“To the top and over…to the stags, me laddies,” proclaimed Tim Fallon in is best Texas-tainted Scottish accent. Sounded easy enough. After all, I had hunted red stags in Argentina, Austria, Sweden and New Zealand. I had pursued the royal deer up and down steep alps, in dense primordial forests and on the pampa.
I had long saved hunting Scotland’s red stags for a time when there was “no longer as much steel in my legs as there had once been.” I had assumed Scottish stags would require less crawling up steep hillsides to bag a representative stag. Now, I was seriously doubting that decision. We had been crawling—nay clawing—up a near vertical slope, slipping and sliding in the Scottish Highlands for three hours, and we were still an hour from reaching the crest.
Earlier that morning we had “glassed” two separate herds of red deer, one of stags and the other, hinds and young of the year. The hind herd was bedded 200-yards below the stags. The stags were bedded just below the crest of “the hill.” With the breeding season still a month in the future, the two sexes lived in separate herds.
The hinds prevented a direct up the hill approach to the stags. After visiting with the property’s game keeper and his assistants, we—Tim Fallon, Stefan Bengtssen, our outfitter with Scandinavian Prohunters, and I—decided our best approach was to walk to the other side of the huge grassy hill, crawl up the backside and come down on top of the bedded stags.
It started raining when we left the vehicles. Actually, it had been raining for three days. The ground was wet and to say it was slippery would have been an understatement. Walking uphill was anything but easy; more like take three steps up and slide down two!
While still at the vehicles, I had thought it would be an easy climb, rather quickly accomplished. Foolishly I decided not to carry any water with me. Something I would seriously regret later in the day.
Our climb was long, tough and in my case dehydrating. It did not take long for me to wish I had brought water. I did have a small flask of Famous Grouse scotch whisky, part of our daily lunch bag. Although terribly thirsty, I knew alcohol would only further dehydrate me.
We finally reached the summit. Our dressed-in proper-tweeds game keeper eased to the hilltop’s edge. Moments later he returned. The stags were still bedded 300 yards below. All that could be seen were their heads and racks. I should add at this point that Scottish Highland red stags are considerably smaller of body and antlers than those found in other parts of the red deer world.
Tim, Stefan, and I, along with our game keeper, crawled forward. Tim and I got into prone shooting positions. Not one I would call “comfortable,” more like “barely tolerable.”
“Larry, select a stag on the left side of the herd. Tim, you choose one on the right,” instructed Stefan. The vigil began.
Minutes passed. Minutes stretched to an hour. No movement from the stags.
It was overcast. Sundown was minutes away. We were quickly losing shooting light. My “barely tolerable” prone shooting position had become horribly uncomfortable. Have I also mentioned the clouds of midges, tiny ravenously hungry flies that loved the blood of Texans? Ruthless. They bored into every bit of exposed skin available. Did I mention I hate blood-sucking insects!
Almost two hours after getting prone, having had plenty of time to decide which of the stags on my side I wanted to take, my chosen stag finally stood up. My rifle, a Ruger M77 RSI, full Mannlicher stock, proper and appropriate for my Scottish hunt was pointed at my stag. Chambered in .270 Winchester shooting Hornady’s, 140-grain Interlock SP, American Whitetail loads it is extremely accurate. I knew that particular Hornady load would do an excellent job on a Scottish stag, about the same size as a big mule deer.
My Trijicon scope’s crosshairs settled on stag’s shoulder. I was sighted-in 1.5-inches high at 100-yards. The bullet would strike nearly 7-inches low at 300 yards. I held the horizontal crosshairs just below the stag’s back and squeezed the trigger. At the shot, my stag dropped.
I reached forward with my right hand to chamber a fresh round, just in case if it became necessary. When I did, my body’s entire muscle “system” south of my ears cramped. The hurt was indescribable. Tears came to eyes. I had never before experienced anything similar. I must have been quite a sight squirming and writhing on the ground in pain.
Thankfully, my stag was down and done! It took fully three minutes of pure torture before the cramps subsided. It was the price I paid for not having brought water to keep hydrated. A serious and valuable lesson learned!
At the stag’s side, I could not have been more pleased. In comparing antlers of my Scottish Highlands stag to those I had taken in New Zealand, they could best be described as “meager.” But in terms of experience, they were every bit as big if not bigger than those I had taken “down under.” After many years of wanting, I had finally taken a Scottish Highlands red stag!
Tim’s stag was essentially the same as mine. He, like me, hunts primarily for mature representative animals. I glanced at Stefan while we were taking photos. He had a big smile on his face.
Back at our ancient castle camp later that evening, there was a right proper celebration, complete with several toasts of a wee drams of highland nectar, told tales of daring and do, of great stags taken and respect paid to those which had gotten away….
Regardless of what is going on in the world, there are always small things, of beauty and splendor, for us to enjoy, admire and appreciate!
Watch “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” TV show on our YouTube Channel, or on CarbonTV.
If you haven’t heard any of the “Campfires with Larry Weishuhn” podcasts, visit blubrry.com/untamedheritage/ to listen to one of our dozens of podcast episodes.