Deer Stalking / Hunting in Scotland

sp_thompson

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Joined
May 23, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Scottish Highlands
Hello,

After introducing myself yesterday and there a little bit of interest in Scotland and our hunting I thought I'd write a proper post about how things work with hunting over here and that kind of thing. While it must seem to a lot of you guys in America and Canada that it's a really small place, I'm not actually that knowledgeable about hunting in England, so i'll tend to stick to Scotland, which I do know a bit about and I personally believe has some of the best and most varied hunting in Europe and possibly further.

There's four species of deer in Scotland but for the purposes of being brief I'll stick predominately to red deer just now, mainly because that's the majority of my work as a guide and culler - a combined role in Scotland that is just 'stalker'. Red deer are pretty adaptable and are found across the country in a variety of habitats, farmland, forestry and moorland/mountain. The moorland and mountain part of that is what here we just 'the hill' - and there in lies what I think is the cream of the hunting, hill stalking. From what I've seen of American hunting this is most comparable to mule deer / elk / sheep hunting depending on which part of Scotland you're in.

I live on the West Coast, where the terrain is pretty hard, steep and rocky. In the east of the country it's less steep and more of rolling moorland hills. There is still some pretty steep bits and some really challenging hunting, but I love the brutality and rugged nature of the west coast. In the most part, our hill stalking occurs where there is few trees. It's a confusing term because deer hunting estates are often called 'deer forests' traditionally in Scotland. This is a confusion of the native gaelic word fores which means a barren and harsh land, the word for a forest with trees in gaelic is collie - like the dog. I digress.

Unlike in the US, Canada, and hell - most of the world. The public owned land is not hunted by the public with a tag system. Probably 75% of public land in Scotland is forest, dedicated in the most part to growing commercial timber crops. Here deer are culled heavily to avoid damaging young trees, and this is done virtually entirely by government employees or contractors (I have done a little of this work also) who are paid a bounty for each deer that is killed. It is not a sporting business, and many deer are killed from vehicles with spotlights. It is one of the huge downfalls of our system in my opinion that there is no tag system type hunting available in this country, and perhaps we can change this in the future... but that could be a whole other article in itself.

SO. Public land hunting is not a thing here, but private land hunting is vastly more open to the public than I believe it to be in the states. It is up to the private landowner how many deer and of what type he can hunt. If you owned a farm or estate it's perfectly legal to just shoot every single deer that is in season on your land. It's also legal here to sell wild meat, so that provides a good income to a lot of estates and pays a good amount of my wage.

Thankfully, most estates do not shoot every single animal they can, and instead part of my job as a stalker is to count and assess the deer population (normally carried out in the spring and early summer) to work out what animals we wish to cull from the herd. This will depend on the objectives of the individual estate (some want lots of deer, some want less so they can grow more trees... etc), and because the deer often roam over multiple estates we have area specific deer management groups to help with making decisions at a herd level, which is useful.

Most estates will sell some or all of the animals they're going to cull in a season (some estate owners want to do it all themselves - which is cool) to paying clients to offset all the costs of estate management, employing a stalker etc etc. This is where hunting becomes available to everyone. Literally anyone that can prove they can shoot well enough (with me hit a vital sized target at 200m) is able to buy hunting. While it seems quite grand, and often visiting clients will stay in grand houses (lodges we call them) when they're stalking, it's actually not that expensive (more about that later).

Hill stalking in Scotland is hardly ever a 'backcountry' type hunt from tents. Generally I will pick up my clients at 8am from their accommodation (little cottage or massive house - take your pick) and we'll go and shoot the target to make sure the rifle is ok and their shooting is on point. From there we'll set off up 'the hill' (remember that that means the whole estate - not one hill!) in search of deer. Like all hunting it depends on weather, animal behaviour and a host of other things as to what happens next, and there's no point in me painting a picture that's never the same from one day to the next... but it's always fun. It's also worth noting that like in these pictures, it's not uncommon to have multiple people 'along for the walk' as well as the client that will shoot. Often that's so we can try and get more than one person a stag in a day.

