Sunday, 31 January 2016

Highland Deer Stalking Part 3

The week races by, we are either on the hill, or drying out in the cottage. Where we feast on venison from home and cakes from the supermarket.  There is no internet so evenings are filled with military history programs on obscure TV channels. Even the comedy was military history. I quite like military history programs but I'd not considered how much better they'd become in the presence of real fans.  I once watched a whole 3+ hours of a marathon on TV with a committed sports buff, previously I'd not been able to work out why marathons were even televised, but there I was enthralled. I've gotta tell you, you've never watched Dad's Army until you've watched it with two guys who are playing the 'more obscure than thou' game, each topping the other with ever more arcane facts about the uniforms and weaponry used in the show.

The last couple of days we all spend together further up the glen, where we are stalking in twenty minute sessions  from the mobile bothy of the Landrover. Drive a bit stalk a bit. Now we're on the really exposed hillside, the snow has mostly melted but the wind is fierce. Even the ghillie is wearing a smock.
As the Landy rattles up the glen crunching the pebble and ice road beneath its fatter taller tyres I'm in the front, to my left sitting motionless on the steep wall of the hill is a Hind.
SBW: "Look theres a deer there!"
The Ghillie: Oh aye. Is that right
The ghillie seems almost pleased that we're going to knock in an easy one early in the day.
Mr Grendel: Don't say that we've got to drive back down south with him [adopts whiney tone] Did you see that? The Ghillie said I was the best when I spotted that deer"
The hind is sitting on the hillside staring at us, I poke the rifle out of the window and chamber a round.
The Ghillie: "Wind the feckin’ window up then you’ll have a rest."
still the deer doesn't move, 'Feckin'' window wound, I give her a round, still she sits and stares at us.
I give her another.
The Ghillie: Why’d do that? She's deed.

The Hind in question is the easiest retrieve we done all week, right up until I'm standing on top of her I can't work out why she didn't get up and bound off into the gloaming. At first sight I assume her injury is a broken leg from a fall, the bone has been severed by a round. From the black edges of the wound it looks like she's been hobbling about on it for a few days, the intact part of the leg is swelling but not yet gangrenous.  While the Ghillie gralloch's it suddenly occurs to me, it's almost exactly nine years and eleven months to the day that I had shot that first deer, which had also had its leg shot off.

During one of our short stalks from the Landy, which usually involve the Ghillie getting into position, with me trying to join him in time to take a shot only to watch the deer bound away. We find ourselves hiding behind a rather improbable wall. Its not three feet high and runs all the way up and over a windswept hill, and down the other side for no discernible reason. I ask the ghillie why anyone would build a wall there?
The Ghillie: "Sheep like ‘em", he looks into the middle distance for a while and adds, "wall bulldin’ and fecking, there’s not a lot else to do"

The Bambi Basher has brought a Ruger No.1 with him, chambered in 25-06. The quarter aught six is a cracking round, popular with highland professionals and Fox shooters down south for it's flat trajectory and reputation as being a lightweight that can still stabilise the 110-115gr pills which the .243's struggle with. If you don't like falling block actions you can start your own blog.

The Bambi Basher realises the Falling Block action loads better working with gravity, than against it.

The Bambi Basher and Mr Grendel have both gone out of their way to make sure my first Highland Stalking was a success, pushing me to the front. I suspect that they also enjoyed sitting it the warm watching the Ghillie beast me along through the binoculars. As the last day was drawing to a close the Ghillie had one more stalk in mind. Having dismissed my shooting and the Bambi basher's rifles Mr Grendel is in his sights.

Ghillie: Mr Grendel do you think that little rifle of your can get me a Hare for my soup?
We are all looking out of the Landy's windows with our binoculars, no one wants to be the first to ask what we're supposed to be able to see.
Ghillie: You see those little rabbits I painted white for you?

As we are now on the highest bit of the estate the wind, which lower down is like invisible tin-snips on your ears, is really fierce.  Mr Grendel's first misses, but his second vaporises the Hare's skull at a measured 187m!

Ever the Highland Professional the Ghillie made sure everyone goes home with a fitness-appropriate stalk under his belt, and at least one withering remark stinging his ears.

SBW:I saw lots of Grouse, how do you raise them?
The Bambi Basher's head sinks towards his hands
Ghillie: They’re wild

Testing the trigger on the Ruger 77
Ghillie: For a guy who loves his shooting, Bambi Basher always brings such rubbish rifles.

SBW: Do you mind if I use these gloves?
The Ghillie: I don't care as long as you hit the fecker.

Watching a pair of Roe I've missed bound away
Ghillie: At least you managed to shoot the one I tied up wit a dog lead last night

Watching Mr Grendel wheeze up a near vertical hillside
Ghillie: I think big Bambi maybe fitter than little Bambi.

Bambi Basher: So you're seeing (names mutual acquaintance)
Ghillie: Aye I asked her if she'd like 50 shades of Ghillie

SBW: Where do you stand on the Blaser debate?
The Ghillie: [dryness on setting one] You can tell a lot about a craftsman by the quality of this tools.
SBW: What do you shoot yourself?
The Ghillie: [dryness on setting two] Custom rifle
SBW: Calum Ferguson?
The Ghillie:[using his extra dry voice, shaken over two rocks of smugness]
Aye I’ve got two, 270 & 243
[for overseas readers: people argue about which of the many British gunsmith's is the second best, you never hear a word said against Calum Ferguson's work, the waiting list is years and for two of them, with glass, easily £10,000] 

It was a fantastic week, which would never have happened without The Bambi Basher's endless enthusiasm and generosity. Many thanks to my new friend Mr Grendel, hopefully we'll all do it again someday.

Final score

SBW 7 ( six roe and one red) Ruger 77 chambered in 7x57

BB 3 (roe) Ruger No.1 chambered in 25-06

Mr Grendel 2 (roe) + 1 hare CZ 527 re-barrled/chambered in 6.5 Grendel

For the gear hounds and kit-tarts I'll do a round up of the gear we used, and the gear we should have used, in a future post.
more soon
your pal

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Stalking Fallow With The 7mm08

A couple of weekends back I managed to get out of town for the weekend to go stalking with 
Mr7mm on the flatlands of the east coast. Viewed from the train the farms are divided into lots of neat rectangles of expensive fencing. Horse country. Up there its Fallow and Muntjac, the Fallow being more pressured never really get that big, the Muntjac being perfectly sized for living in the margins of these hobby farms are everywhere. I prize Muntjac as an eating deer, but there's not much to them, so only the most committed restaurant chef would put them on the menu, the work-to-meat ratio will never compare well to putting a Fallow in the chiller.  

