As many of you will know, for a few years now I have periodically gone in search of my first roebuck, but the wily creatures have always eluded me. I have successfully stalked fallow, muntjac, Chinese water deer and roe does, but the Woods just didn’t think I deserved a roe buck. And that’s fine, I accept that, Nature owes me nothing. I had come to think, and hope, that the Cosmos was withholding the roe buck for a special occasion, and that this was starting to look like my first outing with my newly-restored Sauer drilling. I think that the Cosmos sometimes likes to make a bit of an event of things, and that’s as it should be.
And so it was that a few months ago, Sh1kar decided out of the goodness of his heart to try and help to bring this long story to a happy conclusion, and invited me to come stalking with him in Hampshire, a very generous offer that I leapt at. Initially, we had planned to meet the weekend before, but I had to move that due to other commitments. At least, that’s what I thought, but actually the previous weekend turned out to be marred by gales and rainstorms, the conditions for stalking would have been awful. The Cosmos knew that, and so gave me a toddler to look after instead. Finally this Saturday, the great day came. I met Sh1kar and a friend of his in the station car park, and off we went for what he had described as a “pie and pickle type thing”. I had expected to sit on the grass munching a pork pie, not to be presented with a beautifully laid-out table and a full spread which did indeed include the said pie and pickle: superb hospitality from someone who’d never even met me before.
Around three O’clock, we set off in search of a roe buck. One of the great things about stalking with different people is that everyone has a slightly different style, often simply because it’s adapted to their ground, so that I learn new things every time. Sh1kar did ask whether I preferred him to guide me, or to be left to my own devices, but I’m humble enough to accept the offer of assistance when it’s proffered. So I followed him along hedgerows, small woods, little valleys, along the edges of fields, under low ridges to peek over the other side through this beautiful part of Hampshire. I noticed quite early that he could spot things earlier than I could by virtue of his height, which have him a better vantage point, but I can’t really do much about that! I tried to be as quiet as possible, not wanting to ruin all his efforts to find me a buck. On our first stalk, we scared a doe, and that was it. Sh1kar said that he wasn’t sure we’d find a buck (well, you can never be sure). But at this point, I tried to explain that I thought we probably would, as it was a narrative imperative (a phrase I borrowed from the late Terry Pratchett, meaning that the Story requires that this should happen, as a sort of independent irresistible force).
Around six O’clock, in the corner of a field, we peered through a bush and spotted the ears and antlers still in velvet of a yearling spiker. Sh1kar asked whether I wanted to try for this one or hold out for a bigger one later. Given that I was looking for a first roe buck, not a big roe buck, I decided to attempt this one. I was up on the sticks, but still could see only its’ head. Sh1kar whistled once, twice, both times it ignored the sound, barely moving its’ ears around to locate the source. Then he shouted. Barely a flicker. I knew that if it stood up, I would have no more than a second or two to take the shot. Sh1kar clapped, and in a single movement, it ran off into the scrub. Never mind, we had had a stalk, there was at least now a story to tell!
We moved to a different patch as the light started to dim. Around eight O’clock, we spotted a doe just over a hedge, between the trees, and tried to manoeuvre around her lower down the slope to set up and wait and see whether she was accompanied. Of course, she promptly vanished, and we set off further down the slope, but as we rounded a bend in the path, I looked back, and there she was again. We retraced our steps, waited, but she was alone, and we set off towards a high seat as a last ditch attempt. As we reached the set, Sh1kar whispered “Yearling buck!”, and sure enough, there was another yearling in velvet staring at us, right on the edge of the field. We were at the foot of the ladder, looking through its’ rungs, and the buck was on the skyline. He licked his lips, took a few steps towards us, kept coming, but there was no backstop. I suggested we very slowly step back down the slope to try and intercept him as he came down towards our current position, but the moment we moved, he was off into the wood.
We clambered into the high seat, and within fifteen minutes, a pregnant yearling doe came over the ridge in the corner of the field, promptly followed by an older one who may have been her mother. The older one drifted off, but the younger one stayed grazing in front of us for the next half hour or so. Unfortunately, they were unaccompanied… until suddenly, the yearling from earlier on ambled back into my peripheral vision from the right, coming up the path we had arrived on! He looked up at us for a second, but didn’t appear to think we were a threat. He moved on to join the young doe, and with my pulse racing I mounted the drilling, following him with the thick post in the scope. I calmed down, took a couple of deep breaths, and waited for him to present a clear, broadside shot. Only he had no intention of doing that. The doe and the buck grazed their way towards us, zigzagging all the time, always with one in front of the other, or face on. If there was going to be a chance of a shot, it was going to be over in a second, so I wouldn’t have time to fiddle around. So for what seemed like ages, I waited, and waited, it was on, no hang on, it wasn’t, he’s moving, damn, she is too. This is it, squeeeeeze… BANG!
The doe ran off to the left, the buck leapt and vanished into the hedge on the right. My heart was in my mouth, I hadn’t seen the buck fall, and I knew it had been a slightly rushed shot, he wasn’t in sight. Sh1kar said he hadn’t seen the bullet strike. This is a moment that I always dread slightly, but we climbed down the ladder, I reloaded, and we headed off towards where it had been. I couldn’t see any hair or blood on the ground, the dog was sent off to find the buck, but as I glanced to the right, there it was in the long grass. It had run no more than ten metres. I touched its’ eye: it was stone dead, with a pretty serious hole in its’ left flank towards the back of the rib cage, as it had been quartering. And as quickly as that, the narrative arc was completed, as the Cosmos had intended. My first roebuck, taken cleanly with my drilling, loaded with my own rounds using my DL1 bullets from France, and hopefully infused with the flavour of the wild garlic that grew all around.
After gralloching the buck, we carried it back up to the car, where Sh1kar very kindly set about preparing it for the larder simply because he’s a lot faster than I am at this, and he knew I had a train to catch. I was at least able to show off my Public Transport Deer Extraction system, for which this yearling was a comfortable size. At one in the morning, I was home, and hung the deer up in the shed covered in muslin, ready to be butchered the next day.
I shall leave the final word to Young Pine Marten, who upon seeing it in the morning said “Dog!”. “No, that’s not a dog”. “MOOSE!”. Yes all right. I’ll give you that one. A moose it is.
Huge thanks to Sh1kar for his hospitality, generosity and help. I look forward to hopefully stalking together again!