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Title: Amid the High Hills
Author: Fraser, Sir Hugh
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Amid the High Hills" ***

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      sixteen of which are in color.
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      *      *      *      *      *      *


                     64 & 66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

                     205 FLINDERS LANE, MELBOURNE

                     ST. MARTIN’S HOUSE, 70 BOND STREET, TORONTO

                     MACMILLAN BUILDING, BOMBAY
                     309 BOW BAZAAR STREET, CALCUTTA
                     INDIAN BANK BUILDINGS, MADRAS

      *      *      *      *      *      *






   “But on and up, where Nature’s heart
   Beats strong amid the hills.”


A. & C. Black, Ltd.
4, 5, & 6 Soho Square, London, W.1

Printed in Great Britain by R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh.

                    ON HILL, LOCH, AND RIVER.


For many years past from time to time I have contributed articles
on sport and natural history to various journals.

It was recently suggested to me that I should publish these
articles in book form, and I was fortunate enough to have friends
who kindly offered to illustrate them. I have accordingly selected
some of these articles, and have included others which have never
been published before. Amongst the former are some which in the
same or a slightly altered form have appeared in _The Field_,
_Country Life_, _The Scottish Field_, _The Salmon and Trout
Magazine_, and _The Saturday Westminster Gazette_. To the editors
of these journals I tender my warmest thanks for their courtesy
and kindness in allowing me to republish the articles in question.
To my friends, Mr. Finlay Mackinnon, Mr. Vincent Balfour-Browne,
and Mr. Frank Wallace, I am greatly indebted for the pictures in
colour and black and white, and the pencil sketches which they have

To my friends and neighbours, Lady Anne Murray of Loch Carron and
Mrs. Schroder of Attadale, my grateful thanks are due--to the
former for the photograph, “Winter Sunshine--Wild Geese at the
foot of Applecross Hills,” and to the latter for the water-colour
drawing, “An Autumn Day--Loch Carron, looking West.”

To my friend, Miss Diana Darling, I am indebted for the photograph,
“Among the Western Islands,” and to my son-in-law, Mr. Noel Wills,
for the pencil sketch of Donald McIver, my gamekeeper and constant
companion on the hill for many years.

I wish to thank Mr. W. R. Bousfield, K.C., F.R.S., for helpful
criticism from the scientific point of view on my article “Birds of
Fastest Flight in the British Isles,” and Mr. A. D. Bateson, K.C.,
for his kindness in reading the book in manuscript.

In conclusion, I should like to say that, having derived so much
pleasure from reading the experiences of others who love sport and
natural history, I venture to hope that these pages may bring back
to some of my readers recollections of their own delightful days
amid the High Hills.

                                                             H. F.

     _August 7, 1923_.



     I.  THE CHARM OF SPORT AMID THE HIGH HILLS                    1

    II.  STALKING IN ITS MOST ENJOYABLE FORM                       6

   III.  A GREAT FISH AND A GREATER FISHERMAN                     12


     V.  A GOOD DAY IN THE FOREST OF COIGNAFEARN                  71

    VI.  A STALKER’S PERIL                                        81

   VII.  THE LUCK OF SALMON FISHING                               85

  VIII.  A STORMY WEEK IN THE FOREST                              97

    IX.  A SALMON LOCH IN SUTHERLAND                             113

     X.  THE HOMING INSTINCTS OF WOUNDED DEER                    123



  XIII.  TRAPPED                                                 165

   XIV.  THE LAST STALK OF THE SEASON                            170

    XV.  THE LOCH PROBLEM                                        182

   XVI.  THE SURGEON OF THE DEER FOREST                          197

  XVII.  THE SECRET OF THE HIGH HILLS                            215

         INDEX                                                   221

                      LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

         * _Those marked with an asterisk are in colour._

  *September Snow, Loch Carron, Ross-shire.           _Frontispiece_
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

                                                         FACING PAGE

  *“The joy of watching deer when they have no suspicion
          that they are being watched”                             1
        By V. R. Balfour-Browne.

  Golden Days                                                      4
        By V. R. Balfour-Browne.

   *“See! from the tops the mist is stealing”                      6
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  *“The salmon leaped twice straight up into the air”             16
        By V. R. Balfour-Browne.

  The Peregrine Falcon                                            26
        By V. R. Balfour-Browne.

  Winter Sunshine--Wild Geese at the Foot of the
          Applecross Hills                                        36
  From a Photograph by The Lady Anne Murray of Loch Carron.

  *The Spine-tailed Swift                                         40
        By V. R. Balfour-Browne.

  *The Golden Eagle                                               64
        By V. R. Balfour-Browne.

  Where the Golden Eagle reigns                                   68
        From a Photograph by Frank Wallace.

  *Preparing for Battle                                           76
        By Frank Wallace.

  *“Take the fifth, he’s the best”                                80
        By V. R. Balfour-Browne.

  In the Forest of Fannich                                        82
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  “He had the advantage of some inches over my little
          grandson, who was nearly five years old”                90
        From a Photograph by Mrs. Noel Wills.

  *Sligachan, Isle of Skye                                        96
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  “Lying on a ridge we spied some deer”                           98
        From a Photograph by the Author.

  The Five Sisters of Kintail                                    104
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  Old Angus nearing Home                                         110
        By V. R. Balfour-Browne.

  The Sanctuary, Kinlochewe Forest                               124
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  “The trusty allies of our fathers on the hill”                 128
        By Philip Stretton.

  “I was spying for some time”                                   134
        From a Photograph by the Author.

  *The Applecross Hills, and a Highland Fishing Village          142
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  Death of the Mallard                                           148
        By J. Wolf.

  Among the Western Islands                                      166
        From a Photograph by Miss Diana Darling.

  *Where Strome Castle looks over the Sea to Skye                168
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  *“The big stag is still there”                                 176
        By Frank Wallace.

  *An Autumn Day, Loch Carron--looking West                      184
        By Mrs. Schroder of Attadale.

  Sunset on the Shores of Loch Carron                            192
        From a Photograph by Miss Alexandra Fraser.

  *On the Edge of the Deer Forest                                200
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  In Achnashellach Forest                                        204
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  *Evening Glow, Poolewe, Ross-shire                             212
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

  *“The morning cometh”                                          218
        By Finlay Mackinnon.

              Also pencil headings to each Chapter.



[Illustration: (Grazing Deer)]



The fascination of deer-stalking is largely due to the romance of
the hill--the hill as it is known only to those who love it and
understand something of its hidden mysteries. The long day, all too
quickly ended, with the silent but sympathetic stalker--alone with
Nature in its most inspiring and elevating form--the ever-changing
beauty of sky and hill--the joy of watching deer when they have no
suspicion that they are being watched--the opportunities of seeing
rare birds and finding rare plants--all these things apart from the
difficulty and interest--and the greater the difficulty the greater
the interest--of trying to outwit--in other words trying to get
within shot of the particular stag one is after--go to make up the
attractions of what some of us think is the very best of true sport.

I well remember a famous statesman, who had himself owned one of
the best deer forests in the Highlands, saying to me that the
greatest attraction of stalking is that it takes one to places
where otherwise one would never go, and enables one to see the most
wonderful things which otherwise one would never see. Further,
there is probably no form of sport where less pain and suffering
are inflicted, assuming that any one who stalks will take the
trouble to know his rifle well, and will not take a long or risky
shot. The shot itself after all plays only a small part in the
pleasure of a day’s stalking. I have friends, first-class rifle
shots, who delight in stalking, and who, when they have arrived
within shot of the stag they have stalked, will sometimes not shoot
at him at all. This would not always be easily accomplished by
those who have strongly implanted within them the instincts of the
hunter, or perhaps I should say the primitive man.

Again, to pass from stalking, what is the real explanation of
the intense enjoyment of ptarmigan shooting on the high tops
after the close of the stalking season? I have more than once
heard this described as the most enjoyable of all kinds of
shooting. As is well known, on a still clear day the ptarmigan
is the easiest of birds to shoot, but on a wild windy day one
of the most difficult--twisting and turning with extraordinary
rapidity. Neither this latter fact, however, nor the exhilarating
and bracing air at the altitude where these birds are to be found
wholly explains the enthusiasm of those who have had this sport. I
have no doubt that the environment of the high hills and all that
this means are largely the cause of this enthusiasm. The delights
of grouse shooting, whether in the case of driven birds, or over
dogs, are greatly increased by the same cause. Without entering
upon the well-worn controversy as to the respective advantages and
disadvantages of these two forms of sport, is there any one who
has enjoyed both of them amid the hills who has not ineffaceable
memories of the vistas of marvellous beauty which he has revelled
in again and again while waiting in his butt for the first birds
of the drive, and--to change the scene--of the pleasures of many a
glorious twelfth in the company of an old friend with whom he was
in perfect sympathy, watching the dogs at work amidst the purple
heather on the side of the hill or along the heather-clad banks of
a burn?

It is true also of salmon and trout fishing in the Highlands that
the angler’s sense of peace and contentment is largely due to the
influence of the hills. This is especially so in the golden days
at the beginning of August, those glorious days before the serious
fun begins, when the trout in the loch are more of an excuse than
a serious ploy, when one discusses the growing antlers of the big
hart on the Home beat, when one basks in the sunshine of the High

[Illustration: GOLDEN DAYS.


Whilst writing what I have already said about stalking I
recollected the following verses, which I intend to keep and read
for my encouragement in days to come--days which are, I hope, still
very far off:

                         NORTHWARD BOUND

                           (ONCE MORE)

      Does your heart still beat with the old excitement
      As you wait where the Scotch expresses are?
      Does it answer still to the old indictment
      Of a fond delight in the sleeping-car,
      As it did when the rush through the autumn night meant
      The Gate of Desire ajar?

      Or has the enchanting task grown tougher,
      And has that arrow beyond you flown?
      For the hill that was rough enough is rougher,
      The steepest climb that was ever known,
      And the forest appals a veteran duffer
      Sorely beaten and blown?

      Oh! the years, the years, they be rusty and mothy;
      Oh! the flesh it is weak that once was strong;
      But the brown burn under the stone falls frothy
      And the music it makes is a siren song;
      Then the pony’ll take you as far as the bothy,
      And that’ll help you along.

      See! from the tops the mist is stealing,
      Out with the stalking-glass for a spy;
      Round Craig an Eran an eagle’s wheeling
      Black in the blue September sky.
      A fig for the years! Why, youth and healing
      At the end of your journey lie.

  (Reprinted from _Punch_, Sept. 14, 1921, by kind permission of
the Proprietors.)

[Illustration: (Three Antlered Deer)]



By far the most enjoyable form of stalking is to be one’s own
stalker, but this can only be done satisfactorily in a forest with
which one is thoroughly familiar. It is astonishing what tricks the
wind will play in certain corries, and as a result what mistakes
even a good stalker will make in a forest which is new to him.
Moreover, any one stalking by himself, unless he has experience,
may easily make another kind of mistake. He may think that he has
missed a stag when he has in fact killed him. Any one who has had
experience in shooting deer knows that a stag when shot through the
heart will sometimes gallop for forty or fifty yards or even
further and then fall down dead.



Some years ago, preparatory to a few days’ stalking in a deer
forest in Inverness-shire, I arrived one evening at the Lodge; and
later on about half-past ten there returned from the hill a guest
in a state of great dejection who had never stalked until he went
out in this forest a few days before. I felt very sorry for him,
for he had been keen to secure a good head and said that he had
had a splendid chance of a fine stag standing broadside at about
eighty yards and had missed him. This was his last chance as he
was leaving early next morning. Two days later I was out on the
same beat when the stalker suddenly grasped me by the arm and said,
“There is a stag lying down there to the left of that hill below
us. Are you seeing his horns above the ridge?” We went cautiously
down in the direction of the stag, but had not gone far before we
discovered that the stag was dead. “That,” said the stalker, “must
be the stag Mr. X. shot at two days ago.” We examined the stag
and found that he had been shot apparently through the heart from
the knoll from which X. had taken his shot; it was obviously the
same stag. The stalker then told me that X. wished to stalk the
last hundred yards alone and had asked him to stay behind, that
X. had the shot and came back saying that he had missed the stag.
Neither the stalker nor X. had thought it worth while to look for
the stag. In the case of X., who was a novice at stalking, I was
not surprised, but I was amazed that the stalker had not done so,
although he was young and not very experienced. So X. secured a
good head after all, and no doubt both he and the stalker learnt
a lesson which neither is likely to forget, but at the cost to X.
of much unnecessary misery and humiliation and incidentally to his
host of much good venison.

It is sometimes difficult to be sure what is the result of one’s
shot, and it is a great assistance to have the opinion of an
experienced stalker whether he has his glass on the beast at the
moment the shot is fired or not.

I was coming back one evening after a delightful day’s stalking in
Glen Carron, when the stalker Macdonell said, “One moment, sir,
there is a stag down there just gone out of sight. If you can
shoot off your knee downhill you will have a chance directly.” I
sat down and waited, and in a few minutes the stag appeared. I
believed I was steady and on him in the right place. Directly I
fired he galloped off. “I’m thinking you’d better shoot again,”
said Macdonell. “What’s the use,” I replied, thinking I had shot
the stag through the heart. However, as I spoke, I did shoot again
out of respect to Macdonell, whom I knew to be a very experienced
stalker, and the stag rolled over like a rabbit which has been
shot in the right place. “Now we will see,” I said, “where the
two bullets went.” “I’m thinking,” said Macdonell, “you missed
him the first time.” “You may be right,” I replied, “but I don’t
think so; one thing I know, and that is that if I did and had
known it, I should probably have missed him with my second shot
also.” On examining the stag we could only find one bullet mark,
and on skinning him we found that one bullet only had struck him,
and that was through the heart. Macdonell no doubt thinks to this
day that I missed the stag with my first shot, and killed him with
my second when he was galloping; but I still have my doubts. The
moral is that though one sometimes hears the unmistakable thud of
the bullet striking the stag, there are other occasions when it is
difficult to be certain as to what has happened, and therefore
it is always wise to satisfy one’s self in the matter as far as
possible. Still more is this essential when stalking alone. In
stalking alone, there is this advantage, that one can always secure
the best position in which to shoot, whereas if one is accompanied
by a stalker, he sometimes takes that position himself and it is
not easy to get him to move on, or, as is more often the case,
there is no time for him to do so.

Charles J. Murray of Loch Carron, to whose kindness I am indebted
for many delightful days’ stalking, is particularly devoted to this
form of sport. A few seasons ago I was obliged to come south before
the end of the stalking season, and received from him a letter
which describes, far better than I can, the pleasure of being out
alone on the hill.

“You are missing the West Coast,” he wrote, “at its (_weather_)
best! for we have a spell of gloriously fine weather when the stag
can hear a footstep half a mile off, and the wind is so gentle that
it cannot make up its mind which way to go, but strays gently to
and fro and round in little circles, stimulating evil words among
the stalkers.

“Yesterday I was out alone and worked up to a Pasha and his
Harem--the ladies between him and me--he just out of shot on a
hillock behind them--approach from the front impossible, but just
a chance--almost a certainty with a fair breeze--from a rock to
one side, _if_ he should come down to his ladies before they got
a puff. I risked it and got a comfy corner in the sun and waited
to see which would win--the affectionate impulses of the stag or
the more wavering evolutions of the scarcely perceptible puffs of
wind, the old lady sixty yards away looking serenely at the top
of my head. Needless to say that after two hours, just when the
stag stretched one fore foot and began to hum a love ditty, I felt
a well-known cool feeling at the back of my neck, and the party
adjourned the meeting. Luckily I am not bloodthirsty, but enjoy
being among deer, and on these occasions driving snow and rain, or
sunshine and a dry tussock to curl up on, make all the difference.”

[Illustration: (The River Wye)]



              The river Wye goes out to sea
              By stealth, in silent secrecy:
              Among the hills she winds and wends
              And wanders by the sombre woods,
              And cleaves her way in circling bends
              Through mountain solitudes.[1]

Towards the end of March 1921 I received an invitation to fish
the river Wye, which, as every one knows, is famous for its heavy
salmon. My own rods and tackle were in the North of Scotland, and
there was not sufficient time to send for them. I knew that in the
spring the fishing in this particular river was almost entirely by
spinning with the minnow. I arrived at my destination on Monday,
March 28, and had five days fishing before me. There had been a
good deal of rain before I arrived, and the river was both too
high and too much color. The fishing on my host’s beat had so far
been very disappointing. During the preceding six weeks the river
had been fished almost every day by my host and one or other of
his friends; but although hardly any fish had been lost, only five
had been killed, all with the minnow, the largest being 29 lb. My
kindly host, who is a past master of all things connected with
salmon and trout fishing, fitted me up with first-class equipment.
I had never used a Nottingham or Silex reel before, and it took me
the greater part of my first day to acquire the art of throwing the
minnow effectively. For the next two days I fished with the minnow
from morning till night without getting a pull or seeing anything.
I have been a keen fly-fisher all my life and have killed a good
many salmon and many trout, and on Friday morning, as the river
had fallen considerably, I told my host that if I might do so I
should like to try the fly. He readily assented, and said that
I should have one of his own fly rods, and before we started he
kindly gave me several salmon flies, and said that his butler, C.,
who was an experienced hand at gaffing salmon, should come with
me. Among the flies which my host had given me was a “Mar Lodge”
(size 4/0), and with this I fished all the morning and up to about
three o’clock in the afternoon without, however, seeing or touching
anything. C. said that he was afraid the day was going to be a
blank again. I said that I would like to try once more a particular
spot below a rock in the upper part of a pool higher up the river,
which I had fished in the morning and which I thought looked a very
likely place for a salmon to lie. In order to fish this pool it
was necessary to use a boat. It was a beautiful afternoon and the
sun was still shining. We crossed over the river at the bottom of
the pool and rowed up on the other side, keeping close to the bank
so as not to disturb that part of the pool which I was going to
fish. C. worked the boat with great skill, and at my first cast I
managed to place my fly exactly where I wished it to go below the
rock. As the fly swung round with the current I suddenly saw for
a second a huge silvery fish in the clear, transparent water upon
which the sun was shining. At the same moment the line tightened.
“I have him,” I said, as the line went screeching off the reel.
The fish ran straight up-stream for about ninety yards, and then
leaped twice, high into the air. It was by far the largest salmon
I had ever seen, clean-run and glittering like a silver coin
fresh from the Mint. This first danger safely passed, I gradually
persuaded him to come back again. C. said, “He must be well hooked,
and he’s a very big fish. That fish of 29 lb. which the Major got
would look quite small beside him.” For some time after this the
fish moved about the pool, but made no attempt to run. He then
made a violent rush of about sixty yards, and lashed about on the
top of the water, once more showing himself and giving us a fair
idea of his size. Again I got him well under control, and for a
considerable time he adopted the same tactics as before, moving
slowly and steadily backwards and forwards at varying depths. I
had been thinking for some time that perhaps I had been rather too
easy with him, and that I had not acted on the maxim with which,
I suppose, almost every salmon fisher will agree, that one ought
never to let a fish rest, and that a big fish may take hours to
land if he is not worried enough. The line and cast had been
thoroughly tested before we started, and I felt that I might depend
upon them. C. told me that as soon as I had hooked my fish he had
looked at his watch, and that I had now had him on for an hour and
twenty minutes. This greatly astonished me, as I had not realised
how the time had gone. But it was nevertheless the fact, and I
felt that we must do something to stir the fish. We accordingly
decided to move a little way up-stream. C. had hardly begun to
move the boat with this object in view when the salmon suddenly
moved, and moved to some purpose. Neither I nor C. had ever seen
anything in the movements of any fish to compare with the strength
and rapidity of that rush. The salmon went at a terrific pace,
straight up the river as hard as he could go for about 110 yards,
and then leaped twice, straight up into the air, about a couple
of feet above the surface of the water, broadside on, showing
that he was a tremendously thick fish. At the very moment he was
in the air the reel fell off the rod, and at that moment I became
conscious, although, of course, I had lowered the point of the
rod when he leaped, that the great fish had parted company with
me for ever. “He has gone,” I said, as with a sickening sense of
disappointment I reeled in the slack line in the faint hope that he
might still be on, having turned and come down the river again--but
no, it was not to be, and the line soon came back to me, the cast
having been broken about a foot from the end. C. said not a word,
nor did I for a time. No mere words are appropriate on such an
occasion and cannot diminish the loss of a fresh-run spring salmon,
so marvellously brilliant and beautiful, and in this particular
instance probably half as large again, perhaps twice as large, as
the biggest fish I have ever landed during the time, now more than
forty years, that I have been a salmon fisher. Within a short time
I started fishing again, but the day was done and we saw nothing
more. After the catastrophe I found that the reel had been loose,
and that the wedges used to make it fit closely to the rod had
shifted and finally fallen out in consequence of the rushes made by
the fish. I also learnt later on that the rod did not belong to my
host, and that by a misunderstanding this rod, which happened not
to have been taken down, but was among the other rods ready for
use, was given to me. Probably, had I been warned about the reel, I
could have prevented it from falling off, though whether this would
have made any difference it is impossible to say, as many a good
fish has broken the cast by falling back on it after jumping at the
end of a long rush, and the more line there is out the more danger
of losing the fish when he jumps.



In the words of one of the most experienced of fishermen, Mr.
Horace G. Hutchinson: “There is one antic that a fish may perform
which may, if you are unlucky, defeat you, however quick and
skilful you are--that is, if he jumps and falls back on the cast.
If you do not drop the point of the rod so as to let the gut go
slack when he jumps, you are nearly sure to be broken if he falls
back on it. If you drop quickly enough, it is bad luck if you are
broken, but it is bad luck which sometimes does befall. If much
of the reel line is in water, the drop of the rod top does not
communicate slackness to the cast quickly enough; the fish may come
on to it when it is tolerably taut--result disaster!”

Being a Highlander and therefore of a superstitious race, need I
emphasise the fact that the day of this, the greatest, tragedy of
my life as a fisherman was a Friday, and that Friday the 1st of
April. In this connection it is worth recalling that no references
to April Fools’ Day have been found in our earlier literature, and
it seems that this country has derived the fashion from France,
where April Fools’ Day is a very ancient institution, and where the
dupe is known as “poisson d’avril.” The April fool in this story
was the fisherman, not the fish. The following day, Saturday, I
tried to make the most of my last chance and fished all day long,
but without a sign of anything. Of course, there was a great
discussion as to the probable weight of the fish, which had given
both C. and myself several opportunities of forming some estimate
on the subject. We both agreed that it could not have been less
than 35 lb., and was more probably round about 40 lb. But my story
has an interesting sequel. On the following Monday I returned to
London; and on the Tuesday, when fishing the pool which was the
scene of the catastrophe, my host made a discovery which I can
best relate by quoting from a letter which he wrote to me on the
following day.

“Yesterday afternoon,” he wrote, “when fishing your famous pool I
found what I feel pretty sure were the mortal remains of your big
fish. He had fallen a prey to an otter, which after your long fight
with him is easy to understand. He lay on a rock just above the
place where you hooked him, and considerably below where you parted
company. A large ‘steak’ from the middle had been removed by his
ultimate captor, but the head and tail portions were there. From
examination of his head he had certainly been _recently_ hooked
_firmly_ on the right side of the upper jaw. He was extremely
thick, and must have been a most handsome fish of at least 35 lb.
I took home two or three scales, and his age appears to have been
between four and five years.”

I subsequently learnt that from its condition this fish had no
doubt been killed some days before it was found, and as it seems
highly likely it was the fish that had defeated me, it must somehow
or other have got rid of the fly by rubbing it against the rocks,
a feat which is generally believed to be by no means unusual and
which in this instance would, no doubt, be rendered easier by the
fact that the hook was a good-sized one, being about 2 in. long.

C., who was with my host at the time, said that he also felt sure
that it was the same fish. So it would appear that the victory of
the great fish was after all shortlived, and that he was probably
captured by a far greater fisherman than any mere mortal man--let
alone my humble self.

It is a very interesting fact that in the week before that in
which I was fishing, among the salmon which were killed on the
neighbouring beats were three, each of which weighed slightly over
41 lb. It seems not unlikely, therefore, that my fish may have run
up from the sea in the company of these splendid fish, and have
been much the same weight as they were.

Notwithstanding my great disappointment I heartily agree with the
words of Arthur Hugh Clough in _Peschiera_:[2]

              ’T is better to have fought and lost,
              Than never to have fought at all.

On describing my battle to an old friend, who is himself no
fisherman, but a great sportsman, he replied by quoting from a
writer, whose name he did not know, the following lines, which I
had never heard before and the authorship of which was at that time
unknown to my friend also:

               Upon the river’s bank serene
               A fisher sat where all was green
                   And looked it.
               He saw when light was growing dim
               The fish or else the fish saw him
                   And hooked it.
               He took with high erected comb
               The fish or else the story home
                   And cooked it.
               Recording angels by his bed
               Weighed all that he had done or said
                   And booked it.[3]

[Illustration: (Fast Enough for Me!)]



Some little time ago, a correspondence appeared in the
_Observer_[4] and the _Field_[5] as to which is the quickest
bird in flight. Various correspondents, some of them well-known
naturalists, writers of repute, and sportsmen of experience,
expressed their views, by no means unanimous, on the question. I
have always been greatly interested in the subject, and for many
years past in the North of Scotland have been in the habit of
watching bird life in some of the wildest and most inaccessible
parts of the country.

I have examined the evidence contained in the valuable and
interesting correspondence mentioned above, and have also obtained
all the information I could get elsewhere from books of authority
and persons who have had special opportunities of observation.
At the present day a valuable and novel class of evidence is
available--that of observers in aeroplanes. Upon all the material
thus obtained I have tried to form an impartial opinion.

There appear to me to be four points to be borne in mind before
arriving at any conclusion as to which bird is the quickest in
flight, and the maximum speed of which each bird is capable.

Emphasis is laid on the first three of the following points in some
of the letters in the correspondence above referred to, but I think
that the fourth point is of at least equal importance.

1. Ground speed must be distinguished from air speed.

2. The path of flight must be horizontal.

3. There must be something to show that the bird is flying at its
maximum speed.

4. There must be a standard length of flight to which the test is
to be applied.

1. _Ground speed must be distinguished from air speed._

It is not generally realised that a bird has two speeds: its speed
relative to the ground and its speed relative to the air.

“Ground speed” is “air speed” as influenced by the wind. In a
perfectly still atmosphere “ground speed” and “air speed” are the
same. To quote one of the writers in the _Field_ of February 11,
1922: “The wind has no effect on the speed at which a bird is
capable of driving itself through the air. Take a parallel case,
substitute for the bird a caterpillar, and for the atmosphere in
which the bird is flying a sheet of paper. The caterpillar can
always crawl at a constant speed across the paper, although it is
possible to increase the relative speed of a caterpillar to the
ground by moving the sheet of paper.”

Or to put the same distinction in the words of another writer in
the same number of the _Field_: “It is the speed of the object over
the ground or still water that matters; and if the medium (_i.e._
air or water) in which the object under discussion is either flying
or floating is also in movement, then the pace over the ground will
naturally be correspondingly increased or decreased.”

Wind, of course, varies in two ways (1) direction and (2) velocity,
and is uniform only at a given height.

The direction of the wind must necessarily be either along the line
of flight of the bird, against it, or at an angle with it. In the
first of these instances the speed of the bird over the ground is
determined merely by adding the velocity of the wind to, and in
the second by subtracting it from the air speed of the bird, in
the same way as a swimmer’s speed is increased or reduced by the
speed of the current. The third case is more complicated, as in
this calculation allowance must be made for “drift,” _i.e._ the
tendency of a bird under such circumstances to deviate from its
desired course. It is, however, unnecessary to say anything further
as to this third case, as the comparison of speeds of various birds
can only be made satisfactorily by ascertaining their speeds under
identical conditions in horizontal flight.