The season has been so mild in the south of England its been more a very long autumn than an actual winter. Inevitably  the weekend we'd chosen had been the tipping point and the frost had given the ground a crunch with even some former puddles now ice lying in the shade. Mr7mm has some highseats but this is to be stalking on foot. As usual significantly over dressed I wobble along behind him glassing as we go. 

The site Mr7mm has chosen is that great classic stalking ground, where the woodland edge provides a browse-line and a wide ride / narrow meadow gives lots of visibility, under the pylons and power lines. The sun is behind us, and across the clear cut,  falls warming the browsing opportunity. Within a few minutes a Muntjac Doe ambles out of the wood to take the evening air. Before I can get into position she's off back into the wood. About 400m to our right a a mixed-sex group of Fallow silhouette against the evening traffic. We wait, birds sing, traffic whooshes, the power line's buzz and the occasional boom of a bird scarer. The far Fallow disappear from view. We wait. But not for long. Two Fallow Does pop out of the trees directly opposite us, even nearer than where the Muntjac had been standing. This isn't the frenzied snap shooting of highland stalking, we have all the time in the world. The deer munch a bit, chew a bit, and munch a bit. We too have time to chew over which to shoot, there's little difference in size or range. Once a Doe pauses for a few seconds longer than usual presenting a perfect opportunity Mr7mm gives the word and I drop her two steps from where she caught the round.
In the time it takes for the firm handshake [no whooping or high-fiveing - we are in England after all] the mixed-sex group reappears milling around not 50m from the dead Doe. They seem totally oblivious to the gun shot. It turns out they are acclimatised to the continual bang of the bird scarer during daylight hours. The Fallow have moved on a bit so Mr7mm gives his scope turret a twist and with a muffled crack drops the Buck to the ground. 

 The guys I've done most of my stalking with are very committed to simplicity and use fixed power scopes with simple reticles. Mr7mm has one of those Swarovski's with the turrets so you can move the scope to range by twisting to one of three pre-set markers on the turret. Very impressive bit of kit, with that little bit of extra light transmission and the red dot instead of a reticle, it was just that little bit easier to get on target in the dying half hour of the daylight. Very nice bit of kit, but literally the price of a NEW Blaser. Yikes! Amongst other 7mm rifles Mr7mm shoots today its a SAKO 85 in 7mm08 with 120gr bullets, doing just over 3,000fps and what a great set up it is. With the combination of; lightweight bullets, the moderator, the 85's stock design, and several layers of clothing, the load recoils so lightly its not far off shooting a really light .22LR. Colour me impressed.

The following morning we make another outing to a different piece of ground, where we see a spectacular opportunity for a Muntjac Buck, which sadly doesn't end up happening. It's called Hunting not Shopping. At our next stop we get a perfect broadside on a Fallow Doe. Which somehow I mange to shoot through the liver. We skirt round the hedge she's hidden behind and Mr7mm hastens her end with a head shot. Slightly deflated from where the day before's text book shot had left my confidence I except Mr7mm's offer of some of his sausages, and burgers, and with plans for the afternoon back in the smoke I head for home. We've not set a date, but one day I will return to the flat lands in search of that freezer full of Muntjac, and while I'm at it I'll get him to give me a few pointers on sausage making. Dude's got skills.
More soon
Your pal

For more about the 7mm08 Remington you can read Hodgeman's thoughts HERE

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Highland Deer Stalking: Part 2

The Ghillie's Office a short walk between desks

What are you doing for your birthday?
I'm going to be on a freezing hillside in the snow and rain, lugging a rifle along as I'm beasted up and down the highlands by the ghillie. 
My happy place

There have been a lot of stories told about the highland stalking experience, often from a money no object perspective. With everything sporting on these islands there is a kind to historical theatre on offer for them that wants it. You can go to estates where the Stags are brought down off the hill on the backs of especially stubborn ponies. Led by kilted locals of similar temperament. You’ll be guided by Ghillie's and Keepers wearing patterns of tweed unique to the ground you’re standing on. On the really big estates there’s enough water courses to have Argo-cats to get about. This story takes place on a relatively small estate of only 5,000 acres. The estate sells Grouse shooting both from the Butts and Walked Up, Pheasant, Reds, Roe and Mountain Hare. On the big estates you stay in the grand baronial mini-castle. We are self-catering in a cottage down the road.

“Yes I’ve done it, where you crawl about all day in the mud and bog, you shoot a deer and on walking back you’re 200 yards from the cottage, I bet you love it”
Unknown Toff - met at Pheasant shoot

I awaken in the glorious any blackness of the predawn of my birthday, no street lights, no car horns, or sirens. Surprisingly considering the day before’s exertions no searing pain. It’s my birthday and just for once I have no expectations or hopes to be crushed. Just a brutal day of highland stalking with whatever surprises it throws my way. But first the sweet black taste(s) of morning. Coffee served as it tastes best, with a new day all to play for. A day with rifles and venison in it. The temperature outside the bed covers suggests that it may even be a day that starts in dry clothes. Any day that can start with dry clothes; coffee of the Italian persuasion, and eggs, eggs from shells-not from powder, has started well. As I leave my room it occurs to me that the Bambi Basher has brought a black pudding and some sausages with him. The foundations are in place for a really great day. Happy birthday me.
The cottage is picture postcard, with brass ornaments, exposed stonework and an assortment of furniture that will one day puzzle interior design students. Nice but has some strangely thought out features; in England light switches are placed where your eye falls, in Spain they’re where your hand falls, in the cottage, perhaps in an attempt to limit the amount of copper wire used, they are scattered where you’d least expect them to be. Some we never found.
I give up looking for a hall light and too lazy to stumble back to my room to look for my head torch I make for the kitchen. The stairs may have been recycled from a much larger property, they are wide enough for a town hall so its very easy to step into empty space with the banister rail you’d use to save your life well beyond reach.
Now thoroughly adrenalised and fully awake I tour the drying areas in front of the storage heaters and rearrange the now warm dry clothes. So far so birthday.
The kettle boils, the sizzle of sausages and black pudding becomes a siren call drawing fat boys from their beds, in order of size. “Morning mucker, happy birthday!” first up The Bambi Basher hoves into view.
There are two opposing schools of thought when it comes to a hill-breakfast.
Plan A; stuff your face so you’ve got enough fuel to survive all day without eating again, using slow-burning carbs.
Plan B; smaller breakfast made of protein and fat. Memories of being over dressed and over stuffed the day before, prompt me to eat the smallest birthday breakfast I’ve had in a few years and dressing, I sacrifice one layer of fleece. After the debacle of the day before where the scope came loose from the rifle, I spend a couple on minutes looking at the crumpled sheet of paper we used as a zeroing target, with its cluster of holes overlaying the back squiggle of marker pen. Absolute confidence in the equipment is a must.
The clothes I’d chosen performed flawlessly, I’d eventually gotten wet, but never cold and wet. My binoculars had recovered from being dragged though the bog a few times, my boots had kept water out until totally submerged for the Nth time. What could go wrong? The Bambi Basher has other plans for the day, so Mr Grendel and myself set off to find the Ghillie.