Depending on where you are, the weather, the deer and your shooting sometimes it's possible to have multiple stalks in a day and generally we'll have a packed lunch (called 'your piece' - i have no idea why!) on the hill. We stalk stags from July 1st - October 20th and then hinds and calves from October 21st - February 15th. Stag stalking is generally a case of shooting one or two animals a day on a good day, but at hinds it's not uncommon to come back with half a dozen animals if the deer have been kind.

It's worth noting that in Scotland we are very selective with the animals we shoot. There is a long history and leaving the best stags on the hill to breed, and only when a stag is 'going back' (loosing condition due to age/injury) will he be culled. To this end I often have to guide clients past great stags to shoot smaller ones - but a good stalker will never ask a client to shoot an immature animal. Generally I will only let clients shoot stags of four years or older, that's an age where you can start to tell how much potential they have and choose to shoot the weaker animals. What I love to do the most though is guide clients into very old stags or what are called 'hummel' or 'switch' animals. A hummel is an animal who's pedicles were not exposed to light during the crucial first growing period - when this happens the deer will never grow antlers. They are a particularly unusual and special trophy and in nearly ten years of guiding I've put clients into only a handful.

The finest trophy for the hunter in Scotland is a switch stag though. A switch does not grow tines (although often it will have brow tines). These represent a great threat to good stags, as during a fight the switch's antlers will no lock with a normal stag. I have witnessed old switches that have learnt their advantage to use this to maim and once that I've seen it kill another stag. Old stalkers often just call them 'murder stags' for this reason. On occasion there is call to shoot a stag with excellent antlers though, and in Scotland the grandest heads are called royals (12 points, commonly 6 x 6), monarchs (14 points, 7 x 7) or imperials (16 points, 8 x 8).

Unlike with mountain hunting in other parts of the world, deer are normally extracted whole. After the shot the stalker will perform the gralloch (gaelic word for gutting, but used by everyone in the UK) and then the deer will be dragged to somewhere accessible to be loaded up onto either a pony or ATV, most commonly used is the 8x8 Argo Cat, which has fantastic ability for mountain work, or quad bike / four wheeler. Specific Highland ponies are bred and trained for this purpose (a deer specific pony is called a garron) and it's by far my favourite way of working as opposed to noisy vehicles. The stalker is generally assisted by a 'ghillie' which is generally a stalker-in-training. They're in charge of handling the pony (which isn't ridden, but lead) or driving the argo. Sometimes if I'm lucky I'll have an extra ghillie who will carry the rifle for me (clients hardly ever carry a rifle here, it's tradition).

Generally shots are in the 100 - 200m range, rarely is there not chance to get to these distances and generally very few of my clients are capable of shooting much further than 200m in real world conditions. Red stags on the hill rarely will weigh more than 300lb and can be as light as 80lb in some of the very harsh islands off the west coast, so large calibres are not necessary, with the .270 probably being the most common.

In a season I will normally guide between 20-40 stags (most are shot in September and October, before and during the rut) and we'll be hind stalking with clients most days between the start of the season and christmas time. After christmas I am normally out by myself finishing off the cull and we can have some busy days, it's part of the job that peaked my interest in long range shooting as often when you're culling animals there is a need to shoot at slightly more extended ranges. It's also perhaps worthy of note that when we're culling ourselves we will often head and neck shoot animals where it is ethical to do so, but this is only really done by professionals and never with clients.

I've attached some images below. Most of them are from the 2018 season where I guided a team from Holland & Holland, the London gun makers, which accounts for the some of the wackier clothing. Saying that, I and most other hill stalkers in Scotland wear traditional tweed plus fours for most of the stalking with clients, but I tend to combine it with a technical shell layer... as it does rain a lot up here, but I always have a tweed cap - they're unbeatable.

As an idea for prices, typically I'm charging something like the below, which includes trophy fees, I'd say this is pretty standard prices in the Highlands at the moment. There's places you can pay a lot more and of course there's a few operations with high fences and huge deer and stuff but for proper free range hunting I think it's pretty reasonable cost wise. Normally this is for exclusive hunting over anywhere from 20,000 - 40,000 acres, there's a chance you'll have another stalking party out on the same estate if it's big enough in some cases.