2. _The path of flight must be horizontal._

In the words[6] of Captain C. F. A. Portal, D.S.O.: “If any one
has seen a peregrine stooping from 1000 feet at between 150 and
200 miles per hour at a partridge, and has later seen the same
peregrine chase the same partridge from a standing start, he will
appreciate the importance of considering only level flight. In
the first instance, the hawk is nearly 100 miles per hour faster
than the quarry, in the second, he can only just overtake it at
all. There is no conceivable way of measuring the speed of these
downward flights accurately, but no one who has done any hawking
will deny that 120 miles per hour is within the power of a great
many species. When we come to consider level flight, there is a
very different story.”



3. _There must be some evidence to show whether the bird is flying
at its maximum speed or not._

As was recently pointed out in an interesting article[7] by Colonel
R. Meinertzhagen, D.S.O.: “Birds have two speeds: a normal rate,
which is used for everyday purposes and also for migration, and an
accelerated speed, which is used for protection, or pursuit, and
which in some cases nearly doubles the rate of their normal speed;
some of the heavier birds can probably only accelerate to a slight
extent. In this conclusion I am naturally excepting courtship
flight, which is usually of an accelerated nature.”

To quote the words of Major C. R. E. Radclyffe:[8] “The only
possible test we can accept is where two birds are matched one
against the other, and we are certain they are both trying their
hardest. No better test than this is the case of a hawk pursuing
its quarry, when it means to one of them its food and to the other
its life.”

The same writer draws attention to a common fallacy: “It is,” he
says,[8] “purely a matter of optical illusion to imagine that a
smaller-sized bird is flying faster than a larger bird of similar
shape and make; for example, a snipe on rising ground seems to go
much faster than a woodcock, similarly a teal than a duck, and
possibly this may be so for a short distance, but put up the first
two together, and also the last two, and let there be a peregrine
after them--as I have seen many times--and the scene is amazing
to a man who is not a falconer, as the smaller bird is overhauled
first every time by the falcon, and presumably they are all trying
their hardest.... I have dozens of times put up a peregrine over
ponds and marshes where teal and ducks were sitting together, and
then flushed the wild fowl all simultaneously. In every case
without any exception the first bird overhauled and brought to
the ground has been a teal and in the case of a long flight, when
every bird has been flying for its life, the further they go the
further the teal lag behind the wild ducks. The same remarks apply
to woodcock and snipe, to black game and grouse, to pheasants and
partridges--all of which I have flushed simultaneously in front of

In dealing with the same point in a letter written to me, Major
Radclyffe makes the following interesting observations:

“... Few people realize that a pheasant flies much faster than a
partridge when they have both been going a short distance. If you
flush an old cock pheasant and a covey of partridges together in
a big field of turnips, you will see the partridges are quickest
‘off the mark’ and away with a bit of a lead, but the pheasant will
catch them, and be first over the fence if they have 200 or 300
yards to go.

“Again take as an example a woodcock and a snipe. I have several
times flushed these two birds together, and in no time the woodcock
has left the snipe far behind him, and yet I believe that
ninety-nine sportsmen out of a hundred would say the snipe flies
faster than the woodcock.

“I have seen woodcocks give my hawks some great long-distance
flights before they are overtaken and turned; but a snipe has no
show at all when trying to keep ahead of a peregrine or merlin in
straight flight.”

In his letter to the _Field_ already referred to, Major Radclyffe
further says: “There is no doubt whatever that the heavier bird of
similar type is far the faster on the wing when once it gets going.”

It was suggested in one of the letters to the _Field_ that whilst
this is no doubt the general rule there is at least one exception
to it. “If asked,” said the writer, “to quote any instance when the
smaller bird is faster than a larger one of similar type, I should
say that the pochard (_Fuligula ferina_) is faster on the wing
than the common mallard, as I have seen the former pass mallards
on the wing when both have been flying before a falcon. But from
my experience of over thirty years as a falconer, a naturalist,
and a shooter, I should say that the above case is one of the rare
exceptions where the heaviest bird is not the fastest on the wing
if each bird is trying its hardest and best.”

Colonel Meinertzhagen, whilst agreeing that the heavier bird of
similar type is the faster flier once it gets going, has kindly
sent me the following observations on the foregoing statements as
to the pochard and mallard. “The common pochard is not a bird of
‘similar type’ to a mallard, the one being a diving duck and the
other surface-feeding. They differ in the proportion of wing area
to body weight, also in bone structure. The pochard and all diving
duck, probably fly faster than surface-feeding duck under similar
conditions, having heavier bodies in proportion to the wing area
than is ever found among surface-feeding duck. The eider duck,
which is even heavier than the ordinary diving duck (_Nyroca_),
probably flies faster than them all when once started.”

4. _There must be a standard length of flight to which the test is
to be applied._

If the question were asked, “Who is the faster runner, A or B?”
the reply would surely be “To what distance are you referring?” A
short or a long distance? Applying the analogy, it is obvious that
a bird might be much faster than another for a short distance, but
if the flight has to be prolonged, may not have the lasting powers
of another bird, and therefore would be beaten on the longer course.

It seems likely that the fact of not considering one or other of
these points may account for the difference in regard to some of
the views held by observers of experience. For instance, may it
not account for the fact that there is such a marked difference
of opinion as to whether the peregrine is faster than the golden
plover? May it not be true that for a short distance the latter
bird may be the faster flier, but that in consequence of its lack
of staying power it is overtaken before it goes half a mile unless
it can elude its pursuer by twists and turns. In this connection
it is worth recalling the experiences of that acute and accurate
observer Charles St. John[9]: “The golden plover,” he writes,
“is a favourite prey, and affords the hawk a severe chace before
he is caught. I have seen a pursuit of this kind last for nearly
ten minutes--the plover turning and doubling like a hare before
greyhounds, at one moment darting like an arrow into the air, high
above the falcon’s head; at the next sweeping round some bush or
headland--but in vain. The hawk with steady relentless flight,
without seeming to hurry himself, never gives up the chace till
the poor plover, seemingly quite exhausted, slackens her pace, and
is caught by the hawk’s talons in mid-air and carried off to a
convenient hillock or stone to be quietly devoured.”

Colonel Meinertzhagen has been so kind as to consider the
observations I have made above, and writes:

“I should doubt whether the golden plover has less staying power
than the peregrine. The former migrates long distances (thousands
of miles, in the case of the American golden plover, a bird almost
identical with ours, which goes from Labrador to Brazil by sea),
whereas the peregrine is nowhere believed to be a regular or
persistent migrant over long distances. It is more probable that
the peregrine is a faster bird than the golden plover and that
the latter becomes exhausted by continued acceleration and fear,
whereas the peregrine is accustomed to long periods of accelerated
flight and is stimulated by hunger.”

Again in reference to the difference of opinion as to whether the
teal is faster than the mallard, may it not be possible that both
views may be correct? in other words, that it depends upon the
length of flight which the writer is considering. It may be noticed
that Major Radclyffe in the passage which I have quoted above (p.
28) seems to consider it may be possible that for a short distance
the teal may be faster than the mallard, though he has no doubt
that the latter bird will very soon overtake the former.

The falconer has certainly more and better opportunities of seeing
birds flying at their maximum rate of speed than any one else.
“He also has,” to use Captain Portal’s words, “the advantage of
possessing in his trained hawk a known quantity with which to
compare the performances of other birds.”

Captain Portal has flown hawks at many different kinds of birds
during the last fifteen years, and has made certain estimates which
have been arrived at after a great deal of comparison and analysis
of data obtained while hawking, shooting, flying in aeroplanes,
travelling in cars and trains, and walking in the country. He
says:[10] “My figures cannot be correct for every member of each
species, as I have seen one partridge in an October covey fly quite
15 per cent faster than any of its companions when all were at full
speed. All I have tried to do is to strike an average for the
species, the speed given being the maximum pace at which the bird
can cover the ground in level flight through still air.”

The speeds given for the peregrine and merlin are those of good
trained birds; the wild ones are faster. Here are the figures:

            Golden Plover          70 miles per hour.
            Teal and Blackcock     68   ”       ”
            Peregrine              62   ”       ”
            Pheasant and Grouse    60   ”       ”
            Mallard                58   ”       ”
            Merlin and Blue Rock   55   ”       ”
            Partridge              53   ”       ”
            Green Plover }
            Jackdaw      }         48   ”       ”
            Wood Pigeon            45   ”       ”
            Starling               44   ”       ”
            Kestrel                43   ”       ”
            Rook                   40   ”       ”
            Landrail               35   ”       ”

The speed attained by golden plover when pressed has been estimated
by airmen at over 60 miles per hour.[11]

Colonel R. Meinertzhagen, from whom I have also quoted above,
states that he finds, “after eliminating abnormal conditions
and observations based on meagre evidence, that the normal and
migratory flight in miles per hour (ground speed) is as follows:

            Ducks                           44-59
            Geese                           42-55
            Waders                          34-51
                                  (but mostly from 40 to 51)
            Starlings                       38-49
            Falcons                         40-48
            Corvidae                        31-45
            Tame Pigeons                    30-36
            The smaller Passeres            20-37”

Amongst the birds which are claimed by different high authorities
to be the fastest British birds are the swift, the peregrine, the
golden plover, the teal, the wild duck, and the curlew.

It is curious that in the various controversies on the subject no
one appears to have contended that the golden eagle may possibly
be the fastest flier amongst British birds. This may be because,
except in certain parts of the country, the eagle is never seen,
and there is necessarily very little opportunity of comparing
his speed with that of other birds. In particular the falconer,
whose opportunities of comparing the speed of birds are, as I have
already stated, greater than those of any other class of men, has
no opportunities in the case of the eagle. Moreover, the flight
of the eagle, like that of some of the fastest flying birds,
for instance, the blackcock, is very deceptive. He is in fact
flying much faster than he appears to be--“The eagle’s flight,
when passing from one point to another, is peculiarly expressive
of strength and vigour. He wends his way with deliberate strong
strokes of his powerful wing, every stroke apparently drawing him
on a considerable distance, and in this manner advancing through
the air as rapidly as the pigeon or any other bird which may appear
to fly much more quickly.”[12]


From a Photograph by THE LADY ANNE MURRAY of Loch Carron.]

The answer to the question, Which of the two birds, the eagle or
the peregrine, is the faster flier, must even on a horizontal
flight be a matter of pure conjecture. On the one hand, the
peregrine has the advantage of pointed wings which make for
increased wing power and speed, whilst the eagle’s wings are
rounded. On the other hand, there is a great similarity between
the general build and structure of the two birds, and there is the
fact emphasised by Major Radclyffe in the letters from which I have
quoted above, that, as between two birds of different size but of
similar shape and make, the larger and heavier bird will almost
invariably fly faster than the smaller and lighter one once the
former really gets going. It is, of course, true that the peregrine
is much quicker in its movements and more agile than the eagle. It
is constantly under the necessity of flying at its fastest (which
the eagle is not) in order to secure its food; in other words, to
use the language of a stalker in discussing this question with
me: “The peregrine requires a warm diet, and lives on its prey.
The eagle, on the other hand, will eat carrion.” The peregrine is
probably quicker off the mark than the eagle, but this does not
necessarily mean that he flies more quickly than the eagle once the
latter gets going. Stalkers have unusual opportunities of seeing
these two birds in flight, and almost all those with whom I have
discussed this question believe that on a horizontal flight the
peregrine is faster than the eagle. This in my opinion is probably
the correct view.

It must not be forgotten that the Northern falcons, or, as they are
generally called, the gyrfalcons, are entitled to rank as British
birds, although they are rare visitors to these Isles. They are
(1) the gyrfalcon or Norwegian variety (_Falco gyrfalco_), (2) the
Iceland falcon (_Falco islandus_), (3) the Greenland falcon (_Falco
candicans_). The gyrfalcon is a very rare visitor here, two
recorded specimens only having been obtained here and one of these
is doubtful. The Iceland falcon is a rare visitor also, although
identified examples have been obtained here from time to time.
The Greenland falcon is an irregular winter and spring visitor,
but there are more recorded instances of this species than in the
case of the Iceland falcon. The former bird, the prevailing ground
colour of which is white, is the most beautiful of all birds of
prey. By some authorities it is considered merely a race of the
Iceland falcon, which it resembles in size and habits. The eggs
of the two birds resemble one another. All these Northern falcons
are about the same size and larger than, though very similar
in structure to, the peregrine falcon. Speaking generally, the
difference in length is about 5 inches, in wing 2 inches. They
have been very highly valued in Europe for hawking, and, as would
be expected from their superior size and similar structure, are
undoubtedly faster than peregrines.

Writing in the _Field_ for March 15, 1923, Major Radclyffe

“All the gyrfalcons are much faster on the wing than peregrines,
and having trained and flown both species of these falcons for many
years I have been enabled to prove this beyond doubt.”

The swift has still to be considered. There are three species of
swifts which rank as British birds: the common swift (_Cypselus
apus_), the Alpine swift (_Cypselus melba_), and the spine-tailed
or needle-tailed swift (_Acanthyllis caudacuta_ or _Chaetura
caudacuta caudacuta_). The Alpine swift is a rare visitor here,
only about thirty having been satisfactorily identified at
different times from April to October in different parts of these
islands, but chiefly in the southern part of England. It breeds in
mountains throughout Central Europe, and eastwards to India. The
spine-tailed swift is even a rarer visitor here, only two recorded
instances of specimens having been obtained--one in Essex in 1846
and one (said to have been in company with another) in Hampshire
in 1879. It breeds in the mountains of North-eastern Asia, and in
winter goes as far south as Australia.



Swifts are perhaps the most powerfully winged, in proportion to
their weight, of all British birds. Their form is that which has
been found to make the fastest sailing vessel--full forwards and
lengthened, and tapering backwards. The difficulty in regard to
these birds, and particularly in regard to the Alpine swift and
the spine-tailed swift, is to obtain the necessary opportunities
and conditions for comparing their maximum speed with that of
other very fast birds. It is difficult to realise merely from a
consideration of the description and measurements of these three
swifts in the authoritative works of ornithologists how much larger
the Alpine swift and spine-tailed swift are than the common swift.
I have had opportunities of handling and examining the stuffed
specimens of these birds in the British Museum (Natural History) at
South Kensington, and should like to acknowledge here the courtesy
and assistance given to me at the Museum by Mr. W. P. Pycraft, Dr.
P. R. Lowe, and Mr. N. B. Kinnear.

The actual measurements of the three birds are as follows:

                                 Length.      Wing.
          Common Swift           6·75 inches  6·8 inches
          Alpine Swift           8      ”     8·45  ”
          Needle-tailed Swift    8      ”     8·1   ”

It is not generally realised that the common swift, so well known
in this country, which looks so imposing in flight as it glides
overhead with wings extended, is hardly so large, when plucked, as
a man’s thumb-joint and weighs slightly over half an ounce.

Bearing in mind that as between two birds of the same build and
structure the larger will, when it gets going, fly faster than the
smaller one, it would naturally be expected, as is the undoubted
fact, that the Alpine swift and spine-tailed swift are faster
fliers than the common swift.

The falconer has in the case of the swift very little opportunity
of comparing its speed with that of the peregrine. This is partly
because the peregrine, whether it be the falcon (the female bird)
or the tiercel (the male bird), will probably not attempt to
kill the swift, it being too small a prey. There is the further
difficulty that the swift rarely continues on a level flight.

I have been so fortunate as to obtain the views of several
well-known authorities on this difficult question--the comparative
maximum speed of the swift and the peregrine.

Colonel Meinertzhagen says:

“I should certainly say that the swift is the fastest British bird,
both in its normal speed and accelerated. But any of the falcons
could catch it, if caught unawares, by stooping, or perhaps two
hunting together. If the swift had, say, ten seconds’ warning,[14]
I do not believe any falcon could touch it. As regards endurance,
those birds with the greatest endurance are the swifts, swallows,
petrels, and gulls. Swifts are probably endowed with the greatest
powers, being denied by nature the advantages of perching,
alighting on water, or resting on the ground. I have recently been
studying the power of flight of various groups of birds, and find
that the wings of the swift and petrel groups have wing outlines
best suited for both endurance and speed. The falcon has a wing
intended for short rapid flights and not for endurance.

“You have doubtless seen falcons hunting. When they set out on a
regular hunt they are not usually much faster than their quarry,
unless it is some unfortunate non-game bird, and they only
gradually overtake it. But I think a falcon usually makes full use
of surprise and force of gravity. If these fail, he often abandons
the chase, recognising that wearing a bird like a golden plover or
teal down by sheer endurance and honest straightforward flying is
a troublesome and not always successful task.”

Major C. R. E. Radclyffe writes:

“The point you raise _re_ the relative speed of swifts and other
birds is a difficult one to decide.

“I have, however, a strong recollection of a brother falconer (I
cannot remember who it was) telling me that his trained merlins
could easily overhaul a swift, and he told me that once or twice
they had killed them. But this was many years ago, and I am not
able to remember all the facts.

“I have often stood on the bridges here and watched swifts passing
in hundreds close past me. They appear to be moving very fast when
hawking after flies near the surface of a river.

“There is a long stretch of broad water in the river in front of my
house here, and often there are hundreds of swifts flying up and
down it. They go about half a mile dead straight and then turn back
over this stretch of the river.

“I have flown fast carrier pigeons along this same bit of water,
and they seem to do it in less time than the swifts. Only last
summer, at my place in Scotland, I was sitting on the banks of the
river watching some swifts, when a pair of blue rock pigeons came
from their nest in the cliff, going out to feed, and they went
clean past the swifts going in the same direction.

“Of course presumably the pigeons were in a hurry and the swifts
were not, and unless we are certain that both birds are trying
their hardest, you cannot accept these things as a test of speed.

“If I were asked to guess roughly at the six fastest flying birds
in the British Isles, I should place them as follows:

                     1. The Peregrine,
                     2. The Hobby,
                     3. The Merlin,
                     4. The Golden Plover,
                     5. The Pochard,
                     6. The Blue Rock Pigeon,

and the fastest game bird is undoubtedly the blackcock. I do not
know, however, if a capercailzie would not beat him if you could
get them both to take a long flight across the open, because,
generally speaking, in the case of birds of similar shape and
species, the heaviest bird is the fastest flying one.”

Captain G. S. Blaine, another falconer of long and varied
experience, has also been so kind as to give me his opinion on this
question. He writes:

“I cannot say whether a peregrine falcon could overtake and kill a
swift, but I do not think it would ever attempt the feat. Falcons
do not, as a rule, attack small birds. The male or tiercel will
sometimes stoop at them, but more in play than in earnest. The
female, I should think, would never attempt to catch anything
smaller than a thrush or starling.

“It is very difficult to estimate the relative speed of different
birds. To do so, one would have to judge correctly of the time
taken in passing a measured distance on a straight course. Very few
birds, especially swifts, fly absolutely straight ahead.

“A hobby has been known to catch swifts and swallows, and possibly
a merlin would do the same.

“A peregrine can fly faster than a merlin, but it would not be so
quick in turning and following a bird.

“I think a peregrine can fly faster than a teal or golden plover,
though, as you observe, the latter are quicker off the mark.”

There are very few recorded instances, as far as I have been able
to ascertain, in which a hawk has killed the common swift. In two
of these there was no evidence as to whether the hawk had not
taken the swift by surprise. But there is at least one recorded
instance in which a swift has been killed by a hobby in fair
flight. This is to be found in that delightful book, _Field Studies
of some Rarer British Birds_,[15] by Mr. William Walpole Bond. The
description of the race is so vivid that, with the author’s kind
permission, I reproduce it here.

“On June 14, 1907, as I lay in a spacious clearing of a big Sussex
woodland, a sudden swirl of wings gave me instant pause in my
meditations. Looking up, my eyes were held by a swift coasting
earthwards in frantic haste, hotly pursued by a hobby not many
yards in his wake. I literally held my breath with excitement, for
here was an occurrence of dreamland only. Speeding on about a level
with the tree-tops both birds measure the length of the long glade
in fractional time, and the hawk gains almost imperceptibly.

“Then the pursued makes a mighty effort; he rises gamely, even
slightly increasing his lead. Indeed it seemed he might shake off
his deadly courser. Alas, my friend, it is to no purpose; the
hobby has responded to your challenge, and now exhibits speed for
which--glorious flier though he be--I should never have given him
credit. Mounting with ease above his prospective prey, the lithe
hawk compels him to describe an arc and once again to start a
life--or death--struggle in a headlong slant across the clearing.
That flight is his last--the swift has shot his bolt. Now inches
only separate the birds, you could cover both with a very large
handkerchief. Next instant the hawk rises straight and stoops
strongly, pursuer and pursued become one. Binding to his quarry the
hawk is away over the trees at my back without so much as the most
momentary pause in the continuation of his eminently successful
‘shikar.’ Indeed, this continuity of action was possibly the most
pleasing part of a praiseworthy performance, since you might
reasonably have expected a break--however trivial--after what must
have been a long and arduous chase. As a fact, the death-stroke was
so featly and rapidly administered that, except that where a moment
before there had been two birds there was now only one, and that a
muffled clap and a few small dusky feathers twirling aimlessly in
the summer breeze suggested some sort of untoward happening, it
was difficult to realise that anything unusual had taken place.

“I have seen the irresistible death-stoop of the peregrine, the
lightning rush of the tiny merlin, I have watched the earthward
plunge after prey of buzzard, eagle, kite, and harrier; I have
revelled in the agile snatch of the sparrow-hawk, in the silent
hovering of the kestrel; and all have I enjoyed. Here was something
quite different and even far better. Never have I seen skill so
superb as was displayed by that hobby.”

It would therefore seem that the hobby, which is a peregrine in
miniature, flies faster than the common swift even on a horizontal
flight, but it is worthy of note that in both stoops referred to
in this delightful description, the hobby gained by reason of
gravity. True, he also gained altitude, but this may have been
better manœuvring for position and not necessarily a greater speed.
As the peregrine flies faster than the hobby, being a bird of the
same structure but larger, the peregrine could no doubt overtake
and kill the common swift if it would take the trouble to pursue so
small a bird.

Next, as to the Alpine swift. This bird is much larger than
the common swift--in length 8 inches as compared with 6·75
inches--whilst their wings are 8·45 inches and 6·8 inches
respectively, and as the two birds are of the same structure, one
would naturally expect that the Alpine swift would be much the
faster flier. The flight of the Alpine swift, like that of the
blackcock, which is probably the fastest flier amongst game birds
with the possible exception of the capercailzie, is very deceptive.

Colonel Meinertzhagen, in the article already mentioned, describes
some observations from an aeroplane in regard to the flight of a
large flock of common swifts feeding at an altitude of 6000 feet
over Mosul in Mesopotamia. He describes how they circled round
the aeroplane, which was flying at 68 miles an hour, and easily
overtook it. In commenting on this case he says: “The case of the
Mosul swifts is interesting. The birds were probably not on passage
but simply feeding. It is known that swifts travel great distances
in search of food and ascend great altitudes.

“In the Middle Atlas of Morocco, in the Himalayas, in Crete,
and Palestine, 4000 or 5000 feet and 50 miles or so in distance
seems nothing to these incomparable fliers. I have had splendid
opportunities of observing the Alpine, common, and spine-tailed
swifts (_Chaetura_), and it has been a great disappointment to
me that I have never been able to get a satisfactory estimate of
their rate of flight, as they never continue on a level course.
On a small island on the coast of Crete I was recently given a
good exhibition of what an Alpine swift can do. I was watching
some of these birds feeding round cliffs in which several pairs of
Eleonora’s falcons were about to breed. Now, this delightful falcon
is no mean flier, and as these swifts passed their cliff, the
falcons would come out against them like rockets. The swifts would
accelerate and would seem to be out of sight before the falcons
were well on their way. So confident were the swifts in their
superior speed, that every time they circled round the island they
never failed to ‘draw’ the falcons, and seemed to be playing with
them. I may add that these same falcons have little difficulty in
overhauling and striking a rock-pigeon--itself no mean performer. I
have also seen on record the case of falcons and swifts somewhere
in India, where the former failed time after time to come up with
his quarry. I, unfortunately, cannot trace the reference.

“I hesitate even to guess at the speed to which a swift can attain
when the necessity arises, but the main point is that this, the
fastest of birds, can increase his feeding speed of, say, 70 miles
per hour, to a velocity which must exceed 100 miles per hour.”

In the tables given above[16] Colonel Meinertzhagen estimates the
speed of the normal and migratory rate of flight of falcons at 40
to 48 miles an hour, whilst Captain Portal estimates the maximum
speed of the peregrine falcon in level flight through still air at
62 miles an hour. Captain Portal adds that the speed given is for
a good trained bird, and that a wild bird is faster.

In view of Colonel Meinertzhagen’s observations from his aeroplane
and the figures given above, it would appear to be certain that
the Alpine swift is faster than the peregrine falcon in horizontal

We have now to consider the speed of the spine-tailed or
needle-tailed swift. There seems to be no doubt that this bird is
a much faster flier than the Alpine swift, though at first sight
and without a careful examination of the skeletons, it is difficult
to state why this should be so. I have compared various specimens
of the two birds, and there appears to be little difference in
their size. Colonel Meinertzhagen, who has been so kind as to
discuss the subject with me, agrees that the spine-tailed swift is
the faster flier, and tells me that he thinks it is probably the
heavier bird of the two, and that this may account for its greater
rapidity of flight.

The wing of the Alpine swift is 8·45 inches, that of the
spine-tailed swift is 8·1 inches. The length of both birds is 8
inches,[17] although Dresser[18] gives the total length as 8·5 and
that of the spine-tailed swift as 8·1 inches.

The genus _Chaetura_, to which the needle-tailed swift belongs, is
easily distinguishable from the genus _Apus_ (to which the common
swift and Alpine swift belong) by the wedge-shaped tail in which
the shafts of the feathers are longer than the webs and protrude
like spines. The tail in the only species (_Chaetura caudacuta
caudacuta_) occurring in the British Isles, compared with that of
the Alpine swift, is very short. It is almost square, and has ten
feathers, which are very stiff and the shafts of which project 4-6
mm. (·156-·234 inch) beyond the web in a stiff point like that of
a needle or spine.[19]

The shafts of the primaries are very strong and the wings very
long. Gould[20] says, in reference to the spine-tailed swift, in a
passage which is quoted in Seebohm:[21] “The keel or breast bone
of this species is more than ordinarily deep and the pectoral
muscles more developed than in any of its weight with which I am
acquainted.” Probably the last-mentioned facts largely account for
its superiority in speed over the Alpine swift.

In an article entitled “The Twelve Swiftest Birds of
Australia,”[22] in which Mr. E. S. Sovenson gives the views of
himself and various friends of his as to the relative speed of
Australian birds, he says that after long observation he and they
have no hesitation in stating that the spine-tailed swift is the
swiftest Australian bird, and states that its speed has been
computed at 180 miles an hour.

“Besides its swiftness,” he writes, “it is almost tireless of wing,
being second only in that respect to the frigate bird, the bird
of eternal flight. Both have very long wings in relation to the
body--an indication of rapid flight. The swift, a bird of passage
which crossed the wide sea after breeding in Japan, is not known to
alight in Australia, where it spends a considerable time hunting
its insect prey in the upper air.”

In _A History of the Birds of Europe_,[23] Dresser writes: “The
present species (_Acanthyllis caudacuta_ or _Chaetura caudacuta
caudacuta_) and _Acanthyllis gigantea_ are said to be the swiftest
birds in existence. Tickell says that he never witnessed anything
equal to the prodigious swiftness of its movements.”

_Chaetura caudacuta cochinchinensis_ (which is to be found in
Malacca, Sumatra, and Cochin China) is a form of the spine-tailed
swift allied to that species (_Chaetura caudacuta caudacuta_) which
is so rare a visitor here. I have examined and compared numerous
specimens of these three species of spine-tailed swifts, and it
would seem practically certain, in view of their similarity in size
and structure, that their speed must be similar.