The Ghillie looks delighted to see us, which immediately makes me suspicious that he has some horrific fate planned for us. “Its his birthday” Mr Grendel announces. The ghillie’s eyes narrow slightly. The wind drops for a moment and I can hear to ghosts of long dead sportsman, whose bones lie where they fell on the hillside, wailing their terrible warning ‘Yer doomed! Doomed I tell yee’. Facing my way with his back to the Ghillie Mr Grendel allows himself a little smirk knowing my fate is sealed.

We clamber into the landrover, it's been raised up on significantly bigger wheels in a conspiracy to make all but the tallest sport feel as unfit as he really is. The Ghillie fires up the repurposed blast furnace of a heater, its all very cozy, my trepidation lessens, the Landy has started to feel like a refuge from the elements.

Mr Grendel: I’ve had a few Landy’s both of my own and of Her Majesties, I’ve never been in one with a heater like this!
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?

This is the highlands so the changeable weather has blown in a change. Some of the day before’s snow has melted, and being the highlands has just a quickly changed back and been refrozen as a thin sheet of ice over the snow and freezing mud. The Landy lurches and slides its way up the glen, the Ghillie’s hands shuffle the wheel like a Stig, When that doesn't work he tries to use the the tires to melt their way through the snow.

The Scottish tourist board have laid on another of those stunning moments where you’ll swear you will return, all aching limbs and inaccuracy induced shame momentarily forgotten. The clouds part like stage curtains, sunlight illuminates the hillside, heather glows with diamond sparkling dew and the Red Stag herd, some 250-300 of them, stand proud against the snow on the far far side of the glen. Emerging from the rancid cloud of tire smoke we lurch forward and the clouds bear in again. A white mountain Hare bounds past, turns to watch us, bounds on, turns to watch us, after the forth time it bores of the game and scampers away across the heather.

Mr Grendel: I like your office a lot more than mine.
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?
SBW: Do all clients say that to you?
Aye, [pause] you might say its worn a little thin, [special Scottish extra-long pause] over the years.

I give Mutley style snigger, and blow snot all over my own face. The ghillie’s expression says ‘you just can’t the the clients these days’. So far so birthday. And the torment is yet to begin.
We leave the hothouse of the Landrover, as usual the ghillie is off like the proverbial racing snake. By the time we’ve shouldered our rifles he’s away across the snow. I try to long-stride after him, stumbling from tussock to tussock. We are about the same height and it gets a bit easier as I start to stepping-stone his foot prints, wearing a bit less than the first day I’m feeling a bit less overheated and light headed. In spite of yesterday’s equipment failure I’m starting to see how this could work out. I turn back to see Mr Grendel face down in the snow, on turning back the ghillie is a field of snow, heather, and mud away. He’s now doing that exasperated waving thing again, the wind howls, more snow gusts at us, I struggle on. I’ve lost the Ghillie’s footprints and either lose my footing; my boots slipping between the tussocks, or worse still I sink knee deep between them where the thick black mud sucks. After many a slip I finally start to make some progress.

There’s a sudden lightening of my load. Surprised I twist back just in time to catch my rifle while its still butt-down but upright on the ground. Sling failure. Of course the Ghillie has turned back to issue more impatient hand gestures so is watching the whole debacle. I look back the way I’ve come. I’m not sure if Mr Grendel is recovering from another plummet or just had his head in his hands in despair.
Sling mended with a bit of string - Ghillie’s pocket - I didn’t have a piece, for shame. We’re all caught up and the next stalk begins. “When ah turn round I wanna be able to touch both of you”
No more fart-arse-ing about, after all the Ghillie is in wellies boots, but his ankles never bend, most of the time he still has his hands in his pockets.
SBW: [panting] I keep expecting you to spark up a fag
The Ghillie: [deadpanning]
Aye. is that right, ah used to smoke, [special Scottish extra-long pause] it did used to irritate the clients.
We stalk up hill, we stalk down hill, occasionally we stalk across the hill, somehow we stalk around the hill crossing our tracks several times. Suddenly the Ghillie does that thing where ‘racing snake’ leaves the realms of metaphor and becomes a literal description, he basically dives down the steep hillside slithering along on his belly until the heather gives way to shale where he moves into a low crouch. I follow him, more sedately obviously. Rounding a mini-crag of cold slippery rock I find him signalling and then shouting for me to catch up. Two Roe doe have just become aware of his presence and are high tailing it away. I trudge back to Mr Grendel who’s taking a breather, sheltered behind the remains of some ancient drystone wall. We share that moment of wordless understanding familiar to all travellers in far flung lands. The Ghillie strolls past “When ah turn round I wanna be able to touch both of you”
Back to the Landrover. Once we’re back in the warm its all a laugh and a joke again. Like many psychopathic bullies our Highland Professional alternates between being hilarious and withering disdain. But on the upside he will not let you fail, even if you nearly die in the attempt.
Some more of the same later we’ve been up and down, and down and up, I’m really not sure if I’ve got it in me to climb another one, we cross a stream, and cross back again several times, taking the route down along the water course we are obscured from the hillside far above us. The ghillie turns and starts up the near vertical hillside. I pull myself up grabbing handfuls of heather until I run out of heather, I struggle on up the hill and catch him up, he takes my rifle and in his anti-grav wellies saunters on up the hill. I follow. Instantly falling through the thin crust of ice into the snow, as I push down with my hands to get my head out of the snow, both of them disappear into snow deeper than my arms, I’m like a beached bearded walrus, I roll over on to my back and manage to struggle to my feet, the Ghillie is lying prone about twenty meters above me, somehow we’re now bellow three Roe. Reinvigorated by my snow-bath I power myself alongside him collapsing behind the rifle which balances on its bipod. I’m wheezing like a broken set of bagpipes lying in the snow. Breezily he tells me to relax and let my heart rate drop, I chamber a round and at his command shoot the first one, he tells me to shoot the second, and then the third. The first bounds away and the other two drop dead in their tracks, “there you see just as easy as that”.

