Rags, Stags & Bog Tales..

Niall Rowantree

The art and charm of deerstalking has frequently been describe by more able pens than mine and at this time of year as highland glens echo to the call of our largest wild mammals, I thought it may be a worth moment to look at the reasoning behind which stag to take and what drives the selection process.

The deer world has always fallen into two camps with very distinct differences of opinion as to what is required. For one, the whole essence of deer control/stalking pivots around the protection of crops or habitats or they are in pursuit of a vision of a changed Scotland in which the Red stags has a greatly diminished role.

Alternatively, the second camp see them as an iconic resources that can be harvested on an annual basis to secure employment and bring much needed revenue to often remote and rural parts of the country.

When looking at the two selection ideologies it’s important to know which angle you’re coming from and who is influencing the population.

Undoubtedly, the land is the finite resource and getting all pernickety about what deer to take or leave is pointless if the land and animals aren’t in good heart.

No matter what impact protection methods are used or planned for the future, they will fail if the number of deer are not controlled and maintained at a density level which the ground can carry.  This density level depends on the feeding potential of the locality not in absolute terms but related to the acceptable levels of impact which can be economically or in some cases emotionally sustained.

However, deer densities not only influence the level of impact, numbers also influence the condition of the deer themselves.  In areas where habitats are poor, the damage potential is high and numbers need to be lower whereas when habitats are rich, they can sustain significantly higher densities and this can vary across individual land or estates.

The dangers of overpopulation are manifold from the loss of habitat and high mortality to poor performance, loss of mature males to marauding. However, a well-managed population is an asset and a significant income generator to rural communities which can be credibly demonstrated.

We frequently hear arguments and discussions about how to age deer.  At the same time, it is rare that you hear questions such as ‘why?’ and ‘when?’ An accurate estimation of age is important.  I feel that it is necessary to put age estimation into it proper perspective particularly in relation to wild deer and their stalking.  Undoubtedly, for scientific reasons, be it the investigation of sexual maturity and other characteristics and for those farming deer, this is easily overcome by applying deer tags.  However, when talking about wild deer, the consideration is usually which deer to take and which to leave.  To achieve this, the stalker needs to be able to determine a shootable beast from a non-shootable beast.  They need to be able to age the animal on the hoof at distance using its body and antler recognition for guidance.  It is after the stag has been taken that there is a need to confirm the visual estimate of age and whether the decision to cull was correct or not.  In this practice, absolute accuracy is not essential.  To arrive at a decision the stalker simply needs to establish the age group of the animal whether it is young, mature or old and the quality of the animal whether it is shootable or non-shootable.  In essence, it is not unlike activities such as farming cattle or other livestock that land has a carrying capacity and it is essential to remove surplus stock. 

The rules of a traditional highland deer forests, stags are seldom taken below 3 years of age unless there are immediate welfare issues.  Stags can be considered moving into the mature class from age 4 and onward.  Eight points or better with a fair length of antler are spared and watched for signs of better development.  Shootable stags from this age group are stags with bare tops, stags with fewer than 8 points and heads that fit comfortable into a triangular profile side on.  However, it should be balanced with what is considered the norm for the area for example on Ardnamurchan, 10 pointers is fairly common place but in some parts of the Highlands, 8 pointers are more common.  Once stags have passed through this filtering, they make the core group of mature stags and the population moving back into the category of shootable once beyond 8 years of age.  At which point, poor development, antler irregularity and loss of condition become a consideration as are good quality heads showing signs of ‘going back’ for at least 2 consecutive years.  All stags once they have reached a critical point in their age are better removed than left to die. 

A good deer manager will have a detailed knowledge of the deer in his area, he may not have access to the records like his farming colleagues have and to each individual animal’s parentage but he should be able to collect data regarding calving percentages and physical condition scoring.  He has to rely on his experience and decide on the quality and value of each animal by the ability to evaluate the animal on the hoof.  The more information you gather from observing each beast and herd, the better you will become on making decisions regarding what you cull and what you leave.  In essence, even the best animals will reach a point when they will become ‘shootable’ and animals of poor quality are shootable as soon as their inadequacies are spotted. 

Classically, the old hands at this game would refer to poor stags with bare tops in the younger age groups as being ‘just a rag’ although anything with tops was seen to be a stags and allowed to go forward.  Many highland estates had the tradition that at the end of the season, heads were displayed and neighbouring estates were invited to observed heads taken from the season past which lead to healthy discussion and steadied many a hand when lying in a peat bog from acting in haste and squeezing the trigger on something better left. 

Fishy tales…

Nick Fahey

A few years ago, myself and 2 of my mates, Alan and Duncan were obsessed with catching large U.K. sharks on extreme fly-fishing gear! This situation arose after we had been catching sharks in the Irish sea using conventional tackle. All three of us were very keen fly fisherman, so we mused on the possibility of landing one of these leviathans on the fly. A plan was hatched, and Alan and Duncan started making the necessary leaders, traces and fly’s. Initially we were somewhat under gunned and there was a steep learning curve. Over several trips the tackle and our ability to catch sharks on the fly improved – with one day us nearly boating a 100 blue sharks… But still the mighty Porbeagle shark evaded us!

