As some of you may recall I was lucky enough to win the auction that Wayne Davies organised as a fund raiser in memory of Private Fraser. While it was sad to have obtained an opportunity to stalk with Wayne in such tragic circumstances I was pleased to be able to contribute to the fundraising effort.
Plans were made over the phone and I found myself travelling down last Saturday to meet Wayne at a services on the M5. Brief introductions over I followed him down onto the Cotswolds to the ground that we were to stalk.
We had a brief chat with the farming brothers who owned a lot of the land we'd be on ( they were stacking some of the best smelling hay I've come across for a long time). I always enjoy such chats with farmers as no matter where in the country you are the conversation normally focuses on the standard topics of weather, markets and neighbours.
After dragging ourselves away we decided to pitch our tents before stalking. During our telephone discussions we'd agreed that as the nights are so short this time of year we might as well camp rather than spend money on a room we'd be in for 5-6 hours at most. While I wrestled with my more traditional tent Wayne confidently pulled out a pop up tent in a fetching shade of pink. He threw it at the first flattish but of ground he came across, only for it to turn back on him and nearly slice his nose off as it popped up. Luckily we could laugh about it as no real harm done and both tents were soon up, although we were praying for little overnight wind as neither of us had brought a mallet for the pegs. Given that the ground appeared to be composed of about 3 inches of topsoil before you hit solid standstone the guy ropes were hanging on by a wing and a prayer. However we weren't going to spend anymore time worrying about that as we had stalking to do.
We we jumped into Wayne's truck and headed to the first spot. On the way he explained that this compromised 2 large silage fields that had been cut a month previously and the new growth was tempting the deer out from the adjoining woodland. The fields were surrounded by a strong stock fenced topped with a double strand of barb. While the deer could creep in through a couple of runs under the fence they tended to stay put unless put under enough pressure to push them over the top and back out.
The fields were flattish but sloped steeply before they met the wood. We walked the length of them on the top hedge line to get the wind right before stalking the wood edge. We took it slowly, glassing as each bit of dead ground opened up to us. No wonder the deer were keen on coming out to the field as a glance into the woodland showed little understorey for them to browse on.
We were approaching a gate that separated the fields when I clocked a deer standing broadside onto us just up the fence line from the gate. I pointed it out to Wayne just as it decided it didn't like the look of us and moved off over the brow. I thought it was a young doe and she didn't appear too alarmed. We continued on and crossed into the second field. Just as we were coming to a spot where we could see into the far corner of the field Wayne stopped and pointed out a deer tight to the hedge in the corner. The binos revealed it to be a nice looking buck. Id was easy as his antlers stood well above his ears. A doe also moved into view. They were around 200 yards away however Wayne explained that the shot wasn't on as we didn't have an appropriate backstop.
We were a bit pinned down as they were in plain view and we couldn't really make any ground on them. Even if we did this wouldn't solve the backstop issue. Any attempt to go out into the field and approach from higher ground would see us skylined. Wayne decided to try a call on the buttalo. The buck obviously didn't share my view of Wayne's calling technique as he simply lay down against the fence. While both deer could obviously hear the call it wasn't going to solve our problems on this occasion.
We agreed a change of tactics. I moved back to the gate where we'd originally seen the doe and got set up on sticks. From this point I had a small bowl approx 50-60 yards in front. The idea was that Wayne would go out and round in the field, skylining himself at the far end. The hope was that rather than jumping straight into the wood the deer would follow the fence line to me then move out into the field for a safe shot. The deer had obviously got Wayne's memo as after 5 minutes waiting 3 deer appeared in front, 2 does and a buck. They swung round in a big arc up on the skyline with the eldest doe leading the way. They were constantly milling around with no sense of purpose, uncertain of where to head. They were gradually working down to me and ended up right in the red zone that we'd agreed on earlier. I waited for the buck to stand clear and fired at a range of around 40 yards. He reacted well to to the strike and ran off parallel to the fence line. I could clearly see the blood gushing out on each bound. He made about 30 yards before he dropped. It was interesting to note that even this commotion didn't panic the doe sufficiently to send them over the wire and they headed out over the brow into the field. Wayne came down in the truck and gralloched the buck. He estimated him to be around 2 years old which surprised me. The antler development was certainly further on than the deer I'm used to on the ground I usually stalk but I guess it's an apples and oranges scenario. Wayne's deer have access to much better browse and more favourable weather conditions than the deer on my ground.
i'll continue in a separate post.