Worth a brief article to commemorate the approaching ten year anniversary of my first stag, which fell on the 14th September 2006. It had been a long walk in up some steep country as cloud came and went from the tops and the moss wheezed and gasped under every footfall. This was classic West Highlands terrain a few miles from Achnasheen, and the hills bunched their brows in the rain overhead as I tried to keep up with the stalker.
It was too early for the rut, so we crept in above a group of seven young stags feeding in the yellow grass and took the shot from directly above them at a distance of seventy yards. The beast’s knees buckled and he fell away down into the cloud below, clattering over the scree for some distance before sliding to a halt on his back. It was a thrilling moment, funded by my family as a gift for my 21st birthday. The stag’s antlers have been on my wall ever since, and although their seven points make a modest spectacle compared to many, they are a constant reminder of a wild, thrilling day in Ross-shire.
The stalker told me that “seven points is more than enough for your first stag”, and I still agree with his sentiment – that stalking is a lifelong relationship rather than an instant ascent to prestige and enormity. In South Africa, I was gratified to hear my employer politely refuse to take out a boy of 16 to hunt an old bull buffalo on the premise that “he hasn’t earned it yet”. The boy (a Charlie in the Chocolate Factory-style American who was well used to the expression “Dad, I want…”) threw a fit and was only soothed with considerable effort, and I’m afraid that they simply went to a different outfitter the following year who was less picky.
I may shoot a better stag in due course, but it’s just as likely that I will not. That first stag opened my eyes to a fascinating species in a compelling landscape, and wild stags on the high hills have never seemed the same. I might aspire to stalk a classic “Royal” twelve pointer, but these special beasts are only a small part of a much broader, more varied engagement with nature, culture and landscape.