Day's hind stalking £350 ($425)
Day's stag stalking £750 ($900)
Week's accommodation in small lodge sleeping 8. £2,000 ($2,400)

I hope that's been interesting for someone at least! Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything and I'm happy to answer questions as best I can. I do a bit of writing for magazines also and have a small blog with some articles on that might be of interest too

https://strathbraan.wordpress.com/

Thanks,

Sam
 

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jmcmath

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Joined
Nov 16, 2017
Messages
1,605
Location
NC
Excellent post, and those rates are quite reasonable.

Is it doable with firearms permitting to have a general trip with part of it dedicated to stalking or does the trip need to be only about the stalking?
 

YZ-80

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Joined
Feb 20, 2019
Messages
975
Location
Maryland
This is a very interesting and informative read, sir! Thank you for posting it. In the states, we have “crop damage” of “degradation” permits for private land owners and farmers who need to cull deer but only a certain number of animals can be harvested and usually only females.

Public land hunting in the states can range from being productive to a total fiasco depending upon where you are. I’m sure a lot of our members have good success on public land but in my region, public hunting is usually challenging due to the pressure. Many private land owners in my area are too concerned about liability to let people hunt their woods/farms.

Fortunately for me, hunting my own 33 acres and the 150 acre farm I have access to are very productive. I can get shots out to 425 yards.

We can’t sell venison here, so I typically donate about 5 deer a year to our local “Farmer’s and Hunters sharing the harvest” program, which makes the meat available to needy folks.

Thank you again for your story and welcome to our Forum!
 

sp_thompson

Member
Joined
May 23, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Scottish Highlands
Excellent post, and those rates are quite reasonable.

Is it doable with firearms permitting to have a general trip with part of it dedicated to stalking or does the trip need to be only about the stalking?
So in this country, despite our insanely strict laws generally compared to you guys, I can lend absolutely anyone a rifle as long as I'm guiding them. While it's certainly possible to bring your own rifles from anywhere in the world I tend to recommend this to my (probable average of half a dozen) clients that come from the US/Canada a year.

Airports and storage of firearms in hotels etc all brings a lot of questions / hassle in the UK as the vast majority of the public never encounter guns... much easier to just borrow what we call the 'estate rifle' which is generally well set up (not many of us skimp who do this for a living!) and can be rented for not much money (£10/day including bullets).

As an idea of what I use with my clients it's either a Sako 75 Finnlight with a Kreiger barrel in 6.5x55 and a VX5, or in certain cases my semi-custom .270 with ATACR on top. I expect that 90% of hunting rifles in Scotland have suppressors on now, it's as easy to get one of them on your firearms license as it is a rifle... and they're brilliant.


This is a very interesting and informative read, sir! Thank you for posting it. In the states, we have “crop damage” of “degradation” permits for private land owners and farmers who need to cull deer but only a certain number of animals can be harvested and usually only females.

Public land hunting in the states can range from being productive to a total fiasco depending upon where you are. I’m sure a lot of our members have good success on public land but in my region, public hunting is usually challenging due to the pressure. Many private land owners in my area are too concerned about liability to let people hunt their woods/farms.

Fortunately for me, hunting my own 33 acres and the 150 acre farm I have access to are very productive. I can get shots out to 425 yards.

We can’t sell venison here, so I typically donate about 5 deer a year to our local “Farmer’s and Hunters sharing the harvest” program, which makes the meat available to needy folks.

Thank you again for your story and welcome to our Forum!
Interesting stuff. So in Scotland for 'crop damage' an estate or farmer can apply for a special license that grants a much longer hunting season and the rights to shoot deer at night using a lamp, which is normally illegal.

The idea of 'sharing the harvest' I love; the problem with being able to sell our venison means that it generally goes abroad or to fancy restaurants in Edinburgh or London... very little of it is available locally unless you know someone. I think that's something we really need to work on!

Sam
 

jmcmath

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Joined
Nov 16, 2017
Messages
1,605
Location
NC
What is usually done with the meat after a client kills? Are clients able and to take any home, do they usually eat some during the stay and the rest given to the guides or is it often sold?
 