Obviously I’m delighted, the light is failing fast this was the last shout. We pull the first two together and the Ghillie gralloch’s , the third eludes us. As we’re driving back I’m resigned to going back up onto the hill with a dog to look for the lost beast.
Ghillie: Oh aye that's what we’ll do, we’ll wait ‘till it gets dark and is snowing before we go and look for twelve pounds worth of venison”
Suddenly I cant help but see the pantomime of him guiding us as we play at doing his day job.
The next morning I cant get up from the sofa, BB and G spend the day on the hill, as they meet him at dawn the Ghillie smirks “ I think I may have broken your pal the Bushwacker” if i’d been there all I could have done is feebly concur.
More soon
Your pal

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Mark Hill Knives: Raven Review

Been a while since I've had any custom cutlery pass though my hands but sometimes curiosity gets the better of me.  As I've proved with my own cackhanded efforts, any chump can make a passable cutting tool, designing a nice shape is a bit harder, and actually making them to a finish where you'd think twice about abusing them is a quantum leap on from there. Mark Hill has been making a name for himself showing his work on BCUK and BB, and very nice it looks too. When the chance to pick up a 'Raven' in a trade came up, I used it to kid myself I am actually getting rid of some of my hoard.

The Raven - its chunky

Mark Hill makes most of the classic blade shapes which chronicle the history of the survival knife.
I particularly like his 1800's Kephart,  from the last century he does a 'Woodlore' as popularised by Ray Mears, with this century represented by his homage to the Raven designed by Rob Bailey and popularised by well-known outdoor storyteller Bear Grylls.

For me the thumb ramp gives a slight ergonomic advantage to the shape, but must have been really tricky to do by hand. 

Finish and fit are pretty good, you've got to get very very close to see the slight by-hand imperfections that give the knife its sense of handmade by one maker.

A very ambitious join between the guard, blade and slabs. 

 Its a knife! How does it cut? 
Like a cutty thing on a cutty day.

I'm off to sift through my gear pile, trying to work out what I can bear to part with, this is supposed to be about minimalism NOT holding!

More soon
your pal

Monday, 14 December 2015

Highland Deer Stalking: A Week On The Hinds

“ must have a good pair of legs. If automobiles, elevators, and general laziness have not ruined your powers of locomotion, you may follow the dogs; otherwise, you had best stay at home.” 
Saxton Pope

This trip is Bucket List and one that the Bambi Basher and I have talked about for a coupe of years. Time, tide, and the rubbish that is modern life have conspired to keep us 'south of the wall', until now. Readers over 40, enjoying ‘ middle youth’ will know that there comes a time after which your birthday is all about doing what other people tell you you will enjoy, usually a choice suspiciously similar to things they want to do. This year the Bambi Basher came to my aid; with an invitation to a week ‘on the hinds’ highland stalking during the Hind and Doe cull. Even better we’d be based in a cottage with no Internet or phone signal. For once what the other person wanted to do really was what I wanted to do!

Cast and Crew
The Bambi Basher - blogger, firearms dealer, and my introduction to deer stalking in the UK
Mr Grendel - BB’s mate, military history / firearms buff and BB's pun-tastic sparring partner.
SBW - your humble scribe, shambling along with a bad back, beset by loneliness and heartbreak.
The Ghillie -a‘Highland Professional” taciturn representative of Scottish/Wildling culture, alternating between contemptuous rage, and droll wit.

A break in the weather, obviously on the Sunday when there is to be no shooting

After our long drive north. We pull up at the cottage, its dark and surrounded by rapidly freezing  mud. A mountain Hare bounds past. cloud cover is blowing in, its very dark. Inside its not a lot warmer than outside but there is electric light. Much to Mr Grendel’s dismay the Bambi Basher and I dump our mountain of stuff on the first bits of clear floor we come to. He stow’s his kit with the kind of discipline I’d associate with a submariner. I start lighting a fire in the grate and BB busy’s himself turning the ancient storage heaters on. Storage heaters aren't too bad once they reach operating temperature, but it can take 24 hours. Its cold enough in the house that the thermostat isn't going to turn the fridge on, we turn in for the night.

On the first day we’re up before dawn, Mr Grendel says he'll take the opportunity for a day’s rest at the cottage. I set to frying a mountain of meat products for breakfast. BB announces a fondness for powdered egg, I’ve heard of it, I thought it was the kind of thing people ate in WW2 prisoner of war camps, but assumed it hadn't been made since the 1950’s, to prove me wrong he produces a large bag of yellow dust and announces that Mr Grendel is the worlds leading practitioner of making ‘scrambled eggs’ with it. My cynicism is uncontained. Mr Grendel is quick to disassociate himself from the wonder of powdered egg, but does rustle up one panfull of what looks a lot like ground up loft insulation, BB’s delight is almost uncontained. Mr Grendel and myself eat a few mouthfuls to be polite. That's another one ticked off the bucket list.

With our sandwiches packed and us wrapped up against the weather BB and I head out of the door to meet The Ghillie.  The mud outside the cottage is frozen into sharp black ridges, the steps traitorous with ice, but the dawn breaks on a new day. The next hour is probably what will define our stay.
We have to meet the Ghillie, who will size us and our capabilities up and plan our shooting accordingly.

