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. 

Sika Roar 2019

Bob Spain

It was Monday 8th of April and I was heading up MAKAHU road to hot springs PUKETITIRI, the weather had set in to heavy rain. I Parked the vehicle in scrub and with a heavy pack crossed a very low MOHAKA river.

No sign of anyone else, I think the weather had put most hunters off but as my old mate John would say “good to travel in bad weather, get to camp and be ready when weather turns good”. A couple of hours later I reached an old bivouac shelter (Improvised camp) which John and I had made years ago. The rain was still coming down hard and the bush was very wet. It was late in the day and I was in pack gear, so I changed into some good dry clothes which made me feel better, then gave my old 1949 BRNO 21 7MM a good dry down and oil up. I used my Napier of London deluxe rifle cleaning kit compete with rod patches oil and best of all a spray can of gun cleaner lubricant for lasting rust protection. Great stuff best things since sliced bread. I had an early night as weather still raining hoping for a better day tomorrow.

TUESDAY

The rain had stopped, it was a good clear, fine morning and we had heard a few sika roars during the night. Best of all there was no wind. Filling the thermos and with tea made, a big sandwich and full day bag I put a dry patch through the rifle barrel and I was off.

The bush was very wet but I wasn’t going very far. Being careful not to leave Human sent around I reached one of my good clearings which I have shot good eight pointers off before. Well if you could call it a clearing! It is a great spot for roaring stags.

Open in places with MANUKA and pepper woods thick in places I like to sit in one place sometimes all day let the stags come to you, there had been a few roars close, very close at times. After having a cup of tea and sandwich I sat for about six hours. Then I heard sticks breaking I gave the MANUKA bush close to me a good shake then rubbed a piece of wood up and down it, boy that got him worked up. He let out a roar and came straight for me within 40 meters I could see eight good points and great length so I waited for a good clear shoulder shot and fired. He spun around and took off I knew he would not go far as he was hard hit by the blood trail 20 meters. There he was caught up between two MANUKAS.

And what a surprise when I pulled him out of the bushes, he had fallen on and old sika pile of bones which must have been shot wounded and lost or died of old age.

The stag I shot had a great head skin, so I had the job of taking the cape off and seeing to the meat. Then it was back to camp in dark.

The head I shot length 33 DOUGLAS SCORE 190

Head found length 31 DOUGLAS SCORE 181

WEDNESDAY

A great day again, fine with no wind so out for hunt again, this time in a different place. A place where a good mate of mine shot his first eight pointer. It was DOUGLAS SCORE 205 and not bad for a first, he got a bit restless with my way of hunting but it worked for him.

After sitting there for the day we did see two good stags one eight and one seven pointer. We managed to get them on film so not all lost and the odd hind which the stags were following.

Had a great day so back to camp, good feed and into bed.

THURSDAY

Up early to find a great day again, we went out early in the dark this time as I wanted to check out a small gully which holds a few deer most of the time and always plenty of rut pads, although it is hard to hunt there after the last big storm a couple of years ago. There’s plenty of windfalls so found a good spot to sit.

I heard the odd single call, but it was a bit on the quite side, still you never know, time will tell. We did see the odd hind also a four pointer following them as normal. After sitting there for some time having a cuppa, a deer started to whistle at me. Then I felt a breeze on the back of my neck

I gave it a bit of time but things got worse coming from the north, no good for bush hunting so I got back to camp had an early tea then hit the sack for an early start in the morning home

FRIDAY

It had been a good few days in bush and I decided to hunt my way out. No rush, I had all day and took a very slow trip out reaching MOHAKA river, got across safely and back to Trusty old Subaru.

A great few days in the bush.

Bob spain.

DSC Level 2

Chris Dalton

Most of late July and early August will see me stalking around home in the SW of Scotland however, on this occasion I had Mark booked in who was nearing the end of a naval career in the marines, and for travelling purposes stalking up in Angus suited as he could easily then travel from his base up around Aberdeen. Mark wanted to gain his DSC level 2 and intended to pursue a career in the stalking sector.

That evening saw us moving quietly up the side of a broadleaf strip sandwiched between 2 grass fields . I told Mark to set up on the rifle and watch for movement in the field in front of us, we did not have a fantastic view but could see enough through the gaps in the trees. I always wait a little while for things to settle before starting to call and while we were doing this movement got both of our attention; the fox red hint of a roe in summer cost could clearly be seen moving slowly though the undergrowth. We got glimpses as he made progress across in front of us – I double checked in whispered voice that Mark was ready; and started to give very quiet and gentle ‘ contact ‘ peeps on the Butilo.  Initially, the buck stopped and I thought he was going to respond but then totally ignored the call and continued to work across us and away into the undergrowth. Again I waited a few moments, Mark shrugged and made to move but I told him to wait and stay on the sticks. I gave a few calls on the Nordic roe, mimicking the agitation  call of a doe that is being pressed –and  boy did that do it. Crashing and cracking twigs had the yearling bouncing back towards us to suddenly appearing in front of us about 30 yards away. But not in a position for Mark to shoot, as he was partially obscured by a willow tree with a branch smack over the vitals; another call and he was out again this time 10 yards away staring intently at us. What followed was a stand-off for about 5 minutes with no body daring to move, and then he bobbed quick as flash back into the trees, another call had him back again but this time he came in slightly to our right and made the mistake of offering a very nice broadside shot in a little clearing again only about 20 yards away. He dropped immediately on the spot to the shot, I do hope though he managed to experience the delights of a young lady before he met his end. He had certainly felt the wrath of a bigger buck as we noted the jab marks on his back end when we gathered him up for the gralloch.

