‘A Dundonian’s Lesson in Deer-Stalking’ by W. McCombie Smith (7 September, 1889)

The following is the first in a series of tales about “The Romance of Poaching” that appeared in the Journal throughout 1889 and 1890. The story is from the life of John Farquharson, a legendary 17th century poacher around Blair Atholl. In the Journal the story is said to be ‘by’ Farquharson, but later ones in the series are credited to the actual author McCombie Smith, who would publish his collection of hunting tales as ‘The Romance of Poaching in the Highlands’. A short biography of Farquharson can be found from p294 of the book Blairgowrie, Stormont, and Strathmore Worthies’ published in 1903.

Some years ago a flourishing tradesman of Dundee named Andrew—was very anxious to get a good stag’s head for stuffing. Having chanced to meet me—an old acquaintance—in Blairgowrie, one day about the middle of October, he asked if I could get him a first-rate stag’s head. I told him that I had just killed a stag which had a very singular head of eleven points with three horns. A thick malformation ten inches long, tapering to a point and slightly spiral, grew forward between the main cabers, forcing them right and left and causing them to grow almost horizontal. This head was secreted at the time in Lonavey’s Cave. I told him further that if he would accompany me on the following day, he could have the queer head for the carrying, and if we succeeded in killing a stag with a better head he could have his choice. Andrew, who was a first-rate fisher, had never fired a gun, or seen a wild red deer in his life. Nevertheless, he resolved to take a holiday with the prospect of bringing home an ornament for his lobby, which would also be useful for hanging his hat on. Accordingly we started that afternoon with the Kirkmichael coach for a day’s stalking, which some would vulgarly call a poaching expedition—never mind, we will not stop to argue that point just now. Next morning, two hours before daylight, we were winding our way up Glenfernate, fully equipped for a day’s sport.

After walking a couple of miles a heavy shower of snow fell. This was not bargained for. We left the road at once, thereby diminishing the chances of being tracked in the snow to the forest. On arriving there at daybreak, a short rest was taken. Then, Andrew, who was “fair, fat, and forty,” was to walk a few paces in rear, with his wooden staff. When my hand was thrown back with the fingers full spread, that was to be the signal for Andrew to instantly stop. In this order we were about to proceed, and Andrew had just said, “I think we will be better o’ a wee—” when I whispered, “Hush, steady, steady, yonder they are, almost within range, and, by Jove! coming straight this way, seven hinds and a stag.”

Andrew must have a peep at them. The stag, a formidable looking brute, was grunting and driving the hinds here and there with his horns.

Andrew whispered, “They will soon be at us, and I don’t much like the looks of that big customer.”

Barely daylight enough to take aim, and seeing no prospect of a broadside shot, I whispered, “I don’t like this.”

Andrew, thinking I meant that the stag had seen and was bearing down on us with hostile intentions, must have another peep at them, when the stag slowly lifted his nose in the air, and gave forth a most fearful roar. Andrew ducked his head in great alarm and, grasping his stick, whispered excitedly, “Fire at the beggar! fire at him! he is quite near enough to us, and if you dont [sic] kill him, perhaps the shot will frighten him away.” Continue reading “‘A Dundonian’s Lesson in Deer-Stalking’ by W. McCombie Smith (7 September, 1889)”