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?
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