Two long years lie behind us, my husband Oliver and me – years of impatience and yearning to finally be able to hunt in Scotland again. Now we are in the high north of Scotland, one and a half hours beyond Inverness. It’s a long journey from Germany for just a week’s stay, but the remoteness and comfort of the lodge, and the hunting possibilities offered by the estate, are worth every mile. The hunting grounds, on the eastern side of a deep inland loch, are bordered by a narrow road that runs along the lake. Only a few houses stand to the left and right of the road, behind which lies a strip of low-growing, light woodland that opens uphill into a flat heath landscape.
Oliver had a successful hunt yesterday, so I’m carrying the rifle today. Fergus, our stalker, leads us to the northern side of the grounds. On our way, we already see quite a few red deer, so we park the car halfway up the hill on the side of the road. Not far from the car we discover a herd of red deer in a hollow, with a stag standing nearby. But this task seems far too easy for Fergus. We continue to climb the hill and have been walking for a while when Fergus alerts us to a stag below a ridge. We consider how best to approach the stalk, as the terrain ahead is flat and offers little cover. A few meters behind us, a small depression runs parallel to the hillside. Here we can stoop and get a little closer to the deer, but then we still have to crawl through the heather for about 100 meters.
We set up on a small hill. I measure the distance to the game with my rangefinder. It’s 240 meters, and I’d also have to shoot uphill. Not exactly one of my preferred shooting positions, but I’ll set up anyway and take aim. If it doesn’t work out, I can always move on. Like the day before, this stag is resting peacefully. He keeps looking in our direction, but he doesn’t seem to perceive us as a danger. I get ready, take aim and realize that the position is more comfortable and convenient than I originally thought. At least that’s how it seemed to me at the time.
I confer quietly with Fergus; we think about how the stag will behave when he gets up. Right now, he is still a little below the ridge, but if he rises, he will stand on the crest of the hill – without a backstop. Gradually, I begin to freeze. After all, we have been lying motionless in the cold, wet heather for almost an hour. My shoulder blades are aching badly, because I have to keep my head tipped back to look through the scope. I’m no longer entirely happy with this position, and grateful that Fergus seems to read my thoughts. He suggests that we find a new place and just leave the stag where he is.
So we start our orderly retreat and crawl back to the small hollow where we can finally get up and stretch our stiff limbs. A short walk warms us up again. Fergus, too, had been freezing.
After a short lunch break, we go around a large chain of hills just below the ridge. I know that we’ll find a lot of game here. However, there are also many alert eyes that can easily spot us. Time and again, Fergus stalks forward to peek over the next small hill, then tells us to follow him. By mid-afternoon, we have almost circled the whole hunting area, when Oliver spots a large herd at 400 meters.
Ahead of us, it is now moving down the hill. Here, the heath and grass are so low that it seems impossible to get closer. We leave Oliver a little further back and lie flat on the ground. Since we are crawling downhill, getting ahead is not so strenuous, though we must not make any mistakes: the game has a different angle on us. Our progress is slow, our goal is a small hollow in the ground and a small hill on which I could place the rifle well. Finally, we reach it. Now I can settle in. In the shallow hollow I lie a little more comfortably than in our previous spot. And I don’t have to look up all the time, so I’m actually quite comfortable. But what is the game doing in front of us? I see the antlers or two stags sticking out of the grass. The two strong fellows are lying down, less than 180 meters away, undisturbed by the herd further down.
That stag is suitable, Fergus whispers to me, pointing, but only a look at his body will bring us certainty. And so we wait again, like the deer lying in the grass, for at least one of them to rise. But they don’t even think about it. I don’t like prompting game to get up. Usually, the disturbance is too great, and the game promptly flees. Besides, you run the risk of putting yourself under unnecessary pressure. When nothing happens for almost an hour, Fergus becomes impatient. But neither restrained tapping with his stick on a root nor quiet whistles can bring the stags to their feet. We shrug and look at each other. We’ll just have to be patient.
A short time later, a young stag emerges from behind a knoll and moves in the direction of the resting ones. I’m getting ready when finally, the first stag – not the one I was supposed to shoot – gets up and disappears behind the dead tree stumps. The other big one, still lying in the grass, bends his head slightly forward – an unmistakable sign. First the hindquarters rise, then, in slow motion, the forequarters. I hear Fergus say “Shoot!” very quietly. Then the shot rings out and the stag goes down.
Overjoyed, Oliver comes down to us and gives me a bear hug. He had watched everything from higher up and saw that the stag is down. We walk over to the majestic animal, full of joy and gratitude for the experience, and pay our last respects.