August 21, 2011
Scotland is my 25th country, maybe 26th. It's nice to see a new one. I'm here with Editor Mike Schoby and CZ USA's awesome boss, Alice Poluchova. Would I do this hunt if I had $20K to drop on a set of Scottish horns? You bet. It's a real hunt, with some real challenges. Mike McCrave our outfitter is a "great bloke", fully competent and hilarious when he gets warmed up. The challenges are mainly the lack of cover, lots of eyeballs in the large groups and the tough terrain. But aspects of the culture that comes with it are a huge bonus.
I'll give you a heads up on the culture now in case you're on your way over here. These people like to laugh. You hear the term, "It's just not done mate." as an answer to all kinds of questions, but if you just keep having fun, you'll all be laughing together inside 36 hours of arrival. The social structure and related behavioral expectations are firmly fixed like a feudal hangover, but as an American you get a pass.
All my visits to foreign countries make me happier to be an American, some more than others. Countries with royalty tend to get on my nerves the most, but countries that take their royalty seriously really get on my nerves. Sweden, you barely notice. Spain maybe it's a little more in your face. But right now, we are hunting in Scotland on an estate adjacent to Balmoral Castle, the Queen's hunting estate and she is currently in residence. We hear about it every ten or twelve minutes. The queen this, the queen that. So anyhow, she's next door. I just have an aversion to royalty, it feels like all the grown ups are playing "dress up" in Mr. Roger's "Land of Make Believe".
Mike Schoby and Alice Poluchova are here to attempt the McNab. This effort involves taking a stag, a brace of grouse and catching an Atlantic salmon all in one day. This is a tough challenge. Stalking (which is the proper term here for hunting stag) on the peat and heather is pretty tough. There's not much cover, you must use the terrain, creeks and water and muck holes punctuate the land like a muskeg and it is steep, steep, steep. The heather is a killer on the knees.
The red grouse weren't too tough, they're everywhere. But, the Atlantic Salmon are finicky. Schoby had a top Gillie guiding him on the River Dee,It is incredibly beautiful and great to just hang out while the fishing takes place. Salmon surfaced all around every few minutes. The guys threw everything they had at them. Schoby fished seven hours, until I pulled him off at 10:00 PM. The salmon river we're fishing is called the River Dee.
I looked up the hunting area, Genmuick Estate before we came, so I was pretty fired up to stay here. Upon arrival it turns out our budget put us in the old stable/kennel behind the big house. Whatever. I've been to the haunted mansion at Disneyland. From the looks of things, it's the same building.
Did you know that Jim Shockey is a Lord? We found out you can buy a title here and apparently Shockey's wife bought him the title of Lord for a birthday gift. Sooooo Canadian. I found a coupon for mine, I bought the title "Count Chocula". Recognize.
So, Thursday night a trustee of the estate (code for high-roller) invited we commoners to the "big house" from the stables for a drink. Being a big dumb American, I didn't think much of it. I did wonder why our local man, the illustorious Mike McCrave was so nervous about it. It turns out inviting commoners down to the big house is great sport for the elite.
Here's how it goes. Commoners get cleaned up and walk down to the big house, awkwardly ring the door bell and then are greeted with a stiff combination of irritation and disdain. Commoners then get whisked off to a safe room, in this case the game room, where we can be insulted by a drunk (shocker) family member. Commoners get warm drinks in peasant approved glassware. Don't bother looking for a seat, you won't be there long. Then the games begin, the elite serve up a volley of snide and condescending comments about shit they know nothing of. In this case, the McNab Hunt, cougar hunting in the USA, hunting in Africa. Finally, (28 minutes later) high roller coughs uncomfortably signaling we commoners to hit the bricks. The game ends with us shuffling up the driveway shaking our heads, and I guess the high-rollers feeling better about themselves somehow.
This is the moment, I'm very proud to be an American. If a high-roller American invites me into his or her home, it's because they want me there and I'll be treated in a friendly and respectful manner. If we're all hunters then it's even more this way. As we left Mr. McCrave indicated that this scenario was exactly what he expected, so I decided I needed a better title for the rest of my time here in the U.K. I'm now not so officially signing my name and introducing myself as "Count Chocula."