We sight a group of Hinds and follow the Ghillie trying to cross some dead ground towards them. Rounding the hillside I stand up in an involuntary attempt to make the searing pain in my back ease up, in doing so I silhouette against the skyline and the Hinds flash their tails and are gone. I’ve earned my first disparaging look.
The Ghillie sets off like a racing snake and we struggle after him. Suddenly he crouches down, we do the same. Even at a crouch he moves at exactly the same speed, the gap between us grows, he makes an irritated hand gesture which I interpret as ‘bend down further and walk faster’. Before I can catch him up he’s turned and is slithering downhill on his belly. I try to follow him starting on all-fours, sinking elbow deep into the mud. Something between a wriggle and a slide brings me alongside the Ghillie who is making a hand signal I infer as ‘put your rifle here NOW you Sassenach time waster or I’ll knot the barrel around your feckin’ neck.’ I have no doubt that he could and would.
Lying wedged between a cluster of tussocks and rocks covered in melting snow I try to slow my pounding heart and heaving chest, my eyes lurch in and out of focus, my inner ears pound like rain on a tin roof, the crosshairs dance over the Hind. I manage to pull it all together and between heartbeats start to squeeze the trigger. Nothing happens. I’m wondering it a stick or stone has become wedged behind the trigger’s blade. I’m pretty sure the deer isn't going to wait around much longer so I apply the kind of force you’d use to crack a walnut shell. The trigger breaks. The first round is a clean miss, “Feckin reloud" snarls the Ghillie, I work the bolt and send the second one sailing over the Hind’s shoulder, a third makes the same trajectory. Pictures of smashed bullseyes at the indoor range dance before my eyes, but-but-but my confidence is slumping, Big Tim looks on with kindly concern, the ghillie’s ill-concealed contempt hangs in the air. We trudge on, fording a stream or six. The wind rasps, snow swirls, and along with the tops of my boots, my ebullience starts to take on water. Worse by far than being ‘that guy’ I’ve become ‘that client’. All those hours of range-time have come to nowt.
In the UK our deer seasons are sexed, when Red hinds are in season so are Roe does. Further down the glen the next opportunity presents and to make things worse another pair of rounds sail over a doe’s shoulders. The Ghillie’s withering contempt is more abrasive than the winds that blast the hillside. We trudge on, I feel like the worst kind of time-waster imaginable. Now despondent I mention my dismay at missing five times in a row. The Ghillie “If you’re looking for sympathy its somewhere between shit and syphilis” I’m so down heartened the best I can do by way of retort is a rather feeble “Aye is that right?’ I console myself that he not calling me 'sir'. Yet. As we near the Landrover the Ghillie asks for my rifle, empties the chamber and squeezes the trigger, a palpable air of disgust threatens to strip the varnish from the rifle's stock, he repeats the procedure, "that's such a nice trigger" I must have looked shocked because he adds "erhm being sarcastic" Equipment failure may have earned me a partial reprieve from charges of Sassenach uselessness. Partial.
Back at the Landrover, I heave myself and the huge weight of my bog-encrusted boots in, the Ghillie flicks a switch firing up what appears to be a small jet engine repurposed as a heater. Your Truly: “I’ve never been in a Landrover with a heater like this!” The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right? Big Tim rocks up and clambers in after us, all fat and jolly, happy to be out of the wind, and in the warm blast of the industrial clothes dryer. Big Tim “ This heater didn't come with the Landrover! I’ve never been in a Landrover with a heater like this!” The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right? The ghillie drops us off at the lodge, a sort of wooden summerhouse with a kitchen sink and a big wood burner. Its installers, concerned that it’ll want to take Dorothy and Toto on an unwarranted trip to Oz, have ratchet-strapped the roof to four ton-plus blocks of concrete. Trying to keep each other buoyed up we eat our sandwiches of repurposed breakfast sausages and gulp down the rapidly cooling soup. For a change accuracy is too serious a subject to be joked about.
With a few calories onboard we take the 7x57 down to the range, I trudge up the slope and pin the A4/letter sized paper on the board. As soon as I'm safely behind him again Big Tim takes position and starts to splatter rounds over the backing board. The central black dot remains untroubled. Now it’s Big Tim’s turn to look perturbed, first it turns out the moderator isn't screwed on as tight as we might have liked, he gives it a twist. Putting his attention to the scope, he dials in some windage clicks and puts two rounds onto the top right hand corner of the paper. He calls me over. I settle behind the rifle. As I’m wriggling into position the rifle rattles, when I say ‘rattles’, it rattles like a supermarket trolley on a cobbled street. WTF! I put my hand on the S&B 6x42 scope, its barely moored to the rifle at all. Now filled with the glee of exoneration I saunter back to the Ghillie’s house, all smirking set to stealth mode. Yours truly: Hi, I’m wondering, can we borrow a flat head screwdriver? Ghillie: Sure what size are you needing? Yours truly: Rings. Scope’s not tight to the rifle Ghillie: Aye. Is that right? With the scope now reattached to its moorings we're able to pouch some holes in the black dot, and whistling Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song' retreat to the fireside.
Thanks for reading