Bit of a diatribe here but I had a very special day and night with my son just after Easter and wanted the share the pleasures of taking a mad-keen boy dressed head to toe in cammo on his first stalking trip.
I headed up to Norfolk a few weekends ago (that bright and sunny one with the cold wind the weekend after Easter) with my 11yr old son. He had been in a high seat with me last summer and we saw plenty of Roe and Muntjac but never saw the buck we were after and was keen to get out again. I sold the trip to my wife as an education experience for a London dwelling kid but everyone kinda knew I was just desperate to get out on the deer and using him as an excuse.
A good friend lent me his cottage on a lovely bit of land out past Thetford forest and off we went. This was also my first time out with a new .270 as well so excitement was high. We spent an enjoyable afternoon hour putting a few rounds through the previously unshot rifle and I was delighted with the first three shots clover-leafing into and old wine box at 100yards. Any myths about .270m recoil were banished, the gun felt like an extension of my body and we were set for the evening.
After tea we left the cottage and drove to a nice part of the estate where the Forestry adjoins my friend's land and slowly made our way down the edge of a game cover to a little bank that overlooks a large field with the forestry 200y or so away. Younger, keener eyes than mine had already spotted a doe and a buck feeding on the edge of the trees in the early evening sun and we tucked up behind a small bush to see what we could see.
His enthusiasm was infectious, despite multiple nettle stings, he was furiously scoping out the field...over an hour we saw 7 muntjac, 3 roe and even the lovely sight of 6 red hinds coming out to scout out potential feeding spots. The original buck we had seen was still a dangerous shot with only the dark blanket of the forest behind him so we focused on him and waited.
He slowly made his way towards us until he presented a nice shot but then, as is always the case with these things, he decided to start trotting straight at us, doe in tow. I could see just where this was heading and hoiked the rifle 90 degrees to my right waiting for him to break out of the field and into the cover to our right which he duly did, almost running by this stage...I barked a rather odd sound (sounded a bit like a squirrel being strangled) and he stopped dead 60 yards away, broadside on and boom... first buck of the year for me, first for the new rifle and a first for my lad.
I had been a little worried about his reaction (the reality of a 130gr softpoint from a .270 being a little more graphic than 'in the movies') but he punched the air and jumped to his feet and was about to set off towards the beast until I restrained him and explained the need to sit tight a little and wait. It was clearly a kill but I wanted him to understand the rationale for the wait...he was drinking it all in and flushed with excitement.
He dutifully stayed with me for the gralloch back at the larder, eyes on stalks at the sight of it and clearly a bit freaked out by the smell and we wandered back into the cottage for some MOTD on telly, beans on toast, a log fire and bed by 10.30.
The next morning we tried a different patch on the estate, walking straight out of the cottage on a cold but cloudless morning and immediately saw a group of 7 roe (2 bucks) feeding on some young crops 300y from the cottage. Much to his dismay we decided to leave them largely because we'd only just stepped out the door but more importantly as the keeper lives in the adjoining cottage and it was 5.30am! We strolled for 15 minutes past gnarly firs and mulberry bushes, treading softly in that wonderful sandy Norfolk soil, putting up pairs of English partridge and constantly being busted by noisy pheasant. It was a great lesson for him in walking softly and looking for those odd shapes and tell-tale signs that become second sight after a few years.
2 of the most promising 'corners' were barren as we peered round them into vast fields so we sat tight for a while and watched a pair of Barn owls gliding low and I tried to explain to my son the old adage of 'walking little, looking a lot'....sure enough something just didn't seem 'right' in a hedgerow about 250y away and after we had both glassed it for 10 minutes, the 'pale leaves' we'd been looking at twitched and moved and became the backside of a nice young doe. "Where's there's a doe there's a buck" whispered my son excitedly...I wish it was that easy, I thought, but right on cue a nice yearling appeared beside her, recently clean antlers sitting slightly below the height of his ears. Game on!
We made a huge circumnavigation of a beat field and came back with the wind in our faces, praying they were still there, and saw 4 does, but no buck, about 100y away. I got the sticks ready and asked the lad the keep glassing the bushes and he suddenly stiffened and slowly pointed to the buck who was apart from the group just 75y from us. It was perfect...already on sticks, facing the right way, sun behind us, wind in front of us and after a short wait for him to move away from the direct line of a doe behind him I squeezed and he dropped.
Young Lad decided NOT to join me for the gralloch this time and he was clearly tired and cold after the adrenaline and early start so he headed back into the cottage for some breakfast.
As we drove back to London he squeezed my hand and said "thank you for showing me that...that was the best 24 hours I have ever had"...no mention of Sky Sports or iPods or Fifa on the X-Box...just a father and son enjoying England at its best and doing something we are very lucky and privileged to be able to do.
I have a few wishes for the future and one of my top ones is that he can still do that with his kid one day in what is becoming an increasingly unfriendly, regulated and hostile environment in which to conserve, admire and hunt deer. In the meantime I have a lifelong stalking buddy and he is utterly hooked and now reads my stalking books and is obsessing about deer.
One more supporter in our ranks!