Having been tied up to a desk for the past fortnight, a day’s hind stalking in the Grampians came as an extremely welcome relief. It was a bright, crisp morning after a night of rain, and a skin of ice lay on the puddles as we drove uphill with the ringing endorsement of song thrushes in the high pine tops. The sun rose over the peaks, and much of Aberdeenshire lay sprawled out at our feet as we spied the folded hills for deer.
One of the most unfair angles taken by opponents to shooting is that traditional moorland management produces a kind of hollow monoculture of heather and grouse. I look forward to visiting these hills precisely because there is such a diversity of wildlife, and alongside territorial grouse cocks strutting by the roadside, teams of blackgame flighted out over the glens as we meandered uphill, twinkling their white underwings in the first pink light. February is perhaps the worst time of year to see wildlife in the hills since the waders and many of the song birds have not yet arrived to breed, but during the course of the day I counted twelve species, including everything from dippers to peregrine falcons. This is a particularly good place to find ring ousels during the summer, and I have seen very nearly every British raptor species here during half a dozen visits.
White hares stood out like footballs through the black haggs, and the deer provided a constant source of excitement throughout the day. Far from being a “featureless wasteland”, the hill was quietly alive to a diversity and abundance of specialised wildlife that is the envy of folk like me from Dumfries and Galloway. Alongside the rarities, we saw kites and buzzards squabbling together in the wind, and ravens clocked and rolled against the stunning snow-wracked horizons to the West.
After a number of false starts, we finally got in amongst a gang of hinds which lay together out of the wind. My pulse roared in my ears on the final approach, inching through the heather on our bellies until a final rise provided a crucial rest for the bipod. My moment came and the moderated .308 bounced lightly back into my shoulder, slapping the hind so that she hunched her back slightly and walked a few paces on before folding up and falling. A second hind was shot from the gang, and with the last half hour of golden sunlight we returned to the spot with the argocat, flushing greyhens from the moss above us with the sputtering roar of the engine.