There was a foul, caustic wind in the south west this morning on my final lap of the hill for 2016. The dogs raised a handful of snipe from the bloated moss, and a ring-tailed harrier scanned the land for some sheltering scrap of lark’s flesh. The blackie ewes are still being covered on the hill, and a heavy headed old tup was working away as I reached the shelter of the windbreak where woodcock lurk on days like these. The muckle dope gazed at me without a spark of recognition before dropping his face to the grass at his feet.
This has been a very busy year, packed with learning, excitement and progress, not to mention several tempting tangents. It is odd to think that I have only been keeping cattle for less than a year – while these beasts have drawn me off the hill to some extent, I see how they fit in the larger puzzle of my interests. I wondered recently if I was beginning to fall out of love with shooting, particularly when I realised that the start of the grouse season came upon me without much excitement or anticipation. Of course I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my shooting this year, but I’ve found a way of engaging with the hills that is so fascinating and all-consuming that shooting is simply one of so many other exciting events in the year. I’m more convinced than ever that shooting has a key part to play in land management, but the sport is meaningless unless it is tied to concepts of harvest, conservation and balance.