The elusive Sika deer in the Highlands of Scotland are probably the last true wild deer we have here and I am lucky to have the ability to hunt for my fair share as they cover all my shooting permissions and including the estate I work on.
These amazing creatures and specimens of pure wild nature came to the shores of the UK in the 19th and early 20th century probably then escaped from parks or introduced to areas for ornamental and a variation for sport.
Sika mainly populate large areas on the north and west coast of the Highlands, but there is large populations not far South and West of Inverness. Rarely and strangely are Sika spotted East of the A9 for some unknown reason.
Sika are fast becoming the recreational stalkers choice of prey and year on year more stalkers are coming to the Highlands to shoot Sika over the age old prestige of getting that Highland Red Stag. There is a few theories on why this is, mostly around the cost involved in Red Stag stalking and the hidden costs that estates usually put on such bounties, but I believe it is more to do with the type of hunting involved in getting a good or even a great Sika stag.
Sika are seen as much inferior to Red mainly due to size but the hunting is far from inferior and the experience of getting into Sika stalking is far more rewarding and for the most part less expensive, so what’s not like?
What entails in a Highland Red Stalk is still an experience everyone should try at least once in a lifetime, but you will find for many it will be exactly that, a once in a lifetime hunt. Traditional Highland stalking of an entourage of Ghillie and Stalker stalking you into a herd of deer during the rut, that the stalker already knows the location of, is an amazing experience for the guest who doesn’t really need to do anything but walk and pull the trigger over open hill ground, Sika are a whole different experience altogether.
Sika for the most part are woodland beasts, they occupy deep within cover and can be very nocturnal. During the summer their beautiful red spotted coats help them blend in but it doesn’t compare to their dark and black winter attire that makes them ghostlike as they become almost impossible to see, like shadows floating effortlessly through thick Sitka Spruce or mixed woodland plantations.
Stalking Sika stags can be more of a sit up and wait. like most deer you can call them in on occasion, with a call that is very much like an Elk call, a high pitch whistle of sorts.
Let’s be honest It’s getting to the point that most UK stalkers have forgotten how to hunt, forgotten how to use their eyes, ears and nose to get their deer as technology has taken over, with the use of thermal spotters etc. Even with thermal Sika are difficult so you are forced to use your field craft knowledge, often I get told from syndicate members “I seen one but couldn’t get a shot” or “It was whistling in the trees beside me” .Yer it’s not always easy getting these beasts into the open can be hard, but that’s hunting.
One thing I have to mention, it is not just the stalking that is better than Red deer stalking, the meat is also. Sika venison is by far the best tasting venison we have in Scotland, it has that balance that Red and Roe does not have and is not as mild as Fallow, it’s rich without being gamey, darker meat just melts with not much in the way of fat or marbling, it works well as most dishes, whether that is minced up for Lasange or a Haunch Roast or even left cold and sliced for salads and sandwiches you really cannot get better.
This year I have had some beautiful Sika stags on the estate I work on. Each stalk was as different as the next. Here’s the story of one stalk that resulted in me shooting my biggest Sika to date a 71kg Highland monster, heaviest Sika I have ever seen.
Autumn just starting really in the last weeks of September, even now it’s October we are still reaching temperatures of 19 and 20 degrees C.
Sika rut had already started, the eerie whistles of lone stags calling for hinds filled the morning air. Half six in the morning saw me sitting as it got light in a hollow patch amidst some deep bracken looking over an opening between a Sitka Spruce plantation and a mixed Broadleaf wood, the sun was coming up and the East wind was blowing gentle warm air in my face. The leaves of the Broadleafs were still green and the Berries on the Rowans gave a splash of red amongst the sea of green in front highlighting the depth of the bracken in front of me all balancing on a very steep slope that lead to the shores of Loch Ness.
There is no sporting on this estate so no guests to share this amazing morning, just myself and my equipment sitting listening and watching.
Sitting listening alone with my thoughts I heard the call of a Sika stag close by, Knowing the ground I decided to stay where I was, normally if the terrain was less dense and less steep I would try get closer to where the whistling was coming from but on this occasion it would have been fruitless, so I tried to reply to its call.
Using my Nordic Sika Caller I gave three long blasts of the caller and waited. A few minutes passed and I got a reply, my heart was racing hard, like a fisherman I had hooked the beast now I needed the patience to bring it in without being too eager, I waited a minute or so and gave another three long blasts of the Nordic, again, but this time almost immediately I got the reply, he was very close, so close in fact that any mistake would mean he would see me before I saw him so I had to be careful. This time I only gave one blast of the caller and started scanning the area in front with my Bushnell binoculars, there he was in front of me next to two Birch trees in some thinning Bracken, I pressed the range finder on my binos and in orange letters and numbers came up and told me he was 130yrds away, ideal.
lying prone I settled into my scope and was looking directly at this beautiful majestic black Stag, Its coat glistening in the now bright warm sunrise surrounded by green undergrowth. He was looking directly at me, clear as day I could see every tine of his antlers, his dark angry face eager for a fight and the dark brown hair mane on his forehead making him look more intimidating.
I waited until he turned broadside before I took the shot with my Tikka .270, as he turned to face uphill I just touched the trigger and almost immediately the deer lurched forward on impact turned and started falling fast downhill, he was hit and a perfect lung shot reaction but now I had to find him. This terrain is steep and thick, I knew the extraction was going to be a hard one, so I had to go get my girls which meant a half hour walk back to the truck, taking no chances I left my sticks at the shot sight and went and got my girls.
Finding the stag was easy with the dogs, the hardest part was getting to where I shot the beast initially to start the track, the thick Sitka that I had to pass through at the top of the hill was disorientating, then the heavy Gorse and Bracken outside the plantation was hard to navigate, but I finally managed to get to where the stag initially was hit. There was a deep gorge between where I took the shot and where the stag was, I hoped an prayed that in his “run on” he didn’t land in that gorge as extraction would have been ten times as hard, thankfully this wasn’t the case. Lana and Lucy (mother and daughter team) were straight on it. The Sika had fallen between two Roman trees around 50yrds down hill from where I shot it. Now to prep and get out, not easy when you have around 300yrd near vertical climb through dense cover but that’s hunting.
Sika stag stalking and even hind stalking really is a lot harder than Any other deer stalking in Scotland. I have had an American mate describe it as being like Whitetail hunting, jumpy and hard to predict and an art of its own but that makes good hunting.
I can see Sika being the preferred type of stalking for many for a long time to come as people seek that extra sense of adventure that Scotland gives.
It truly probably is the last wild hunting experience we can offer in Scotland.
Here are more photos of Sika stags and hunting this last few weeks. I do still sell Sika stalking all over the Highlands, Accompanied an Unaccompanied, call 07415 723 492 for dates an prices.