Where mighty beasts mooch
Shooting Times & Country|July 14, 2021
Scotland is home to the finest stalking in the world and Alasdair Mitchell chooses the best places everyone ought to visit at least once
Alasdair Mitchell

You are crawling on your belly, sliding around each tussock of deergrass and into every peaty hollow, keeping your head down. An observer might think you were fearful of being raked with gunfire at any moment. Beneath your pounding chest you can hear — and feel, even — the glug and gurgle of subterranean rivulets, the very lifeblood of the mountain.

A hoarse, guttural roar splits the October mist, sounding unnervingly close. It is answered by a stentorian challenger. It is as though you are caught in the middle of an impending battle. The stags snort and bellow, unaware of your presence. Silkeneared hinds dance and prance, their keen eyes and noses ready to betray you in an instant.

If the rampant sound and fury doesn’t set your pulse racing, nothing else will. Such is stalking for red stags in the Highlands of Scotland during the peak of the rut.

It is a unique type of hunting that fascinated intrepid Victorians and sparked a fashion for renting immense, largely treeless ‘deer forests’. The wild red deer, which had once been ousted in favour of sheep, returned to the land once the North Country Cheviots had gone. But the people did not. There is a hint of melancholy about the beautiful yet lonely landscape.

1 Forest of Atholl, Perthshire

2 Knoydart, West Highlands

3 Black Mount Estate, Argyllshire

4 Letterewe Estate, Wester Ross

Stalking red stags on the open hill in the time-honoured manner is an exercise in time travel. You can be a Victorian for a week, before returning to humdrum modern life with its conveniences and worries. Until next season.

If you simply wish to shoot a very big stag, there are easier, more certain ways of doing so. Yet hunting a ponderous, multi-pointed park stag does not appeal to me. Nor do those gigantic European woodland reds, worthy as their pursuit may be. New Zealand looks wonderful, but why fly to the far side of the world to hunt an imported species?

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM SHOOTING TIMES & COUNTRYView All

Early stags: a dead red redemption

With the roe rut over, Chris Dalton switches focus to the reds and sets out to cull a few young male deer — if he can find them

5 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

Lockdown leads to a few unlikely recruits

COVID-19 resulted in renewed interest in the countryside and lots of mess but it might not have all been a total disaster, says Gethin Jones

5 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

How the sport of trap shooting really took off

Diggory Hadoke charts the history of trapshooting from the days of top hats to the era of sophisticated machines

6 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

Choosing the right trainer

Ellena Swift explains how owners can ensure their aspiring gundogs learn the right skills

6 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

For love, not money

When a stubble comes under siege, Tom Payne jumps at the chance to do what he is passionate about, rather than simply what pays the bills

7 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

Scout's honour in the battlefield

A new permission offers Simon Garnham the perfect chance to hone his keen young labrador’s skills while protecting a farmer’s livelihood

7 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

Heading for higher ground

A traditional walk-about on the hill to mark the Glorious Twelfth yields little in the way of grouse but offers time and space to reflect on seasons past, present and future

6 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

Marsh rite of passage

For the novice fowler, learning about tides and maintaining your kit can be the difference between life and death, warns Barry Lawson

5 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

Making the most of it

With buildings and roads ruling out the use of a shotgun, Mat Manning sets up an airgun ambush to defend farmers’ fields from avian pests

5 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021

Stalking Diary

Summer storms hide much of the roe rut but the red stags are about to start and a cull is vital to keep the deer off vulnerable cover crops

2 mins read
Shooting Times & Country
August 25, 2021