 Mark went on to complete his DSC 2 as we did witnessed outings for the next 3 days and he shot 4 cull roe so everyone was happy. No matter how many times I call roe, it is still one of them most magical experiences in stalking, not to be overdone but used sparingly and with some though to what you are doing it is an effective tool in the stalking box of tricks. It is particularly rewarding as well if you can achieve this for someone to experience for the first time. Mark went on to stalk and shoot 4 further roe on the trip, this time him leading the stalks and making all the decisions.

This is however where the Napier finders keepers came into play – I had lent Mark my bone saw to open the chest cavity, and after completing the gralloch  he had put down in the long grass and we only managed to locate it because of the dayglow pink band on the handle. As I have said before sometimes the simplest things are so very useful – that would have been best part of £50 gone.

Apex Finders Keepers

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 – Airglo

Chris Dalton

Often the best ideas are the simple ones – but having said that they need to be refined and tested in the field. The Apex airglow is one such product – simple but it has been thought through. The powder comes in a small, convenient sized tube, carried in a pouch which can be worn around the neck and inside the coat jacket. With older systems I would have carried this in a pocket or pouch, requiring much fumbling and searching by which time the buck I have just seen, and wanted to check the wind for has had a good whiff of me and is off .

But now I know exactly where the powder is and hands on is quick. Not rocket science; simple, cleverly though out and it works .                               

Chris Dalton, South Ayrshire Stalking

Hawkes Bay – New Zealand

Napier

Hawkes Bay NZ has some of the most beautiful terrain on the planet, the Mohaka river winding through the valley with natural meadows, that at first glance look like a man made golf course, perfect ground for this decent Billy goat, on Steve’s recent trip out with Bob Spain one of our Field masters.  Skin will be back in the UK as his rug in August.

Large Feral Herbivores

Greg Gibson

Reflections are a sad thing at times. Especially when looking back at a great trip away.

I have been invited to many places to help with the control of Large Feral Herbivores (LFH). These include Camels, Feral Cattle, Wild Horses, Donkey’s and Asiatic Buffalo and are all introduced into the Australian environment and thrive on our diverse habitat.

This current job was to initiate some ground shooting on a couple of Cattle Stations in the Upper Gascoyne region of Western Australia, my home State. The LFH that requires culling to reduce numbers are Donkey’s. These pest breed well in these conditions and all animals seen were in good condition. This location is 1500 kilometres from my home base so we took a leisurely couple of days to get to site. Due to the rough terrain the modus operandi is to travel around the 1.5 million acres in our control area on quad bikes. This may not be the most comfortable method of transport, though essential to get into some of the “off the beaten tracks” etc. where our quarry prefer to locate themselves. Our next 8 days was spent on our quads though we did have a couple of rest days to rest the saddle sores.

Not an overly exciting hunting experience hence classified as a cull. We are bound of course to our ethics and legislation to use our Agricultural Department guideline for the humane controlling of LFH. Donkey’s present themselves on most occasions and will even stop and look back after the initial shots.

The environment here is semi-arid with an annual rainfall of 215mm and average mean temperature of 32C. So conditions are dry, dusty, dusty, and dusty. I use a protective cover over my Savage 300WN while travelling but, and I don’t know if you have ever experienced it, you cannot keep out that bloody red outback dirt. It gets into everything.

I always travel with a Napier Universal Rifle Pull Through Kit. These take up little room and are easy to use. Keeping your rifles clean in this environment is essential for repeated reliable use. In the evening after a day in the bush, a couple of bore cleans and a wipe down with the VP90 Field Patches and you’re all good to go next day. Those VP90 Field Patches are just the shot in this dusty environment. Cleans but doesn’t leave a thick oily film to attack the dust. Very good.

During our stay we accounted for 76 donkeys. These are recorded in the Stations records for the Department of Agriculture for future reference and proof that the property owner is keeping all LFH numbers controlled. 

Well back to the grind of everyday vocation and life.

P.S. Just had a call from another Cattle Station, dry in the interior, camels coming into Station watering points and causing havoc. Well better start the planning.

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 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