With the doe, hind and CWD season rapidly drawing to a close it was time for me to have one last throw of the dice, a chance to finally scratch that itch and tick off the one UK deer that has eluded me, the Chinese Water Deer.
Having most of my shooting and stalking in sunny Dorset I have been lucky enough to have stalked, and shot, 5 of the six resident species in our fair county. Alas the one deer that had never made it successfully to any Victorian collection or park in Wessex was the CWD, so it was time to pack the rifle and venture "Norf of Luton" to seek the fabled fanged Teddy Bear.
Having enjoyed a couple of trips to Sussex and having been regaled with his tales of how elusive and wary the Chinese can be, it was to SikaMalc that I turned to arrange an evening and morning on one of his patches for a chance at a Chinese. A date was put in the diary and even though it was late in the season, Malc assured me that there were still a few around and that, if we were lucky, then we might be able to get one. So with the trusty .243 and some home loaded 85gr Gamekings packed, I left a sunny Spring day behind in Dorset and headed up to the B&B where we had arranged to meet.
One thing you can always rely on with Malc is top quality accommodation and a good pub to refuel in later. This B&B was no exception! It was a lovely 8 bedroom block set deep in Bedfordshire farmland, an easy jump away from the M1/A6. The owner Rachel gave clear directions and was there to greet me and to provide a much needed cup of coffee after the joys of the M3/M25/M1. Malc was already there, having had clients the evening and morning before. Greetings were exchanged, plans made and with a brief interlude to watch the climax of the 6 Nations, it was off to one of Malc's areas for a chance for me to see, in "real life", one of our least common deer. If I got a chance to stalk and shoot one, then even better!
The beautiful Spring day on the sunny South Coast had given way to a grey dreary evening as a biting wind from the North Sea raced across East Anglia and through the flatlands of Bedfordshire. Malc wasn't hopeful, tempering my enthusiasm with the sensible advice that our furry foe would be cwtched up in a hedge, dip or copse to get out of the wind but we'd have a look.
Stopping at the farm, Malc quickly had a word with gamekeeper who reassuringly said he had seen a few around and that interestingly, a nice buck had been sighted in one of the rape fields. So, locked & loaded we set off on foot, carefully skirting the hedges and woods, spotting and scanning the edges and fields every few minutes. As we quietly rounded the corner of a wood, 'binos scouring the rape field in front of us, a small golden brown object some 300-400 metres away looked up and then quietly nosed through the calf deep oilseed. I had seen my first CWD! I nudged Malcolm who had now picked the deer up and agreed it looked like the nice buck. Malc suggested we double-back and approach quietly through the woods. Now when I say quietly, I say that bearing in mind that after a long dry Winter most woodland floors are akin to being covered in Frosties and the "stealthy" approach is somewhat hypothetical! So after crunching through the twigs and leaves we crept out of the side of the wood, only to find the deer had wandered off towards an area of new plantation, its rapidly disappearing backside compounding our disappointment. We turned and trudged disconsolately back towards the hedge when some movement on a hedge line in an adjacent field above us caught my attention. Two Chinese were browsing in the lee of a hedge.
The problem was now could we get into range but more importantly, would there be a safe shot. Doubling our pace Malc & I crossed the rape field and started the approach up along the hedge with that gnawing feeling that the deer would present themselves on the crest of the hill as we crept towards them. And so, alas, it was...a buck and doe, oblivious to the two panting and perspiring stalkers, were enjoying an evening browse, sheltered from the cold North Easterly wind. The buck suddenly aware that something was afoot, moved purposefully into the field to our right before breaking into a trot and disappearing from view. The doe stood for a few moments, outlined against the grey evening sky, just long enough for me to at least mount the rifle on the sticks and train the cross hairs of the 'scope across her before she followed the buck down across the field without backward glance. Alas there had been no safe shot and another opportunity was lost. Malc was convinced the doe had laid down again and hadn't gone too far but in the dips and folds of a Spring rape field there were lots of areas for her to hide. As we walked back to the truck, she suddenly jumped up some 100m ahead of us, bolting for the hedge and the safety of a copse, two fields away. It was all too quick even to try and mount the rifle and by the time I'd untangled my sticks, sling, binos, arms and legs, she had gone.