FEENIX

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LRH Team Member
Joined
Dec 20, 2008
Messages
13,816
Location
Great Falls, MT
@sp_thompson, excellent post. I was stationed at RAF Lakenheath from 2000-2003 and I wanted to hunt the Highlands (did not care what game) so badly but cannot get any reliable information at the time. My co-workers were no help and having a high OPSTEMP was no help either. My family and I managed two weeks of vacation time. We stayed at IIRC Clyde Royal Base old housing area as our base camp. The country and the people are absolutely wonderful.
 

sp_thompson

Member
Joined
May 23, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Scottish Highlands
What is usually done with the meat after a client kills? Are clients able and to take any home, do they usually eat some during the stay and the rest given to the guides or is it often sold?
It varies a little on the estate and just how the week goes. I work on a few different estates around the Highlands these days as a contract guide and rent the hunting from a 15,000 acre estate too. On some of the places I guide the clients will take home an animal or two if they want but sometimes we'll shoot 10 stags in a week if there's two guides working with the same group of clients. There's always the option to take the meat though and it's normally sold to the client at the same cost the estate would get from commercial processors - between £1-£1.50 / lb.

On the estate I rent it's incredibly hard hunting because of huge terrain, a lack of vehicle access and a low deer density, so in a weeks hunting we'll normally get one or two stags. 99% of clients from there take the meat with them.

Sam
 

Ksduckhntr

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Joined
Jun 18, 2017
Messages
247
Super helpful post. This will be my next big hunt. I have always wanted to hike around the highlands of Scotland. Costs seem reasonable when compared to other large “worldly” hunts. Thank you for the information. Is there a time during the hunting season where the weather is more cooperative than another?
 

sp_thompson

Member
Joined
May 23, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Scottish Highlands
Super helpful post. This will be my next big hunt. I have always wanted to hike around the highlands of Scotland. Costs seem reasonable when compared to other large “worldly” hunts. Thank you for the information. Is there a time during the hunting season where the weather is more cooperative than another?
there's an old saying in this part of the world. If it's not raining bring your jacket - if it is then please yourself.

Joking aside, early season stag stalking is the last of summer, great weather and easily 18 hours of light a day.
 

Riflehunter1776

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 7, 2017
Messages
1,042
@sp_thompson, excellent post. I was stationed at RAF Lakenheath from 2000-2003 and I wanted to hunt the Highlands (did not care what game) so badly but cannot get any reliable information at the time. My co-workers were no help and having a high OPSTEMP was no help either. My family and I managed two weeks of vacation time. We stayed at IIRC Clyde Royal Base old housing area as our base camp. The country and the people are absolutely wonderful.
Interesting. My dad played basketball with the Lakenheath Pirates back in the '50's.
 

gerpwaller

Active Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2017
Messages
30
That was a very imformative read. I've been to Scotland once and it is one of my favourite countries to visit. My wife made me aware of the affordability of hunting there and we are hoping to go back. I have one question that you may or not be able to answer. If I do end up being able to hunt in Scotland do you deal with a licensed butcher when breaking down the animal? The rules in Canada allow for the import of 20kg of meat provided it was butchered and packaged by a certified butcher. I would make for a grand evening hosting a bbq where we eat Scottish stag followed by some fine Scotch around a fire while reminiscing about the hunt.
 

Tulsa Reiner

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Joined
Jan 6, 2014
Messages
224
Location
Tulsa, OK
Interesting. My dad played basketball with the Lakenheath Pirates back in the '50's.

What group were the Lakenheath Pirates? I attended the new high school at RAF Lakenheath the first year it was open (1960-1961), and our basketball team was the Lakenheath Lancers.
 

Mc Fraser

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Joined
Jul 23, 2018
Messages
251
Location
Calgary, AB
Hello,

After introducing myself yesterday and there a little bit of interest in Scotland and our hunting I thought I'd write a proper post about how things work with hunting over here and that kind of thing. While it must seem to a lot of you guys in America and Canada that it's a really small place, I'm not actually that knowledgeable about hunting in England, so i'll tend to stick to Scotland, which I do know a bit about and I personally believe has some of the best and most varied hunting in Europe and possibly further.

There's four species of deer in Scotland but for the purposes of being brief I'll stick predominately to red deer just now, mainly because that's the majority of my work as a guide and culler - a combined role in Scotland that is just 'stalker'. Red deer are pretty adaptable and are found across the country in a variety of habitats, farmland, forestry and moorland/mountain. The moorland and mountain part of that is what here we just 'the hill' - and there in lies what I think is the cream of the hunting, hill stalking. From what I've seen of American hunting this is most comparable to mule deer / elk / sheep hunting depending on which part of Scotland you're in.