Mr. E. Stuart Baker, who has made experiments as to the speed
of the _Chaetura nudipes_ and the _Chaetura cochinchinensis_,
writes:[24] “Both these species have a normal flighting speed of
something very nearly approaching 200 miles an hour, enormously in
excess of the powers of any other bird with which I am acquainted.
In North Cachar, Assam, these birds used to fly directly over my
bungalow in Haflang, flying thence in a straight line to a ridge
of hills exactly two miles away, and when over the ridge at once
dipping out of sight. We constantly timed these swifts and found
that stop-watches made them cover this distance in from 36 seconds
to 42 seconds, _i.e._ at a rate of exactly 200 miles an hour to

Writing of the _Chaetura nudipes_ Mr. W. T. Blanford, F.R.S.,
says:[25] “This and the other large spine-tails are, I believe,
absolutely the swiftest of living birds. Their flight far exceeds
that of the Alpine swift, and I doubt if any falcon can approach
them in speed. They are generally seen in scattered flocks that
play about for a time and disappear at a pace that must be seen to
be appreciated.”

The same ornithologist refers[26] to the _Chaetura indica_ or
brown-necked spine-tailed swift, which is a larger species (length
about 9 inches, tail 2·6--wing 8--tarsus 6·8), as being “equal or
possibly even superior in speed to _Chaetura nudipes_--so wonderful
is their flight that Mr. H. R. P. Carter remarked that a flock of
Alpine swifts, passing over immediately after some of the present
species, ‘seemed to fly like owls after the arrow-like speed of the

I think, therefore, that if the speed in horizontal flight is alone
to be considered, the spine-tailed swift is the fastest bird which
flies in the British Isles, that the Alpine swift comes next;
then come the northern falcons (or as they are usually called,
gyr-falcons) and the peregrine falcon, in the order named, except
in the case of a very short flight, in which case the Golden Plover
and teal, being faster off the mark and better sprinters, will fly
more quickly than the falcons, though they will, when the latter
really get going, be gradually overtaken.

There remains for consideration the speed of the golden eagle and
falcon in their downward flight, when stooping at their prey. There
is no certain method of comparing their respective speeds in this
unique kind of flight either with one another or with the speed
of other birds which never fly in this way. In considering the
question of the relative speed of the two birds in this particular
kind of flight, I will first deal with the matter on principle and
then consider such evidence of eye-witnesses as I have been able to
obtain. The falcon has of course one great advantage over the eagle
as regards equipment for swift flight. He has the long pointed
wings typical of the true falcon, whereas the eagle has rounded
wings. As between birds of similar size and spread of wings, the
bird with pointed wings is faster than the one with rounded wings.
Thus a blackcock is undoubtedly faster than a pheasant although
their bodies are about the same size, or to be more accurate the
blackcock is rather smaller than the pheasant. A striking instance
of this was recently given in the _Field_[27] by Mr. G. Denholm
Armour, who wrote: “Some years ago a friend asked me to come to
Argyllshire late in the autumn to shoot some black-game which lived
in the birch and fir woods hanging along the lower parts of the

“Our method was to place ourselves in a break in the line of woods
at the bottom of the hill, sending two or three men to drive the
wood towards us. The result was usually very high birds flying
downhill and very fast. On several occasions at the same time came
a blackcock and a cock pheasant, of which there were a few in
almost every drive. Incidentally, most of the pheasants we shot
were old birds with long spurs, so were very strong on the wing.
In each case--and I noticed several--the blackcock outflew the
pheasant by what seemed to be about 50 per cent in pace, leaving
him as a racing car would a ‘runabout.’

“The chance of comparison was very interesting, being between birds
of much the same weight and size, both started under the same
conditions, and I think ‘doing their best.’ Had the blackcock come
alone, I think his much slower wing beat would have made one think
him the slower flier of the two.”

The blackcock and grouse have wings exactly alike--but the
blackcock is heavier than the grouse and much faster.

With the exception of the difference in the wings mentioned above,
the structure of the eagle and falcon is very similar, and as has
been pointed out, the larger of two birds of similar structure once
it gets going is almost invariably faster, owing no doubt to its
superior muscular power and driving force.

In comparing the downward flight of the eagle and falcon it is also
necessary to recollect the advantage which the former has by reason
of its much greater weight.

It is difficult to obtain thoroughly reliable records of the
weights of the golden eagle and the different falcons; but so far
as I can ascertain, the weight of the eagle varies from 8½ to 12½
lb., that of the gyr-falcon from 3 to 3¾ lb., and that of the
peregrine from 2 to 3 ounces under 2 lb. to 2¾ lb., in each case of
course the female bird being heavier than the male.

But for the resistance of the air, all bodies, light or heavy,
small or large, would fall at the same rate. In fact, however,
as velocity increases a notable air resistance is set up which
increases rapidly. The velocity of a body falling freely _in vacuo_
is over forty miles per hour at the end of two seconds, over sixty
at the end of three seconds, and so on.

We all know by experience the great force exerted by a wind of a
velocity even as low as thirty miles an hour, which most people
would call a hurricane. But it is not perhaps so generally known
that in proportion to its weight, other things such as shape and
specific gravity being similar, a small body experiences much
greater resistance than a large body. The resistance of the air
to the fine particles of vapour which constitute a cloud is such
that they only fall at the same rate of a few feet per hour. And
in the case of two birds of similar shape and specific gravity,
but one eight times the weight of the other, the larger bird would
ultimately attain a velocity roughly twice as great as the other,
if both fell for a sufficient distance to attain their limiting
velocities, _i.e._ the velocity at which the resistance offered by
the air is equal to the attraction of gravity. Similarly if the
one bird were four times the weight of the other, the velocity
ultimately attained under the conditions mentioned would be roughly
one and a half times as great as the other.

In “Notes by an Old Stalker” in the _Field_ for September 9, 1922
(p. 370) there appears the following interesting account of a duel
between a golden eagle and a peregrine which the writer himself

“Although by a long way our most powerful bird, the eagle is by
no means a match for some much smaller combatants. Once I saw
an eagle soaring placidly along when from a range of precipices
immediately below him a falcon shot up into the air. Without a
moment’s hesitation he attacked the giant bird. The eagle at once
joined combat, and through the telescope I could see his efforts
to hit his adversary with beak and wing. One blow from either and
it would be all over with the falcon; but the latter evidently
realised this and regulated his tactics accordingly. The movements
of the eagle were slow and cumbrous compared to the rapid action
and lithe activity of his adversary. Every time he dodged the
eagle’s stroke and, wheeling rapidly, got in his blow before the
huge bird could recover himself. That the eagle was in a great rage
was evident, for I could hear him emitting sounds that resembled
nothing so much as the bark of a terrier. Finally, realising the
hopelessness of the contest, he took to flight. I previously knew
that the eagle was fast on wing, but the speed he now exhibited
was a revelation to me. With half-extended, half-curved wings,
showing never a tremor, he cleft the air straight as a bullet. The
falcon pursued, but, being left hopelessly behind, soon gave up the

The flight of the eagle here described was obviously a glide or
downward flight, when, as I have pointed out, gravity would assist
his speed to a greater extent than it would in a bird of less
weight--the peregrine.

In the case of a bird of prey descending from a height on its
quarry, the nearer its downward flight is to the vertical the
faster will it descend. In coming down on its prey, neither the
eagle nor the falcon completely closes its wings, probably because
if it did so, it would lose control. This is also true of the
gannet or solan goose, which has been described as the largest
and noblest-looking of our sea fowl. The great speed which a bird
of large size can attain in downward flight can to some extent
be realised by watching the gannet when he drops head first as
he descends perpendicularly on to the fish in the water. I have
carefully examined and compared the skeletons of the eagle and
peregrine and have tried to form some idea as to the relative
muscular power and driving force of the two birds, and bearing in
mind the facts stated above, and the greatly superior size and
weight of the eagle, it seems reasonable to conclude on principle
that the eagle is probably faster than the gyr-falcon or peregrine
in a downward flight, assuming that both birds are putting forth
all their powers.

As regards the evidence of eye-witnesses, I have discussed this
question with many stalkers. The majority of them have never seen
the eagle stoop at its quarry and strike it a blow which sends it
to the ground as the peregrine so often does--though they have seen
the eagle seize its quarry in the air or pounce on it on the ground
and carry it off. Only a few of these, however, have any doubt as a
result of what they have heard from other stalkers and keepers that
the eagle on occasion does adopt the former method.

It is, however, an undoubted fact that although the eagle generally
captures birds which he is pursuing by seizing them in his talons
or, to use the falconer’s term, binding on them, he occasionally
stoops on and strikes them in the air, sending them hurtling to the
ground in the same way as the peregrine does.

The reason why the eagle so rarely adopts this method is probably
because it can secure its prey without doing so, and further if it
were to exert all its powers when descending from a considerable
height at an angle near the vertical on a grouse, blackcock, or
ptarmigan (which do not usually fly very high above the ground),
it would incur a serious risk of injury in consequence of being
carried on by its impetus and dashing against the rocks or ground
after striking down its prey.

[Illustration: THE GOLDEN EAGLE.


The interesting, and I think significant, fact is that although
some of these stalkers with whom I have discussed the question
think that the peregrine probably flies faster than the eagle,
every one of them who has seen the eagle kill its quarry in this
way (and I know several) has told me that in his opinion the
eagle in its final rush is faster than the peregrine. It is also
important in this connection to bear in mind the fact on which
Major Radclyffe lays such stress--that it is an optical illusion to
imagine that a smaller-sized bird is flying faster than a larger
bird of similar shape and make, and that, as he says, ninety-nine
sportsmen out of a hundred would probably tell you that a snipe
flies faster than a woodcock--whereas the converse is true. An old
keeper in the North, whom I have known for many years, told me that
he had seen the eagle stoop at and strike his quarry in this way on
two occasions, and that it moved in its final downward flight with
the same lightning-like rapidity as the peregrine.

John Finlayson, the head stalker at Killilan, wrote to me last
February as follows: “I have once plainly seen the eagle driving
after grouse and striking it down very similar like what the
peregrine falcon does. It happened at the north end of Corrie-ach.
I was going up to Patt from Mulbuie way. A covey of grouse came
tearing down from the low end of Aonachbuie in front of me, about
300 yards away, and an eagle in hot pursuit, wings gathered up, and
making a swishing noise; going through the air it struck one down,
with a cloud of feathers knocked out when it did so. The eagle
glided up a little, then balanced and dropped down where the bird
fell; it was a little over a ridge out of my view; when I got up to
the place I saw the eagle well up the glen going fast with the bird
in its talons.”

My gamekeeper, Donald McIver, who has lived all his life in
Ross-shire, on one occasion saw an eagle strike and kill
a blackcock. This is his account of it. “In the forest of
Strathconan, where I was for a number of years, I once saw a very
fine sight of an eagle pursuing a blackcock. The blackcock got up
at the head of a very deep corrie and came over at a very great
height. The eagle was about and soon after it. I could see him
overtake the bird, and I would say that he struck him the same way
as the peregrine does with his claw. I saw something drop, but
could not make out what it was at the time; then the eagle doubled
in the air and caught the bird before it reached the ground. None
of the other eagles I have seen after their prey have struck it
like this in the air. They have always clutched at their prey, but
this time the eagle struck the bird and went right past him. I was
not far off, and could hear a tremendous noise of the wings. When
the eagle doubled back and caught the bird in the air I would judge
that the bird would be as high up as three hundred feet, and when
he doubled back I should think he was not fifty.

“Perhaps the narrowness of the corrie might be the reason for him
taking the bird in the way he did--I went to the place and found
the head of the blackcock; there was about three inches of skin
hanging to the head, a tear like what would be done with the claw.
This is the only time I ever saw an eagle kill a bird in the air,
but it was a grand sight. This happened in January 1895, in Corrie
Vullin, Strathconan.”

This amazing feat in aerial gymnastics is no doubt also performed
on rare occasions by the peregrine. One of the most experienced
of living falconers wrote to me as follows: “I have seen a very
celebrated falcon which I owned for years bring off a remarkable
trick several times. She used to strike at the back of the grouse’s
head, and I have seen her just scalp the grouse, taking a piece
out of its skull not as large as a pea, and thus killing the bird
in mid-air just as if it was shot; often, when the grouse was high
above the ground, I have seen the falcon then take a sharp turn
in the air as the grouse was falling, like a spinning leaf, and
pick it up in her feet before it could touch the ground--a very
wonderful sight.”

An old friend of mine, who is head stalker in one of our best-known
deer forests and whose veracity I have every reason to accept,
told me an interesting story which further illustrates what fine
feats in the air the peregrine falcon can perform. He said that on
one occasion he saw a falcon strike and carry off a crow. As the
falcon was circling higher and higher up, carrying off this crow,
it was mobbed by a considerable number of other crows. For some
time it ignored them, continuing its steady upward circling flight
until one crow, becoming rather bolder than the rest, provoked
the falcon into retaliation. Dropping the crow it was carrying, the
falcon stooped on the troublesome crow, struck and killed it and,
turning with extraordinary rapidity, caught in the air the dead
crow which it had been carrying, and then recommenced its upward
flight without further trouble from the crows.


From a Photograph by FRANK WALLACE.]

The marvellous speed of the golden eagle and peregrine in their
final rush, when stooping from a height at their quarry, must be
seen to be believed. Few persons have been so fortunate as to have
this opportunity in the case of the golden eagle, although this
grand bird is often to be seen in some forests and has no doubt
increased in numbers in recent years. On the other hand, there are
of course many persons who have seen both the wild peregrine and
the trained gyrfalcon and peregrine strike down their quarry.

The well-known ornithologist and wild-fowler, Mr. W. H. Robinson of
Lancaster, in a letter in the _Field_ of January 28, 1922, after
stating from his own experience that the peregrine can overtake the
golden plover and the curlew with the greatest ease, says:

“To my mind one of the fastest things I have ever witnessed is the
last effort of a peregrine in chase of a wild duck when, fast as is
the accelerated speed of a mallard, it seems almost to be standing
still in the air when the peregrine stoops over it.”

Any one who has seen this, as I am glad to say I have, will
assuredly echo these words.

It is of course pure speculation whether, in the comparatively
short flight of an eagle or falcon stooping in its final downward
rush at its prey, its speed exceeds the maximum speed of the
spine-tailed swift. Those, however, who have seen the last effort
of the eagle or falcon in a flight of that unique kind will never
believe, without scientific demonstration to the contrary, that any
other bird in the British Isles can fly faster.

[Illustration: Donald]

[Illustration: (Antlers)]



Towards the end of a September several years ago I was so fortunate
as to be invited to stalk at Coignafearn, which has always been
famous for the size and weight of its deer. On reaching the lodge
on a Saturday night, I heard that the head stalker had met with an
accident, fortunately not a bad one, but possibly serious enough to
prevent his going out with me on the following Monday. He had been
out in the forest the day before I arrived, and on going up to a
stag to bleed him, the stag had given a sudden unexpected plunge,
which had caused the stalker to inflict on himself a nasty wound in
his right leg with his knife, which was open in his hand; another
instance that no one, not even the oldest and most experienced of
stalkers, can be too careful on these occasions. On Monday morning
he was much better but not fit to go with me. The season was well
advanced, and my host was very anxious to kill the usual number
of stags as soon as possible. It was therefore arranged that I
should act as my own stalker, and take with me a watcher named
Maclennan. I had also two gillies with me and a couple of ponies,
and my host told me that he would be only too glad, if I could
manage it, if I would kill as many stags as could be brought in.
Maclennan had never acted as stalker, but as there is nothing I
like better than to do the stalking myself, I was very pleased
with this arrangement, for Maclennan knew the ground thoroughly,
and I felt sure that his assistance would be invaluable; indeed,
without him I could of course have done practically nothing, as the
ground was strange to me. We were in the forest and spying by 10
A.M., and very soon we saw a good stag with some hinds. The stalk
was unsuccessful, but it was not long before we spied another good
stag, and without much difficulty I managed to get into a good
position within about 150 yards, and shot him through the heart.
He proved to be a good eight-pointer, and weighed 15 stone clean.
Shortly after this we spied a large herd of deer which were very
restless, continually on the move. There were several good stags
in the herd, and these were roaring and fighting and driving the
hinds about. Two of them in particular, which looked like the
heaviest, engaged in a battle which lasted for some time; but
gradually one of them showed signs of being worsted and, watching
his opportunity, suddenly turned tail and bolted. It is rarely
that battles of this kind end fatally--only once have I met an
eye-witness of such an occurrence. The battle was between a switch
and a ten-pointer. The combatants were fighting on the side of a
hill and were very evenly matched. My informant, the stalker at
Attadale, said that after some time the switch, taking advantage
of being on slightly higher ground, charged his adversary and,
getting past his guard, pierced his side with his antlers. The
ten-pointer immediately fell to the ground dead. The stalker ran up
and found that the dead stag had been pierced through the heart by
his conqueror.

The stag with the best horns is generally not the best fighter and
is frequently driven out by a switch-horn or “caberslach,” whose
long skewer-like antlers are the most effective horns for fighting.
The best fighter of all is, however, the hummel--a stag which has
no horns at all, and which is in consequence a very heavy beast.

It is astonishing how a stag will sometimes acknowledge himself
beaten without any fight at all. I remember when stalking at Fealar
that I had been trying without success for nearly two hours to get
a shot at a big black stag which was in pursuit of a large number
of hinds and was constantly on the move, skirmishing with smaller
stags and driving them away. Suddenly we heard the sound of great
roaring and saw coming from the direction of Mar Forest a huge red
stag which evidently had for its objective the hinds who were in
charge of the black stag. The newcomer kept running for a short
distance and then stopped to roar and grunt. We thought that by
running hard we might reach a point near enough to get a shot at
him. We accordingly ran as fast as we could in order to try to cut
him off, but in vain. Before we could get within shot of him he
had passed this point we were making for. As soon as he got within
sixty to seventy yards of the black stag, who was waiting and
every now and then roaring defiantly in answer to his challenge,
the latter seemed suddenly to realize that the contest would be
hopeless and turned tail and bolted ignominiously, being pursued
only for a short distance by his adversary, who then rounded up the
hinds and drove them off.

But to return to my story. We tried to stalk the victorious stag,
which seemed to be the best beast in the herd, but found it
extraordinarily difficult to get within shot of him. There always
seemed to be several hinds in the way, and, as it was now getting
towards two o’clock, we decided to have luncheon, in the hope that
in the meantime the deer would settle down, and that we should then
have a chance at the stag we were after. We did not waste any time
over lunch and very soon again had the deer in view. They were
still on the move and we followed them for some time. The stag
which we were after, which we made out to be a nine-pointer, was
evidently much troubled by two other stags only a little smaller
than himself, and presently, after chasing away first one and
then the other, these three stags were between us and the herd.
Now at last it seemed there was some chance of getting a shot at
the nine-pointer, but before we could get up to him he began again
to chase off the other stags, and then turned, and at a good pace
followed the herd which was moving away from us. The other stags
then also turned and followed in the same direction, though at a
respectful distance from the nine-pointer. Maclennan and I, by
running and crawling quickly, gradually diminished the distance
between ourselves and the deer, and at last, after a quick run
when out of their sight, crawled up a small hill and saw the three
stags, the nine-pointer watching the other two. The nine-pointer
was nearly 200 yards from us when he suddenly stopped and turned,
standing for a moment about three-quarters on. I saw that this was
my only chance, as the stags were just on the brow of the hill,
and in a few moments would almost certainly be out of sight. I
therefore decided to take the chance and fired.

“You have him, sir,” said Maclennan, as the stag, evidently hard
hit, disappeared over the brow of the hill. We made our way as fast
as we could over the hill, but saw no sign of the stag.



The ground was rocky and very broken, and I felt sure that he
could not have gone far, and was lying down hiding himself. We
began to search, when suddenly the stag jumped up from under a
rock about some eighty yards from us, and after running for about
500 yards farther lay down behind a rock, showing only the point
of his horns. I had not shot at him again, as he was end on, and
was evidently in such a condition that he could not go very far.
We followed up, keeping well out of sight, but found it impossible
to get a chance of shooting, so cleverly had he concealed himself.
Whilst hesitating as to what would be the best course to take, the
stag suddenly got up again and bolted, but this time he gave me a
fair chance of a shot, and I killed him before he had gone more
than a few yards. On getting up to him, we found that my first shot
was not sufficiently forward, but was a raking shot through the
body, and the stag could not in any case have gone very far. He was
a good beast with a strong horn, and later turned the scale at 16
stone 9 lb. clean. After gralloching the stag, one of the gillies
went off to signal to the ponyman; and Maclennan, the other gillie,
and I proceeded to work our way back to the lodge, hoping to get
another shot on the way home. We soon spied a good stag with a
number of hinds, and, after a long stalk, I got a good chance of
taking a quick shot at a little over 100 yards and fired. The
stag disappeared. Maclennan thought I had hit him, but I was very
uncertain, and think I must have shot over him. A long and careful
search on the ground, which was very broken, showed nothing. There
was no sign of the stag, nor were there any marks of blood to be
seen, and I felt satisfied that I must have missed him, though
Maclennan and the gillie had thought otherwise.

We again started to work our way back, and had not gone very far
before Maclennan suddenly stopped and brought his glass to bear
on the face of a hill about half a mile away. He then said there
was a stag with a fine wide head lying down, and that we ought to
be able to get close to him without difficulty, as the ground was
very broken. I proceeded to stalk this stag, and got without great
difficulty within about 180 yards of him, when I saw that he was
up and looking very suspicious, and that I should have to take my
shot as soon as I could. We quickly got the rifle out of the cover,
and crawled to another hillock about 100 yards from where the stag
was. Arrived there, I pushed the barrels of my rifle over the top
of the hillock and slowly raised my head. The stag was standing
nearly broadside on, looking straight at me. I fired. There was
a thud as the bullet struck him, and he turned and galloped off,
disappearing round a corner of the hill. I felt confident that
the bullet had gone home; and we found the stag, who had been, as
I thought, shot through the heart, lying dead about sixty yards
from the place where he had been standing when I fired at him. He
was a ten-pointer, and had a fine wide head with a good horn, and
when we got him home we found, curiously enough, that his weight
was exactly the same as that of the first stag that I had shot--15
stone clean.

Leaving the gillie to gralloch the stag, Maclennan and I now
proceeded homewards, keeping a sharp look-out, and presently we saw
a considerable number of stags, which were moving across the valley
from one hill to another. We saw that if they were not disturbed
they would probably cross a little hill not far from us, at a point
from which we could, if we moved quickly, get to within shooting
distance. So, running and walking quickly, we reached a spot about
140 to 150 yards from the point at which we expected the stags to
pass, and arrived just in time. The stags were moving slowly almost
broadside to us in single file, and were passing over a little
knoll, at which point I had a fine chance of a shot.

“Take the second one, sir,” said Maclennan, who had his glass on
them. I was just about to fire when he said: “No, not that one, but
the third; he’s better.” Again I was on the point of shooting when
Maclennan said: “Wait, sir, wait; take the fifth, he’s the best.”
Directly the stag topped the knoll I fired, and he ran a few yards
and fell down. On coming up to him I found it necessary to give
him another bullet through the neck. We found that this stag was
by far the best we had seen that day. He was a royal, in splendid
condition, and weighed 17 stone 6 lb. clean. He had a magnificent
head, with very thick black horns, and long points with white tips.
After gralloching him, and tying a handkerchief to his horns to
scare the eagles and foxes, we made our way back to the lodge. I
had several good days in the forest subsequently, with one or other
of the regular stalkers, but none more enjoyable than this one, in
which, without the assistance of a regular stalker, I had the good
fortune to kill four stags averaging over 16 stone clean, without
heart or liver.

[Illustration: “TAKE THE FIFTH, HE’S THE BEST.”


[Illustration: ON THE TOPS]


                        A STALKER’S PERIL

The accident to the head stalker which I mentioned in the preceding
article shows that stalking, like almost every other sport, has its
dangers, and every one acquainted with the pursuit of deer knows
the necessity of exercising great care in approaching them after
they have been shot.

A serious accident is, however, very rare, but sometimes even the
most experienced stalkers, as in the instance referred to above,
incur risks which they ought not to take.

Far more serious than the accident which I have described was one
which occurred several years ago, recorded by a former neighbour of
mine in the north, the owner of a well-known deer forest. I give
the story in his own words, as well as I can remember. “It was late
one day in the forest of Fannich, where I was stalking as the guest
of one of my relatives who was at that time a tenant of the forest.
After a long and difficult stalk, I had succeeded in getting up to
the stag and shot it. The stalker, Duncan, an excellent man of long
experience, approached the animal to give it the _coup de grâce_,
and, with his open knife in his right hand, seized one of the
stag’s forelegs with his left. Instantly the stag gave a tremendous
plunge and threw Duncan back. The knife went into Duncan’s thigh,
and he bled profusely. Both of us made frantic efforts to stop the
bleeding, but without avail. The gillie, who was behind, came up,
and we did all we could, but having no medical training, or even a
knowledge of first aid, were unable to render useful assistance.
Duncan got weaker and fainter, and was apparently bleeding to
death. He was, however, perfectly cool and collected, said there
was no one to blame but himself, that he was awfully careless,
and ought never to have taken hold of the stag in the way he did.



“He appeared to be rapidly getting weaker, and said quite quietly
that he thought he was dying, and asked me to take some messages
for him to his wife and children, and then seemed to be losing
consciousness. It was getting dusk, and the gillie urged me not to
wait any longer, as I could do no good, and unless I started for
the lodge at once I should not be able to find my way. So with a
heavy heart I said good-bye to poor Duncan and started homewards.
From time to time I turned to look back at the two men, and at
last, when I reached the top of the last hill I had to cross before
losing sight of them, I turned to take one final glance. When I
looked round, however, I was startled to see, close to the place
where Duncan had been lying, the figures of two men walking slowly.
There was no mistake about it--they were Duncan and the gillie. I
ran back again, and found that soon after I left them the bleeding
had stopped quite unaccountably, and Duncan, though still very
weak, had gradually revived and finally insisted on trying to walk.
We persuaded him to rest, and, leaving the gillie beside him, I
went back to the lodge as quickly as I could and sent up a pony.
Duncan got safely home, and when the doctor saw him he said it was
a marvellous escape, for if the knife had gone into Duncan’s thigh
two inches from the spot where it entered, nothing could have saved
his life.”

[Illustration: Nearing the End.]


                    THE LUCK OF SALMON FISHING

I have always sympathised with the author of the lines known as
“The Angler’s Prayer,” lines which are not so well known as they
deserve to be:

                Lord, suffer me to catch a fish--
                  So large that _even I_
                When talking of it afterwards
                  May have no need to lie.

In the spring of 1921 came the tragedy of my life as a fisherman.
I had five days’ fishing in the famous river Wye. The river was
dead low and my chances of success very small, but I kept steadily
at work during the time at my disposal, and on the fourth day had
the good fortune, by means of the attractions of a Mar Lodge (size
4/0), to hook a salmon which was not only the largest salmon I had
ever seen, but also the largest seen in that year on the beat I
was fishing--a most exciting struggle of over an hour terminating
in a wild rush of over 100 yards, the wildest rush I, or the keen
fisherman I had with me, have ever seen, a grand leap high up into
the air of this splendid clean-run fish, and the line came slowly
back, the cast having broken a foot from the end. Elsewhere (pp.
12-22, _supra_) I have told of how this splendid fish, no doubt
exhausted by the struggle, was shortly afterwards killed by a far
greater fisherman than any mere mortal man--an otter. Its estimated
weight, as far as could be judged from its remains, was about 40
lb. The day was Friday, April 1, an appropriate day and date for
such a catastrophe. In the early part of the following year I
received an invitation from the same kindly host to try my luck
again in April on the same river, but on another and more famous
beat. I gratefully accepted the invitation, and set forth in high
hopes and, curiously enough, with a strong sense of expectation, I
might almost say the assurance, of great events.

