The time for waiting is by. There were guests out on all 5 stalking beats today.

As we left the landrover I did what I do on the first stalking day of every season- rack my brains to think of anything that I might have forgotten. I've actually developed a little mantra. It goes; riflebulletsbinocularstelescoperadioandbackupstagropesdragropesdogstickguest.

It works very well but doesn't cover all the one-offs that come with the first day- like remembering that your horse is still 3 miles up the road in his summer lodgings.

As it was everything was where it needed to be apart from the stags. First indications were that the rut had started. I could see various groups of hinds, scattered about, with stags in attendance.

On closer inspection, all these stags proved to be our humungous 'pet' stags. If I shot one of them it would be a hernia for the horse and the high jump for me.

However, as I investigated one group, I could make out a young stag that didn't look right. When I got the binoculars on him I could see he looked thin and rather hingin'-luggit (his ears were drooping). Then I noticed these growths on his underside and I made the decision to shoot him.

I've come across fibroids before but never as bad as this.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Waiting On Game

Since my last blog I've been doing a lot of thumb twiddling. Sure, there have been plenty of things needing seen to; I've been round and round my traps; I've walked my cairns and rock faces in the forlorn hope of picking up a fox; I've sorted fences; patched roads; replaced a bridge....but I'm really, REALLY just wanting the stags to come onto my ground so I can start stalking.

Everything else is ready. Fergus (my pony) is shod, his tack is all sorted and oiled and waiting. I've got a heap of feed for him waiting at his winter quarters. My rifle is zeroed. I carry all the parephenalia (telescope, radios, drag rope, stag straps etc etc) every day on the off-chance I'll be sent out.

But still I'm twiddling my thumbs. If this rut doesn't start soon, they'll be completely worn away.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Ace of Spades

I'm all too aware that you haven't heard from me for a while. The sad thing is, it's because I don't have a lot to say.

I've been trailing around my gritting stations. (Large piles of peat/turves with a tray of grit on top. The grouse take grit to help them break down the food in their crop. A medicated coating on the grit we provide kills the parasites in their gut.)To me, it's one of the most important jobs I do. Unfortunately it's one of the most laborious, monotonous ones too.

So I've not been setting the world on fire. (That's on hold until the heather burning season. Eeek! Did I really joke about that!)But at least I've had the time to get on with the task.

Ever since the neighbouring estate put up a fence along my march, my chance of early stags has diminished to...hmmm, let me see...nil! So, instead of taking stalking guests out, I've been doing a really thorough job with the grit piles.

This has meant building up any that I didn't deem big or prominent enough. Which is tough spade work. I've also been replacing every grain of the existing medicated grit.

The manufacturers have been blowing a fanfare and declaring that the new medicated coating on their grit lasts longer than ever. That it wont melt off in the heat of summer and that the active ingredient wont be neutralised by frosts.They claim it will still be good after a year on the hill.

But these claims have never been verified by an impartial body. So, in the meantime, while I know that we are in the middle of a serious grouse crash, I'm putting fresh grit onto every pile on the hill.

Today I got the use of the argocat for the first time (my colleagues have been taking their turns with it.) and it certainly makes things easier. Even better, I was on a area of hill where all the grit piles were dug with a mini-digger. So no problems with diminuitive piles here, then.

But, by the time I'd rattled round the hill for 7 hours, and dived in and out of the argo 70 times, I was knackered.

And I still am. I'd planned to go out lamping for foxes tonight. But it can wait for another night.

Night, night.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Back to Business

We finished our grouse shooting yesterday. I think I speak for all my colleagues when I say it's a bit of a relief.

Yes, the tie can get thrown to the back of a drawer for a while. And the 'Sunday' tweeds can go back in the wardrobe. Gone are the pressures of the military-like operation that is a day of grouse driving.

But we're relieved because we're not killing any more of our grouse. There are patches on the estate where there are reasonable stocks left. But we've also had an unpleasant surprise from a lot of other areas.

So today I made a start to getting around my grit piles. Disease (tristrongyle worm infestation)has decimated our stocks from last year. And the terrible spring weather meant the survivors bred very poorly. My main concern now is to refresh the medicated grit in all 200+ piles to try and limit any more losses to the worm.

