Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 4/A day's deer-stalking with the champion of the rifles
A DAY’S DEER-STALKING WITH THE
CHAMPION OF THE RIFLES.
How very beautiful is an autumn in the highlands of Scotland! The air is so light, the scenery so magnificent, the colouring of the hills so gorgeous; and then how enjoyable everything is—the pic-nic parties—the rides on the hill ponies—the boating—the fishing—where all, old and young, are determined to abandon all care, and to be thoroughly happy. But this season, I, for the first time, was admitted into that paradise of sportsmen, a Deer forest.
A lovely day in the beginning of September found Ross and myself slowly ascending the steep side of Craig Byrie. We spoke little: deer-stalkers never speak much until the noble stag lies low. Having gained the ridge of the hill, we were proceeding towards the Corry where we expected to find deer, when we saw a perfectly fresh track of a stag, going in the direction of Corry Valagan. We retraced our steps, crossed to the opposite side of the glen, and after many unsuccessful searches with our glasses, at last spied the stag, lying in the west side of the Corry, close beside a burn which runs down from the top of the hill. This burn we took as our mark, as we should have to make a long round, and lose sight of the ground. We had a weary climb up the hill; sometimes we were completely buried in heather, which was so high as often almost to hide us from each other. Then there were old stumps of trees, over which we got several tumbles, hidden as they were by high brackens and young birches. At last we reached a sort of terrace, along which we walked till we came to the burn I mentioned, as being our mark for finding the stag.
Here we halted, and took a refreshing draught of wine and water, to steady our nerves. After receiving a little instruction from Ross as to what I should do and not do, for I was quite a novice in the art of deer-stalking, we proceeded cautiously down the dry bed of the burn, till we came to a bank from which we could command all the ground around. Ross peeped over it, gazing carefully till he caught sight of the tips of the stag’s horns. He then drew his head slowly back (abrupt motion must be avoided when in sight of deer, as it attracts their attention), and in the lowest whisper informed me that the stag was not more than one hundred yards off, lying almost straight below us, but that he thought we might get a little nearer still by crawling, or rather sliding down, with a serpent-like motion, feet foremost, through the heather. This we did, and most cleverly was it executed, for the stag was full in our sight the whole time, and I was trembling with anxiety lest he should see me, as I managed the sliding in a much more awkward manner than my experienced friend. However, as I said, we accomplished it; a good deal to my surprise, I confess, though Ross seemed to take it as a matter of course. We were now hid by a little bush of birch, about seventy yards from the deer, and intending to wait till he should rise. However, he seemed in no way inclined to oblige us in that respect, so after waiting an hour in almost one position in a swamp, I got completely wet and tired, and made signs to Ross to fire. He whispered to me to shoot the stag through the backbone. This however I declined doing, as I had not sufficient confidence in myself to attempt such a difficult shot, and implored him to take the shot. He would rather have waited till the stag rose, but to please me, he raised his rifle to his shoulder, and the next moment would have seen the stag rolling over and down the hill, but somehow, while lying in the wet moss, the water had touched the nipple of his rifle, and snap went the cap, but the powder in the nipple going off like a squib at last ignited the charge in the barrel, and he having still, with great presence of mind, kept his aim as well as the circumstances would admit of, when the shot went off, instead of the ball going towards the moon, as it generally does in similar cases, it struck the stag within two inches of the backbone, but as we were so immediately above him, it merely cut the skin. The stag at once bolted up, and galloped down hill as hard as he could go. Ross’s second barrel missed fire. I had my single Purdey, and forgetting wet and fatigue, followed the stag; for not having seen us, he, after galloping down hill a short distance, turned and trotted quietly along the side of the hill. I had to go my best pace keeping above him, and out of his sight. After going in this way some distance, he disappeared, and I thought my chance of getting a shot quite hopeless, when suddenly I caught sight of him trotting down hill among some very rough broken ground. He was about a hundred and fifty yards off. I whistled, and he stopped for a moment, to ascertain from whence the sound came. I instantly raised my rifle, took a steady aim, and fired; the shot was answered by the welcome thud of the ball as it struck the deer. He staggered down the hill a short way, and then stopped behind a hillock. I determined to make sure of him if possible, so quickly loaded, fired, and shot him through the heart. He fell instantly, and proved to be a very large stag, certainly twenty stone weight, and with a very fair pair of antlers.