On the face of it, there’s not much to recommend the idea. After all, there are only about six hours between what is technically dawn and what is technically dusk – though these are largely notional events in the Highlands in winter; that the sun rises at all is often more an article of faith and an empirical fact. And then there’s the Baltic weather, the perpetual damp, the gunmetal grey skies that sweat freezing mists and par-frozen drizzle. Numb feet; numb fingers; numb bum.
Then someone says, offhand-like, ‘Of course, it’s not for everyone.’
And that’s when you know that hind stalking is most definitely for you. For Scotland is a different, more glorious beast outside of the summer months: more austere, somehow even more dignified and – to the wide-eyed Southerner – apparently completely empty.
Best of all, the anticipated discomforts are either less dispiriting than expected or are so well balanced with simple, hard-won luxuries that they are more than worth enduring. The breakfasts are the finest and largest you will ever taste, the drinks stronger (and earlier) than ever, the baths deeper and more restorative than one would have thought possible. The waft of peat-smoke, the crunch of frost the crack of the rifle, the steam rising up from the gralloch. And, contrary to popular belief, the sun shines, too. Quite a lot, in fact.
And just as the stag can sometimes be politely mocked for his vainglorious displays, showing himself to such fine effect against the skyline, so the summer-only stalker can be quietly chided as being more glory hunter than hunter.
It’s the love of the sport and little else that drives us North in winter. And however badly we shoot, we sometimes think that – just for a moment, mind – the keeper doesn’t glare at us as if we’re the weakest, sorriest, most pathetic excuse for a sportsman or sportswoman ever to have crossed the border. And that, surely, is an accolade worth earning – whatever the hardships.