For several days after my arrival the river was so high that
fishing was hopeless, but on the morning of April 18, though still
high and coloured, it had run down to such an extent as to be in
fair condition.

My host was most kind in wishing to give me every possible chance
of getting a good fish, and had arranged that I should take with
me his butler, C., a first-rate hand at gaffing salmon, who had
been with me in the preceding year when I was so unfortunate, and
was very keen to help me to kill a big fish. My host sent me to
try, first of all, a pool which had a great reputation. This pool
is about a mile long, and has to be fished from a boat, trees and
bushes running throughout its entire length along both sides of
the bank. My host had the fishing on one side of the river only,
and on reaching the head of the pool we found some one fishing
from the other side. After waiting until this rod had fished some
way down the pool, we began operations. I fished the whole morning
with the fly, but with no success, and about half-past one, as
the river was still so high, we decided to try the minnow, a much
more favourite lure than the fly on this particular river in the
spring. At my third cast I got a pull, and was fast in what was
obviously a heavy salmon. I never had a more lively fish to deal
with. It jumped fourteen times clean out of the water, and, making
a constant series of wild rushes, took me at a great pace down the
river. Some ladies of our party arrived at the head of the pool
about half an hour after I had hooked the fish, and inquired of the
fisherman on the other bank whether he had seen anything of me. The
reply was, “I saw him fast in a big fish about half an hour ago
going round the bend of the river on his way to Hereford.” Though
I did not get to Hereford, which was nearly thirty miles distant,
the fish took me about three-quarters of a mile down the river
before I succeeded in killing it, after over an hour’s battle. It
was a beautiful clean-run hen-fish of 21½ lb. By this time it was
nearly three o’clock, and after a hasty luncheon we decided to
fish down the lower part of the pool. On our way we had to pass a
point where C. had seen a fish rising as we came up in the morning.
I fished this place with great care, and about my second cast as
the minnow swung round I got a pull and hooked the fish. I had a
good deal more of my own way with this fish than with the one I
had previously killed, and in about twenty minutes it was in the
boat. It proved to be another clean-run hen-fish, and weighed 18½
lb. The question now was whether we should fish another pool lower
down the river or try the head of the same pool again. I decided in
favour of the latter course, and we accordingly rowed up to the top
of the pool. It was by this time half-past six. My third cast I was
into another fish, which did not show itself for a long time. It
took me down the river like the fish I had hooked in the morning,
but was not nearly so lively in its movements. It kept low down in
the water and adopted boring tactics. After rounding the corner,
as my fellow-angler would have said, bound once more for Hereford,
the fish made a violent rush and plunge, showing itself to be a
very big fish and looking not unlike the fish I had parted company
with a year ago. We continued to go steadily down the river, the
fish making strong rushes, but keeping down and moving about in
a stately, heavy fashion. We gradually reached the spot where we
had gaffed the 21½-pounder in the morning, our movements being
watched by the ladies of our party from the opposite bank. The fish
showed little sign of giving in, and about 8 P.M. the spectators
on the bank, seeing no likelihood of the battle being ended at
present, went home. About ten minutes later the fish began to show
unmistakable signs of exhaustion. After it had turned on its side
two or three times, I managed to bring it near the boat, which C.
had moored near the bank. Just before the fish came within reach
of the gaff it made another short rush, and once more turned on
its side. Again I coaxed the great fish towards the boat. Nearer
and nearer he came, and then in a moment C. had the gaff in him,
and with a mighty effort lifted him into the boat. The fish was a
cock-fish, and weighed 38½ lb. After examining him we came to the
conclusion that he was about the same size as the one I had lost
in the preceding year, but probably longer. He had evidently been
wounded in his side by a seal a fortnight previously, and though
this wound had healed, it must have caused the fish to lose several
pounds’ weight. When hung up beside the other fish of 21½ lb. and
18½ lb. he looked huge, and had the advantage of some inches over
my little grandson, who was nearly five years old. His length
was 50½ inches and girth 24 inches, and had it not been for the
wound inflicted by the seal he would, no doubt, have turned the
scale well over 40 lb. So ended what was for me a day never to be
forgotten. I had six more days’ fishing, and killed five more
fish, two of them with the fly. The other five fish weighed 22½
lb., 17½ lb., 17½ lb., 16½ lb., and 15½ lb. respectively.


From a Photograph by Mrs. NOEL WILLS.]

Strange that I should have had such good luck. Strange, surely,
that though others far more skilful and experienced than I am
should have fished the same beats in that river and fished many
more days than I did in each year, such a great fish should have
come my way in two successive Aprils, on each occasion by far the
largest seen or heard of in the season on the beat in question. An
old friend of mine, who has fished the same river for many years,
and is an angler of great experience and success, told me that he
has never killed any fish in that river or anywhere else larger
than 25 lb. Surely, indeed, I was the spoilt child of the fishing

At the close of this red-letter day two thoughts crossed my
mind--first, whether the fact that so many of my kind friends had
earnestly wished that I might on this occasion kill a fish as large
as the one I had lost a year ago had really been a factor in my
good luck. Who can tell? The other thought which crossed my mind
last year also when the great fish parted company with me was that
every fisherman must surely be “a man that fortune’s buffets and
rewards has ta’en with equal thanks.” Yet, as one of the keenest
fishermen and gillies I have ever known, and who has now gone to
his long home, used to say, “It’s easy talking and no easy doing.”

A few days later my host added still more to my indebtedness to
him by giving one of my daughters, who had never killed a salmon,
though a very successful angler for big trout, the chance of trying
the river.

On her first and second days she drew a blank, but on the third day
killed three fish weighing 20 lb., 19 lb., and 15 lb., all on the
same fly, a silver doctor. Who says there is nothing in luck? The
day I killed my big fish was the third day in the third week of the
third month of the fishing season; he was the third fish killed on
that day, and I hooked him at my third cast. My daughter killed her
three fish on the third day she was fishing. Well might Falstaff
(_Merry Wives of Windsor_, Act V., Sc. 1) say: “This is the third
time--I hope luck lies in odd numbers.” My daughter’s performance
was far more satisfactory in every way than mine, for fishing
with the fly is, of course, incomparably superior to fishing
with the minnow--at least, nearly every angler I have met says
so. I venture to think, however, that my friend, Arthur Chaytor,
K.C., one of the most accomplished and skilful of salmon fishers,
in his delightful book, _Letters to a Salmon-Fisher’s Sons_, is
altogether too severe in his castigation of minnow-fishing. “Avoid
minnow-fishing for salmon,” he says (page 89), “as a canker that
will eat into some of the very best days of your fly-fishing.” But
need it do so? “It is a dangerous thing for you to begin its use.”

Then in a most entertaining passage he describes how “the river
has cleared and has become perfect for the fly. It ought to be a
tip-top day, but you are tempted of the devil to try just for an
hour the phantom minnow ... and then you go on with the minnow all
the day long ... dragging out the fish ... and at the end of the
day feeling that you have been rather a butcher than a fisherman
and that you might almost as well have used a net.” This means, of
course, that success in minnow-fishing is simply a matter of luck,
and does not depend on the fisherman’s skill. In a later passage
he describes in most forcible and amusing language “the relapse
to minnow, when after a good day minnowing you find next morning
that the water is right for the fly and you resolve to make it
a day of fly only. You put on your best fly and you begin, full
of hope. For an hour or two you cover much water without a single
rise, and you begin to doubt whether the fish mean to take at all
to-day. Soon, just to see whether they will move at all, you put up
the spinning-rod just merely to have one try down the pool. A fish
takes the accursed thing and you are lost. Abandoning all sense of
decency, you pursue the horrible craft, and at dusk you stagger
back to the fishing-hut with half a dozen great fish upon your back
and with your conscience hanging about the neck of your heart,
which keeps on protesting in vain that this was really no day for
the fly.”

Even Chaytor, however, admits that “in a cold, wet season, when
the river is in flood for weeks together, with only odd days when
fishing is possible, the minnow can be really and legitimately
useful.” On the other hand, in contrast to the above warnings and
diatribes, Mr. J. Arthur Hutton, who is so well known, particularly
in connection with the Wye, and is, of course, a most experienced
and successful salmon fisher, as well as one of the most learned
in the life-history of the salmon, describes spinning for salmon
as “a form of fishing requiring a very large amount of skill and
experience which may provide one with sport on those many occasions
when the fly is useless ... a fine art which requires much practice
and long experience, far more so than fly-fishing.” “For every good
hand with the spinning-rod,” he says, “you may find twenty who are
excellent fly-fishermen.”

I remember a friend of mine in the north, whose old keeper had been
with the family for many years and known him since his boyhood,
telling me that he knew so well the old man’s contempt for and
abhorrence of minnow-fishing that he did not dare to use the minnow
when the old man was out with him, and never allowed him to know
that he did use it. This old keeper would have applied Chaytor’s
epithets to minnow-fishing on every occasion, but would never have
agreed with him for a moment that even on rare occasions it can be
legitimately used.

Those like the old keeper--and I doubt if in these days there are
many such--might, to use Mr. Hutton’s words, “seriously consider
whether they might not add largely to their sport and also to their
opportunities of fishing by learning to spin for salmon. The river
is not always in fly order; there are many occasions on which the
water is too high or too much coloured for the fly when salmon
might be caught with a minnow or other bait. In the same way, in
deep sluggish pools, when it is almost impossible to work a fly
effectively, a bait properly used may effect wonders.”

What, then, is the conclusion of the whole matter? It is this,
paraphrasing the words of the famous authority on all things
piscatorial, Mr. H. T. Sheringham: “It is certain that good luck is
the most vital part of the equipment of him who would seek to slay
the big (salmon). For some men I admit the usefulness of skill and
pertinacity; for myself I take my stand entirely on luck.”



[Illustration: (The Dying Stag)]


                   A STORMY WEEK IN THE FOREST

Amongst my stalking experiences I shall always remember a week
which I once had early one season in a famous forest on the west
coast, through the kindness of my friend the proprietor, to whom I
have been indebted for many excellent days’ sport. I have had long
experience in stalking, but have never known worse weather than
we had in this particular week. The rifles consisted of my host,
Stuart a fellow-guest, and myself. I was out stalking six days. On
Thursday, our first day, we killed five stags between us. My host
and Stuart each got two, while I got one. So far as my experiences
on that day were concerned, I had no opportunity of a shot until
near the end of the day, when we came upon two stags, one of which
I shot. As it was late in the day and I had only one pony, I did
not shoot at the second stag. The following Friday, Saturday, and
Monday were terrible days of mist and storm. The mist never left
the tops of the mountains all day long, although there was a strong
wind blowing--it appeared to come up from the sea in great banks;
and although we waited on each day for it to clear off, we did so
in vain. On Friday and Saturday I never had a shot.


From a Photograph by the Author.]

On Monday, until late in the day, it looked as though I was to
have the same experience. About four o’clock, however, having been
lying on a ridge overlooking a wide, deep corrie, the mist suddenly
lifted for a very few minutes and we spied some deer moving
downwards on the far side of the corrie, and amongst them what
appeared to be two or three good stags. There were also a number
of hinds rather nearer to us than this lot of deer. We decided
that the only way in which we should be likely to get a shot at
the stags would be to go right round the upper edge of the corrie
and try to get in between the hinds and the other lot of deer
amongst which were the stags. This entailed a most uncomfortable
walk; the wind was so strong that one could hardly stand, it
was quite impossible to keep a cap on one’s head, and it rained
or hailed incessantly. At last we got round, and went down to the
lower ground; we then managed, with a good deal of difficulty, to
crawl safely past the hinds, and found that the other lot of deer
were moving slowly, feeding downwards. After a time the deer lay
down on a small hill in a sheltered place, and we crawled up to the
top of an adjoining hill about 140 yards distant. We there made
out that there was one good stag, an eight-pointer, who was lying
down, and whose horns only could be seen from the place where we
were lying. I got into position to shoot in case the stag should
rise and give me a chance. It was now about half-past five, and we
thought, considering how late it was getting and the conditions
of the weather, that we should not be kept waiting very long. The
stag, however, did not move for about half an hour, when he got up
and turned round, and immediately lay down again. Time went on,
and what with the cold and wet I began to shiver, and felt that I
must do something to alter the condition of things. It was close
on 6.30, and we were five miles from the point where it had been
arranged that Stuart and I were to meet the car, if possible, at
six o’clock, and in any case not later than seven. I told the
stalker that he must get the deer up somehow or other, and that he
had better whistle them up; he strongly advised me not to do this,
but to wait a little longer, as, if we did so, they would probably
bolt and not give me a chance to shoot. I, however, persisted, and
said we could not keep Mr. Stuart waiting any longer; besides, I
was getting colder and colder. I therefore whistled; the deer took
no notice. “A little louder,” said the stalker. I whistled louder.
Two of the smaller stags got up, and then the eight-pointer on the
far side of the hill slowly got up, looking in our direction, and
exposing his body over the edge of the hill, a fair broadside shot,
at about 140 yards. I fired. “Just over his shoulder,” said the
stalker, and the stag still stood, as stags often will do when the
bullet passes over them. I fired again and the stag instantly fell.
“Good shot,” said the stalker. I unloaded the rifle and handed it
to the stalker, who began to put it into its cover, when suddenly
the stag jumped up and galloped off. The bullet had no doubt grazed
the spine, causing temporary unconsciousness. When a stag drops
instantaneously, as this one did, he is often only stunned, and
it is well to be on the alert and get up to him at once, ready if
necessary to shoot again. This was no new experience to either of
us. The old stalker had been over fifty years in the forest and
had seen the same thing happen many a time; nor was it new to me.
We watched the stag as he galloped away apparently none the worse
for his narrow escape, and I certainly felt very foolish. The old
stalker kindly began to make excuses for me. “The line was right,
but you were just a little high,” he said. “Your pozeesyon was not
good. You had been lying long, cold and shivering, in the wet. Yon
cartridges are lighter than yer regular ones, and that is why you
shot over him.” “No, no,” I replied, “I missed because I could not
shoot straight; it is a bad business; anyhow, it is better than
having wounded him badly and then lost him; it is a comfort to
think he is really very little the worse--now we have got to get
back as quickly as ever we can.” And then in the gloom and mist,
running and walking and tumbling, away we went. The last mile was
down a hill path filled with loose stones. At last we reached the
end of the road, and saw the car coming up from a point about a
mile lower down the road where Stuart had arranged to meet us.
“Well,” I said, “I hope at any rate that Mr. Stuart has got a
stag, if not two.” The stalker had been looking carefully at the
road. “No,” he said, “Mr. Stuart has no stag the day.” I said,
“How do you know that?” “Oh,” he said, pointing to the marks on
the road, “his ponies have gone home trotting--look at the marks
of their hoofs--and if Mr. Stuart had got a stag the pony would be
walking.” As soon as the car arrived we found that the stalker was
right, and that Stuart, who had only arrived at our meeting-place
a few minutes before, had got no stag, never having had a shot.
On reaching the lodge about 8.30 P.M. we found that our host had
not yet returned from the river, where he had gone to try to get
a salmon, and it was not until an hour later that he returned.
He too had had bad luck, having hooked a large fish which it was
impossible to follow, and which had taken out in its first rush
at a terrific pace some fifty yards of line, and then, a strain
being put on, broke the casting line, which, it subsequently turned
out, had been used in the spring fishing and had not been properly
tested before being used again. Thus closed the third chapter in a
day which illustrated the truth of the proverb that “misfortunes
never come singly.”

The following day, Tuesday, showed no signs of improvement in
the weather. Thick mist on the tops, steady rain, and a wind, as
usual, in the wrong direction. Stuart was obliged to drive some
miles off to see a friend, but I determined once more to try the
hill. This time I was sent out on the home beat. I started off with
the stalker and an old gillie named Angus, who had had so much
experience that he would have made an admirable stalker, and who is
always very keen. I also had two ponies and a pony boy. The pony
path goes straight up the mountain-side for two and a half miles.
By the time we reached the point where the path stopped we were
close to the edge of the mist, and the outlook seemed hopeless. We
decided to cross over the opposite hill and go down on the other
side, hoping that by that time the mist might have lifted. We left
instructions with the pony boy to wait for two hours, and then if
he heard nothing from us to go back right round to a point on the
other side of the hill and wait there. On our way up the hill I
found some beautiful little bastard pimpernel in flower, not very
common in this part of the country. As we worked our way up the
mountain-side the wind became stronger and the rain heavier. It was
intensely cold, and very difficult to see what was in front of us.
Having arrived at the ridge, nearly 3000 feet up, we tried to spy
the corrie below. What with the tremendous wind and driving rain
this was a matter of the greatest difficulty, and in conditions
of this kind I always think there is a better chance of picking
up deer with first-rate field-glasses than with a telescope. I
managed, with my field-glasses, to discover two stags feeding in
a sheltered part of the opposite side of the corrie, and, after
shifting our position in order to get a better view of them, we
found that there were some hinds feeding below them. We came to the
conclusion that the only chance of obtaining a shot at the stags
was by getting in between them and the hinds. After some trouble
we succeeded in doing this, but old Angus, who knew the corrie
well, said that the wind at this place was very uncertain, and that
it was a question whether the stags would not get our wind. He
had hardly uttered this warning before there was a fatal puff in
the wrong direction, and away went the stags long before we were
near them. We decided to go on and try the next corrie. It is
difficult to imagine a greater contrast than the comparative warmth
and peace which we were now enjoying as compared with the strife of
the elements outside the corrie. The rain, too, had stopped, and I
said to the stalker, “No wonder the deer came here; what a haven of



We now worked our way across the ridge, and then spied the big
corrie below. We discovered two lots of stags. Those in the first
lot were moving on. The others were lying down in a place where
they could be stalked without much difficulty; we therefore crawled
some 400 or 500 yards, and, creeping cautiously up to the top of a
little hill, saw the stags had got up and begun to feed. There was
one quite clean about 90 yards below us, and another also clean
about 130 yards from where we were lying. I fired at the near stag,
who fell dead at once; I then covered the other stag and pulled the
second trigger--result a missfire. I hastily reloaded and fired,
killing the stag. We then went down to the stags which I had shot.
The first was a six-pointer, whose horns and teeth showed him to be
an old warrior. The second, a nine-pointer, was a younger beast,
rather heavier. Both stags were in good condition, and weighed 13
st. 9 lb. and 14 st. 3 lb. clean. After gralloching the stags, we
dragged them down the hill to a point from which we could signal to
the pony boy. The ponies had long been used for carrying stags, and
stood quietly whilst the stags were put on them. We soon reached
the pony path, and after a walk of five miles reached the lodge.

The following day, Wednesday, it rained and blew all day, and the
mists hung low on the mountains, so that it was quite useless to
attempt any stalking.

The next day, Thursday, was the last day of my visit and that of
Stuart. Stuart was particularly anxious to kill one more stag
in the company of the second stalker, because he had killed his
first stag in his company sixteen years ago in this forest, and
had since then killed forty-eight stags in various forests. The
day looked anything but propitious; there was mist and rain, and
the wind was again in the wrong quarter. My host said he would go
fishing up the glen; Stuart was sent to try one of the far beats
in the company of his old friend the second stalker, whilst I was
left to try the home beat again. As we went up the hill the mist
gradually lifted, and we saw two huge golden eagles circling round
and round. We saw no deer up to two o’clock; but whilst taking
lunch we suddenly saw several stags coming round the side of a
distant hill. We hastily finished our lunch and set out on what
proved to be a long and exciting stalk. From time to time we had to
remain lying perfectly flat, not daring to move a muscle. Once we
thought every chance of success was gone, for an old cock-grouse
rose with his “Go-back,” “Go-back,” as we were nearing the rock
from which we hoped to get a shot. The sun, of which we had seen
nothing for so long, kept coming out and going in again. On a
long stalk of this kind it is extraordinary what one sees and how
ineffaceable is the memory of these sights--the eagle circling
over the high tops not far distant; the blue hare leisurely making
off, then stopping, sitting up and looking back; the ptarmigan, so
beautiful in its mottled plumage, running in front of us, stopping
now and again and peering around; the old cock-grouse rising with
his warning described above, which too often brings the stalk to
an untimely end; the many insects, some of them so strange and
weird, that we see as we lie flat gazing into a clump of grass
and moss; the granite boulders sparkling in the sunlight as if
studded with many diamonds--most, if not all, of these things I
saw in this particular stalk. Everything, however, comes to an
end, and so at last I succeeded in getting a shot at the heaviest
of the stags, who was standing on the side of a very rocky and
precipitous hill. He ran a few yards and fell down dead. It was,
indeed, fortunate that he fell where he did, caught between two
rocks, for immediately below these rocks nothing could have stopped
him from rolling down a precipice of several hundred feet, and,
as old Angus said, the venison would not have been worth taking
home and the horns would have been smashed to atoms. The stag, an
old one in good condition, was dragged down to a place where the
pony could come up, and, leaving Angus to find and help the pony
boy, the stalker and I started to work our way homewards across
the hill. We had been moving slowly onwards, spying from time to
time, when we discovered a large number of stags feeding below us.
A circuitous stalk brought us up to them, but in a very awkward
position. It was impossible to get a shot, except by coming up to
a point at the top of the hill below which they were feeding, and
we should then be much too close to them. There was, however, no
choice, and after a cautious crawl we reached a point from which
we could see the horns of stags moving away from us, at a distance
of not more than 30 yards. Crawling as flat as possible to the
top of the little hill, the stalker slowly raised his head, and
as slowly lowered it. He then whispered to me, “There’s a fine
stag there, but he won’t wait long, and you’d better shoot over my
back.” I cautiously raised the rifle over the stalker’s back in
the direction indicated, and, slowly raising my head, saw a fine
stag, with a good head, standing broadside on, about 70 yards away,
looking straight at me. As quickly as possible I covered the stag’s
heart and pulled the trigger; there was the unmistakable thud as
the bullet struck the stag, who instantly turned and disappeared.
“He’ll be all right,” said the stalker; “you don’t often hear a
bullet strike more distinctly than that one did,” and on reaching
the point where the stag had been standing we saw him about 80
yards below, lying dead. He turned out to be a royal, with very
regular points and a good head, although he was going back and had
evidently been better. Like two of the four stags I had previously
shot, he was an ancient warrior. The mist, which had temporarily
lifted, now came down again thicker than ever, and the stalker
said that we should have an awful job to get the stag down, as it
was a heavy one, and the ground was very awkward. We gralloched
the stag, and took out the heart and liver in order to make him as
light as possible, and then set to work to get the stag down. This
was a very heavy job, and I could not help thinking, as I had often
thought before, what an excellent thing it would be if every one
who is going to stalk, whether proprietor, tenant, or guest, were
obliged some time or other to take part in dragging a stag to the
place where he is to be put on the pony, and help in putting him
on the pony. We succeeded at last in getting the stag down, and
the stalker then arranged to wait on the pony path lower down, in
order to meet old Angus and the pony boy, who would be bringing the
first stag I had shot and the ponies. I took my rifle, the luncheon
bag, and the sticks and glasses, and struck across the hill for the
lodge. On my way down I began to speculate as to the age of the two
old stags I had shot that day, and came to the conclusion that they
were probably not less than fourteen or fifteen years old. The old
Gaelic saying, which shows how little was formerly known as to
the age of a stag, came into my mind:

                 Tri aois coin, aois eich;
                 Tri aois eich, aois duine;
                 Tri aois duine, aois feidh;
                 Tri aois feidh, aois firein;
                 Tri aois firein, aois dbaraich,

which may be translated:

                 Thrice dog’s age, age of horse;
                 Thrice horse’s age, age of man;
                 Thrice man’s age, age of deer;
                 Thrice deer’s age, age of eagle;
                 Thrice eagle’s age, age of oak.

It is probably true to say that a stag in its wild state rarely
lives beyond sixteen or seventeen years of age. In those forests
which are on islands, for example Jura, stalkers have unusual
opportunities of observing and learning the history of particular
stags, and I recollect when stalking in North Jura two years ago
discussing this subject with John Mackay, the head stalker. He
told me that he had several times been familiar with a stag all
through its life, and in more than one instance had seen a stag
with a fine head gradually lose its points, until at last it had
only comparatively short upright narrow horns with two, short brow
points, the stag itself losing steadily both in size and weight
and becoming very light in colour.



I reached the lodge about 6.30. The stags weighed very nearly
the same weight--16 st. 2 lb. and 16 st. 5 lb. clean--the royal
being slightly heavier than the other. Our host returned about
eight o’clock, having waited an hour past the time at which he
had arranged to meet Stuart. The car was sent back for Stuart,
who, however, did not reach the lodge until half-past ten, after a
very long and strenuous day. He had, however, secured his fiftieth
stag after a most troublesome stalk. He was not able to get his
shot till past seven o’clock, at which time he was about seven
miles from the lodge. So ended a most delightful week’s sport,
notwithstanding the awful weather which we had had.

[Illustration: (A Salmon Loch)]


                   A SALMON LOCH IN SUTHERLAND

Fishermen’s stories are said to be proverbially untrustworthy, and
the great majority of people--at any rate of those who are not
themselves fishermen--never seem to suppose that in the case of a
fisherman, as in the case of every one else, truth may sometimes be
stranger than fiction.

I have been a fly-fisher since my earliest days, and have had many
good days both with the salmon and the trout, but I have never had
a day full of such surprising contrasts as the day which I had with
a brother of mine many years ago in the early part of September, on
a loch through which flows one of the best of the smaller salmon
rivers in the North of Scotland. Strange as were the events of that
day, I can vouch for the absolute veracity of the following story.

The loch in question is not very large, and is not deep in any
part. It contains a good many trout about three to the pound, and
at certain periods of the year many salmon. We had a long drive
from X., where we were staying, and reached the loch about 10 A.M.
We had with us a gillie, a salmon-fisher of long experience and a
typical Highlander, in height about 6 ft. 3 in., whose name, like
his hair, was Sandy. We had not expected to have any salmon-fishing
while we were at X., but fortunately I happened to have with me my
salmon rod as well as a trout rod, and we arranged on this day that
we would fish with the two rods alternately, and that as soon as
one of us caught a salmon the other would take the salmon rod.

When we arrived at the loch there was a good breeze blowing from
the west, with no sun. We put a medium-sized “Jock Scott” on
the salmon cast, while on the trout cast we put, as a tail fly,
a queer, nondescript fly, which Sandy fancied, and, as a bob
fly, a “March Brown.” These two latter flies were the ordinary
medium-sized loch-trout flies, and we thought it wiser, as we knew
that there were a lot of salmon in the loch, to put only two flies
on the trout cast. My brother began fishing with the salmon rod in
the stern of the boat, while I tried in the bow for trout. I very
soon rose three or four trout, and managed to secure two, but my
brother had no luck with the salmon. We had not been fishing for
more than half an hour when the wind went down and the sun came
out. The surface of the loch became absolutely calm, just like a
sheet of glass, and fishing appeared to be hopeless. The salmon
now began to jump in different parts of the loch, and, although
Sandy said it was perfectly useless, we kept trying to cast over
them. At length, however, we gave it up, and sat waiting for the
breeze. Suddenly a salmon rose about twenty yards from the boat.
I said, “Come on, Sandy, put me over that,” and, taking up the
salmon rod, proceeded to cast over the place where the salmon had
risen. With great difficulty I got the line out, as it was dead
calm. I cast once, twice, and for a third time, and just as I was
getting to the end of my cast on the third attempt, up came the
salmon, rising apparently not with the intention of taking the
fly, but with the intention of drowning it. I struck at him and
hooked him, as we discovered later, by the tail, and a very lively
time he gave me. He played for about twenty-five minutes, during
which time he never showed himself, and we all thought he was much
larger than he turned out to be. He was a nice clean fish about 9¼
lb. By the time we got him in the wind had risen, and we began to
fish again, my brother taking the salmon rod, whilst I fished with
the trout rod from the bow. I had not been fishing for more than a
few minutes before I rose something which did not show itself. I
struck, and exclaimed, “I’ve hooked him!” Away went the line off
my reel for about thirty yards, and at the end of this run the
fish, a salmon which looked considerably larger than the one we had
already caught, jumped right out of the water, high into the air.
Then began the longest and most exciting struggle I have ever had
with any fish. The rod with which I was fishing was a light 11-feet
trout rod; the cast was a medium-sized trout cast, and I had on
my reel about forty to fifty yards of medium-sized trout-line.
There is no doubt that I should have several times lost the fish
had it not been for the extraordinary skill and speed with which
Sandy followed him and managed the boat. Three times nearly all
my line was taken out, and once I had only a few inches left on
my reel. After his first rush the fish plunged deep down, and for
a time adopted boring tactics. I was able to recover most of the
line he had taken out, and then he made another run and a jump,
and for some time after that we followed him over the loch. On two
occasions he made the most determined efforts to get into some
weeds, and it was only by keeping a very severe strain upon him
that I managed to keep clear of them. I never played a fish which
jumped so many times or sulked less. On one occasion, after taking
a large amount of my line, he suddenly turned and headed straight
back again for the boat, and although Sandy did all he could to
keep out of his way, the fish startled us at the end of his mad run
by jumping suddenly clean out of the water within three or four
yards of the boat, and falling with a tremendous splash.