An Irish Sea Blue Shark – I am glad that I took my Napier Apex Predator Waist sack, although this is really for carrying Roe, I often use it as a handy carry bag at other times,  as it converts from a waist bag to a back pack.  This was fortunate as it became essential for that long fight and when packed with appropriate padding allowed me to use it as an effective rod butt holster. 

So, we then started targeting the months where a porbeagle was most likely and hoping for good weather, as virtually every second trip we had planned would need to be cancelled due to adverse seas. So on June 21st, 2014 we were happy at 6am to be motoring on towards the middle of the Irish sea after a sleepless night at the Stable Inn. Our skipper as usual was Andrew Alsop and we were on his boat White Water II, operating out of Milford Haven on the west coast of Wales.

We motored out at a good clip for about two hours into somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea, there was some lively banter and talk of big fish and the opportunities that the day might bring. On the way-out Duncan and Andrew started preparing the burley – a secret concoction that draws the sharks in to the boat. I remember being pleased that I was not having to do this wretched job as although I have pretty good sea legs – my stomach is turned by that rotten fish smell.

Before long we are fishing and things are going slow for me… a few blues have come to the boat for the other boys but yet again, no Porbeagle

Then suddenly, my line goes tight… and it is like I have hooked a hi-speed locomotive… The skipper gives me a wink and says that he thinks this is the one… a big Porbeagle and I start praying that this fish stays on… No guarantee when shark fishing as another shark can bite through the line, the hook can pull and if the shark rolls far enough up the leader the skin of the shark will cut through the fly line like a hot knife through butter!

For nearly 2 hours, I was engaged in the most grueling sporting challenge of my life. Every time I got some line back the big fish would just take it back again. My arms were burning like they had never burned before and the 14 weight sage rod was bent at 90 degrees. Slowly though, I started getting in more line and the shark would take less line. I was actually winning. Eventually we started to see colour as I finally got the fish to the surface and then got to the fish to the boat. The fight had taken it out of me though – we were at a stalemate, the fish and I – I couldn’t get this enormous Porbeagle close enough that the skipper could grab the leader and boat the fish. Then the big fish decides to make a last gasp attempt at freedom… I have the drag fully locked as I know if this fish spools me now, I don’t have the minerals to get it back in… Something has to give and with a great crack the 14 weight explodes in half! My heart sinks… all that work to lose this fish of a lifetime at the boat. But the fish is still there, stuffed just like me. Then the call goes out to handline the fly line a dangerous thing if the fish decides to make another run. Mercifully, the big fish has succumbed, and the skipper can get to the leader and we get the fish on board. My epic fight is over.

I marvel at the fish, a big porbeagle, some people call the porbeagle a “Fako” and you can see why. The menacing predatory appearance of this leviathan make the blue sharks we have been catching up until now look like Labradors. This magnificent trophy is then measured so we can get a weight and the obligatory snaps are taken before being released back into the big blue to ponder what just happened to it.

My arms were destroyed, my rod was destroyed, I just sat down and contemplated what we had achieved, and I mean we as it had been a team effort. I caught another blue later that day but my arms were so sore I stopped fishing as I was literally scared I might catch another big shark and I just didn’t think I would be able to cope.

 We didn’t realise at the time what we had achieved but as with all fishy tales – the news spread fairly fast and the next thing you know I am being told that this fish is probably the biggest shark ever caught on a fly in the whole of Northern Europe and was featured in the Angling Times. I don’t know if this is still the case or not, although with improvements in gear I think a bigger fish could be landed – I for one now fish a 16-weight fly rod for sharks, which is a little like fishing with a broom stick!

Tight lines

Nick

Ayrstalk – Apex Predator

Chris Dalton

As an outfitter , I am stalking or managing deer in one form or another most days, for me kit is not a gimmick, it is an essential tool and has to be good and functional . If it is not I don’t use it or endorse it, simple as that. For many years I used a leather strap for carrying my Roe off the hill, I cannot get on with roe sacks – I find them cumbersome and they interfere with carrying and deploying the rifle. Then the clever folk from Napier came up with the Apex predator – perfect! now we have something that wraps around my waist, has pockets for all my stalking essentials that I take out to the hill and cleverly deploys to a full size roe sack when needed to carry my deer of the hill.

I could go on but suffice to say I have been using an Apex predator now for over 5 years, it is out with me whenever I stalk and is I feel one of the best products on the market for recovering the smaller deer species. I have had 2 roe in it which was admittedly a squeeze, they were yearlings but it easily copes with the largest roe buck. The detachable, inner liner is simple to remove and clean – it comes with two so one can be washed and drying while you fit the spare. The many pockets are well thought out and functional – all of my gralloching kit is in there so I simply leave it in the car, grab it as I head off for my  stalk knowing that I have everything with me I need .

Apex Airglo Trail Marker & Wind Indicator

Napier

New for 2015/16 season, the Airglo hunters pack is now available from all Napier Dealers.