There is a piece of advice given to those being trained to lead at Sandhurst Officer training school (the UK’s equivalent of Westpoint), which is also a good pointer for all travellers visiting the UK, and  it defiantly true for sassanacs  venturing north of the wall.

“If you are treated with any kind of deference at all you’re fucked, if they take the piss without mercy you’re ‘in’ with them, or will at least be tolerated.”

Ghillies, Keepers, or in the modern parlance, Highland Professionals  are central to the sporting experience; they get you on to the hill, get you within range of the beasts, gralloch and then get you and the beasts safely off the hill at the end. They are hard as nails and honor-bound to keep up a gruff scotsman act while you're within earshot during the hours of daylight. Around the fire or in the pub they are raconteur's of the old school, accomplished naturalists, crack shots with rifle and gun, they fly cast like the gods themselves, often they've been on many of the other bucket list hunts, to Africa and Alaska. As there isn't much else to do in the evenings they hold rivalry's with their contemporaries on the next estate that border on blood feuds.  If you've taken the trouble to go there in the first place they know that you think they've got the worlds best job. Its a thought that keeps them warm while trudging up the glen for the thousandth time that week.

We pull up in a farm yard and mooch about looking for the Ghillie. There’s no answer at the cottage so I wander down to the kennels, there’s a fella feeding the dogs, I call out a greeting and receive the dismissive nod that is the hallmark of customer service north of the wall, where the wildlings make sure you know the inconvenience of your presence will be tolerated the very moment they get past more pressing matters; like staring into the middle distance, or scratching their arses. Its very similar to the greeting ritual used in English builder's merchants but less aggressive.

After a while the Ghillie wanders over, the BB reintroduces himself and yours truly, and tries that simplest of bonding ceremonies, one that usually overcomes cultural and linguistic barriers. Wherever in the world you go sportsman all speak rifle calibers.

BB “I’ve brought a 7x57, a .308 and, a Ruger No. 1 in 25-06”
The Ghillie ‘Aye. Is that right? Where you put ‘em is quite important too’

Its decided we’ll skip the zeroing part of the mornings plans, and we pile into the Landrover and head up the glen. The glen is a picture perfect example of the savage beauty of the highlands, the greens and browns of the heather, tiger striped by the recent snowfall. We clamber out of the Landy and BB loads up, the ghillie looking on with eyes as unpitying as the hillside. He jerks his head up the glen and puts a step on, we follow. At a more sedate pace.

This is not woodland stalking. There will be no relaxing ambling along, dozing in highseats, or shooting from the comfort of a covered hide. The hillsides are somehow both steep and boggy simultaneously. Beneath the snow your feet will sink knee-deep into the clinging black mud. The Ghillie will seem to float effortlessly moving across the snow, as though he’s walking across your living room carpet. In the south where the nearest house is never more than a few hundred yards away we carry our rifles muzzle-down, north of the wall they carry muzzle-up to keep heather and snow out of the barrel, within a hundred yards I’ve hung the rifle across my back to have both hands free for balancing and grabbing at the heather to avoid tumbling arse over tit. Again.

The ghillie strolls on, hands in pockets, `I keep expecting him to light up a cigarette. I struggle on behind him panting, wheezing and sweating. By the time I’m stable enough to think of anything other than my immediate survival the Bambi Basher is disappearing into the distance behind us.

Both BB and myself have dressed for a big adventure on steep snow covered and traitorously tussocked terrain. Layer upon layer of fleece, high waking boots, NomadUK smocks and breeks. Within about twenty minutes I’m soaked in sweat, and lightheaded with exertion. The Ghillie on the other hand is in wellie-boots and is dressed for a short walk in his back garden which in a way is, just what he’s doing.

We stand on a slither of flat-ish ground and glass the hillsides, the wind sandblasts our faces, the Ghillie is barely breathing, I’ve just about stopped hyperventilating. The view is picture-postcard Scotland, the strange cartoonish sound of the Grouse Lekking is heard as the wind blows towards us and is cut short as the wind turns. Far above us Ravens circle some unseen carrion. Or are making a mental posit note of the last time we were seen alive. Sunlight punches an almost perfect circle in the battleship grey cloud and a shaft of sunlight set to stun beams down briefly warming some far away piece of sodden earth.

SBW: I like your office a lot more than mine
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?

Further conversation is rendered impossible by the wind, the Ghillie takes his hat off. I hook my Buff over the top of my ears, which feel as though someone is hacking at them with tin-snips. The Bambi Basher hoves into view and joins us on the slither of flat ground, he’s paced the walk up the hillside and looks relatively composed, I’ve almost stopped hyperventilating but am now smeared in mud and the stubble of my beard is speckled with rain drops. We are less than an hour into it. I'm reliably informed I look as though a snowman has farted in my face.

We try another tack, but rounding the hillside I stand up in an involuntary attempt to make the searing pain in my back ease up, in doing so I silhouette against the skyline and the Hinds flash their tails and are gone.

The Ghille sets off like a racing snake and we struggle after him. Suddenly he crouches down and we do the same, he still moves at exactly the same speed, the gap between us grows, he makes an irritated hand gesture which I interpret as ‘bend down further and walk faster’. Before I can catch him up he’s turned and is slithering downhill on his belly. I try to follow him starting on all-fours, sinking elbow deep into the mud. Something between a wriggle and a slide brings me alongside the Ghillie who is making a hand signal I infer as ‘put your rifle here NOW you sasanac time waster or i’ll knot the barrel around your feckin’ neck.’ I have no doubt that he could and would. 

Lying wedged between a cluster of tussocks and rocks covered in melting snow I try to slow my pounding heart and heaving chest, my eyes lurch in and out of focus, my inner ears pound like rain on a tin roof, the crosshairs dance over the Hind. I manage to pull it all together and between beats start to squeeze the trigger. Nothing happens. I’m wondering it a stick or stone has become wedged behind the triggers blade. I’m pretty sure the deer isn't going to wait around much longer so I apply the kind of force you’d use to crack a walnut shell. The trigger breaks. The first round is a clean miss, “Feckin reloud" snarls the Ghillie, I work the bolt and send the second one sailing over the Hind’s shoulder, a third makes the same trajectory. Pictures of smashed bullseyes at the indoor range dance before my eyes, but-but-but my confidence is slumping, BB looks on with kindly concern, the ghillie’s ill-concealed contempt hangs in the air. We trudge on, fording a stream or six. The wind scours, snow swirls, and along with the tops of my boots, my ebullience starts to take-on water.