Do what I could I did not seem to have any real effect on the fish,
who seemed to do almost exactly as he liked with me, except on the
two occasions when he tried to get into the weeds, when, expecting
every minute that we might part company, I was determined, whatever
happened, that he should come where I wished him to come.

We saw that the fish had taken the bob fly, and this added to my
apprehensions, as I was afraid, particularly as I knew the loch was
not deep, that the tail fly would catch in something at the bottom
of the loch, and there would then be a catastrophe. Time wore on,
and my back and arms began to ache most prodigiously. Still the
fish seemed as strong as ever. My brother said he must have some
lunch, and whenever Sandy and I got the chance we managed to eat
some sandwiches. I began to wonder how much longer the fly would
hold, and whether this fish would prove to be one more of the many
good fish lost through the fly working out at the end of a long

I could do nothing except hold on for all I was worth, keeping as
tight a line as I could, and, of course, lowering the point of the
rod whenever the fish jumped, as he frequently did. As time went
on, however, the rushes made by the fish were not so long, and he
seemed, at last, to have abandoned his leaping tactics, which had
given me so much anxiety in the earlier stages of the struggle.
The fish was gradually becoming exhausted, and the strain on the
rod and line seemed to be much greater. “He’ll be turning soon,
I’m thinking,” said Sandy. The end, one way or the other, could
surely not be far off now, and we discussed the question whether
or not we should try to land, but, on the whole, we thought we had
better not run the risk of getting into very shallow water. At last
the fish turned on his side, though he quickly righted himself
and made another short run. Sandy had got the boat in about three
feet of water, a few yards from the bank; he handed the oars to my
brother, seized the gaff, and got out of the boat. I slowly reeled
in my line; there was another short rush from the fish, and again
I reeled him up. Nearer and nearer he came to the boat, and again
turned on his side. Suddenly, in less time than it takes to tell,
Sandy had the gaff into him, and was struggling to the shore.
Safely landed, the fish was speedily given his _coup de grâce_.
He was a very red male fish, weighing rather over 10¼ lb., and I
had hooked him in the hard part of his upper jaw, which accounted
partly for the fact that I had so little power over him, and also
for the fact that the hook had kept its hold so well. “Now then,
Sandy,” I said, as I got out my flask, “if any man ever deserved
a drop of good whisky, you do.” “Shlàinte” (Gaelic for “Your good
health”), said Sandy. “It was a grand fight, sir; I’ve never seen
a better.” “How long do you think you were playing him?” said my
brother. “Somewhere about an hour, I should think,” I replied.
“Four hours and six minutes,” he said. “I looked at my watch
when you hooked him, and it was then just a minute or two before
half-past one; and I looked at my watch when Sandy gaffed him--it
was then twenty-five minutes to six. I counted the number of times
the fish jumped, and it was seventeen. I don’t suppose you noticed
it,” he added, “but there was a cart going off with peats, near the
loch, soon after you began to play the fish, and it came back again
not long ago.” We heard afterwards that the men in the cart thought
I was playing another fish when they passed us on their return

The light was going as we pushed the boat out again. I handed the
salmon rod to my brother, and he began to fish from the stern of
the boat, while I fished again from the bow with the trout rod.
Sandy allowed the boat to drift slowly along the edge of some
weeds. I do not think that I had more than three or four casts
when, just as I was nearing the end of my cast, a salmon, which
looked as bright as silver, and about the same size as the one we
had just killed, rose at my tail fly, with a head and tail rise as
if it meant business; and, as it turned to go down, I felt the hook
go home. The fish did not run, but worked about near the surface
of the water, close to the weeds, as if it did not realise that
it was hooked at all. “Back the boat quickly, sir,” said Sandy,
handing the oars to my brother, and seizing the gaff. My brother
took the oars and backed the boat quickly in the direction of the
fish. I reeled up my line; there was a momentary vision of about
three-quarters of Sandy leaning out of the boat, a tremendously
quick lightning-like movement of the gaff, and the salmon, gaffed
with extraordinary skill behind the shoulder, was in the boat.

I do not think that more than four minutes could possibly have
elapsed from the time that I hooked the fish to the time it was
in the boat. It was a beautiful, clean-run female fish, with a
small head, and in perfect condition. It was very lightly hooked,
and if it had run or jumped at all it would almost certainly have
got off. It weighed within a few ounces of the weight of the fish
which had given me such a tremendous battle, and yet, owing to the
extraordinary skill of Sandy with the gaff, and the speed with
which my brother had acted, this fish occupied us only as many
minutes as the other one had hours!

We continued to fish for a short time, but it became dark so
rapidly that very soon we had to stop, and without a further rise
of any kind.

[Illustration: (Deer in the Valley)]



In these days one hears so much of the homing instincts of animals
and birds that the two following authentic instances of deer, whose
habits are not so generally known as those of some other animals,
may be of interest.

Stalkers, and those who know the habits of the red-deer, know well
that a stag when wounded will seek what he knows from experience to
be a haven of safety. Thus, if he has come in the rutting season
from his native forest and is wounded on other ground, he will
assuredly make for the sanctuary in that forest. So, too, if he has
been born and reared in a particular part of the forest and has
come to regard that place as his home, he will struggle to reach it
if wounded. One interesting illustration of this has come within my
own experience, and another was related to me by the stalker who
was with me on the occasion referred to.

I was stalking in a forest upon part of which unusual conditions
prevailed. That part which was nearest to the lodge was enclosed
by a deer fence, but, owing to careful management, and the
introduction from time to time of fresh stock, there are some very
good heads in this part of the forest. I always prefer, however,
when I have the chance, to stalk on the open ground outside the
fence, although it means harder work, as it is the far beat and
part of it is on very high and precipitous ground. It has, however,
this great fascination--that one never knows what sort of stag one
may find there. The forest itself is an exceptionally good one, and
marches with several of the finest forests in the Highlands.



On the day in question I was on the far beat and secured a good
stag after an exciting stalk. After seeing the stag safely put
on the pony in charge of the gillie, the stalker and I set off
towards the farther end of the beat in the hope of getting a second
stag. Not far from the march, on precipitous ground covered with
rough boulders of rock, we spied a good stag with a large number
of hinds. The deer were in an awkward position, and we found that
it was impossible to get nearer to them than about 200 yards. The
day was getting late, therefore this was probably our only chance.
The stag was moving about and might very soon be over the march, so
that there was no time to be lost. Getting quickly into the best
position I could, I fired, and evidently hit the stag very hard.
Directly I fired the deer disappeared as if by magic. The stalker
said he was quite certain the stag could not go far. On reaching
the spot on which the stag had been standing when I fired we found
marks of blood, and had no difficulty in following these for some
50 yards, by which time we were close to the march, and in full
view of a large corrie and other ground, all of which was in the
neighbouring forest. We saw what were evidently some of the hinds
making off across the march, but the stag and the rest of the
hinds were nowhere to be seen. We moved a little farther on where
we could get a view of other ground, when suddenly there was a
tremendous clatter of loose stones, and we saw the stag and some
twenty hinds about 120 yards from us. The deer stopped for a few
seconds, the stag looking straight at us, and then away they went.
We ran quickly to the point where they had disappeared, and saw the
hinds we had last seen with the stag going in the direction which
the other hinds had previously taken, but the stag was not with
them. “He cannot go far,” said the stalker. The ground was very
much broken up by large stones and boulders, and we both thought
that the stag must be lying hidden not far from us. We were quite
certain from the position we were in that we could not have failed
to see him unless he had turned back below the hill and gone into
the forest from which we had come. We noticed the hinds stopping
every now and then and looking back, as they so often do when one
of their number has been wounded and is behind them. By following
the marks of blood on the stones we traced the course the stag had
taken for about 200 yards, but after that we lost the tracks. We
made the most careful search, and the stalker went some distance
into the adjoining forest, but all in vain. The light was beginning
to go, and at last we decided to give up the search, for that day
at any rate. The stalker, who had had his glass on the stag when I
had fired at him, said he was quite sure from what he saw then and
from the way that the stag was bleeding that he had been mortally
wounded and could not live long. I felt very much depressed, for
if there is one thing that distresses me more than another it is
to leave a wounded stag on the ground; and though I thought that
the stalker with his experience was right in thinking that the stag
could not live long, particularly as I knew my rifle and felt sure
that I must have hit the stag somewhere not far from the heart,
the fact remained that one could not be quite sure what had really
happened. This was the last day of the season, and I was leaving
on the following morning. The stalker promised me that he would
search the ground on the following day, and that he would also
tell the stalkers in the neighbouring forest, and that if he heard
anything of the stag he would let me know. “I shall certainly know
the head if it is ever found,” he said, “for when the stag looked
straight at me I could see the space between his forks at the top.
It was a ten-pointer, I think; the points were very regular, but
as far as the head goes it is not much to grieve over, for it was
on the narrow side.” “Still, it is a bad business,” I replied. “If
we only had had a tracker we should certainly have got him without
any trouble.” A really reliable tracker is indeed invaluable on an
occasion of this kind, but it is only in a few forests that dogs
are now used in following wounded stags. The noble deer-hounds
which were the trusty allies of our fathers on the hill have during
the last forty or fifty years been replaced in those forests where
dogs are still used by the golden retriever, or more often by the
collie, the two dogs last mentioned having been found more suitable
for pursuing wounded deer. The deer-hound was so high-couraged that
he would not bay the stag, but would pull him down or be killed by
him. A further objection was that he would hunt by sight rather
than by scent, it not being in his nature to put his nose to the
ground, and it was therefore practically impossible to train him as
a tracker.


From the Picture “After a Hard Day” by PHILIP STRETTON.

By permission of Messrs. Landeker & Brown, Ltd. London, E.C.2,
Publishers of the large engraving.]

I heard no more of the wounded stag until the following season,
when I once more found myself in the same forest. I asked the
stalker whether he had any news of the stag. He said: “That is a
question. The stalkers in the other forest never found any stag,
but a very curious thing has happened. About 20 yards inside the
fence, at the nearest point in that part of the forest which is
fenced in from where you shot the stag, that would be about a
distance of three miles, the skeleton of a stag was found last
April. The head stalker on that part of the forest tells me he
is quite sure it was not a stag that was shot inside the fence.
I have got the head here, and will show it to you.” I examined
it carefully. It was a good regular head of ten points, with
remarkably long forks at the top, and I thought it looked a better
head than that of the stag I had shot, and said so to the stalker.
He replied: “It is the same shape, and I well remember noticing the
space between the forks at the top. Not only that, but in April
when we found him there were no stags on that part of the ground
and had not been for some time; also by the bleached condition of
the horns, I am quite sure he must have died in October or early
in November, and he could not have died a natural death after the
winter was over. And as to his getting through the fence, at that
season of the year stags have a wonderful way of getting through
a fence if they want to do so. If he was mortally wounded after
he got outside he would be sure to go back to the place where he
was born and knew he was safe, and depend upon it he would find
his way back through the fence where he got out. One can never be
sure, but on the whole I think he is the stag you shot. You see
the only way he could have gone that day without our seeing him
was out of sight round that hill in the direction of the fenced-in
part of the forest. I am sure he was mortally wounded, he had seen
us; and after seeing us, being wounded, he would go straight on, as
you know, so long as his strength would carry him and he would go
straight to his old home. They’re wonderful in that way, deer are:
I shall never forget how I was taught that years ago when I was out
with the young chief at X.”

I asked the stalker to tell me the story, which I give in his own
words: “About twelve years ago, when I was a gillie at X, I was
out one day with the chief’s son late on in the season, about the
end of the first week in October. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon
we saw a Royal stag and some hinds above the black shed, between
the lodge and the second stalker’s house, and after a successful
stalk, he fired but wounded the stag, just grazing him in the lower
part of the body. The stag did not give the rifle another chance,
but turned his head fair south, towards the top of the C----. We
watched him crossing the top, then we made for where we saw him
crossing, and we saw him about 300 yards away as he was going down
the opposite side, and he was still going south, then getting out
of view, into a hollow. The stalker did not lose his chance, but
made a sprint to get up to him, which he managed to do, but the
wily fellow was always keeping his back to his enemy, and making
fast for some private corner, where he hoped he would be safe.
The trigger was not pulled for him. Being in plain ground there,
and the Royal stag fast on the move, we could do nothing but wait
and watch where he would cross the next ridge, which was fully a
mile away. Once the stalker saw him cross, we made at once for
the spot he went out of our view, getting there as soon as our
legs could carry us, and after spying that part of the ground very
carefully, we failed to pick him up. That was in the centre of
the Glashan, a piece of ground about 1½ miles square, very level,
with shallow peat bags, and guarded on three sides with slightly
rising ridges. The distance between where the stag was wounded and
where we lost him was about seven miles. By this time the light
was failing, so we had to make tracks for home. One evening, a few
days later, when it was beginning to get dark, the head stalker was
out about the larder, and noticing a stag with some hinds above
the lodge, and putting his glass on him, at once knew the stag he
had the run after a few days before. I was just after getting home
from the hill, and he ordered me to go and shoot him. The rifle I
never fired before, and the sight although marked for 100 yards
I afterwards found to be a 70 yards sight. I got to about 100
yards from the stag, but having the evening light, and being among
juniper bushes, I had to shoot off my hand, and missed him. There
was no other chance that evening, as the light was getting bad. Two
or three days after, about 10 o’clock in the morning, I was going
along to the E---- Bothy, about a mile from the lodge, when I saw
about twenty hinds and a stag amongst them, and after putting the
glass on him, I knew it was the same stag. I at once went back to
tell the head stalker, but finding him not at home, I took the
rifle. I got to about 120 yards of the stag, but shooting too low,
I grazed his foreleg below the heart; he did not give me another
chance then, but left the hinds and turned to the south across the
top. When I got to the top I noticed him about half a mile from me;
keeping him in view he went for about two miles south, then turning
south-west I kept him in view for three miles, then lost sight of
him, but I could understand by the movements of some hinds the line
he was taking. I made for the place where I lost sight of him, but
having got there I could see nothing. I followed up the burn that
rises at Cairn-an-S----, and after getting half-way up the burn, I
came out to the open to spy. I was spying for some time, and was
putting my glass in its case when I noticed a black object about
half a mile away, about the size of a blackcock. I used my glass,
and who was this but the Royal lying in the centre of the Glashan,
on quite level ground. He was lying down licking the scratch where
I wounded him earlier in the day. With great difficulty and after
a long crawl I got to about 70 yards of him, and shot him through
the neck. That was a lucky range, as the rifle was sighted for
70 yards. I was in an awful mess through crawling in burns and
gutters after him, but I was very keen on getting him, and as an
old chap once said to me, ‘When you have a difficult thing to do
you must not be minding your clothes.’ Well, I was pleased I got
him as I was sure he could not live very long. I considered what
to do; my first idea was to put him in some safe place, and come
for him next day, so I took him to a burnside into a hollow and hid
him, but before doing so I put a small chack with my knife above
his brow antler, to know him if ever I saw him again, as I did not
know who might be looking at me. I was in doubt whether I would
take his head off or leave it there all night. I at once changed
my mind, as it was so good a head I did not like leaving him out
there all night. I cut his head off, giving him a long neck for
being stuffed. That finished, I shouldered the Royal head, took him
back five miles to the E---- Bothy, left him there that night, and
took it two miles further to the lodge the next day, and to-day it
hangs in the chief’s mansion. The young chief was very glad to get
it. The head was a very good Royal, thick horns, points equal and
well-shaped. The distance between the place where I shot him
through the neck and the place we lost him the day the young chief
wounded him is hardly half a mile apart. That day the stag was
first wounded, he went whatever a distance of six or seven miles
to that quiet spot in the centre of the Glashan. The day I shot
him through the neck I followed him for about eight miles from the
place where I grazed his foreleg below the heart. He never saw me,
he never stopped, always making for that private spot, the place
in the centre of the Glashan. So this stag went two times to that
same place, as he hoped he would be safe there, and possibly that
stag might have been lying in the same bed both nights.” This shows
the distance a stag will go for safety, and that he goes back to
his old home, the spot where he thinks he is safe. And so I believe
that my friend the stalker must have been right in thinking that
the stag he had found in April was the stag I had shot in the early
days of the preceding October.

[Illustration: “I WAS SPYING FOR SOME TIME.”

From a Photograph by the Author.]

[Illustration: (The High Hills)]



As is well known, the eagle lives largely on carrion such as
dead deer and carcases of sheep, differing in this respect from
the peregrine falcon, which lives exclusively on what it kills.
Generally speaking, the eagle secures its prey by pouncing on it
on the ground and carrying it away in its talons. He swoops down
at a great pace in a slanting direction, and in this way not only
captures hares and rabbits, but also grouse and ptarmigan on the
ground and young ducks on the loch. It is very interesting to
watch the great bird searching slowly along the side of a hill,
about 50, 100, or 150 yards above the ground; then he suddenly
pounces, and in a moment is up again and away with his prey in
his talons. So regularly does the eagle adopt this method of
capturing his prey on the ground, that I have met stalkers who
have told me that they do not believe that an eagle can overtake
any swift-winged bird such as grouse or black game. This is
certainly wrong, for the eagle does sometimes, though comparatively
rarely, adopt the other method of securing his prey--the method
which I have already described (see p. 64, _supra_)--that of
pursuing and catching his prey in the air, and in this way without
doubt captures blackcock, grouse, and ptarmigan. I have already
stated (see pp. 57-70, _supra_) that in my opinion the eagle in
his downward flight is faster than the peregrine. Even in his
horizontal flight, once he gets going he can fly very fast if he
chooses, but of course is not nearly so agile and cannot turn and
twist with the rapidity of the peregrine, and the result is that
when he overtakes his quarry he frequently misses him.

Nearly a hundred years ago one of the most acute observers amongst
ornithologists wrote as follows: “In another part of the Western
Highlands of Scotland we had an opportunity of witnessing the
powers of flight of this bird in pursuit of its quarry. An old
blackcock was sprung and was instantly pursued by the eagle (who
must have been on a neighbouring rock unperceived) across the glen,
the breadth of which was at least 2 miles.

“The eagle made several unsuccessful pounces, but as there was no
cover and the bird large, it probably fell a victim in the end.”[28]

Lastly, as I have already said in the pages just mentioned where I
have fully discussed the matter, the eagle on rare occasions swoops
down at a terrific pace on his prey in the air, striking it to
the ground but not clutching it or, to use the falconer’s phrase,
binding on it.

The eagle has a great partiality for hares, cats, young fox cubs,
and young lambs. I remember James Macintosh, head stalker at Loch
Rosque, telling me that on two occasions whilst waiting at a fox
den he had shot an eagle. He added that, whilst the old foxes
are away, the cubs, when they get hungry, sometimes make such
a noise that they can be heard at a considerable distance, and
that he believed this attracts the eagles, particularly if their
eyrie in which they are rearing their young happens to be in the
vicinity. He went on to say that he thought this accounted for his
sometimes finding fox dens containing only one or two cubs instead
of the usual number of three to seven. There is no doubt that
eagles sometimes attack deer calves, fixing their talons in their
victim’s neck or back and striking the calf with their wings. They
frequently hunt in pairs, and have been seen to drive the calf over
a precipice.

On rare occasions eagles have been known to attack a full-grown
stag. In certain parts of the Highlands they have lately increased
in numbers, and perhaps as a consequence, their ordinary food not
being so plentiful, have become bolder.

Only last year I was stalking in a forest where a few days earlier
a stalker had witnessed a most unusual incident. The following is
his account of what he saw:

“A gentleman and I were out stalking on the 25th of September, and
while the gentleman was having lunch, I went off about 200 yards to
have a spy. I got a stag lying at the foot of a rock. While I had
the glass on him, an eagle suddenly swooped down and attacked him.
The stag went headlong into a bog, but managed to get up. I then
ran back for the gentleman thinking we would have a shot, but by
the time we got back the stag and eagle were over the sky-line and
the eagle still following while going over the sky-line, but after
that we don’t know what happened, as both eagle and stag went out
of sight.”

Donald Matheson, who has had a lifelong experience in the forest
and has only recently retired after having been for many years
stalker at Glen Shieldaig to Mr. C. J. Murray of Loch Carron, told
me that on one occasion, but on one occasion only, he saw an eagle
attack an adult stag.

“It would be, as far as I remember,” he said, “between the 6th and
10th of October in the year 1888 when I was spying one morning
at the forest stables. I picked up a stag on the top of Glen
Shieldaig, quietly feeding on the Glaschnoc side, and while having
my glass still on the stag an eagle swooped down on his head. The
stag fell on his hind-quarters, but was soon on his feet again and
ran for his life while the eagle was fixed on him. The stag made
for a thick clump of birch-trees, and immediately the stag got
under cover the eagle could not keep its hold, owing to the thick
branches of the trees, and left the stag. The eagle kept hovering
for some time above the wood where the stag was concealed, but at
last flew away.”

Whilst stalking in the neighbouring forest of Applecross two years
ago, Colonel the Hon. Claude Willoughby had a most interesting
experience, a description of which he has kindly given me
permission to reproduce here:

“On 30th September, 1921,” he writes, “I was stalking with Alick
Mackenzie on Applecross. We had come through Corrie Chaorachan into
Corrie Na Na and spied a stag with hinds on the west face above the
loch. The wind was west, and after a difficult and exceedingly good
stalk across the Corrie and above these deer, avoiding hinds, also
another stag with hinds, we arrived at a point within 150 yards
of the stag we were after and found him lying down. Owing to the
light and the distance, I determined to wait for him to rise before
shooting. After waiting half an hour, hinds which we had seen
beyond the place where he was lying came galloping past him. He
rose and I shot him; he fell dead. We at once saw that the reason
of these hinds galloping was that an eagle was after a calf which
had separated from the herd. We saw the eagle land on the calf’s
back twice, but the calf escaped.

“The eagle then attacked a hind in the herd. A kestrel hawk now
joined in, and mobbed the eagle. This attack lasted only a short
time. The eagle then circled round my dead stag, the kestrel soon
after disappearing. The eagle settled on a rock about five yards
from the dead stag, and remained there until we showed ourselves.
All this took place within 200 yards of us.

“On the Tuesday following Lord Derwent was also stalking on
Applecross, near Corrie Attadale. He and the head stalker Finlayson
saw an eagle attack a calf, which it knocked down twice, but the
calf escaped.”



There has been much difference of opinion, and from time to time
considerable controversy as to how the peregrine kills its prey.
Some stalkers and ornithologists believe that it is done with the
edge of the wing, a smaller number with the beak, whilst others
think it is done with the talons. The last-mentioned view is that
which is, I believe, universally held by falconers, who after
all have many more opportunities of seeing how it is done than any
other class of men. I have frequently discussed this question with
naturalists and stalkers, keepers and others interested in this
subject, and have listened to all they could tell me. I have also
had the great advantage of hearing at first hand from falconers
of experience their views and their reasons for them. Further, I
have myself been so fortunate as to see the wild peregrine pursue
and stoop at its quarry. I have seen it strike and kill it and
on occasion miss it. In addition to this, I have read everything
I could find on this subject, both in the older and more modern
books of authority. I am satisfied myself that the view held by the
falconers is the true one, and I cannot state their conclusions
better than, or indeed so well as, by quoting from three letters
that I have received. The writers of these three letters have
kindly given me permission to quote their Views.

Major C. E. Radclyffe, who has had almost unrivalled experience as
a falconer, writes as follows:

“All forms of falcons and short-winged hawks, such as sparrow-hawks
and goshawks, always strike their quarry with _their feet_, and
never with anything else. The killers are those which ‘bind to’
their quarry in the air, that is, pick up a bird in their feet,
and never let go of it until they come to the ground. A really
experienced old trained falcon does this nine times out of ten.

“Sometimes, however, when stooping from a great height, the impetus
of the falcon is so terrific that she seems to know if she ‘binds
to’ her quarry, the impact will be so great as nearly to tear her
legs from her body. Thus, when stooping at a heavy bird like a
grouse, or a pheasant, at great speed, the falcon slightly throws
upwards on her impact with the quarry, and delivers a raking blow
with her single long back talon. By this means (her back talon
being sharp as a razor) I have seen a grouse ripped open from its
tail to its neck. I have seen its wing broken and I have seen its
head cut off.

       *       *       *       *       *

“All falcons are very careful not to risk touching anything with
their wings, hence a falcon will never really stoop at a bird
on the ground with an idea of catching it, but they will keep
stooping just over a bird they can see on the ground in the hope
of flushing it, and then they will catch it in a minute.

“I have seen falcons and hawks break their wings by striking the
smallest twig on the branch of a tree when misjudging a stoop at a

“Therefore, you can imagine how easily a hawk would smash its wing
if it attempted this, to hit a heavy bird like a grouse or pheasant
going at terrific speed.

       *       *       *       *       *

“If you threw a lawn-tennis ball against a falcon’s wing coming
at you at the rate of over a hundred miles per hour, and hit its
wing-bone, that hawk would never fly again.

“I have many times in my life, when casting lightly with a very
small trout rod, just touched the wing of a swift or swallow with
the tip of the rod. I never broke a rod thus, but nearly always
broke the bird’s wing. I think, when you come to consider these
things, you will see that a hawk dare not strike the smallest bird
with its wing.

“It uses its beak only to finish off a bird on the ground, and this
she does by breaking the bird’s neck with its beak.

“I have lived amongst wild and trained hawks all my life, and I
can assure you the above facts are true.”

The reference in the above letter to the peregrine killing a
grouse by striking it with its talon reminds me of the following
interesting note in _Birds of Great Britain_ (5 volumes), published
by the author, John Gould, F.R.S., in 1873.

“Evidence forwarded to Mr. James Burdett, keeper to the Earl of
Craven.... On dissecting a coot I saw taken and dropped by a
peregrine falcon, I found the neck dislocated at the third joint
from the head and an appearance as if the sharp point of the hind
claw had penetrated the brain at the occiput.”

Captain C. F. A. Portal, D.S.O., writes as follows:

“I have seen many dozens of game-birds struck down by trained
peregrines within 50 yards of me, and I can definitely state
that the hawk _invariably_ aims a blow _with the talons_ at his

“So true is a peregrine’s aim that he generally gets home with
both his _hind_ talons somewhere near the middle of the quarry’s
back, but often he hits a wing and breaks it, and occasionally he
breaks the neck in the same way. I have examined hundreds of birds
(partridges) killed by hawks, and I have always found the mark
of two hind talons or one of them. The decapitation is generally
performed within a few seconds of the hawk’s alighting on the dazed
or crippled victim. It is performed by one powerful wrench of the
beak. No peregrine will eat or even pluck a living bird.... In my
experience it is a rare thing for a peregrine to strike a bird dead
in the air. It does occasionally happen that the blow falls on the
head or neck, but what generally happens is that the bird is thrown
violently to the ground with a wing broken or the back dislocated.
The concussion with the ground dazes it, and the hawk quickly drops
down upon it and kills it with its beak.