I live on the West Coast, where the terrain is pretty hard, steep and rocky. In the east of the country it's less steep and more of rolling moorland hills. There is still some pretty steep bits and some really challenging hunting, but I love the brutality and rugged nature of the west coast. In the most part, our hill stalking occurs where there is few trees. It's a confusing term because deer hunting estates are often called 'deer forests' traditionally in Scotland. This is a confusion of the native gaelic word fores which means a barren and harsh land, the word for a forest with trees in gaelic is collie - like the dog. I digress.

Unlike in the US, Canada, and hell - most of the world. The public owned land is not hunted by the public with a tag system. Probably 75% of public land in Scotland is forest, dedicated in the most part to growing commercial timber crops. Here deer are culled heavily to avoid damaging young trees, and this is done virtually entirely by government employees or contractors (I have done a little of this work also) who are paid a bounty for each deer that is killed. It is not a sporting business, and many deer are killed from vehicles with spotlights. It is one of the huge downfalls of our system in my opinion that there is no tag system type hunting available in this country, and perhaps we can change this in the future... but that could be a whole other article in itself.

SO. Public land hunting is not a thing here, but private land hunting is vastly more open to the public than I believe it to be in the states. It is up to the private landowner how many deer and of what type he can hunt. If you owned a farm or estate it's perfectly legal to just shoot every single deer that is in season on your land. It's also legal here to sell wild meat, so that provides a good income to a lot of estates and pays a good amount of my wage.

Thankfully, most estates do not shoot every single animal they can, and instead part of my job as a stalker is to count and assess the deer population (normally carried out in the spring and early summer) to work out what animals we wish to cull from the herd. This will depend on the objectives of the individual estate (some want lots of deer, some want less so they can grow more trees... etc), and because the deer often roam over multiple estates we have area specific deer management groups to help with making decisions at a herd level, which is useful.

Most estates will sell some or all of the animals they're going to cull in a season (some estate owners want to do it all themselves - which is cool) to paying clients to offset all the costs of estate management, employing a stalker etc etc. This is where hunting becomes available to everyone. Literally anyone that can prove they can shoot well enough (with me hit a vital sized target at 200m) is able to buy hunting. While it seems quite grand, and often visiting clients will stay in grand houses (lodges we call them) when they're stalking, it's actually not that expensive (more about that later).

Hill stalking in Scotland is hardly ever a 'backcountry' type hunt from tents. Generally I will pick up my clients at 8am from their accommodation (little cottage or massive house - take your pick) and we'll go and shoot the target to make sure the rifle is ok and their shooting is on point. From there we'll set off up 'the hill' (remember that that means the whole estate - not one hill!) in search of deer. Like all hunting it depends on weather, animal behaviour and a host of other things as to what happens next, and there's no point in me painting a picture that's never the same from one day to the next... but it's always fun. It's also worth noting that like in these pictures, it's not uncommon to have multiple people 'along for the walk' as well as the client that will shoot. Often that's so we can try and get more than one person a stag in a day.

Depending on where you are, the weather, the deer and your shooting sometimes it's possible to have multiple stalks in a day and generally we'll have a packed lunch (called 'your piece' - i have no idea why!) on the hill. We stalk stags from July 1st - October 20th and then hinds and calves from October 21st - February 15th. Stag stalking is generally a case of shooting one or two animals a day on a good day, but at hinds it's not uncommon to come back with half a dozen animals if the deer have been kind.

It's worth noting that in Scotland we are very selective with the animals we shoot. There is a long history and leaving the best stags on the hill to breed, and only when a stag is 'going back' (loosing condition due to age/injury) will he be culled. To this end I often have to guide clients past great stags to shoot smaller ones - but a good stalker will never ask a client to shoot an immature animal. Generally I will only let clients shoot stags of four years or older, that's an age where you can start to tell how much potential they have and choose to shoot the weaker animals. What I love to do the most though is guide clients into very old stags or what are called 'hummel' or 'switch' animals. A hummel is an animal who's pedicles were not exposed to light during the crucial first growing period - when this happens the deer will never grow antlers. They are a particularly unusual and special trophy and in nearly ten years of guiding I've put clients into only a handful.