The warm welcome awaiting us back at the cottage

In the UK our deer seasons are sexed, when Red hinds are in season so are Roe does. Further down the glen the next opportunity presents and another pair of rounds sail over a doe’s shoulders. The Ghillie’s withering contempt is more abrasive than the winds that blast the hillside. We trudge on, I feel like the worst kind of time waster imaginable. Now despondent I mention my dismay at missing five times in a row.
The Ghillie “If you’re looking for sympathy its somewhere between shit and syphalis”
SBW “Aye is that right?’
I console myself that he not calling me 'sir'.  As we near the Landrover the Ghilie asks for my rifle, empties the chamber and squeezes the trigger, a palpable air of disgust threatens to strip the varnish from the rifle's stock, he repeats the procedure, "that's such a nice trigger" I must have looked shocked because he adds "erhm being sarcastic" Equipment failure may have earned me a partial reprieve from charges of sassanac uselessness. Partial.

Back at the Landrover, I heave myself and the huge weight of my bog-encrusted boots in, the Ghillie flicks a switch firing up what appears to be a small jet engine repurposed as a heater.
SBW: “I’ve never been in a Landcover with a heater like this!”
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?
The Bambi Basher rocks up and clambers in after us, he smiles happy to be out of the wind, and in the warm blast of the industrial clothes dryer.
BB “ This heater didn't come with the Landrover! I’ve never been in a Landcover with a heater like this!”
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?

The ghillie drops us off at the lodge, a sort of wooden summer house with a kitchen sink and a big woodturner.Its installers, concerned that it’ll want to take Dorothy and Toto on an unwarranted trip to Oz, have  ratchet-strapped the roof to four blocks of concrete.

You might think your target board has seen a lot of action, but...

Future generations will mine lead and copper here.

We take the 7x57 down to the the range, I clamber up the slope and pin the paper on the board. As soon as I'm behind him again BB takes position and starts to splatter rounds over the backing board. The central black dot remains untroubled. Now BB looks perturbed, first it turns out the moderator isn't screwed on as tight as we might have liked, he gives it a twist, dials in some windage clicks and puts two rounds onto the top right hand corner of the paper. He calls me over. I settle behind the rifle. As I’m wriggling into position the rifle rattles, when I says rattles, it rattles like a supermarket trolley on a cobbled street. WTF! I put my hand on the S&B scope, its barely moored to the rifle at all. Now filled with the glee of exoneration I saunter back to the ghillie’s house, all smirking set to stealth mode.

SBW: Hi, I’m wondering can we borrow a flat head screwdriver?
Ghillie: Sure what size are you needing?
SBW: Rings. Scope’s not tight to the rifle
Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?

With the scope now reattached to its moorings we're able to pouch some holes in the black dot, and whistling Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song' retreat to the fireside.

More in part 2
your pal

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Unboxing: Swarovski CTC Draw Scope

What 'drew me' to the draw scope? Boom Tsh! I'm here all week.

While I've not been posting much lately I've been preparing for a couple of adventures, working, and the Elfa is Spanish, er lets just leave it at that. Currently I'm off work with a bad back so I may have jinxed it all.

For the next trip I'll need to see the deer a fair way across open country, and on the one after we'll be mapping an orchard that encompasses a whole hillside, where terrain permitting we'll be scouting out a space for a 200m+ .22LR range. I've used a pair of Eden 8x42 binos for the last few years and don't see the point in upgrading them, they are so close to perfect I'm more likely to buy a spare pair. While the 8x42 class is wonderful for woodlands, they don't help so much as things get a bit further away. I wanted a decent spotting scope. 

The tools of a hunting guide have moved on from dressed in rags, lives on wallpaper paste and government cheese but owns a pair of $2000 binoculars, now he has a prismatic spotting scope, and prices have moved on from $2,000 too.  It's really become the must-have tool for guides working big landscapes, they are a wonder of engineering. At my place al wildlife in within bio range, at the Elfa's there are all sorts of things you could see. You can also attach an appropriately shaped piece of plastic which lets you clip on your smartphone to record proceedings or even attach a DSLR camera, if you've got any money left after buying it in the first place. Cheap they aint. I was stumped. 

When the chance to borrow the entry level  Swarovski CTC in 30x75 came up, I said 'thanks a lot' and slunk away to look this gift-horse in the mouth.
I'd seen a few pictures of Scots Ghillies in tweed Deerstalker hats using the traditional draw scope but I'd not considered one before. I actually didn't know Swarovski made one, I don't really associate them with anything so low tech. Seems sometimes simplicity is practicality personified. Prismatic scopes are weighty in the hand and need a tripod if you are to get comfortable. Whereas the draw scope is almost half the weight of the smallest prismatic scope.

Glassing the hill Ghillie style, seen from a distance in this position the keepers body loses its 'human' outline and the estate-tweed becomes environment specific camo, blending in to the landscape. 

Bisley 600 yards .308 target sights. Keep scrolling in, 600 yards is a long way, a very long way

While a tripod is almost essential for the range, where you're leaving the scope pointed in one place, out in the campo a draw scope rests so well on your knee, a fencepost or the top of a pack.  It's far more go-anywhere. There really isn't a lot to go wrong, with prismatic scopes all that precision gearing that feels so smooth in your hand,  is another thing to go wrong, jam or need costly servicing. The draw scope is two tubes and some O rings. Doesn't hurt that its literally half the price of their bottom of the range prismatic scope.
As you can see you don't get a lot in the box, a telescope, a cleaning kit, strap, and case with end caps. I thought the lens caps were missing but a quick read of the inventory shows Swarovski, relying on the case's covers, have done away with them. Not too sure how I feel about that.
How's it to look though? Goes without saying  Swarovski is the Shizzle!