“The merlin often kills comparatively large birds (_e.g._ the
thrush, fieldfare, golden plover, etc.) by strangling them, as its
beak is not strong enough to break their necks. It kills larks,
etc., in the same way as the peregrine kills his quarry, that is,
by sudden dislocation of the neck.

“The sparrow-hawk kills its prey by gripping it with its feet and
driving the claws into its body; this is a slow death sometimes,
and the sparrow-hawk has none of the true falcon’s scruples about
plucking (and even, I fear, beginning to devour) a living bird.

“I do not like the sparrow-hawk for this reason, though, of course,
the falconer can generally prevent cruelty by killing the quarry

Captain G. S. Blaine, another falconer of great experience, also
has no doubt on the matter. In a letter to me on this question he

“A peregrine strikes with its talons only. Of this I am certain,
having seen the blow given to countless quarries at close quarters.
How the other idea (that of striking with the wing) could
possibly have originated I do not know. It is quite obviously
impracticable.... If a peregrine administered the terrific blow
which she delivers when striking a quarry with her wing, breast, or
beak, she would be knocked out at once, and permanently injured. A
peregrine can easily, after recovering from her stoop, turn over
again and catch the quarry in the air. I have seen this often
done, when the bird had been struck high up in the air. If near
the ground, it would fall before the hawk could get hold of it.
Many also often catch and hold a quarry without knocking it down.
This is the way most successful game hawks catch grouse or
partridges. When struck, the blow is delivered on any part of the
body--it may be the head and it may be the back or the wing which
may be broken.”

[Illustration: DEATH OF THE MALLARD.


Reproduced by kind permission of Messrs. Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh,
from _Game-Birds and Wild Fowl_, by A. E. Knox.]

In _Reminiscences of a Falconer_ (John Nimmo, London, 1901) Major
C. H. Fisher writes:

“The blow is given by the falcon’s strong and sharp hind talon of
each foot--usually sharp as a needle and driven at great speed by
a bird weighing over 2 lb.”

As illustrating the falcon’s stoop Major Fisher describes how he
saw a wild falcon strike a greyhen twice. He says (p. 97):

“As illustrating the force of a falcon’s stoop, I may mention an
incident which occurred to me on the banks of the river Orrin when
fishing. From some bracken I put up three greyhens. Down came
a wild falcon from the sky at the middle bird. I saw and heard
the blow. The greyhen staggered on, leaving the usual tribute of
feathers behind her. Up rose the falcon in the grand and stately
style so few trained hawks can ever adopt or regain (so much do
they lose by captivity); over and down she came, and down fell the
quarry, as dead as though shot by a bullet.... Down too went my
long rod and off went I.... On this occasion I took possession
... of the wild hawk’s prey. On examining the effect of her two
blows, I found that three ribs on one side were clean cut through
and separated from the backbone as by a chop with a heavy knife and
strong hand, and one talon had entered and split the base of the
skull, from which the brains were protruding.”

One of the foremost advocates of the contention that the fatal blow
is inflicted by a stroke of the wing is Mr. Tom Speedy, who deals
with this subject in his _Natural History of Sport in Scotland with
Rod and Gun_ (pp. 102, 103). He bases his argument first on the
supposition that when the fatal blow is struck on the back of the
quarry, the skin is only bruised and not torn. He writes:

“A keeper friend of mine near Kingussie witnessed a grouse struck
down by a peregrine, and as there was not a mark on it he sent it
to me. Carefully plucking it, I noted that with the exception of a
bruise along the spine there was no other mark on it; yet the blow
had been sufficient to cause instant death. This comports with my
own observations, and it is difficult to understand how this blow
could be struck by these terrible talons without the skin being
torn. As the heads of grouse are frequently cut off when struck by
a peregrine, it is the opinion of foresters who have watched them
with their glasses that it is done by the wing. Falconers deny
this and maintain that it is done by the hind talon. How, then, it
may be asked, can this be done when there is not a scratch on the
victim, but only a bruise indicating where the blow was struck?”

The answer to this argument is that there is absolutely reliable
evidence to the contrary--in other words, that sometimes the skin
is torn.

Major Radclyffe in his letter referred to above writes: “I have
seen a grouse ripped open from its tail to its neck.”

Captain Portal says: “I have examined hundreds of game-birds killed
by hawks, and have always found the marks of the two hind talons or
one of them.”

Sometimes, no doubt, as in the instance referred to by Mr. Speedy,
there is a bruise along the spine and the skin is not torn, but
this is no doubt to be explained, as is pointed out by a writer
cited below, by the way in which a falcon shuts its feet when
stooping, the hind talon on each foot closing over the fore
talons, thus forming a kind of keel--and the bone on the back of
the grouse is strong enough to prevent more than a severe bruise.

Mr. Speedy continues:

“It is argued that it is impossible the bird could be killed
by a blow from a hawk’s wing, as the wing would certainly be
injured. I have seen a retriever stunned by a blow from the wing
of a swan, and but for my being in close proximity in a boat it
would certainly have been drowned. Those who have put their hand
into the nest of a wood-pigeon are familiar with the blow even a
half-fledged bird can give with its wing. I have been struck with
the fight a wounded wild goose can put up, and the blows it can
inflict on a retriever with its powerful wings.”

But, with all respect, surely the blow of a large powerful bird
like a swan or a goose delivered in this way is a very different
thing to the blow which is delivered by a peregrine when stooping
at its quarry at the terrific speed with which it then flies, and,
in my opinion, the view taken by experienced falconers, such as
those quoted above, that the wing would most certainly be broken or
badly injured, is the correct one.

Finally, Mr. Speedy says:

“When a falcon strikes a bird in the air there is a loud ‘clap’
which I have heard several hundred yards away. This would not be
the case if struck by the talons.”

I venture to think, however, that the argument based on the sound
caused by the impact carries Mr. Speedy’s contention no further.
Would not this loud “clap” naturally be expected if the peregrine
struck its quarry in the manner described?

In conclusion, then, what is the correct view of the matter? In the
words of a recent writer:[29] “The truth ... seems to be that the
falcon shuts its feet when stooping, the hind talon on each foot
closing over the fore talons, thus forming a kind of keel. When
the falcon strikes a grouse, the latter may be partially or wholly
decapitated, or it may be severely bruised on the back. The neck
of a grouse is soft, and the ‘keel’ of a peregrine’s hind talon
is sufficiently sharp to cut it, whereas on the back of a grouse
the bone is strong enough to prevent more than a severe bruise.
The shock of impact must, however, be tremendous, for a bird so
struck hurtles to the ground at once. When the peregrine strikes,
one hears a loud ‘clap’ audible at a considerable distance, and it
is this noise that has given rise to the theory that the falcon
strikes with its wing. If the peregrine used the latter, however,
in all probability the wing would be seriously damaged or broken,
because the pace at which a falcon stoops must be seen to be

There is another interesting fact in regard to this fine bird which
is not generally known. There seems little doubt that he deserves
the description which has more than once been applied to him--that
of a wanton murderer. Thus Charles St. John in his classic work,
_Wild Sports and Natural History of the Highlands_, says (chap.
x.): “The peregrine seems often to strike down birds for his
amusement, and I have seen one knock down and kill two rooks, who
were unlucky enough to cross his flight, without taking the trouble
to look at them after they fell.”

[Illustration: (Rage)]



It must often have occurred to every one who has had experience in
stalking what a very different sport stalking would be if stags
realised their power and had no fear of man. It is, of course, well
known to every one who is interested in the habits of deer that
a tame stag in the rutting season is one of the most dangerous
animals, and some years ago a tragedy occurred in Ross-shire, when
a stalker was attacked and killed by a stag which he had himself
brought down from the forest as a calf and which knew him well. I
have often asked experienced stalkers whether they have ever known
an unwounded stag attack a man, but with one exception I have never
heard of any such case.

The one instance to the contrary is that given by Mr. Frank Wallace
in his delightful book, _Stalks Abroad_. In describing his stalking
in New Zealand, Mr. Wallace gives what he describes as the only
really well-authenticated instance which he can vouch for of a wild
stag attacking a man, and adds that most likely the darkness and
time of year had something to do with the stag’s boldness. He thus
describes the incident: “It was dark by the time B. and his guide
reached the river-bed, which at the point they struck it is very
wide. They had scrambled along over the boulders and rocks with
which their course was strewn for some distance, when they saw a
dark object lying on the stones in front of them. This presently
resolved itself into a sleeping stag, who, hearing them approach,
jumped up and disappeared. They had not seen the last of him,
however, for a little later they encountered him again, apparently
very annoyed at having been aroused from his beauty sleep and
determined to wreak vengeance on some one. Seeing them, he seemed
to think they would be suitable objects on which to make a start,
and advanced with lowered head. B. threw a stone and hit it in the
flank; but this had no effect, and the animal advanced a few paces
nearer and stood swaying its head from side to side a few inches
off the ground. As some one had to go and the stag seemed disposed
to give no quarter, B. fired a shot, but without effect. The stag
still advanced, until a second shot took him in the chest and
finished him off. I saw him the next day where he had fallen. He
had a small head of six points, and was obviously a young beast.”

There are no doubt rare instances of a wounded stag attempting
to attack a man.[30] I myself have never known such an instance,
and, although I have often asked old stalkers whether they have
ever known of anything of the kind, I have only once met with
any one who has had such a personal experience. The head stalker
of a well-known forest recently told me that on two occasions
he had known of wounded stags attacking a man. The story of his
experiences interested me so much that I asked him to write it down
in his own words. This he did, and the account he sent me was as

“I enclose here a long detail about the only time I happened to see
wounded stags attacking. You will find it a long story, but it so
impressed itself on my mind I could not help giving the movements
of each day in full. Twice in my experience of twenty-four years
I have seen a wounded stag attacking a man. The first happened on
September 25, 1902, when I was stalking with Mr. A. In our start
in the morning to the first spying place we usually on the way
moved some hinds, but did not trouble about this, as seldom stags
were seen so low down till October and stormy weather came. But
this morning, when near the spying place, what was my surprise to
see to our right lying on a flat, mossy bank a fine big stag with
ten points. He did not see us, and we were preparing to stalk him
when some of the hinds we moved passed a little beyond and carried
him away, so we sat down and kept our glasses on them for a long
distance till they settled and began to feed, but the stag kept
on walking slowly and climbing till he went out of sight over
the ridge beyond. We had to make a long detour to get past the
hinds, and when we got to the top and spied we found our stag
some two miles away lying with a few small stags close to the
march in a position fairly easy to stalk if he waited for about
half an hour. We at once dipped down into the corrie at his right
and moved along till opposite him. We then climbed till within 80
yards; he was still lying, so Mr. A. came to the conclusion to
take him before getting up in case he would lose him on the march.
Mr. A. fired, and hit high near the spine. The stag got up, but
fell without making a step. I ran up to bleed him, and, crossing
below, I noticed his head up again, and hurried up, when he made
a straight bolt at me. With a quick jump to one side, I got clear
of his head by a few inches. He toppled down the face and fell in
a hollow. I think it was then he broke his back, as he could only
raise his forepart. I called on Mr. A. to come up and finish him,
as he was a dangerous beast. When he came in sight to one side and
raised the rifle the stag half turned towards him and gave a loud,
defiant roar, which was cut short by a bullet through the neck.
He weighed 18 st. 2 lb.; the head had a wide span and long, but
the horn was rather thin and smooth, which showed he was past his
prime. Whether he roared because he could not manage to get at the
man or with fright when he saw the rifle it is hard to guess, but
I remember thinking how like his roar was to the roar of two stags
at each other on opposite sides of a corrie.

“The second time was in 1907, about October 1st. This season we
got some heavy stags on my beat. The heaviest was 20 st. 5 lb.,
and Mr. B., with whom I was then stalking, was keen to make a
record average weight. One day we were spying near the far end of
the beat, and saw a stag travelling on to our ground. At first we
could not make out what he was, until he joined a bunch of hinds
and showed us his broadside, when at once we saw he was a fine
big beast, and, although neither of us said so, I believe we both
thought at the time it was bigger than our 20-stoner. The day was
getting late, and it was hard to stalk him where he was, and so
near the march, if a failure, so we left him in peace, hoping for
favourable wind and weather next day. Next morning we were early on
the move and over the tops at best pace till we came to the spying
point. We saw the same stag and hinds on the same face, but lower
down, and, if anything, harder to get at. We went round the top of
the corrie to get straight above them. The place was a green steep
face without a particle of cover, but fine and smooth to slide down
at a steady, flat crawl. When within 300 yards I raised my head up
to spy out the best way. What did I see right in our path and under
a small bank, and not over five yards away, but a small knobber!
To pass to either side without him seeing us was impossible. I
turned to Mr. B. and asked him what he proposed we should do, but
got no answer, and I then said I would pitch a small stone to make
him move somewhere. I saw Mr. B. nodded assent. Then, after having
a look to study the little stag’s position, I lowered down and
pitched a stone on a guess, when I heard a sharp click like as if I
hit him on the horn. He got sharply up and ran down at a terrific
pace towards the near hinds, and they ran for a short distance
down, when they suddenly all stopped and began to look sharply up
towards us. I may admit I got palpitation, and from what I heard at
my back I was getting no praise for my aim. Then we noticed the big
stag, which was lying below and on the far side, rise, and, giving
a loud roar, he made straight for the knobber, and drove him out
and up towards us. But the little fellow got round him, and ran
again into the hinds with the big stag in hot pursuit. The big stag
drove him down and across the river, which was the march. He stood
on the bank and gave a parting grunt, and then began to drive his
hinds up towards us. We at once began to crawl slowly down so as to
get the cover of a small hump that was between us, which we managed
to do in good time and get the rifle ready, for shortly we saw the
first of the hinds appearing about fifteen yards to our left. They
at once noticed us, but as we were then turned into two stones they
only shied off a little and moved slowly uphill, except one, which
began to circle round to get into our wind. I kept my eye on her to
see when she would give the alarm, when we were to move over the
hump and chance the stag being within shot. But before anything
happened I felt a touch from Mr. B., and, looking round, saw the
top of the big stag’s horns appearing quite close. When he noticed
us he stood with a ferocious look towards us. Mr. B. quickly took
aim and fired. I saw the blood gushing from the stag’s throat, low,
and near his foreleg. He staggered and fell. Mr. B. getting up
suddenly threw his rifle down and ran over to bleed him. I went to
pick up the rifle, and then, turning to have a look at our trophy,
lo! there was the stag up and Mr. B. holding on firmly to both
horns, his arms well out and rigged and kept well back close to his
shoulders, the stag giving nasty digs and always trying to get into
him. I saw at once that things were not looking well, so I loaded
the rifle so as to disable the stag by shooting him through the
haunches. When I stepped near for fear of accident they began of a
sudden a merry go round and round, so fast that I dare not shoot.
They went round and round six or seven times. I saw something would
have to be done quickly, so, putting the rifle away, I stepped
close and plunged in on the opposite side, taking hold of his
horns, so with the weight of 30 st. between us we pulled the noble
brute down, when Mr. B. managed to put the knife into his throat.

“Now this stag was losing a lot of blood all the time, and must
have been losing his strength, which I consider saved us, and in my
opinion the stag was keener to get into the man than to get away,
for I noticed he always circled towards him. Mr. B., as a rule,
always bled his own stags, and this time, after taking hold of the
horn to bleed him, the stag got up suddenly, and Mr. B. stuck to
him, and then Mr. B. found he could not safely let him go, as he
saw at once the stag would turn on him if he got the least chance.
He said to me after it was all over, ‘That was a very near thing,’
and so it certainly was.”

My friend Vincent Balfour-Browne has reminded me that the latter
instance of a wounded stag attacking a man is similar in some
respects to Charles St. John’s thrilling story of the Muckle
Hart of Ben More in his _Wild Sports and Natural History of the
Highlands_, in which case, to use Balfour-Browne’s words, the stag
was certainly keener to get into the man than to get away.

[Illustration: (Flying Ducks)]



I never hear any one mention Spring-Tide without thinking of an
experience which I had whilst duck-shooting on the north-west coast
of Scotland.

On the afternoon of a certain autumn day I went out to try to shoot
wild duck, the plan being that I should be landed with my gun and
spaniel on a rocky islet in a certain sea loch, and that I should
wait, taking what cover I could amongst the rocks, whilst the boat
from which I was landed should be rowed up to the head of the
loch in order to flush the wild duck of which there were always
numbers there at that time of the year. It was known that on being
disturbed the duck would fly down the loch towards the open sea,
and some of them would probably cross the rocks on which I was

It was a fairly quiet though misty day when we set out, but there
were clouds gathering in the east, and it looked as if there would
be a storm before long. In due course I was landed on the little
island, which was quite small and consisted of low-lying rocks. I
said to my old fisherman, who with another man was rowing the boat,
“Are you sure that these rocks are never covered by the sea?” and
he replied, “Ach, no, it is arl richt.”

Away went the boat, and in it besides the two men rowing were an
old friend of mine, who was a cautious Scot, and two ladies.


From a Photograph by Miss DIANA DARLING.]

Not long after it was out of sight the wind rose and rain began
to fall. After a time some duck passed out of shot, then a single
bird which I killed, then after another interval a big lot well
out of shot, and then at intervals two single birds, one of which
I brought down. The spaniel had enough to do to retrieve the birds
with the strong tide and high wind. Just after this a storm of wind
and rain swept down the loch, and the sea became very wild. I was
still thinking about the duck, but felt no anxiety after what the
old fisherman had said. After a time, however, I began to feel
some apprehension, as the tide was rising very rapidly and there
was only a comparatively small part of the island uncovered. I
thought I had better make up my mind as to which was the highest
point on the island, and particularly where I should have the best
chance of retaining my footing if the sea rose much higher. I
selected what seemed to be the best place for this purpose, with
some short rocks in front of me, and took up my stand peering into
the mist from time to time for a sight of the boat and hoping every
moment to see it. There was now so small a part of the island
uncovered that I was getting very wet from the waves, which were
breaking with some force, and my dog was very excited, barking and
whining and making a great fuss.

Things were becoming very serious, and I could see that unless the
tide turned within a few minutes the rocks would be covered. The
water rose so high and so rapidly that I was now standing in water
and the ducks I had shot were washed away. Still no sign of the
boat, and the tide still rising.

The waves by this time were breaking over the rocks, and for a
few moments I was thoroughly alarmed, as I realised that if the
tide rose a little higher I should probably be washed off, and
though I could swim I had no reasonable hope of being able in
that sea to swim the considerable distance which separated me
from the mainland. However, the feeling of fear was very short,
and was followed by a grim determination to hold on for all I was
worth, and, strange as it seemed to me afterwards, a pleasurable
excitement in what I realised was going to be a desperate effort
to keep my footing. There were very few points of the rock left
uncovered now, and the tide was still rising, when suddenly out of
the mist I saw the boat coming, rising and falling in the angry sea.

To cut a long story short, it was a most dangerous and difficult
job to take me off the rocks without upsetting the boat, but it
was managed all right by the two men, the older of whom was a very
experienced seaman. In less than three minutes after they got me
off, the point of rock that I had been on was covered and there was
nothing of the island to be seen.

My friend, to whom I shall be ever grateful, declares that he saved
my life, and this I think was the fact, for when the wind got up
he insisted on the men going back to the island at once, feeling
very nervous on my account, and they had a tremendous pull to get
back in time as the sea was very rough and the tide was running
strongly against them.



The cause of the rocks being covered by the sea--a very rare
occurrence--was an unusually high spring tide coupled with a
strong gale from the opposite direction, which made the waves much
higher than they would otherwise have been in a loch which has the
reputation of being one of the most dangerous lochs on the west
coast for squalls.

[Illustration: OCTOBER]


                   THE LAST STALK OF THE SEASON

It was the last day of the stalking season in the forest of
Fealar, where it had been my good fortune to spend the first ten
days of October. I had been out stalking for eight days, during
two of which I did not get a shot, but, with the exception of the
preceding day, which had been a black Friday for me, I had been
very lucky, having shot eight stags, and three of these I had
stalked without the aid of a stalker, which had added greatly to
my pleasure. But it was a melancholy fact that the last day had
arrived, and what had it in store for us? On the preceding day I
had had a series of misfortunes, and when I got up and looked out
of my bedroom window the prospect was not a cheery one. A thick
mist enveloped everything all round the lodge, which is one of the
highest, if not the highest, of all the shooting lodges in the
Highlands, 1764 ft. above the level of the sea. On coming down to
breakfast my host said to me, “Well, I don’t think it is any use
going out to-day. What do you say?” But I knew quite well that my
host, one of the keenest and best of sportsmen, was only poking fun
at me on this the last day of the season. By ten o’clock the mist
had slightly lifted. There was a steady drizzle; the high tops were
still covered; the wind was east to south-east--the wrong wind for
this forest--and the prospect was certainly not inviting. However,
we determined to make a start, and I was sent out on the beat of
the head stalker, Macdougall. We had not gone more than a mile from
the lodge when we saw a shootable stag with some hinds, and after a
stalk up a burn and a considerable crawl over a peaty bog, we got
to a point within shot of them. Macdougall was just getting the
rifle out of its cover when something disturbed the deer, and away
they went. Macdougall said he thought I must have shown myself,
though I was not conscious of having done so. At any rate, I had
succeeded in getting wet through in my efforts to keep flat and
out of sight.

The weather continued thoroughly unsatisfactory. It was impossible
to spy, and for the following hour we saw nothing. About the end
of that time it cleared up a little, and we spied about a mile
off a large herd of deer, between 200 and 300, and amongst them
what appeared to be some very fine stags. We had to make a long
détour, and then, by walking and crawling along the side of a
burn, we succeeded in getting within what we thought must be a
very short distance of some of the stags, judging from the sound
of their roaring. We crawled up the bank of the burn, and found
ourselves within about 200 yards of one end of the herd, where
there was a fine 10-pointer continually on the move, rounding up
the hinds. Macdougall said he thought we could get in much nearer
by going back into the burn and crawling further up it. This we
did, and then, after crawling a little way up the side of the hill,
we got to within 100 yards of the 10-pointer. Almost immediately
after I had got the rifle into my hands the stag, which had been
perpetually on the move, stood for a moment broadside on, giving
me a splendid chance. I fired, and the stag bounded forward a
few paces, and then fell dead. He had a fine, regular head of
ten points, certainly the best head I had obtained this season,
although I had been fortunate in shooting a good many stags. It was
by this time just twelve o’clock. Macdougall said we had better
have lunch in order to allow the deer to settle down, and added
that he did not think they would go very far. He said he was quite
sure that there were at least other two very fine stags amongst the
deer that had gone forward.

The stag was soon gralloched, and the gillie was sent back for the
pony. We did not take long over lunch, and then set off in the
direction in which the deer had gone, being guided by the perpetual
roaring of the stags. After going some little distance we located
the deer on the face of a hill rather less than two miles from us.
Though there was still a drizzle and the light was bad, the wind
had risen, and the mist had to some extent cleared from the lower

After walking and crawling along the bed of a burn for about half
a mile we got into a position from which we were able to spy the
deer, as it had ceased raining and the light was better. We made
out that there were two lots of hinds on the face of the hill
with stags in both lots, and between them five stags. The largest
of these stags had a very fine head, and, as often happens in the
case of a big stag, had in attendance on him a smaller or sentinel
stag. The stalker said he thought the big stag was a Royal, but was
not quite sure. This stag and the others which were with him had
evidently been driven away from the hinds by a heavy 10-pointer,
who was the master stag, and who was making a great disturbance,
chasing the smaller stags away, and rounding up the larger lot of

After a very laborious crawl, sometimes on all-fours, sometimes
flat, sometimes in the burn, sometimes out of it, for about
three-quarters of a mile further, we reached a point in the burn
about 600 or 700 yards below the five stags which I have before
referred to. In the meantime the wind had risen, and the weather
was now very rough and stormy. Macdougall whispered to me that
we should have to crawl up the hill in full sight of the deer,
and this we proceeded to do for some 500 yards, watching the deer
with the greatest care, and whenever one of their heads went up
instantly becoming as motionless as statues, and so gradually
getting up the hill until at last we got behind a little tussock.
The little stag was in front of the four stags, close to him was
the big stag, and some little distance behind the latter were the
other three stags. Macdougall pulled the rifle out of its cover and
beckoned to me to crawl up. He then whispered, “You’ll have to take
him now, sir; it’s the only chance you’ll get. We can’t possibly
get a yard nearer.” “Take him now,” I said; “why, how far off do
you say he is?” “Oh, maybe 330 yards,” said Macdougall. “He’s too
far,” I said. “I shall probably wound him, or more likely miss
him.” Macdougall’s reply was, “I think you can manage him, sir,
and, anyhow, it’s your only chance; we cannot get nearer.” “Why not
try to get to that next knobby,” I asked, “about 100 yards further
on, behind which the big stag is just going?” Macdougall said that
if we tried to do that the other three stags behind the big stag
would be certain to see us and would bolt and put the whole lot
off. “Well,” I replied, “if they do, we shan’t be worse off than if
I fire now and miss. Come on, let’s do the bold thing, it sometimes
pays.” Macdougall shook his head and said, “It’s no wise, I’m
thinking.” “Come on,” I said. “Well, sir,” said Macdougall, “if
you will have it, we’ll try, but I don’t think it will be any good;
we shall have to crawl as hard and fast as ever we can up the hill,
quite flat the whole way.” Away we went as hard as we could, and
it took me all my time to keep up behind Macdougall, who propelled
himself along at a prodigious rate. Arrived behind the knobby,
we very carefully raised our heads, and found that Macdougall’s
prophecy had fortunately proved only partly correct. The three
stags behind the big stag and his fag, the little stag, had seen
us and had bolted, but instead of going forward, as Macdougall had
expected, they had turned tail and made off in the other direction,
with the result that they had only put off the deer behind them and
none of the deer in front of them. Macdougall hurriedly whispered,
pulling the rifle out of the cover: “The big stag is still there,
sir, but he and the wee staggie are getting varra suspeecious, and
you’ll have to take him varra quick. He’ll be about 220 yards.”
“Well,” I said, “I must get my breath; I’m absolutely blown,” the
fact being that at the moment I felt absolutely done to the world
and was quite incapable of shooting straight. The big stag had
slightly moved and was now standing about three-quarters end on,
a very difficult shot. I raised the rifle, sighted the stag, and
pressed the trigger. There was a sound of a little click, and that
was all. “A misfire!” I muttered below my breath. “Are you sure you
loaded the rifle after lunch?” “Yes, sir, I am,” said Macdougall.
“Very well, then,” I replied, “I’ll try him with the second
barrel,” and raised the rifle. “Don’t fire,” said Macdougall; “we’d
better make sure.” With some difficulty, owing to the position I
was in and the necessity of keeping as flat as possible, I opened
the rifle, and lo and behold it was empty! I loaded it as quickly
as I could. Meantime, the stag had moved on a few yards, and was
now standing broadside on. I put up the rifle, took a steady aim,
and fired. There was a thud; the stag gave a start and then moved
slowly forward. “You have him,” said Macdougall. I said, “I don’t
know that.” “He’s varra sick,” said Macdougall, “and will never get
over the hill.” The stag had evidently been shot in the stomach. He
was looking very sick, poor beast, and was walking slowly forward,
stopping every now and then. All the other deer had disappeared as
if by magic except the little stag, who kept some distance in front
of the big stag, constantly looking round at him, evidently loth
to leave his lord and master. I said, “I’d better fire again,” and
put up the 250 yards sight, as I estimated that the stag was now
nearly 300 yards from us, and fired. “Over him, sir,” whispered
Macdougall. “We must get a bit nearer,” I said. “I’m afraid if we
move he’ll see us and begin to run,” Macdougall replied. “Well,”
I said, “we’d better try and get round him.” So we crawled right
round behind the stag, who kept on moving slowly and then stopping,
and got to within about 220 yards of him. “Tak’ your time, sir,”
said Macdougall. The stag gave me a good chance, broadside on;
and I fired, believing that I was quite steady. “Missed him,
sir,” said Macdougall; “I saw something fly up behind him.” “I’m
not so sure,” said I, and as I spoke, the stag, who when I fired
had bounded forward three or four paces, staggered and then fell
and rolled over and over down the hill, shot through the heart,
as we subsequently found. Macdougall seized my hand and shook it
vigorously, saying, “I hope, sir, he’s a Royal. I believe he is.”
As we were getting up to the stag I said, “I see three on one top,
but not on the other.” “Ach, yes,” said Macdougall, “he has three
on both tops. Yes, sir, he’s a Royal, and we shall have to fine you
a bottle of whisky according to the custom of this forest.” “You
may be quite sure I shall not mind that,” I replied. On getting
up to the stag we found that his head was a fine wild one, with
exceptionally long horns. My first bullet had passed through the
second compartment of the stomach, or, as it is called in Gaelic,
currachd an righ, close to but a little below the heart.