" Well at least we've seen some!" I cheerily said...sensing Malc was both professionally, and personally, annoyed that Lady Luck hadn't been on our side.
A quick scoot around the Estate in the truck revealed one other Chinese some 60m away behind a hedge, 5m out in a field as we came through the gate. By the time Malc had slammed the truck into reverse and we had bundled out, the deer, like the light, had faded into nothing, vanishing into the cold evening air.
Drawing the stalk to a close we headed back for a warm shower and a damn fine meal at the local pub/eatery, on our way there spotting more muntjac grazing happily along the roadside that I had ever seen in Dorset during all my years stalking!
With a full tum and a couple of pints of the Landlords finest, sleep was not a long time in coming and as my dreams of long tusked teddy bear eared deer filled by slumbers, the beeping of my alarm signalled 5:00am and time to go again.
Grabbing a cup of coffee as we left, we headed back to where we had seen the deer the evening before and with the wind in the same direction, followed the same path along the hedges.
Being half asleep I wasn't ready when Malc urgently called me forward around the corner of a hedge where there, some 70-80m in front of us was a Chinese doe, grazing and slowly heading towards the cover of the hedge. Faffing about with my sticks and being urged by Malc to take the shot if I could, this time with a safe backstop, I simply gave the doe too much time and she ambled off, unperturbed, into cover. Damn! Damn! Damn! Malc smiled through gritted teeth, knowing he had presented a good animal but due to my hesitation we had yet again missed a chance. Ever the optimist I said..."Sorry Malc! I'm sure we'll get another chance!". The sun now was beginning to make its presence felt and the grey clouds of yesterday had blown over to reveal increasing patches of blue in the dawn sky. The deer would soon be settling down to rest and digest and our already slim chances were fast disappearing.
We carefully approached the rape field where I had seen my first CWD the day before, this time I made sure my sticks, binos and range finder were all ready. Malc carefully skirted the wood's edge and whispered..."There are two out, about 300m away on the edge of the wood! A doe or young buck and I think, that big buck!"
Suddenly the smaller Chinese started out across the field, unaware of us but obviously spooked by something. Not stopping, the animal trotted across the field and away into the re-gen. The bigger, older, one having pushed off the young pretender just carried on grazing and moved slowly out into the rape in front of us. Lifting my range finder up I pinged it at 275m......long but do-able! "Lets get closer" urged Malc and quickly we moved another 70-80m closer along the edge of the wood. The deer was still there, unaware and pausing as it browsed the rape. This time, the sticks were ready, the rifle was set, cross hairs aligned. Range was 180m. I dialled the 'scope and tracked the deer as it moved off slowly. Malc whistled which brought it to a stop, head up and interested in the source the sound. As it turned it's head towards us, two beautifully curved tusks caught the early morning light. A buck!!....and a nice one at that!!. With the crosshairs now 2/3rds of the way down from the top of the back, just behind shoulder, I slowly exhaled, feeling my heart hammering in my chest and gently squeezed the trigger, sending the 6mm Gameking speeding towards the quarry. The thump, puff of fur and the sight of the deer falling confirmed the strike and with a few desperate kicks of its back legs, the buck disappeared from view into the rape. Reloading and marking the spot we approached carefully, just in case the expected point of impact hadn't been as planned.
There was no need to worry. The homeload had done its job. A perfect heart shot had dropped the deer just feet from the where it had been standing. There was now no mistaking the curved ivory of its two tusks. A buck and a good one at that. Handshakes, back slaps, relief and general self congratulatory exclamations filled the morning air.
For Malc...Job done! A good stalk, a good shot, an excellent buck and most importantly a happy, satisfied client!
For me.....a wonderful experience! The satisfaction of seeing my first CWD, a successful stalk and clean quick effective shot, grassing one with a good placement as I wanted the cape.
So as the sun rose over the tilled and rolled soil of Bedfordshire and its warmth brought the end of Malc's season to a close, we looked back at a great couple of stalks and an excellent 1st CWD.
Thanks to Malcolm for his skill and expertise and for his organisation and company!