All hunters know how quickly a stalk can go horribly wrong if the wind changes direction part way through an approach, so successful stalkers use skill, and appropriate kit to maximise their performance.

It is well known that Deer rely on their 3 senses to survive, and that some species have better eyesight than others, but what is common to all is their primary defence is scent.

Airglo -Napier

The consencus from leading stalkers and pro hunters is that on average Deer rely on 65% Scent 15% Eysight, 20% Hearing

Over the years many attempts have been made to overcome this, deodorant sprays, pine flavoured chewing gum, scent treated garments etc.

BUT the basic fact remains, a Hunter exhales 10,000 litres of HUMAN scent every day, & no amount of kit and skill will produce results if a deer catches your scent. Its game over and often you never even saw them!

Some folks check wind occasionally, especially at the beginning of a stalk, with powders, cigarettes, or just observing the trees.

Rarely is the ground level air moving in the same way as the tree tops, and it can change instantly as you walk, affected by hedges, terrain & turbulence, sufficient to wreck an approach.

It is therefore important to check and re check often.

Airglo was developed by Napier to be easy and convenient to use.

First we looked at the alternatives and found that most use quite large particles & just pack in squat bottles, very difficult to grip and never easy to find in the pocket just when required.

Worse still one major brand states clearly on the pack.

“WARNING this product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the state of California to cause birth defects and other reproductive harm. Wash hands after use”

So Airglo is Made in England, by Napier of London & is completely NON TOXIC and non staining.

ULTRA FINE PARTICLE powder is packed in a special ergonomically designed BATON dispenser with sufficient air space that when used vertically it dispenses a tiny amount each puff. & it’s is easy to grip and use even with wet cold or gloved hands.

Even the slightest air movement will be detected with AIRGLO.

Supplied with a Realtree AP Neoprene sleeve

It can be attached by its lanyard or belt clip, and is always ready to use.

The SILENT one handed dispenser cap can even be used with gloved hands, whilst in its protective Realtree sleeve it can be worn around the neck.

Airglo is also an effective TRAIL MARKER, just invert the bottle to mark a shot position or to re trace travel, being insoluble in water, AIRGLO will maintain trail capability for some time but will disperse naturally and is non staining to skin and clothing.

APEX PREDATOR Hunters game sack and waist bag

Napier

The very latest & unique product from Napier of London. Designed in England specifically for the needs of European shooters.

Much more than a Roe Sack, the Apex Predator is a very comfortable waist bag, which can be worn front or back with easy access pockets for all the kit any hunter, stalker pigeon shooter or airgunner could want.

It sits perfectly and works well with a rifle carried muzzle up or down, Movement is not restricted and the Grip Tab buckle tabs prevent slip when crawling or climbing. The waist bag material is made from waterproof and silent HUSHTEX, while the Game sack fabric is extra strong, light weight & waterproof 420D Nylon Rip Stop. The whole bag with liner weighs just 960 Grams.

Apex Predator is so much more comfortable than a conventional roe sack or back pack, that is carried on the back and often gets in the way, and always virtually impossible to access your kit when being worn.

Apex Predator

But as soon as it is needed the APEX PREDATOR instantly converts into a full sized game sack capable of carrying comfortably all small deer species, including Roe, Chinese Water deer, or even 2 Muntjac.

But the APEX PREDATOR is not just for deerstalkers as it is also the ideal way to carry 15-20 rabbits, 25 -30 pigeons ( or decoys) or a days catch of Trout or Salmon.

The detachable Shoulder straps attach in seconds and the game is placed inside a waterproof and hygienic PVC lined sack, the liners are simply clipped in place and are easily removed to be hosed or washed out. Each APEX PREDATOR is supplied with two liners allowing one to be in use whilst the other is being cleaned and dried. Replacement liners are available if required, as is an EXTRA duty reinforced version for pro hunters and vermin control personnel

The Apex Predator is closed with a tight fitting drawstring and clip fastener, this helps keep the quarry away from you when being carried and helps minimise exposure to blood, ticks, keds and other parasites. It of course also helps keep flies off the carcass.

Carrying deer by a sling against your body is a bio-hazard that can, and should be avoided.

With growing restriction on access routes, ELS margins and corners or just unsuitable terrain, it can be difficult to convey your quarry to a vehicle. The APEX PREDATOR is always ready to deploy and takes just 10 seconds to convert from a handy waist bag to a full sized sack. ( and back again).

APEX PREDATOR Features

  • Rip Stop 420D Nylon and Hushtex silent fabric construction.
  • 2 in 1 design converts in less than 10 seconds.
  • Non-slip and comfortable, easy access waist bag.
  • Two hygienic & washable inner liners, supplied with each bag.
  • Drawstring closer minimises contact with parasites.
  • Light weight just 960 Grams
  • Waist bag capacity of 8.1 litres & game sack capacity 46 Litre TOTAL CAPACITY of 54.1 Litre
  • 12 month warranty
  • Replacement liners and EXTRA duty version readily available