The finest trophy for the hunter in Scotland is a switch stag though. A switch does not grow tines (although often it will have brow tines). These represent a great threat to good stags, as during a fight the switch's antlers will no lock with a normal stag. I have witnessed old switches that have learnt their advantage to use this to maim and once that I've seen it kill another stag. Old stalkers often just call them 'murder stags' for this reason. On occasion there is call to shoot a stag with excellent antlers though, and in Scotland the grandest heads are called royals (12 points, commonly 6 x 6), monarchs (14 points, 7 x 7) or imperials (16 points, 8 x 8).

Unlike with mountain hunting in other parts of the world, deer are normally extracted whole. After the shot the stalker will perform the gralloch (gaelic word for gutting, but used by everyone in the UK) and then the deer will be dragged to somewhere accessible to be loaded up onto either a pony or ATV, most commonly used is the 8x8 Argo Cat, which has fantastic ability for mountain work, or quad bike / four wheeler. Specific Highland ponies are bred and trained for this purpose (a deer specific pony is called a garron) and it's by far my favourite way of working as opposed to noisy vehicles. The stalker is generally assisted by a 'ghillie' which is generally a stalker-in-training. They're in charge of handling the pony (which isn't ridden, but lead) or driving the argo. Sometimes if I'm lucky I'll have an extra ghillie who will carry the rifle for me (clients hardly ever carry a rifle here, it's tradition).

Generally shots are in the 100 - 200m range, rarely is there not chance to get to these distances and generally very few of my clients are capable of shooting much further than 200m in real world conditions. Red stags on the hill rarely will weigh more than 300lb and can be as light as 80lb in some of the very harsh islands off the west coast, so large calibres are not necessary, with the .270 probably being the most common.

In a season I will normally guide between 20-40 stags (most are shot in September and October, before and during the rut) and we'll be hind stalking with clients most days between the start of the season and christmas time. After christmas I am normally out by myself finishing off the cull and we can have some busy days, it's part of the job that peaked my interest in long range shooting as often when you're culling animals there is a need to shoot at slightly more extended ranges. It's also perhaps worthy of note that when we're culling ourselves we will often head and neck shoot animals where it is ethical to do so, but this is only really done by professionals and never with clients.

I've attached some images below. Most of them are from the 2018 season where I guided a team from Holland & Holland, the London gun makers, which accounts for the some of the wackier clothing. Saying that, I and most other hill stalkers in Scotland wear traditional tweed plus fours for most of the stalking with clients, but I tend to combine it with a technical shell layer... as it does rain a lot up here, but I always have a tweed cap - they're unbeatable.

As an idea for prices, typically I'm charging something like the below, which includes trophy fees, I'd say this is pretty standard prices in the Highlands at the moment. There's places you can pay a lot more and of course there's a few operations with high fences and huge deer and stuff but for proper free range hunting I think it's pretty reasonable cost wise. Normally this is for exclusive hunting over anywhere from 20,000 - 40,000 acres, there's a chance you'll have another stalking party out on the same estate if it's big enough in some cases.

Day's hind stalking £350 ($425)
Day's stag stalking £750 ($900)
Week's accommodation in small lodge sleeping 8. £2,000 ($2,400)

I hope that's been interesting for someone at least! Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything and I'm happy to answer questions as best I can. I do a bit of writing for magazines also and have a small blog with some articles on that might be of interest too

https://strathbraan.wordpress.com/

Thanks,

Sam
Good morning Sir from beautiful Canada!
I will start by saying that it been almost one hour since I read your post and I am still looking at the pictures and trying to imagine what a great experience you provide. I love everything about it, the socks (haha), the guy in dress shirt and tie, the simplicity of the hunt, the tradition, it's unbelievably beautiful.
I am sad to say that most (not all) of the hunting that I am aware of in N America is based on feeding grow hormones, baiting and shooting the biggest rack there is ... people like you, with your passion and knowledge, are true hunters and worth their weight in gold. You, Sir, are a true hunter. I added you to my wish list and I hope one day I could employ your truly magnificent services. Until then please share some more of your stories.
 

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