It's also the first day I've been back to 'business as usual' without Ed. I caught myself looking around for him often. Thank goodness for Lottie. She's no substitute but she's a welcome distraction.

It was her first day on the hill with me- at just 16 weeks old. And she behaved impeccably. Keep up the good work Lil'lots.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


I'm devastated to tell you that Ed died. The hill will be a lonlier place without him.

Rest in peace, Ediboy. You were the best dog a man could ever hope for.

Monday, 27 August 2012

It Never Rains...

Our day on the hill was a washout. The rain started just after we got lined out for the first drive. By the time we arrived at the butts, everyone was soaked.

We called it a day after the second drive and squelched our way home. So that's what they mean by driving rain.

I couldn't wait to get home and hear news of Ed. It turns out he's still vomiting and still got diarrhoea. On the plus side, there's significantly less blood in his poo.

The vet is now talking about him needing to stay under their care until the end of the week. For the first time, I wondered about how much this is going to cost. Probably more than it would cost to put him up in Gleneagles for a week.

No matter.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Day of Rest

I've spoken with the vet this evening. Ed's been up on his feet and taken some food. The other good news was that he hadn't been sick for about 8 hours. The bad news was he still had violent diarrhoea and was still passing blood. On the whole, the vet feels he's making progress.

I've kept myself really busy today- including disinfecting the landrover,kennels,runs,bowls, fact everything that didn't move. I've cut grass, strimmed, tidied, sorted and mended. Talk about nervous energy.

And tomorrow is the start of a full-on week, driving grouse. There will be 20 beaters, 2 or 3 pickers-up, 8 loaders, 6 flankers,

8 shooting guests and a lunch man. Everything has to be choreographed to perfection or the whole house of cards can come down.

The only thing I wont have to worry about is where my spaniels are, and what they're up to. For the first time in my career I'll be heading to a grouse day without a dog. I can't risk the chance that they'll still be infectious.

It's going to feel strange. But not as strange as the house feels right now. Every time I look round I see a terrier-sized hole.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

I'm just off the phone to the vet. Ed made it through the night. My little lionheart.

They said he seems a little 'brighter' but hadn't yet checked his vitals. He's certainly not out of the wood yet.

We'll be seeing him in an hour.

Friday, 24 August 2012

My Pal

If you're a regular visitor to this blogsite, you can't help but have noticed Ed. He's my terrier. He's also my wingman, my companion of 10,000 hill miles, my pal.

He's also very sick.

As I write this, he's at the local vets with suspected Parvovirus. I've been told it's 'touch and go' if he's going to make it.

It's going to be a long night.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


It's the start of our shooting season. So I've been fishing.

It's certainly no hardship. Although I love my stalking, I'm also extremely enthusiastic about my fishing. I think 'fanatical' is the description my wife favours.

It's been great fun to take some fishing 'virgins' out. Unfortunately the salmon weren't playing (fish)ball but they did manage to keep the hooks out of their ears. Better still, they did succeed in catching some trout- and a couple of nice ones too.

However, I did warn them that the fish weren't the only ones who might end up hooked. Who knows, with a bit of perseverance they too might one day reach 'fanatic' status.

It's a week I really enjoy and it's the gentlest introduction I can imagine into what is our 'harvest time'. For the next 3 months our lodge will be full of guests and we'll be doing our level best for them; be it grouse driving, fishing, stag or roebuck stalking, clay pigeon shooting or whatever.

I'd love to bring you a good report of our first two days of grouse driving but the weather has been atrocious. We've managed 3.5 drives- just- working under a low ceiling of thick cloud. And as I write this, rain is lashing against the windows.

Something tells me this season is going to be a bit of a challenge.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Deja Vu

They say a change is as good as a rest.

For the first time in a long time I was waiting with the horse, a long way out on the West of the estate. On a different beat from my own.

I was there to give our new apprentice a helping hand. He's going to be ponyman on this beat for the season. Despite being at about 2000ft, I was giving him the lowdown. I droned on about how to saddle up the horse, what pitfalls to watch out for, where the ponypaths were etc etc etc.

