Fruitless Stalking

The view over part of March’s burn

It was a fine evening for a stalk over the ground which was burnt this spring, and now that so much fresh green undergrowth is coming through, the deer seem to be the first to bounce back. There are quite a few lying up by day in the remaining stands of heather, and I headed up the hill with Scoop at heel. Within ten minutes of crossing the heather line, I had spotted two likely candidates grazing peacefully on a large smear of burnt heather about eight hundred yards away. I wasn’t close enough to be able to sex them, even with the binoculars, so I found a little nook between a shattered granite stone and lay down to see if anything more convenient was going to crop up.

A young hen harrier passed slowly overhead, turning gently down into a bed of reeds and hanging over the seed heads like a big kestrel. As it moved off to the north, it put up three snipe from a wet corner, and even flicked its wings as if it was going to give them a run for their money but then decided against it and flew gently up the slope to land on a bank of granite scree above me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hen harrier on the ground before, and it was interesting to get a different perspective on the species as it began to preen its wings.

It was a beautiful evening, and a very faint breeze came drifting down from the north east. At my feet, the entire spread of the Solway lay out like a map. I was only about fourteen hundred feet up, but the steep sides of the hill made it feel as though I was looking down from a tremendous height. Somewhere behind me, a grouse cackled to himself and Scoop, who by this stage had fallen asleep, woke up.

Taking the initiative, I decided to work my way towards the distant deer, which, in the hour that I had been lying still, had merely laid down in the burn. I dropped down into a small dip full of bog myrtle and crunched through the crackling heather stems for several hundred yards, keeping out of sight and always aiming into the wind. My only previous experience of stalking on open ground is with red stags in Wester Ross, and while this was much the same in miniature, the same principles applied.

After half an hour, I was within two hundred yards. Making Scoop lie behind me, I crept up until I could get a clear view of the deer in the heather – it was a doe and her doe of this year. No luck, but I’d put in too much work getting close to leave them then and there. I set up and watched them through the binoculars, clocking another doe and two young a further three hundred yards up the hill. There’s something very peaceful about watching deer, and even though they didn’t do anything during all the time I was watching them, it was hard to take my eyes off them. At one point, the grown doe stood up and used her back toe to itch her ear, but aside from that, it was quite a static show. After half an hour, a short eared owl came cruising out into the open, and I decided that it was time to head home as the sun started to slide over the horizon.

Not the most productive stalk, but the first of this year and always a real pleasure to be up in grouse country.


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