"Buy the best scope you can, spend the change on a rifle" - attirb. Richard Prior

I've been spending a few evenings shooting .22 prone in a jacket, I can hit the targets well enough if I can get comfortable in the straightjacket, some weeks it's a big 'if' so discomfort lead me to the club's other shooting discipline: Lightweight Sporting Rifle, which has frustrations of its own.
"It ain't braggin' if yer really done it" v's  'It is a fluke if you only done it once'

LSR is ten round groups at 25m standing, no sling. With ranges stretching out in stages to a remarkable 400m!! Yep 400m with .22LR !! The two main choices of rifle are tricked-out 10/22's or AR15's  with dedicated .22 LR uppers by CMMG or Spikes. So far I prefer the ergonomics of the AR's.  I love the idea of .22 LR at 400m; its technical challenges are fascinating, it's ammo costs are bearable.  Most of my shooting experience has been of the dinner-bell kind with fixed power scopes,  so the bewildering technical aspects of today's scopes are all new to me. I found this guide to long range scopes about the clearest writing on the subject. I'm still nowhere near making my choice yet, and all the budget is spoken for by another project which I'll let you know about in the next few weeks.

Please: Never ever scan the terrain though a rifle scope with the bolt closed, just don't risk it.

More soon
You pal

Picture credit for the Ghillie and the estate

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Unboxing Review: The Bush Buck Big Four

Well well well all those nice things I've been saying about New Zealand must has brought me some good Kiwi-Karma. Very good Kiwi-Karma. Toby from Bush Buck got in touch about his Big Four jacket. and was kind enough to send one for testing.

The saga of the search for that holy grail of jackets; Lightweight and Cheap and Durable and Quiet and Waterproof has long preoccupied me, and has never been truly achieved. I've fallen in and out of love with Ventile, its wonderfull stuff but its not as waterproof as its champions would have you believe, I've owned and loved some really nice wool hunting jackets from the US and NZ, but the lack of water resistance, its  ability to absorb 1.5 times its dry weight in water, and a series of unprovoked Moth attacks left me ready to explore synthetics.

As longterm readers may remember I did try to commission some alterations to a coat I really like, just a few tweeks to my own recipe - a service offered on the companies website, but was thwarted by the brand's angry proprietor. Twice. LINK 

The last coat I spent my heard-earned on that I've been really pleased with is the Hill Smock by NomadUK. Its a kind of thick fleece Kameez with taped seams - literally outdoor pyjamas. I would wholeheartedly recommend them.  Quiet, Lightweight, Durable (so far) and Waterproof. Cheap never came into it.

Meanwhile down under; New Zealand's hunters have developed their own hunting traditions and clothing to match the climatic conditions. no wooden capes and lederhosen for them, I guess their river fording's are a little deeper than Scotland as they've shortened Breeks (aka Plus Four's - as in four inches bellow the knee) to, well , shorts really and its the home of the hunters smock. I really like the smock concept, they keep the elements at bay in a way waist length jackets can't match. Toby sent me some pictures of his design and he's got most of the things I want a smock/coat to have.

Toby calls his jacket The Big Four. I'd assumed the big four were NZ's famously changeable seasons, but they turn out to to be Fishing, Bird Shooting, Deer Stalking and Pig hunting. My interest was piqued. A coat that will cover all bases, from super active to sedentary is quite a big ask, so I was keen to give it a go.

Fishing; in my experience usually takes place sitting on damp pebbles being lashed by wind and sprayed by surf. The minimum you can expect to get away with is damp buttocks. The longer cut of the Big4 would come into its own.
Bird Shooting; It's a well worn fact that I'm a complete lummox with a shotgun, from a design perspective as swing is the name of the game, any jacket for bird shooting must give a lot of freedom across the shoulders - bodes well for archery and beachcasting.
For Deer Stalking quiet and windproof will be appreciated- first you're sneaking, then you're sitting, sometimes for a long time.
Pigsticking; looks like beating only more so, you've got to follow the dogs wherever they take you, penetrating the briars and brambles. Any jacket that will survive that kind of punishment is tough.

First Impressions:

Long enough to sit on.
The hood is more than a nod to fashion, its cut to give cover without compromising peripheral vision, has a wire in the rim which despite being a fairly old idea is still missing from some hoods.

Its made in the same way as a US airforce issue jacket I've got somewhere, the layers of material are bonded together and then the seams are welded. I think its fair to say it will not leak.

Neoprene cuffs under storm cuffs, these really work for me. Toby has designed the cuff with a slight dart, which stops the inner edge of the cuff from snagging. Me Likee.

Pit-Zips - these are the first thing I'd add to my wish list, when you're active but its pissing down you'll not want to undo the front zip but you do need to regulate your temperature, pit zips are the way to go.

At first sight I thought the chest/binocular pockets looked a little small, but they're actually big enough for my Eden 8x42's (still blown away by these binos 3 years later, best affordable glass by miles)

I'm not a believer in drain holes on packs and rucksacks, but on a jacket that will be worn fording streams they come into their own.

So far I'm very happy with the BigFour, and in a surprising turn up of events both the Ex Mrs SBW and the Evil Elfa have commented favourably on how much smarter I look than usual, which has I suppose been an unintended consequence, but in a good way for a change! I'm not due to get out of town for the next few weekends so so a full foul-weather test will have to wait.

More soon
Your pal

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Dan Price's Bushcraft Hobbit Home

I spend a lot of time daydreaming about living off grid, in the kind of camps I built as a kid. Dan Price author of 'Radical Simplicity: Creating an Authentic Life'  has been living in this cluster of hobbit houses for over twenty years. Katie Felber's film is a charming glimpse into the lifestyle of someone who actually did pair it all back to reveal the simple life.

your pal

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Buck, Buck, Moose: Hank Shaw's New Book

A quick mention for longtime blogger and my wild food hero, Hank Shaw and his new book.
I've been reading Hank's blog since the first post, its grown as he's found an eager audience of people who want to cook wild food. Hank's become my go-to for all wild food cooking. Over the years his practical instruction has inspired me time and time again. Holly Heyser's photography will make you hungry even if you've just eaten.

Here's how he describes his new book

Buck, Buck, Moose: 
Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Deer, Elk, Antelope, Moose and Other Antlered Things celebrates a food so important to humankind that many scientists believe it is one of the reasons we are who we are as a species today. We have hunted deer, in one form or another, since before we were fully human, and every culture in the world has a living venison tradition - from whitetail deer, elk and moose in North America, to red and fallow deer in Europe, axis deer in Asia, sitka deer in Japan, to the myriad forms of antelope and gazelle in Africa. Heck, even the native Australians hunted kangaroo, which has a flavor very much like venison.

