“I’m not going to laugh at stories of people messing up shots on deer: you never know whether I don’t end up being in one of the stories” I said as Malc and Tom regaled me and the two other stalkers who were up in Bedfordshire for the weekend with tales of missed, lost or wounded deer. I’d never yet wounded or lost a deer, admittedly mostly because I just haven’t shot at very many, but it doesn’t do to tempt Fate. Malcolm sometimes likes to joke (is he joking?) that one day he’ll write a book about his experiences and that one chapter will be about these sorts of mishaps. And I really don’t want to be mentioned in that chapter…
This was my last stalking trip of a season during which I had so far accounted for precisely no deer at all (I consider that my season goes from April to March of the next year, really because the end of February, beginning of March used to be the slot just after the end of the wildfowling). The last deer I had shot had been a really good muntjac buck back in March last year with Willie_Gunn, but since then, a weekend in the summer looking for the still elusive roe buck, a foray after roe does and fallow just before Christmas and a morning search for muntjac in freezing rain and howling wind in the shadow of a powers station had all been fruitless. So my return to Bedfordshire in search of a Chinese water deer, ideally a little buck to keep the aforementioned muntjac company on the wall, was to be my last chance. I very much doubt that I’ll be stalking again before June now.
It was a beautiful, quite sunny day, but cold and a slightly more windy than is ideal for the little deer to come out of cover. On the way from the station where Malc picked me up, we saw twelve CWDs basking in the sun in a hollow on the side of the road, and another on its’ own in the middle of a field. I joked with Malcolm that I’d like him to at least make it look a bit challenging, although there was a nugget of genuine concern that the deer were just going to be suicidal today. I needn’t have worried about such an imaginary problem. We set off around 3pm, starting out in the same area where I had been surprised last year when a deer presented itself before I’d even mentally started stalking. As a result I had been unable to comfortably line up the shot and had let it go rather than risking wounding it. By contrast this time, there was not a deer to be seen, so we moved on to another area that I hadn’t been to before. There were plenty of slots around, and fresh ones at that, but no deer were showing in the cold wind. Malcolm didn’t seem hopeful, but after a couple of hours of trudging through the cloying, heavy mud, he spotted a Chinese water deer against a hedge at the far end of the next field. He didn’t think it would stay out of long, and as we emerged from a wood across the field, it went into the thick hedge. It could either have continued on into the next field, or bedded down in the hedge. So we crossed the field, had a look around the hedge, but as expected it wasn’t there. Time for unorthodox tactics: I put the rifle on sticks on one side of the hedge, and Malc walked up the other to see if he could push the deer out into the field. If it stopped, it may offer a shot. After a few minutes, it emerged from the far end of the hedge, ran at full tilt up two sides of the field during which I tracked it through the scope, but it didn’t stop until it was just outside the wood we’d crossed beforehand. I drew a bead on it but it was head on, about two-hundred metres away and I was on sticks. I wasn’t going to risk that, and then it was off. Well at least we’d had some action!
We moved on, and after ten or fifteen minutes of glassing, spotted two muntjac on the edge of a wood, two fields away. We headed down the other side of the hedge, but by the time we arrived close enough, they’d gone into cover. We stood there on sticks for a few minutes, calling with the Buttolo, but the wind was against us, and the light was fading. As we headed back towards the truck, I went over the earlier events, and mentioned that I may eventually convince myself that there had been a possible shot before, but really, I just didn’t want to risk being in The Book. And almost just as I’d said that, Malc stopped and pointed out into the field: he’d spotted a single CWD walking along the crest of the field, no more than 100 metres away!
It was really the last of the light now. As we walked quickly back along the hedge, I kept my eyes on the ghostly shape because I didn’t think I’d be able to find it again in the gloom. I put the sticks up, but there was no backstop. I increased the magnification of the scope to eight, but this was because of the low light, not the distance. The deer continued its’ progress to the right, I tracked it, and it started to come off the ridge. As soon as there was a backstop, Malc shouted… and the deer totally ignored him. Then he shouted again. And this time, it stopped. BANG! I reloaded, but I couldn’t see the deer through the scope. Malc had kept his eyes on it and tracked it against a tree at the far end of the field. It hadn’t reacted to the shot, had just walked off towards the far end of the field slowly, gone over the ridge, then had gone down. We walked forward to find it, but it was nowhere to be seen. I prayed that I had just missed it, or that we just couldn’t find it, but I didn’t want it to be wounded. Malc was pretty sure he’d heard the bullet strike, although he did suspect a stomach shot. It was possible of course, but you can usually tell when you’ve pulled a shot, and this didn’t feel like it. A bit rushed, yes, but it was only 80 metres away, I’m not that bad a shot. Still, there was no deer to be seen. We walked around in the pitch black with torches for half an hour, I looked in the stream at the bottom of the slope, nothing. I was in The Book.
That night, I woke up at 4am and realised that if I didn’t take my mind off that deer, I was never going to sleep. At 6am, Malc asked me whether I wanted to go back and look for that deer. Of course I did. “I had a feeling you’d say that” said Malc, so at dawn, we set off back to the field. It was thickly coated with frost, and we went back down to where I’d shot the deer, then towards where we thought we’d shot it. The frost made it difficult to spot any pins or blood, and indeed we didn’t see any. Half an hour later, Malcolm declared the shot a miss. If that deer had been hit, it wouldn’t have cleared the field. I could live with that. But as I headed back towards the truck, Malc, who was ahead of me, shouted “Here it is!”. It was exactly where he’d seen it drop the night before. It had gone no more than 20 metres, it wasn’t gut shot, just a bit further back than ideal as it was quartering and the bullet had exited where the diaphragm meets the ribcage. Luckily none of the digestive tract was ruptured, although a fox had had a share of one of the haunches. My relief was immense. I can shoot after all, as I thought I could, and more to the point, I’m not going to be in that chapter of the Book!
If the purpose of trophies is to remind us of stories, then this not-so-small buck richly deserves its’ place on the wall.
Thanks very much Malcolm for persevering to find me a deer, and for bearing with me during the hours when it looked like this story could end badly. (Better photos to follow)