Currachd an righ means in English “the King’s cap,” though it is
sometimes called “the King’s night-cap.” Turned inside out it
resembles in shape and dice pattern the old-fashioned night-cap.
It is said that certain internal parts of the stag and other
ingredients cooked in this “bag” or “currachd” was a favourite
dish in the olden days, “fit for a king,” or such as only a king
could afford. That may be why it is called “currachd an righ.” The
corresponding small bag in the stomach of the sheep is also called
“currachd an righ,” and in English “the King’s hood.” The same word
is used in Gaelic to signify Hood and Cap. _Night-cap_ translated
literally is “currachd oidhche,” but in Gaelic the word “oidhche”
or “night” is omitted; presumably because there was only one kind
of cap.

“Poca buidhè,” which means yellow bag, is the Gaelic name of the
first compartment or large bag of the stag’s stomach, and is a name
used only in the case of the stag.

Macdougall signalled for the pony, and then gralloched the stag.
It proved to be a very troublesome job to get the stag on to
the pony, although the latter was usually very quiet under such
circumstances. Macdougall said the reason for his being so restive
was that he could see the very long horns. After helping the
gillie and the pony-man to put the stag on the pony, Macdougall
and I tried to find some other stag, but in the time still at
our disposal we saw nothing more except a few hinds. Curiously
enough, the weights of the 10-pointer and the Royal were exactly
the same to an ounce--namely, 15 st. 7 oz. clean, without heart
and liver--and were the two best heads of the season in the forest
of Fealar. Macdougall, who was a stalker of long experience, told
my host that he had never had so strenuous a stalk as the stalk
after the Royal, and he said to me on the way home, “I shall
never believe in thirteen being an unlucky number again, sir,
for I found just after we had started that we had only thirteen
cartridges, and very nearly went back to leave one of them at home.”

On our way down from the hill there kept ringing in my ears the
familiar lines of Ruskin in _A Joy for Ever_, lines so true in the
experience of those of us who are no longer on the threshold of

“It is wisely appointed for us that few of the things we desire can
be had without considerable intervals of time.”

My host had also shot two stags, though he had not met with the
wonderful luck I had had. No one could have been more genuinely
pleased at my good fortune than he was. So ended for me the last
day of the stalking season of 1913, which was one of the most
enjoyable and lucky days I have ever spent in the Highlands, and
will always be to me a red-letter day.

[Illustration: A Real Nice One.]


                         THE LOCH PROBLEM

For some twelve years I have been trying experiments on lochs
on my ground in the North of Scotland, and have written what
follows mainly because I hope and believe that the result of
these experiments may prove useful to some of those who love
trout-fishing as I do, and have the means at hand, possibly without
fully realising their opportunities, of increasing their sport and
that of their friends. I have spent much labour and a good deal
of money in attempting to improve the fishing in various lochs.
In some cases these efforts have proved useless; in others the
labour and money expended in stocking the lochs and increasing
the food supply have been altogether out of proportion to the
results obtained, but in one case, and one case only, the results
have been phenomenal, not only in my own experience, but also in
that of my keeper, who, like myself, has all his life been keenly
interested in and familiar with trout-fishing in the North. In
the case of those lochs where no good result has been achieved,
I have at least learnt something from my failure. The loch upon
which I experimented with such wonderful results must have been a
veritable larder of food for the trout when I put them into it,
for there was a large quantity of water lizards, leeches, frogs,
and above all, fresh-water shrimps; there were also various kinds
of insect life, water beetles, notably the coch-y-bundhu, and a
smaller beetle with a silver body which moves with a swift darting
movement. It is impossible for the trout to spawn effectively,
as there is no burn coming into or going out of the loch and no
water continually moving over a shingly bottom. The loch is not
more than six acres in extent, and is about 500 feet above the
level of the sea. At the time, just thirteen years ago, when I
began to put fish into it, there were no fish in it, and so far
as I know there never had been any, except some years ago when a
few trout were put in, but these had no doubt been caught or died
long before I began my experiments. I am also quite certain, for
the reasons already mentioned, that they had left no descendants.
Every year, in May or June, about 2½ acres of the loch are covered
with a common kind of rush, the “Horse-tail,” _Equisetum maximum_,
and about one-quarter of an acre with grass, which, I believe, is
a species of _Scirpus_. In the rushes and round them are patches
of a kind of surface weed which is common in Highland lochs, and
which, as every fly-fisher in the Highlands knows, is a great
danger to him. This weed, the scientific name of which is, I am
told, _Potamogeton polygonifolius_, covers an area of some 20
square yards. Lastly, and most important of all, there is in the
loch a considerable quantity of the well-known Water Milfoil or
shrimp-weed, _Myriophyllum verticillatum_, which in this water
produced quantities of fresh-water shrimp.



By August and September the rushes have, of course, largely
increased, and extend to nearly four acres, leaving a comparatively
small part of the loch which can be fished. The depth of the loch
is about 3½ feet all over with the exception of two places, a very
small part of it, where it is about 5 feet. Its bottom is for
the most part fairly hard ground, but on one side there is soft
mud, and on another side, for about an acre and a half, the bottom
is rocky. I began stocking the loch in 1910, and during the first
three years put into it small trout from burns and other lochs on
my ground, but in 1913 and 1914 put into it 150 and 200 Loch Leven
yearlings respectively. These yearlings were supplied from one of
the well-known hatcheries. In 1915 I put no trout into the loch,
but since, and including 1916, I have put in every year on an
average about eighty small trout taken entirely from burns--one of
which runs into the sea and contains the young of sea-trout as well
as small brown trout. The following table shows the exact numbers
of fish put into the loch, showing a total of 1062.

           1910.  Aug., Sept., Oct    62 (20 fair size)
           1911.  July, Aug., Sept    61 (16 fair size)
           1912.  July, Sept., Oct    20
           1913.  April              150
           1914.  April              200
           1916.  June, July         104
           1917.  June, July         105
           1918.  June, July          96
           1919.  August              74
           1920.  July                96
           1921.  July, August        44
           1922.  July                50

I have taken care that the loch should not be fished too much, and
nothing has been used but the wet fly. It has only been fished in
May and June and in August and September. In May and June, which
are, of course, the best months of the year, it has only been
fished for two or three weeks, and in August and September it is
very difficult to persuade the trout to rise, and a rare experience
to catch one. It has been suggested to me that I should introduce
rainbow trout into the loch, as they would rise freely in August
and September, when the large brown trout will not do so.

In May and June there is a hatch out of flies from the weeds
on the loch and from the heather on the adjoining moorland. In
particular there is a hatch out of a large fly, of which I have
caught specimens. These I have sent south for examination, and am
told that they are all sedges, the largest being the large red
sedge, _Phryganea grandis_, those next in size being cinnamon
sedges. I have had flies dressed in imitation of these, and if one
is fortunate enough to be on the loch when the sedges are hatching
out, there is grand sport to be had, and sport which is greatly
increased by the presence of so many troublesome weeds. The loch
was not fished until 1913, three years after trout were first put
into it. Every fish caught under a pound, with very few exceptions,
has been returned to the loch, but it is a curious fact that the
fish rise very little until they reach about a pound in weight,
and so we have not been troubled much by catching the smaller fish
which would have to be returned to the loch.

The following is the record of fish caught, showing a total of 216,
weighing 482 lb. 1 oz., and averaging nearly 2¼ lb.

  1913.  6 trout, weighing 8 lb.; average 1⅓ lb.; largest 2 lb.;
             smallest ½ lb.

  1914.  19, weighing 29 lb.; average slightly over 1½ lb.;
             largest 2½ lb.; smallest ¾ lb.

  1915.  14, weighing 29 lb. 11 oz.; average just over 2 lb.;
             largest 3½ lb.; smallest 1 lb. 1 oz.

  1916.  20, weighing 58 lb. 9 oz.; average nearly 3 lb.; largest
             4 lb. 7 oz.; smallest 2 lb.

  1917.  18, weighing 58 lb. 11 oz.; average about 3¼ lb.;
             largest 4 lb. 10 oz.; smallest 2 lb.

  1918.  44, weighing 98 lb. 5 oz.; average nearly 2¼ lb.; largest
             6 lb.; smallest ¾ lb.

  1919.  13, weighing 28 lb. 4. oz.; average over 2 lb.; largest
             4¼ lb.; smallest 1 lb.

  1920.  20, weighing 59 lb. 6 oz.; average very nearly 3 lb.;
             largest 7½ lb.; smallest 1 lb. 2 oz.

  1921.  30, weighing 48 lb. 13 oz.; average about 1⅝ lb.;
             largest 4¾ lb.; smallest ¾ lb.

  1922.  32, weighing 73 lb. 6 oz.; average slightly over 2¼ lb.;
             largest 5 lb. 2 oz.; smallest 1 lb.

The exact weights of the 20, 18, 20, and 32 fish caught
respectively in 1916, 1917, 1920, and 1922 (in which years the
highest average was reached) were as follows:

            1916.       1917.       1920.       1922.
           lb. oz.     lb. oz.     lb. oz.     lb. oz.
            4   7       4  10       7   8       5   2
            4   1       4   1       4  10       5   1
            3  13       4   0       4   8       4   8
            3  10       3  14       4   7       4   4
            3   9       3  14       4   4       3   4
            3   6       3  10       3  10       3   4
            3   1       3   9       3  10       3   4
            3   0       3   8       3   0       3   0
            3   0       3   8       2   9       2  12
            3   0       3   5       2   8       2   8
            2  12       3   1       1  12       2   4
            2  12       3   ½       1  10       2   2
            2   9       2  13       1  10       2   1
            2   8       2   8       1  10       2   0
            2   8       2   8       1   8       2   0
            2   4       2   4       1   8       2   0
            2   3       2   4       1   8  3 of 1  12
            2   2       2   0       1   4  7 of 1   8
            2   0        ..         1   4  5 of 1   4
            2   0        ..         1   2       1   0

The fish caught have been remarkable not only for their weight but
also for their extraordinary beauty and condition. Those of us who
have seen them have seen many trout in our time, but have never
seen trout to compare with those caught during the first four or
five years after we began fishing the loch. Several of these,
which we measured, were as much in girth as in length from the
gills to the point of the tail where the flesh ends. They had small
heads and were most beautifully coloured. Their flesh was in colour
a deep red--no doubt due to the pigment in the fresh-water shrimps
which, as I have said, abound in the loch.

It is an interesting fact that, although the loch was very little
fished by ladies, they secured the two largest fish, one of 7½
lb., which took over three-quarters of an hour to land and gave
splendid sport, the other 6 lb. The former was a most extraordinary
fish. It was 22 inches in length, 16 inches in length from the
gills to the point where the flesh ends at the tail, and 16 inches
in girth. There is, however, no doubt that, with the exception of
this particular fish, the fish caught during the last four or five
years, whilst in excellent condition and comparing very favourably
with the ordinary large brown trout caught elsewhere, have not been
so extraordinary in their girth as in the first few years after the
loch was stocked.

These experiments show the correctness of the opinion expressed
by one of the most experienced of writers on the subject of trout
culture, Mr. P. D. Malloch, who says in his well-known work on the
_Life History and Habits of the Salmon, Sea-trout, Trout and other
Fresh-water Fish_[31] (p. 186): “When a farmer rents a piece of
land for grazing he knows how many sheep or cattle it will pasture,
and that if he puts on more than the proper number they will not
grow. He also knows that if he introduce too few they will become
fat and too lazy to eat up all the pasture, and he will thus lose
part of the money paid for the pasture land. If the proprietor or
the tenant of a loch would consider the matter in the same way
as the farmer, he would obtain full value out of his lochs, be
saved a deal of grumbling, and find life more pleasant.” The same
writer also says (p. 157): “Many naturalists maintain that there
are different species of trout in the British Islands--Loch Leven
trout, Gillaroo trout, tidal trout, and many others--but from a
close study of all these trout for the last forty years, I have
come to the conclusion that there is only one species of trout in
Great Britain, and that in the different varieties the differences
are caused by the nature of the water in which they are found and
by the food they eat.” Thus, as would be expected, there is no
apparent difference between the so-called Loch Leven trout which
were put into the loch from the hatcheries and the little trout
from my own burns. Numbers of these splendid trout running up to
5, 6, and 7 lb. must be the brothers and sisters of the little
fingerlings of the same age in the burns. The best authorities are
apparently agreed[32] that the average life of trout is about ten
years (although there are authenticated instances in which they
have lived for a much longer period), that they reach their prime
in six or seven years, that they remain in their prime for a few
years longer, and then begin to lose condition and weight as old
age creeps on. Those of the trout put into the loch in 1910 and
1911 which I have described as of fair size were about three to
the lb., some rather larger and could not then have had many years
to live. Those from the burns were probably of different ages, but
it is highly likely that in 1913 and 1914, when the yearlings from
the hatcheries were put into the loch, there were very few of such
other trout as were still there that could live more than three or
four years longer.

So far there has been little indication that any of the trout
caught have been cannibals--probably because they can obtain plenty
of other food, and since their transfer to the loch have not been
in the hungry condition in which they certainly were when they
lived in the burns. On one occasion we found when carrying some of
the little brown trout from one of the burns to the loch that one
of the captives on the journey in the small can in which they were
being carried had caught and succeeded in half swallowing another
little trout half its own size.

Both Mr. Malloch (see pp. 130-132 of his work mentioned above)
and Mr. Hamish Stuart (_The Book of the Sea-Trout_,[33] p. 240)
agree that the young of the sea-trout, if confined in a loch, grow
rapidly if the feeding be good, and are as silvery as sea-trout
that are fresh run.

My experience in regard to the young of the sea-trout put into this
loch confirms this view, as I have caught sea-trout up to nearly
2 lb. in the loch, which are in no way distinguishable from the
ordinary fresh-run sea-trout. It is curious, however, that so
far no sea-trout larger than 2 lb. have been caught in this loch.


From a Photograph by Miss ALEXANDRA FRASER.]

To summarise the results of these experiments, it seems clear that
in order to obtain the best results the following conditions should
be fulfilled:

1. _There must be a sufficient supply of the right kind of food for
the fish in the loch in order that they may grow to a large size._

In order to attain this object, it is desirable that the loch
should not be too high above the level of the sea. As Mr. Malloch
says in the work to which I have already referred (p. 179): “Lochs
over 1000 feet above sea-level, fed from snow from surrounding
hills, produce little feeding until May, and owing to the cold fall
off in September, thus giving the trout only four months of good
feeding. On the other hand, lochs at or near sea-level produce good
feeding in March, and continue to do so for three months more than
their Highland brethren. It will be seen, then, that this extra
time for feeding, when extended over the seven or eight years which
constitute the life of a trout, easily accounts for the difference
of size.” Moreover, as the same writer points out, in a loch which
is very high above the sea-level, not only is the feeding-time
shorter, but the food is much scarcer.

On the question of food supply it is worth while to recall the
words of Mr. F. H. Halford:[34] “Food supply generally is ...
chiefly dependent on the presence of the weeds in which the best
forms of food for the fish are to be found.... It must not,
however, be forgotten that, in Marryat’s terse words, ‘while
floating food is caviare, sunk or mid-water food is beef to the
fish.’ Hence, when engaged in his examination of the weeds and
the animal life contained therein, the fisherman should remember
that he can only expect well-fed, good-conditioned, healthy, and
consequently game trout in a (loch) which contains a bountiful
supply of crustaceans, such as fresh-water shrimps and mollusks
such as snails of the genera _Limnaea_, _Planorbis_,” etc., etc.

Further, it is of the utmost importance that the number of fish in
the loch should be regulated in such a way that the food supply may
be sufficient to enable the fish to grow to a large size.

Where the fish cannot spawn effectively, and it is therefore
necessary to renew the stock, experience alone can decide the
number of fish which should be put into the loch every year. Spring
is the best time to do this. The number of fish which should be put
in will obviously depend chiefly upon the amount of food in the
loch and the number of fish caught, and destroyed by their enemies,
during the preceding year. In many lochs there are stones under
which the small trout can find protection from the large ones, but
where there is no protection it is worth while to put stones or
small drain tiles round the edge of the loch.

In lochs where, as is usually the case, the fish can spawn
effectively the fish increase so rapidly that there is not a
sufficient supply of food, and the result is that the loch is
filled with hungry small trout. When it is remembered that it is
reckoned that every spawning trout produces 800 to 1000 eggs for
every pound of its weight, some idea is obtained of the rapidity
with which fish increase. In many lochs Nature intervenes and
the enemies of trout--divers, herons, ducks, otters, etc.--keep
the numbers down, sometimes to the point of extinction; in other
lochs, owing to the severe frosts and other causes, it is only
occasionally that the eggs are hatched out.

2. _The lock must not be too deep or the trout will not rise or
will not rise well._

This, I believe, is the cause of my failure in several of the lochs
upon which I have been making experiments. As Mr. Malloch truly

“When a loch is more than 12 feet deep the supply of food soon
becomes scarce and the trout small, while shallow lochs produce
plenty of food, therefore large trout.... In constructing new
lochs, one should endeavour to have as much shallow water as
possible.... The best depth is from five to nine feet; beyond
twelve feet food becomes scarce and trout do not rise well in deep

[Illustration: (Deep Water)]

[Illustration: (The Loch Shore)]



“In the Forest and on the moor there is a mighty Doctor before whom
the greatest physicians and surgeons in the world must bow down.
Nature acting in a pure air on an absolutely healthy subject will
work wonderful cures.... It seems marvellous that the broken leg of
an animal so restless as a stag should heal, but it is the case....
Such a wound will heal and the animal ultimately be little the
worse for it.”

Such are the words, in his book _Wild Sport with Gun, Rifle,
and Salmon Rod_, of Mr. Gilfrid W. Hartley, a stalker of great
experience, and the author of some most fascinating reminiscences
on stalking.

Every good sportsman is, of course, greatly distressed if he has
the misfortune to wound a stag without being able to kill him. No
matter what care may be exercised, it is impossible, even for the
best of shots who has been accustomed to stalk for many years, not
to experience some time or other a catastrophe of this kind. It is
at any rate some slight consolation to know that Nature can effect
the marvellous cures of which there is authentic record.

Much can, no doubt, be done to improve one’s shooting by regular
practice. Some years ago I was discussing the subject with one
of the old Highland proprietors who is a first-class rifle shot,
and he told me that for many years he had been in the habit of
practising shooting at a small wooden stag, which he had placed
in all kinds of different positions and at different distances on
the hill. He added that he was sure that this had greatly improved
his shooting. This interested me greatly, for I had for a long
time been doing the same thing and am a great believer in its
advantages. Amongst other things which it teaches one, is to judge
distances more accurately.

In the course of my wanderings through many forests, I have often
discussed with experienced stalkers the subject of Nature’s
wonderful cures, and as recently as the year before last, whilst
I was stalking in a forest in the Western Highlands, the head
stalker related to me a remarkable experience of his own. I thought
the story worth recording in some permanent form, but felt that I
myself could not do justice to it. I therefore asked my friend the
stalker if he could find time, after the stalking season was over,
to write out for me the account of this particular experience.

Some five months later I received the account from him, accompanied
by a letter which contained the following words: “You will find the
enclosed story about the wounded stag. And indeed, I would prefer
stalking through wet and bogs for six hours than one hour trying to
put my experience on paper.” Here is the story in question:

“As I promised, I am writing about one of my experiences which
fixed it greatly on my mind as to the power of a stag to recover
from a serious wound.

“The year 1905 was a very wet season in this district, and while
stags were not good in condition, there were some good heads to
be seen. I had that season one of the best of sportsmen who knew
a great deal about deer and their ways, and had an experience of
thirty years behind him.



“My beat is a narrow long piece of high ground and stretching well
in between three adjoining forests coming to a narrow point, and
on this narrow part there is a small corrie. This corrie is the
best for keeping stags I know of, but rather difficult to stalk
except with north-west wind. With other winds, although successful
in a stalk, one is sure to drive the rest of the deer into one of
the adjoining forests, the stalkers in which were very much on the
alert at that time to make the best use of any move in their favour
on the marches. There was a long spell of south and south-west
wind, and although there were quite a lot of stags in this corrie
we had to wait long for favourable wind so as to move them further
into our own ground. About September 25 we were having a spy at
the corrie, and noticed a newcomer with quite a big, strong head
of ten points, and on each horn very peculiarly shaped tops with
cups, the three points on the top in each horn curving towards
one another until the tips almost touched. We at once came to stalk
him, while keeping so far as safe with wind between them and the
boundary. We came to a point we considered likely if they kept
on their way feeding, as in so doing they would pass us within a
reasonable distance. This they did, but the ten-pointer keeping
well at the end. When he was within 150 yards head on, all of a
sudden he turned right round and began feeding quietly away tail
on, with haunches towards us. We were in a high fever discussing
whether he would still turn and follow the rest of the deer or had
made up his mind to part with them altogether. We concluded the
last was his decision, and so prepared to have a long shot if he
would give us the best chance. When well over 200 yards, he turned
half-broadside, and immediately the gentleman had a go at him. His
first shot went high, and the stag bolted down the corrie, and
with his second got him high in the offside hind leg and broke
completely his thigh-bone, as I could see his leg swinging out to
his side at every jump. We sat down, watching him going down the
lower corrie until he came to a shoulder, and began to climb up the
ridge towards the highest part of the mountain. When almost on the
top he stood looking towards us, and after a long time lay down.
When we saw him settling we moved quietly to where we left the
gillie, and gave him instructions to watch and let us know which
way the stag went if he got up and went away, for we had to make a
long detour out of his view to get round and, if possible, to get
above him. When we arrived he was not to be seen anywhere, so we
began to spy and get directions from the gillie, who signed that he
went round the shoulder before us. It was getting late and dark, so
we hurried after the stag. When we got round the shoulder we could
dimly see him limping away a good deal below us, and towards the
boundary, so we considered it was best not to follow further in
case we forced him over the march and then lost him in the dark,
for we were in hopes to find him next morning near this place, and
possibly dead. As he did not catch us following him, he slowed down
to a stand, so we left him there.

“Next morning, we were on the move early and got up to where we
left him, searched every hollow and corner on our side and as far
into the other side as I dared, but could not find or see him
anywhere. So, when home, we wrote to the surrounding tenants with
a description of the head, and to have a look-out, when we would
expect the head to be sent to us if the stag were found dead. But
none ever came across him, so we gave up hopes and expected he was
dead in some hole.

“The following year the forest was taken by a new tenant, and there
was no more thought about the lost wounded stag till, about the
beginning of October, what was my surprise to see, and very near
the same place and corrie, a stag with the same kind of head and
peculiarly formed tops. I mentioned to the gentleman our experience
last season with one very like this stag in the same corrie, but
I remember our remark was that it was more likely one of the same
breed, so lost no time in spying, as everything was favourable for
a successful stalk. We got to a nice distance, and shot him dead.
When I went down to examine him I was surprised to find that he had
no brow-points, and instead of being a ten-pointer he was only an
eight-pointer. I could not see anything like last year’s wound at
the time, but next morning, when I went to the larder where he was
hanging skinned, I noticed at once his right leg showing exactly
where our last year’s bullet had broken it, but now nicely healed
up, and it looked as though both legs were exactly the same length.
I could not say if he had a limp, as he was standing all the time
till we had our shot. I got this haunch for my own use and had it
boiled and stripped of flesh, when I could see plainly how well it
joined. The bone was jagged at both ends, and the longest points
exactly touching, and the missing parts were filled up with tough
hard flesh. I noticed a splinter on the outside which lay so neatly
in place, and even to both ends. The stag weighed 15 st. 11 lb. He
was in fair condition, but not up to the average; he looked to me
to be much heavier the year before, although that year we had much
better average weights.”

Lieut.-General Crealock, in _Deer Stalking in the Highlands of
Scotland_, relates a case of the same kind:

“I remember,” he says, “wounding a Royal Stag some years ago at
Loch Luichart--I broke his fore leg at the shoulder. Having no dog
with me I never succeeded in getting up to him to finish him before
dark, and so lost him. The wound was not mortal--it had shattered
the bone; he recovered and lived for several years after, but
he always had a stiff joint. The first year he never shed his
velvet and dropped a point from his royal head; the second year
he cleaned, but never regained his royal head or even a good one



In Speedy’s _Natural History of Sport in Scotland with Rod and Gun_
there is an interesting account of a thirteen-pointer whose hind
leg was broken above the hock. In the forest in Inverness-shire
where this stag was, the deer were regularly fed during the
winter. “When feeding commenced he came regularly as before; but
in consequence of his wound he was reduced to a skeleton, and,
being very weak, was kept off by the other stags. He used to hide,
however, not far off, and when the others took their departure he
returned to the feeding-place, when the keeper attended to him and
had opportunities, with the aid of his glass, of noting the injured
limb at a comparatively short distance. Within a month after
feeding commenced, he was able to use it, and in three months was
master of the herd.... As the new antlers grew it was found that
the one on the opposite side from the broken limb was minus the
brow-point.” He was shot in that season, and scaled 17 st. 12 lb.
clean, being then nine years old.

I myself had a personal experience which is perhaps worth recording
in this connection. I was stalking late in the season--indeed it
was the last day that I was out--and we had been unable to get
a shot until late in the evening, when I killed a good stag. We
had some miles to go before we reached the end of the road in the
forest where the motor-car from the lodge was to meet us, and the
light was beginning to fail. We were high up on the side of a
corrie, and were preparing to start on our homeward journey, when
Sandy, the stalker, suddenly turned to me and said, pulling out his
glass, “I see some deer down there on the flat.”

In a moment he had his glass on them, and said: “Would you be
liking another stag? There’s a fine stag with hinds, and we shall
not be long getting down to them. It’s been poor sport to-day.”

I hesitated for a moment, and then, I am afraid, considering how
late it was, weakly yielded to the temptation. I said: “All right!
We shall have to be quick, otherwise we shall not be able to see
what we are doing.” We soon decided our method of approach, and
lost no time in getting down the hill. The deer were feeding
on a small flat piece of ground near the ruins of what had been
a watcher’s cottage many years ago, and we hoped, by getting
into a broad and fairly deep burn, to reach a point about 200
yards further down, from which I could get a shot. The water was
sometimes up to our waists and bitterly cold, and our movements
were necessarily slow, but we arrived at last at a point which was
about 140 yards from the stag. Peering over the top of the bank of
the burn, we saw that the stag was on the far side of the hinds
from us, and was lying down in a dip of the ground, so that only
the tops of his horns were visible. After we had been waiting in
the burn for some time, the stag got up, and, without giving me a
chance for a shot, walked on to lower ground, where he began to
feed in such a position that it was impossible to see him until he
put his head up, and then we could only see the upper part of his
horns. After a few minutes I whispered: “I really can’t wait here
any longer, it is so frightfully cold, and the light will soon be
gone. Let us get out of the burn and chance our being seen: at any
rate, we shall be higher up there, and be more likely to see the

We cautiously hoisted ourselves out of the burn on to the flat
ground on the top of the bank, but even there could only see the
stag’s horns and a very small part of his head.