Buck, Buck, Moose embraces that global heritage - and its modern expression - with more than 100 recipes ranging from American classics like country-fried steak to Southeast Asian curries, African favorites like bobotie, Chinese stir-fries, traditional European standards - as well as a host of completely original dishes I've created just for this book.

The book is already funded - so its defiantly happening and you can find it on Kickstarter HERE

More news as it comes in
Your pal

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Hunting Roe Deer With Golden Eagles In Spain

Just a quick one this morning. Mainly for Steve Bodio, but you might like it too.

Big birds, Small deer. WOW

For more about our little european deer HERE

For more videos [also in Spanish] HERE

More soon

Sunday, 23 August 2015

New Zealand - World's Best Hunting Destination?

Representing for NZ Clay TallStories - YouTuber, Balladeer, and Pig Hunter.

Life on the south island of New Zealand has been in my thoughts lately, it sounds amazing.  
regular readers will know that BoB [brother of bushwacker] lives there. He and I are close enough that we speak once or twice every eighteen months wether we need to or not. Being on the other side of the world it's winter there now so in the long dark evenings BoB is available to take calls, and we're all caught up for the year or so. His life sounds good to me.

At the same time Clay TallStories has started to post on Reddit's Hunting Sub and I've been watching a few of his videos. These chaps hunt pigs like men. Really. To hear many european and american pig hunters talk you'd think these beasts were prehistoric in their ferocity and anything less than .375 H&H was suicide. Kiwi's hunt them with a knife and some dogs. They wear shorts too, 'Shorty Shorts' they call 'em. But more of that later.

Here Clay responds to a critical message he received on Youtube, the dude's a total gent. and a credit to us all.

Gentleman pig hunters and far flung brothers aside. Here are a few of the reason's I want to go to NZ

Staggering Fishing: on the fly and from a kite.
BoB has few failings, most of them of the Hunting and Fishing kind, despite living within walking distance of some worldclass trout fishing he doesn't even own a rod. For shame. To illustrate the point he and some pals were climbing a rock face that overlooks a trout river, at the end of the session he's climbed down and was brewing up and packing his kit when a fly guy rocks up with a fish as long as Bob's arm saying 'you blokes must be hungry after all that'. I would have eaten it as sashimi, BoB cooked it over the brew-fire. He's a nice lad but he's not perfect.
Another form of fishing that I've long been fascinated by is Kite Fishing. this is an ancient art, one the cunning Kiwi's have perfected with a few modern innovations. Using the motor from an electric wheelchair as your winch, and Spectra for your line, its possible to fish out to two kilometres  offshore [about 1.2 miles in the old money]. When i found out that there was a type of fishing I didn't have copious amounts of gear for i immediately set out to rectify the situation, Just as I was about to click the buy now button it occurred to me I'd better check the weather patterns - on-shore winds all year round in the south of England. Bah! Thwarted!

Simple Firearms Laws.
They licence the individual not the tool. Logical huh? Gun can't fire itself. As a traveling sport you can download the licence application, print it off, rock up at the airport with your licence from home, your rifle, the form and $15 [last time I looked] and they issue on the spot.
A while back BoB was doing some demolition work and needed some explosives, he popped down to his local police station to sort out the paperwork. Told the cop on the front desk what he wanted to do and what he needed for the job.
Cop: "No worries mate we'll just tack an explosives ticket onto yer rifle ticket"
BoB: "I don't have one"
Cop: "Why not?"

Bow Hunting:
Growing more popular by the week, you'll see why when you look at the NewZealand Bowhunting Society's record book HERE  all taken on public land - regs are strait forward  and as usual farm permissions more forthcoming than with firearms.

All hunt-able species are invasive. Yep even those Himalayan Thar are a pest you can shoot for free on public land!

BoB has been shooting a little with some pals from work so he needs a rifle, - a left-handed rifle - should he start with a pre-loved Blaser R93 or should he get an AR15 with extra upper's in .308 and .22LR? While we're at it what's the  Best Scope for AR15 rifles?

I've been in touch with a very interesting fella regarding testing his range of outdoor clobber, which may really be that holy grail of outdoor clothes - light, durable, AND affordable. More news on that when the postie knocks on the door. In the meantime I have to start saving for that plane ticket.

More soon

Friday, 17 July 2015

Foraging For Undercrackers And Finding Plumbs

Lots to report but little impetus to report it over the last couple of months. A few weeks back ages ago some unexpected foraging raised my spirits and I felt a report was in order,  I've finally got round to posting it.

Taking a break from the 'tyranny' of underwear shopping with Elfa, we were making our way to a local hostelry intent on slaking our thirst with a small libation, when delight of delights, an urban foraging opportunity presented itself. Opposite the pub lay hundreds of these yellow plumbs and quite a few red ones too

We scavenged a carrier bag and snaffled a pile to take home, as usual urban wayside foraging provoked a couple of conversations with passers-by. How is it that we now live in a world where Joe and Josephine Soap are so divorced from their dinner that they don't recognise something as ubiquitous as Plums if they're not in a little plastic tray?

Stoning looked like it was going to take a while

Until I remembered my 'Kirchomat' or Cherry Stoner, Which despite sounding like the HighTimes cover girl sept. 1974 is actually a very handy device from Germany. 

It works really well and I loaded the the dehydrator 

As you can see I wasn't as diligent as I might have been and didn't halve every plum. 
First mistake.

I 'may have' slightly over-done the drying time. Second mistake. Schoolboy error.

I left them in the back of Elfa's fridge for a few months, too stubborn to chuck them after putting the time into foraging and then drying them. But as all 'shed blokes' know if you hang on to things long enough, eventually their time comes. The truly desiccated plumbs have found a use.  I soaked them in Sloe Gin. They are in a Fallow liver pate.

More soon
Your Pal

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Tactical : At The Shallow End Of The Gene Pool

By the bones of Ishi! Modern life is rubbish, yah yah yah, moan moan moan.
Yes its a device for cleaning Velcro.
So now you know why I hate this world and everything on it
Bah Humbug!