Red Stag Stalking at the Kinnaird Estate
- Monday, 09 November 2020
Capreolus Club member James Cartwright joins Ayrshire Stalking and his close friends from Sweden and Germany, to hunt Red Stag over the Kinnaird Estate, Scotland.
Deer stalking has allowed me to forge some truly great friendships and countless unforgettable experiences over the years. I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to numerous hunts in Germany and Austria and now it was my time to invite some of my closest friends to Scotland, to show them what an incredible array of stalking we have here in the UK.
Covid-related travel restrictions reduced our numbers but thanks to the persistence of two of my closest friends, from Sweden and Germany, we were able to make the trip happen. After collecting them from Heathrow, we travelled to Bedford for some fantastic Muntjac stalking - another story to tell - and from there we made our way to Scotland via Northumbria’s stunning coastline.
Fueled by a mildly unconventional diet of muntjac and fish and chips, we finally arrived at the Kinnaird Estate, about an hour north of Edinburgh, where we planned to stalk Red stags with Chris Dalton, who does a first class job of managing the herd there. After three trips together, Chris knew that I wanted to incorporate a physical challenge into the weekend while introducing my companions to the glories of stalking in Scotland and after a brief planning session we agreed to stay out on the hills for as long as possible over the 2 days we had together.
There’s nothing like solo stalking for introducing you to the benefits of solitude and of being at one with your environment, but I’d argue that there’s nothing like hunting together on a hill for building a sense of mutual understanding and togetherness and hunting Red stags is always a special experience. After a decent night’s sleep, porridge, and coffee we packed our gear to the mystical sound of roaring stags on the banks of the River Tay.
Modern life can sometimes be short on adventure, but our day was full on from the get-go. We met Chris’s lead stalker, Graeme, at 6.30am sharp and within 15 minutes I’d already over-estimated the off-road capabilities of our vehicle - or myself as a driver – while driving up a forest path. From there on it was all-out and back on foot, just as it should be.
As we walked through steep-sided woodland, it was easy to imagine that we were in the midst of a Jurassic forest and as we moved through the pre-dawn shadows, a deep guttural roar sounded from within the darkness and echoed across the mist-covered hills. Unfortunately, changes in the wind direction were against us that morning, but we pushed on across burbling streams following the persistent sound of the early morning rut.
Like any complex pastime, deer stalking is rarely fully mastered. We knew that this particular trip wasn’t going to be easy, but after a few kilometres, we felt the constantly changing wind direction would lead us to continue to bump deer all over the hill. By this time in the rut season, a mature stag should have cultivated a hareem of hinds to whom he pays the very closest attention while keeping his competitors at bay. At the same time, the ever-present hinds keep watch, a state of constant vigilance.
Changing plans, we headed higher and at this point the unexpected happened. As I walked across the crest of an outcrop, I slipped and fell through the heather, bouncing five metres down the side of a ridge, but I managed to hold my rifle and sticks close throughout. Thankfully, only my pride was bruised, but Graeme embarked on an appropriate ribbing that only ended half-an-hour later when he found himself waist-deep in bog water.
No shot is ever a given, especially on the hill, but an hour after my fall I missed what should have been my stag at 250m. I felt humbled and disappointed with myself: we’d all worked so hard to get into position and I’d let the team down.
Without getting too philosophical, I’m of the view that stalking amplifies life’s lessons, one of the most important of which is resilience. Likewise, it’s always important to learn from your failures and after replaying the shot in my mind, a subsequent rifle check revealed that my zero was near 20cm off zero at 100m, which translates to some 60cm off at 250m. Clearly, my rifle had also been affected by the fall. As Graeme was quick to remind me, a miss is a miss, and his sledging continued unabated, but it was an excellent reminder that any rifle should be checked for zero after a knock.
Luckily, I had plenty of ammunition and with my rifle re-zeroed and with its owner fortified by the perfect stalker’s food, a brew and pork pie, we persevered and covered around 25km in the day. This was largely thanks to Graeme, who was totally committed to helping us in our quest, maintaining our spirits and helping to keep us focused. Finally, Graeme got me onto a stag that I dropped with a perfect 200m shot. The hardest deer are always the most memorable and the experience of sharing success with good friends is hard to beat.
In fact, over that weekend, Graeme got to know all of us pretty well and also how to get the best from each of us, which culminated in all three of us succeeding with decent stag. Every stalk we had with Graeme had its own special stories and lessons, not any of them perfect, but that’s left to be shared over a decent malt.
Hill stalking of this type is as much a mental challenge as a physical ordeal. It strips your personality to core, something I like, and it also reminds you why you like the people you’re stalking with. A form of mutual appreciation and support, shared elation and success, hunting transcends nations and cultures and brings us all closer together.
I’d like to extend my special thanks to Chris Dalton and Graeme of South Ayrshire Stalking and to everyone at the Kinnaird Estate. For anyone looking for an adventure with the best, I cannot recommend them more highly. We’re all looking forward to our next trip.
If you’d like to learn more about stalking Red deer in the highlands, follow this link: stalking-outings-scotland
To discover our experts choice of best calibre for the highlands of Scotland click here: what-is-the-best-calibre-for-deer-stalking-in-scotland
Or to watch a short film in which we follow the Capreolus Club to the highlands of Scotland, click here: youtube.com/watch
Alternatively, to read about the rifle that James was using, an unusual single shot Blaser K95, follow this link: blaser-k95-single-shot-rifle-review
Left: James Cartwright with his Red Stag