I was in full flow when he blurted out "blimey!" (or similar) and launched himself out of the rover. I thought he'd maybe reached the end of his tether with the advice. In reality he had noticed that the horse had pulled the end of ITS tether and was about to get the hell outta Dodge.

Without missing a beat, I continued "....yeah, and that's another thing you have to watch out for....."

My colleague who was stalking eventually came to the poor lads rescue and had us move onto the next hill. We had been watching him crawl in on a small group of deer and he was lying within shot of them, but couldn't see much for a nasty roll to the ground.

As it turns out, the deer moved off without presenting the stalkers with a shot. There was no time for another stalk so we made our way back to the rover. Before we left I took a couple of photos of Callum and Prince.

I downloaded them onto my laptop a few minutes ago and stopped in amazement. They reminded me so much of a photo that I used to keep on my wall over a decade ago. That photo was of me and a horse called Fraser. It was taken on my first day as a ponyman, only a few hundred yards away from the same spot.

That picture took me back to 1987 quicker than Dr Who's tardis. Where did the years go?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A New Arrival

We're in the final throes of preparation before our shooting season starts. And when I say 'throes', included in this is the chucking of nearly 200 tonnes of gravel into our seriously potholed roads. Yet another casualty of our saturated summer.

On a brighter note, I thought I'd introduce you to the latest addition to our family. Her name is Lottie. As in Lottie Trouble. She's a Border Terror whose favourite form of entertainment right now is biting our feet with her needle-like teeth and listening to us squeal.

Who are we to deny her?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Sore Calves

As I had guessed, going back to work after a fortnights holiday was a bit of a shock to the system. Especially as I was straight in to doing up my grouse butts.

The first line we went to was a brisk 45 minute walk with a nice wee pull up a brae to finish. And it just about finished me.

Well here we are 3 days on and today I started off doing a grouse count then continued by touring round some gritting stations. We have to withdraw the medicated grit from the grouse diet in advance of the shooting season so I have to get round all 200++ of my trays in the next few days.

Today I got round 80. And if you consider they are 200 yards apart, that's a lot of yards. (That's certainly what my legs are telling me.)

I thought you'd enjoy these pics. One is of a red deer calf that Ed latched onto. Normally you try and leave a calf like this alone- and not put any scent on it- but I had to ward off Ed and 3 spaniels.

The other pic was taken right up by my march with the neighbouring estate. It took me over an hour to walk up there but I'd rather that than a road like the one in the shot.
I had to do a double-take when I first saw this pic- I thought the dogs were practicing their circus trick.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

In For A Shock

Well hello! It's been a while, hasn't it?

I've been away on my holidays. And what fine it was to see the sun again. We- my wife, son and I- had a scorching week on the Greek island of Zakynthos. When we returned, we had a day turnaround before we were off for another few days. This time it was sailing on the West Coast of Scotland.

Where the rest of the country has been languishing under record rainfalls, the North and West has had a mere 15% of what they can usually expect. And I'm happy to report that the trend managed to continue during our visit.

It's now the eve of my return to work. A big chunk of today was spent battling with the undergrowth in our over-watered garden. And tomorrow I start doing up my grouse butts.

This work can only be described as 'graft' and it's going to feel even harder after a fortnight of downing sundowners, extended lunches and expanded waistlines.

At least the forecast is half decent.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Stuff of Nightmares

The earless rabbit featured in my last blog really had me in stitches. Here are some pictures that give me the Screaming Abdabs.

I was walking the last mile home when I heard a squeak from the bank next to me. It must have been the voles last breath. When I went to investigate, I could see its tail sticking out of the moss and though it strange it wasn't moving. As I slowly uncovered it I suddenly noticed this adder just at the other side of my hand. Yikes.

I cleared a small area around the dead vole and waited to see if the adder (unusual colour- I wonder if it's because it is a young one) would return. It did.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Ears Something You Dont See Every Day

I woke at 3am to mist and rain. Just for a change. So another morning gone without us getting out to the foxes.

On the plus side, I had a day catching up with my traps instead. Unfortunately catching up was the only catching that was going on.

I'd checked my last trap and was walking home when I came across a sight that brightened up my day. I just had to share it with you.