Sandy whispered to me: “You will have to shoot off my back, sir; it
is the only chance.” He carefully raised his back, and I put the
rifle over it. I said: “I am too low now; I can’t see the stag’s

“Ye’ll just have to put the coat on my back,” said Sandy, pushing
towards me my rolled-up shooting-cape, which was fastened up with
a strap. I hoisted the rolled-up cape on to Sandy’s back, and then
prepared for a shot by putting the rifle on the top of the cape--an
extraordinarily foolish proceeding. What I certainly ought to have
done was to have stood straight up and fired at the stag from my
shoulder. However, I took my shot in the position described, and
something, I don’t know what exactly, caused me to pull off.

“His hind leg is broken,” said Sandy, as away went the stag and the
rest of the deer. I instantly handed him the rifle, as I knew he
was a first-class shot at running deer, and told him, if he could
get the chance, to finish the stag off.

After a short interval I heard a shot, and then a second shot. Soon
afterwards Sandy returned, and said, “You’ll never see him again,
sir. I never touched him.”

It was almost dark, and we started on our homeward journey along
the narrow foot-track through the forest. Sandy asked me to walk
first so that I could go at my own pace. He followed me, and behind
him came the gillie, there being only room to walk in single
file. It is not easy to carry on a conversation with any one who
is walking behind, nor did the fact that I felt very depressed
at having left the wounded stag in suffering, perhaps to die a
painful, lingering death, make it any easier. At first I made an
occasional observation and then lapsed into silence. As I was
walking along engrossed in my melancholy thoughts I noticed that
the path was becoming more and more difficult to see, and indeed
hardly visible in the growing darkness.

I said, “It’s getting awfully dark, and I can hardly see the path.”
No answer. I turned round: neither of the men was to be seen.
I stopped and shouted loudly, “Sandy!” Still no answer. This I
repeated several times with the same result. I then began to think
what I had better do. It was almost dark by this time. I was in
the heart of one of the largest forests in the North of Scotland,
miles from any human habitation, without a scrap of food, with an
empty flask, and soaked to the skin up to my waist through wading
and standing in the burn, which was in flood.

I decided to retrace my steps to the old ruins of the watcher’s
cottage from which we had started. Taking great care not to lose
the path, I began to do this, shouting now and then but hearing
no reply. I tried to think out why the men should not have been
following me on this path on which I was now returning, and which
ran beside a broad burn which was in spate. I then remembered that
the path which I had been following across the forest before I came
to the burn was almost at right angles both to the burn and the
path I was now on, and it occurred to me that possibly the path
which I ought to have taken lay straight across the burn, and that
the men might have crossed the burn and gone in that direction. I
had, I knew, been walking, as I always do on these occasions, very
fast, and this made me think it not unlikely, especially as it was
so dark, that the men had assumed that I had crossed the burn in
front of them. Being careful not to lose the narrow track I was on
in the darkness, I discovered the point at which I had turned up
the burn-side, and found that the other path leading up to the burn
was a little wider, which encouraged me to hope that my supposed
explanation might prove to be the true one. I then waded across the
burn and found there was a path at right angles to it on the other
side which looked more used than the track which I had just left. I
therefore made up my mind to follow this path for a time, shouting
every now and then in the hope that the men might hear me, and if I
did not hear any reply I would then consider whether I would go on
or retrace my steps to the old ruins and there spend the night--a
cheerful prospect indeed.

After going some distance along the path I suddenly heard what I
thought was the sound of shouting a long way off. I stopped and
shouted more loudly than ever, and then heard the shouts coming
nearer, and very soon after Sandy and the gillie appeared. It
turned out that what I had supposed had happened, and that they had
crossed the burn thinking that I was still in front of them.

I have never since then, on my return from stalking, walked in
front of the stalker along a path which I do not know. This
unpleasant incident made us later than ever, and I did not get back
to the lodge until nearly 10 P.M.

The following season I was again stalking in the same forest, and
on my first day was on the same beat where I had had the misfortune
to wound the stag, as described above, and the same stalker was
once more with me. I asked him whether he had heard anything of
the wounded stag, and he replied, “Nothing whatever,” adding that
although he was sure that the near hind leg was broken, he could
not be sure in the darkness at what part exactly, but he thought it
was low down.

We began by spying a corrie, which was about three miles from the
place where I had wounded the stag in the previous season, and
presently found five shootable stags which were together. After
watching them for a time, Sandy said, “There are two much bigger
than the others--one a dark beast; he’s a good stag, with only one

“All right!” I said. “Let’s shoot him; he’ll be interesting anyhow.”

We then stalked the stags and managed to get within about 120 yards
of them. As soon as I got a good view of the beasts I noticed
that the stag with one horn was limping slightly, and it flashed
through my mind that he was almost certainly the stag which I had
wounded in the previous season, particularly as he was the same
colour and the horn seemed to me to be very similar to what I
recollected of the horns of the wounded stag. Whilst these thoughts
were rapidly passing through my mind, Sandy whispered, “Don’t take
the stag with one horn, sir, but the yellow stag on the right which
is a much better beast.”



I replied by shooting the dark-coloured stag--this time in the
right place.

“You’ve shot the wrong beast!” said Sandy. I said, “Oh, no I
haven’t. You were with me last time I fired my rifle, and I then
fired it at that very stag; let us have a look at him and see if
I’m not right.”

On examining the stag we found that low down on his near hind leg
the bone had evidently been fractured just above the fetlock, but
had healed completely and set in the most wonderful way. This,
of course, was what had caused the limp which I had noticed, and
also the absence of the horn on the other side of the head. After
examining the stag, Sandy quite agreed that there was no doubt it
must be the same stag, and we both thought, although it was in very
good condition, that it was at least a stone lighter than it had
been in the previous season.

It is interesting to note that in the case of stags, as in that
of human beings, the muscular movements are controlled by nerve
centres which are situated on the opposite side of the brain.

[Illustration: (The High Hills)]


                   THE SECRET OF THE HIGH HILLS

“I shall never forget that day, or the self-sacrifice and bravery
of those men in that Brigade.” The speaker was a chaplain attached
to one of the Highland Brigades which had been fighting in France.
“We were told that a particular position had to be taken, and the
work was allotted to certain of the Highland regiments. My work
was to attend the dying after the attack was over and the position
carried at the point of the bayonet. Amongst them was a piper who
had shown extraordinary bravery in the assault, and who, though
wounded three times, had persisted in carrying on and playing his
pipes until he fell mortally wounded just as the assault, after
very heavy fighting, was proving successful. He knew he was dying,
and gave me messages for his wife and family. He was evidently a
man of strong faith, and had no fear of death. Just before his
valiant spirit passed away, he whispered, ‘Oh, if I could only see
the high hills again before I die.’ His words deeply impressed me,
and I have often thought of them since.”

This story of the dying piper, told to me in such simple and
touching language, set me thinking and wondering. I could not help
feeling that those last words of the gallant Highlander would
strike a sympathetic chord in the hearts not only of those whose
most cherished and sacred memories are bound up with the Highlands
of Scotland, but of countless numbers of others who also love
that country. In the days of peace I had often pondered over the
irresistible fascination of this call from the North.

The Highlands of Scotland! Is there any one who has ever seen
them, or who knows even slightly something of their romantic and
enchanting history, who can fail to understand the passionate
devotion of any one with Highland blood in his veins to that
wonderful land?

“All the world over the sons of the heather and the mist, in
however distant or alien lands they may be, feel always, as they
steer their way through life, that there is a pole-star by which
they set their compass; and that some day, perhaps, they or their
children may steer the boat to a haven on some rocky shore, where
the whaup calls shrilly on the moors above the loch, and the
heather grows strong and tough on the hill-side, and the peat reek
rises almost like the incense of an evening prayer against a grey,
soft sky in the land of the north.”[35]

      From the lone shieling on the misty island
        Mountains divide us, and a waste of seas.
      Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is highland,
        And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.[36]

How many a man at the end of July or the beginning of August, worn
out with his work in Parliament, or the Law Courts, or elsewhere,
turns his face and his thoughts to the North, and finds even in
his anticipations and dreams of the days to come refreshment and
solace! In most things in this life the anticipation is far greater
than the reality, but not so in this case. In the hearts of how
many men and women do the words of Aytoun find a responsive echo:

                Give me but one hour of Scotland,

           *       *       *       *       *

                  Southern gales are not for me;
                Though the glens are white with winter,
                  Place me there and set me free.

Why is it that so many persons, young and old, and of such
different character, habits, and classes, are fascinated and held
by the spell of this country? What is the motive which is common
to them all, if there is one? No doubt with some it is the longing
for rest and change of scene, or the opportunity of meeting old
friends or relatives in the far North, with others the desire for
sport or the gratification of artistic tastes, and with others the
ardent yearning to hear again the old familiar sounds, familiar
since their early childhood--the sound of the rushing burn, the
breaking of the sea on the rock-bound shore, the call of the
sea-birds--and to see once more the high hills and silvery lochs
and scent again the fragrant heather. But underlying all these,
and perhaps more often than not quite unconsciously, there is one
dominant governing motive which is surely spiritual rather
than material--the desire for the environment which will uplift
and ennoble, and with it bring a sense of being nearer to the
pure--nearer to the things that are unseen and eternal--removed
from all that is coarse and material.

[Illustration: “THE MORNING COMETH.”


I well remember on one occasion discussing the question of the
future world with a Highland keeper, and the emphatic way in which
he said, “One thing is certain, and that is, that no one could be
an atheist if he spent his life on the mountains.” I also remember
that, curiously enough, the same observation was made by one
Cambridge undergraduate to another, the speaker having been in the
habit of spending days and nights camping out on the mountains in
his father’s Highland property.

It is not inappropriate that in the Gaelic language the words
used to signify “death” and “died” are not the same when used in
reference to a human being as the words which are used in reference
to an animal, the former words, _caochladh_ (substantive),
_chaochail_ (verb), signifying a change or passing from one state
of life into another, the latter _bas_ (substantive), _bhasaich_
(verb), extinction or annihilation.

On the sea coast, at the mouth of one of the sea lochs on the west
coast of Ross-shire, I have often waited for the dawn, looking up
the loch towards the high hills in the distance, and, whilst I
waited, there would come into my mind those impressive words of the
prophet Isaiah, “Watchman, what of the night?” The watchman said,
“The morning cometh.” No one who has had this experience and seen
the sun rise in its splendour over the high hills, flooding the
surface of the sea with brilliant crimson light, will ever forget
the scene, or the uplifting of spirit and sense of abiding peace
which it imparted.


  _Acanthyllis caudacuta_, 40, 55

  _Acanthyllis gigantea_, 55

  Aeroplane, observations on flight of birds from, 50

  Age of stags, 110-11

  Air speed, 25

  _A Joy for Ever_, 181

  Alpine swift, 41-2, 49-53, 56-7

  American golden plover, 33

  _An Angler’s Paradise_, 191

  Applecross, 141-2

  _Apus_, 53

  Armour, G. Denholm, 58

  Attadale, 73

  Australia, birds of fastest flight in, 54

  _Avicultural Magazine_, 54 _n._

  Aytoun, 218

  Baker, E. Stuart, 55

  Balfour-Browne, Vincent, 164

  Bas, 217

  Bhasaich, 217

  Birds, speeds of various British, 35-6

  Birds of Australia, twelve swiftest, 54

  _Birds of Europe, History of_, 53 _n._

  Birds of Fastest Flight in the British Isles, 23-70

  _Birds of Great Britain_, 146

  Birds of prey, 39-52, 57-70, 136-54

  Blackcock, 35, 37, 45, 50, 58-9, 65, 138

  Black game, killed by peregrines and eagles, 29, 66, 137-8, 149

  Blaine, Captain G. S., 45, 148

  Blanford, W. T., 56

  Blue rock pigeons, 35, 44-5

  Bond, William Walpole, 47

  _Book of the Sea Trout_, 192

  British Museum (Natural History), 41

  Browne, Bishop G. F., 22 _n._

  Buzzard, 49

  Caberslach, 74

  Calf, deer, attacked by eagle, 142

  _Canadian Boat Song_, 217

  Caochladh, 219

  Capercailzie, probably fastest flying game bird, 45, 50

  Carter, H. R. P., 57

  Cats, killed by eagles, 138

  _Chaetura_, 51, 53

  _Chaetura caudacuta caudacuta_, 40, 53, 55

  _Chaetura caudacuta cochinchinensis_, 55

  _Chaetura nudipes_, 55-6, 57

  Chaochail, 217

  Chaytor, Arthur H., K.C., 93-5

  Clough, Arthur Hugh, 21

  Coignafearn, Forest of, 71

  Common swift, 40-42, 46, 49, 50, 53

  Corvidae, 36

  Crealock, Lieut.-General, 204

  Crow, killed by eagle, 68-9

  Culture, trout, 189

  Curlew, 36, 69

  Currachd an righ, 179

  _Cypselus apus_, 40

  _Cypselus melba_, 40

  Danger of wounded stags, 157

  Deer, Homing Instincts of Wounded, 123-35

  Deer calves, attacked by eagles, 139

  Deer-hounds, 128

  Deer-stalking, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6-11, 97-112, 123-35, 155-64, 170-81,

  _Deer-stalking in the Highlands of Scotland_, 204

  Depth of loch for good trout fishing, 196

  Downward flight of the eagle, 57-70

  Dresser, Henry E., 53, 53 _n._ 55

  _Dry-Fly Man’s Handbook_, 194

  Duck, wild, 28-9, 36, 70, 136

  Duck-shooting, 165

  Duel between eagle and peregrine, 61-2

  Eagle, 36-7, 49, 57-9, 62-5, 67, 69, 70, 107, 136-8, 142, 153
    attack on a full-grown stag, 139
    downward flight of, 57-60
    food of, 38, 136-7
    weight of, 60

  Eggs, number of trout, 195

  Eleonora’s falcons, 51

  _Falco candicans_, 38

  _Falco gyrfalco_, 38

  _Falco islandus_, 38

  Falconer, 34, 36, 152

  Falcons, 28, 30, 36, 43, 46, 51-2, 57-60, 62, 68, 70, 143-5, 149,
        151, 153
    Eleonora’s, 51
    Greenland, 38-9
    Iceland, 38-9
    Northern, 38-9, 57

  Fastest bird in British Isles, 57, 70

  Fealar, 74, 170

  _Field Studies of some Rarer British Birds_, 47

  Fighting, stags killed in, 73

  Finlayson, John, stalker, Killilan, 66

  Finlayson, stalker, Applecross, 142

  Fisher, Major C. H., 149

  Fishing, fly-, 13-22, 92-5, 113-22
    minnow-, 93
    salmon, 12-22, 85

  Flight in the British Isles, Birds of Fastest, 23-70
    of the eagle, downward, 57
    horizontal, 37

  Forest, Stormy Week in the, 97-112

  Fox cubs, killed by eagles, 138
    dens, 139

  Fresh-water shrimp, 184

  Frigate bird, 54

  _Fuligula ferina_, 30

  Gaelic sayings and words, 111, 179, 219

  Gannet, downward flight of, 63

  Geese, speed of, 36

  Glen Carron Forest, 8

  Glen Shieldaig Forest, 140

  Golden eagle (_see_ Eagle) weight of the, 60
    plover, 32-3, 35-6, 43, 45-6, 57, 69
      American, 33

  Goose, solan, 63

  Goshawks, 143

  Gould, John, F.R.S., 54, 146

  Green Plover, 35

  Greenland Falcon, 38-9

  Greyhen, 149

  Ground speed, 25

  Grouse, 29, 59, 68, 107, 136-7, 144-146, 149-51, 153

  Gulls, 43

  Gyrfalcon, weight of the, 60

  Gyrfalcons, 38-40, 57, 60, 63, 66

  Halford, F. M., 191 _n._, 194

  Hares, killed by eagles, 136, 138

  Harrier, 49

  Hartley, Gilfrid W., 197

  Hawk, sparrow-, 49, 143, 147-8

  Hawks, 30, 48, 136, 142-53

  Hereford, 88

  Highlands of Scotland, fascination of, 216

  Hobby, 45-6, 49

  Homing Instincts of Wounded Deer, 123-35

  Hounds, deer-, 128

  Hummel, 74

  Hurrell, H. G., 39

  Hutton, J. Arthur, 94-5

  Iceland falcon, 38-9

  Jackdaw, 35

  Jura, 111

  Kestrel, 35, 49, 142

  Killilan, 66

  King’s night-cap, 179

  Kite, 49

  Lambs, killed by eagles, 138

  _Lame Dog’s Diary_, 217

  Landrail, speed of, 35

  Last Stalk of the Season, 170-81

  _Letters to a Salmon Fisher’s Sons_, 93

  _Life History and Habits of Salmon, etc._, 190, 193

  Loch Carron, 10
    Leven, 185
      trout, 191
    Luichart, 204
    problem, 182

  Lodges in the Highlands, highest shooting, 171

  Lost in the Forest, 209

  Macdougall, stalker, Fealar, 171

  McIver, Donald, 66

  Mackay, John, stalker, North Jura, 111

  Mackenzie, Alick, stalker, Applecross, 141

  Maclennan, watcher, Coignafearn, 72

  Macnaughtan, S., 217

  Mallard, 30-31, 33-5, 70

  Malloch, P. D., 190, 191 _n._, 192-3, 196

  Mar Forest, 74

  Marryat, 194

  Matheson, Donald, stalker, Glen Shieldaig, 140

  Meinertzhagen, D.S.O., Colonel R., 27, 31, 33, 35, 42, 50, 52

  Merlin, 35, 45-6, 49, 147

  Mesopotamia, swifts in, 50

  Minnow-fishing for salmon, 93

  Mosul, swifts in, 50

  Muckle Hart of Ben More, 164

  Murray, Charles J., Esq., of Loch Carron, 10, 140

  Natural History Museum at South Kensington, 41

  _Natural History of Sport in Scotland with Rod and Gun_ (Speedy),
        150, 191, 205

  Nature’s cures of wounded deer, 196-914

  Needle-tailed swift, 40, 52-3

  Nerve Centres in deer, 214

  Northern falcons, 38-9, 57

  Orrin, 149

  Otter, salmon killed by, 20, 86

  Partridges, 27, 99, 35, 147, 149

  Passeres, smaller, 36

  Patt Forest, 66

  Peregrine, horizontal flight of, 26-40, 42, 45-6, 49, 52, 137
    downward flight of, 57-63, 68-70
    food of, 38
    how it strikes its prey, 142-54
    weight of, 60

  Perils, of stalkers, 81

  _Peschiera_, 21

  Petrels, 43

  Pheasants, 29, 35, 58-9, 144-5

  Pigeons, 37, 44-5
    blue rock, 44-5
    rock-, 51
    speed of, 36
    wood, 35, 152

  Plover, 33
    American golden, 33
    golden, 32-3, 35-6, 43, 45-6, 57, 69
    green, 35

  “Poca buidhè,” 180

  Pochard, 30-31, 45

  Portal, D.S.O., Captain C. F. A., 26, 34, 52, 146, 151

  Prey, birds of (_see_ Birds of prey)

  Ptarmigan, 3, 65, 107, 136

  Rabbits, 136

  Radclyffe, Major C. R. E., 28-30, 34, 39, 44, 65, 143, 151

  Red sedge, 186

  _Reminiscences of a Falconer_, 149

  Robinson, W. H., 69

  Rock-pigeon, 51

  Rook, 35, 154

  Royal stag, 80, 174, 179, 204

  Ruskin, 181

  St. John, Charles, 32, 164

  Salmon fishing, 12-22, 85-96, 113-122

  Salmon Loch in Sutherland, 113-22

  Sanctuary, 123

  Saunders, Howard, 53 _n._

  Secret of the High Hills, 215-20

  Sedge, cinnamon, 186
    red, 186

  Seebohm, 54

  Sheringham, H. T., 96

  Shooting, duck-, 165

  Shrimp, fresh-water, 184

  Shrimp-weed, 184

  Snipe, 28-9, 65

  Solan goose, 63

  Sovenson, E. S., 54

  Sparrow-hawks, 49, 143, 147-8

  Speed, air, 25
    ground, 25
    of Australian birds, 54

  Speeds of British birds, table of, 35-6
    fastest, 57, 70

  Speedy, Tom, 151-3

  Speedy’s _Natural History of Sport in Scotland with Rod and Gun_,

  Spine-tailed swift, 40-42, 51-3, 55-57, 70

  Spring-tide, 165

  Stags, age of, 110-11
    attacking stalkers, wounded, 155
    danger of wounded 157
    eagles attack full-grown, 139
    stalking (_see_ Deer-stalking)

  Stalkers, 64, 71
    wounded stags attacking, 155

  Stalking, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6-11, 71-84, 97-112, 123-35, 155-64, 170-81,
    mistakes in, 6-10

  _Stalks Abroad_, 156

  Starling, 35-6

  Stormy Week in the Forest, 97-112

  Strathconan, 66-7

  Stuart, Hamish, 192

  Surgeon of the Deer Forest, 196-214

  Sutherland, A Salmon Loch in, 113

  Swallows, 43

  Swan, 152

  Swift, 36, 40, 42-8, 50-51
    Alpine, 41-2, 49-53, 56-7
    common, 40-42, 46, 49-50, 53
    needle-tailed _or_ spine-tailed, 40-42, 51-3, 55, 70

  Switch-horn, 73-4

  Tame pigeons, 36

  Teal, 28, 33-6, 46, 57

  Tennyson, 21 _n._

  Three, luck in number, 92

  Tickell, 55

  Tiercel, 42, 46

  Tracker, 128

  Trout eggs, number of, 195
    loch, how to improve, 182-96

  Velocity of falling birds, 61

  Waders, speed of, 36

  Wallace, Frank, 156

  Weight, influence of in flight, 30, 60
    of the eagle, 60
    of the gyrfalcon, 60
    of the peregrine, 60

  Wild duck, 28-9, 36-70

  _Wild Sport with Gun, Rifle, and Salmon Rod_, 197

  _Wild Sports and Natural History of the Highlands_, 37, 164

  Willoughby, Colonel the Hon. Claude, 141

  Wings, 54, 58, 142, 145, 150

  Witherby, H. F., 53 _n._

  Wood pigeon, 35, 152

  Woodcock, 28-30

  Wounded Deer, Homing Instincts of, 123-35
    stags, attacking stalkers, 155-64
      danger of, 81, 157

  Wye, river, 12, 85

 _Printed in Great Britain by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.


[1] “The Death of the Wye,” _Images and Meditations, a Book of
Poems_, by Mary Duclaux. T. Fisher Unwin, Ltd., London.

[2] It is singular that this poem was written and published in
1849, and that Tennyson’s _In Memoriam_, which contained the famous

              “’T is better to have loved and lost,
              Than never to have loved at all,”

was written in 1834 but not published until 1850, and then
anonymously. This is surely very remarkable, for it is impossible
to believe that a man of the high and noble character of Clough
would have consciously plagiarised any other poet.

[3] After the publication of these verses in the above article, as
it originally appeared in the issue of _Country Life_ for August
6, 1921, their authorship was discovered through the kindness of
some of the readers of that journal and the enterprise of its
editor. In a letter in _Country Life_ for August 27, 1921, Bishop
G. F. Browne, late Lord Bishop of Bristol, thus describes their
origin. “The first three stanzas were composed at Lowick Rectory,
Northants, by the rector, J. S. Watson, his daughter Betty, and
Dean Ingram of Peterborough. The authors felt that there ought to
be a concluding stanza, ambiguously stating a final result. I told
the story to Father Waggett on our way from Bournemouth to Clouds,
and he suggested ‘booked it’ as the point of a last stanza. On that
hint I wrote the stanza. In my book I remark that its tendency
would be unjust to any real fisherman’s imaginative powers.”

[4] December 11, 18, 25, 1921.

[5] January 28, February 4, 11, 18, 1922.

[6] _Field_, February 18, 1922, p. 233.

[7] “Velocity of Flight among Birds,” by Colonel R. Meinertzhagen,
D.S.O., in the _Ibis_ for April 1921, pp. 237-238.

[8] _Field_, February 18, 1922, p. 234.

[9] _Wild Sports of the Highlands_, chap. x. p. 135.

[10] _Field_, February 18, 1922, pp. 233-234.

[11] _Ibis_, April 1921, p. 234.

[12] _Wild Sports and Natural History of the Highlands_, by Charles
St. John, ch. x. p. 131.

[13] See also the letter of Mr. H. G. Hurrell in the _Field_ for
March 8, 1923.

[14] This is a very considerable warning--H. F.

[15] Pp. 258-259 (Witherby & Co., London, 1914).

[16] Pp. 35, 36.

[17] _Manual of British Birds_, by Howard Saunders, 2nd ed. (Gurney
& Jackson, London), pp. 264, 266.

[18] _History of the Birds of Europe_, by Henry E. Dresser, F.L.S.,
F.Z.S. (1871-1881), vol. iv. p. 617.

[19] _A Practical Handbook of British Birds_, edited by H. F.
Witherby, vol. ii. pp. 7, 9. Witherby & Co., London, 1920.

[20] _Handbook to the Birds of Australia_, by John Gould, F.R.S.
(1865), vol. i. p. 104. London.

[21] Vol. ii. p. 305, Porter, 6 Tenterden Street, W.; Dulau & Co.,
Soho Square, W., 1884.

[22] _Avicultural Magazine_, Third Series, vol. x. No. 4, February
1919, pp. 73-74.

[23] Vol. iv. p. 616.

[24] _British Birds Magazine_, vol. xvi. No. 1 (June 1, 1922), p.

[25] _The Fauna of British India including Ceylon and Burma Birds_,
vol. iii. p. 173. Published under the authority of the Secretary of
State for India in Council. Taylor & Francis, London, 1895.

[26] _Ibid._ p. 174.

[27] March 15, 1923.

[28] _Ornithological Dictionary of Birds_, by Col. G. Montagu: 2nd
edition by James Rennie, London, 1831.

[29] _Rough Shooting_, by Richard Clapham, ch. vii. pp. 125-126.
Heath Cranton, Ltd., London, 1922.

[30] In _One Hundred Years in the Highlands_, p. 132 (Edward
Arnold, London, 1921), Mr. Osgood Mackenzie quotes an extract from
a diary of his uncle, Dr. John Mackenzie of Eileanach, in which an
incident of this kind is described as having occurred in Kinlochewe

[31] Adam & Charles Black, London, 1910.

[32] See, for instance, the opinions of Mr. F. M. Halford in
_The Dry-Fly Man’s Handbook_, p. 395 (George Routledge & Sons,
Ltd., London); Mr. P. D. Malloch at p. 179 in the work previously
cited; Mr. J. J. Armistead in _An Angler’s Paradise, and how to
obtain it_; and Mr. Tom Speedy in _The Natural History of Sport in
Scotland with Rod and Gun_ (William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and
London, 1920).

[33] Martin Secker, London, 1917.

[34] _The Dry-Fly Man’s Handbook_, p. 319 (George Routledge & Sons,
Ltd., London).

[35] _A Lame Dog’s Diary_, by S. Macnaughtan, pp. 239, 240 (John
Murray, London, 1915).

[36] “Canadian Boat Song,” _St. Andrew’s Treasury of Scottish
Verse_, by Mrs. Alexander Lawson and Alexander Lawson, pp. 133, 134
(A. & C. Black, Ltd., London, 1920).

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s note:

Inconsistent use of hyphens, such as burn-side/burnside and
gyr-falcon/gyrfalcon, has been retained.

Page viii: M^cIver (superscript c) changed to McIver to match other
instances in the book.

Index: “Cats, killed by eagles, 38” changed to “Cats, killed by
eagles, 138”.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Amid the High Hills" ***

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