With a looming weather bomb due to hit Scotland a team of County Deer Stalking authors head to the highlands to stalk Red Hinds. How will their equipment fair amidst some changeable and challenging weather conditions.
Many will recall the weather bomb that hit Scotland during mid December, well as chance has it this was to coincide with a scheduled trip to the highlands for a handful of our authors.
With our small team assembled (James Schneider, Matthew Rogers, James Mott, Rupert Mackintosh & Yours Truly) we arrived during a window of clear weather and deep snow just prior to the anticipated weather bomb.
Stalking in the highlands can be spectacular, however add to this clear blue skies and freshly fallen snow and we had some of the most stunning scenery I have ever witnessed. In typical Scottish fashion the following day however was all change and presented fresh challenge. High winds, driving rain and fast melting snow resulted in sheet water running off the hill side. How would our equipment stand up to such extremes?
(Above: 'The Drive In' - We set off up the hill past an old Highland Bothy)
In the following article each of our authors reveal their top items of equipment and also reveal the equipment that most let them down.
(Above: 'Stalking in at last light' - Boots can take a pounding and need to be water resistant and warm)
What Didn’t work:
Knowing that on the hill I would need to walk many miles, traverse steep hillsides and cross the many burns which so characterise the Scottish hillscape, I opted to take my standard height Meindl walking boots and gaiters. Sad to say the height of the boot let me down when crossing the deeper burns. My feet got cold and I ended up emptying half a cup of water from each boot back at the hotel. Also on the hill you need good ankle support which a higher boot would afford. Needless to say I shall be investing in a pair of quality high boots for future trips.
(Above: Top kit - James Schneider sports an excellent smock from Nomad under his whites)
My boots and gaitors: Meindl Dovre Pro GTX; perfectly developed for the hill, these took a pounding and kept me warm, dry and comfortable at all times. Never any issues with cold or wet and the Vibram sole gave a spring to every step. Over these were Harkila Pro Hunter X Gaitors which were excellent at keeping out the snow, wet and heather.
My Base Layer: Harkila Coldfront Zip Neck top and Long Johns, the thumb holes were particularly useful to keep the sleeves down and the high neck kept out the cold. Very comfortable and the fabric breathes to keep in warmth and wick away moisture, quick to dry as well.
My Jacket: Nomad Stealth Tweed Hooded Smock combined perfectly with my base layer and was exceptional at keeping out the wet and cold whilst spending a long time on one's belly crawling into position. The weather turned exceptionally nasty at the end of the second day and the Nomad was brilliant, I pulled up the hood and tightened it around my cap and was warm, dry and happy as we came off the hill in a torrential sleet/rain storm. I will be investing in the matching Stalking Salopette for my next Scotland adventure.
What Didn't Work
My Gloves: Sealskinz Men's Hunting Gloves, whose performance can only be described as ‘epic fail’. I purchased these brand new gloves just before the trip and they literally fell apart on my hands over the course of two days. The left finger seam had split before I was ten feet into the first crawl and the liner on my right hand tore and started to come away before we had our first cup of coffee. Every time I took the gloves off or put back on, the liners on both gloves would tear and by the end of the second day they were useless as the seams on the other fingers fell apart. These gloves were a complete waste of money, shockingly poor performance the pain of which was exacerbated by their £50 price tag. They were immediately binned upon returning to the lodge and I highly recommend these be avoided.
(Above: A walking stick is invariably used by most highland stalkers to help steady progress)
The kit that served me best in Scotland was the two-part thumbstick. Although the estate kindly passed around sticks from their ready supply, it was great to have one that I knew, was the right height and I genuinely trusted when undertaking to cross questionable ground. More than once the stick saved me from landing face down in snow, or even worse, as in some areas a fall could have resulted in a roll and break. I had anticipated that walking across the hills would be tough, but the stick just made everything easier in terms of ascending and descending, and to a certain extent as a bit of moral support for when the hill just seems to stretch on into eternity!
What Didn’t Work:
Conversely the item of kit that let me down the most has to be my boots. I won’t mention any brand names here as I don’t actually blame the boots themselves – they have served me so well over the last c. 18 months of woodland stalking and regular use walking with the family. However, they just couldn’t stand up to the strains that Scotland in the snow could throw at them. Bear in mind the snow starts to melt and the burns start to flow faster and deeper the whole time you are out there. While initial crossings were made gingerly hopping from prominent stone to another, later ones were simply a resigned shrug of the shoulders and wading in, knowing they were powerless to hold back the waters (even when only a couple of inches deep). So lesson learnt here with the boots – make an investment and really challenge your assumptions as to their credibility and capability.
(Above: As snow gives way to rain Peter Jones sheds his whites revealing the Tolga jacket from Harkila)
Personally it was too my Harkila gear that that I turned. Along with some excellent thermals I wore the Harkila Tolga Jacket, Pro Game Keeper GTX 9" boots and Pro Hunter Trousers.
Now I have been stalking in this gear a fair bit this year, not only accompanying guests for woodland stalking in the south east, but also for Red Stags in the Highlands and Chamois in Austria. That said on all of these previous occasions the weather was moderate. I have therefore until now, been unable to trial this gear in extremes. How did the clothing from this highly renowned outfitter shape up?
With sheet water flowing down the hill side and deep burns to be crossed the prize for best item has to go to the Harkila GTX 9” Boots. Which in two words were ‘truly superb’. To take ones boots off after a long day on the hill in these conditions and reveal warm dry socks, is testament to some of the very best boots I have ever worn. This is not to say that the Tolga jacket wasn’t good, quite the contrary, it was in fact also excellent. It is designed to be a light weight jacket and so of course requires layering up, however this is just what you need, it’s also remarkably water and wind resistant and comfortable to wear.
What Didn’t Work:
The phrase 'didn't work' is too harsh here, 'disappointing' might be the better phrase. The Pro Hunter Trousers which I have found to be excellent in most conditions began to let me down for one simple reason. After walking for an hour headlong into driving rain the ‘fly’ began to let in water....’nice’.....and I am sure you will appreciate just where you don’t want to feel cold and wet.
Finally a word from old Rupert who as readers will know, is better suited to reviews of fine Cigars and Whisky. Needless to say he has typically concentrated on the finer things in life!
(Above: The Ghillie arrives in an Argo to assist with the extraction of the first shot hinds)
Peter asked me to pen a missive on the best bit of kit I had for Scotland, and it’s funny he should ask. On surveying my gunroom while packing for the trip, mine eyes wafted across several worthy candidates. Should I pack the sterling silver candle snuffer, just in case we have an incident at the end of the evening when the landlady needs to call time on the utter barbarism ensuing from our party? Or perhaps the portable decanter, for when you have overshot the runway of port consumption and landing in the emergency stocks? Or the Corby Tie Press, in order to keep the tweedy tie in stellar condition to woo the hinds? All tough decisions and all so truly credible in all their own mighty glory.
(Above: 'Cigars Oclock' - Warm and dry again its all about the whisky and cigars)
In the end the best bit of kit that I deployed was my sparkling wit and personality – the locals are a warm and welcoming bunch, who all seem genuinely delighted to see you, right from the lady at the hotel check-in desk to the teams of fantastic stalkers and ghillies. So pack your best smile and be prepared for levels of civility and light-hearted chatter that you simply don’t find in the hustle and bustle of Belgravia, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t done all this before!
To learn more about stalking in Scotland follow this link: outings-scotland
Alternatively to read more about the challenges of Stalking Scottish Red Hinds follow this link: red-hind-culling-in-scotland.