Sitting in East Anglian woodland with a rifle by my side seems as good a place as any to start this write up. The moment felt like the culmination of about 18 months of trying to make stalking part of my life. Well finally it had come to fruition, I was out on my first solo stalk, on my own permission, with my own rifle and to be quite honest it was all a bit intimidating.
As is the way with stalking my alarm had summoned me at an ungodly hour before first light in late August. It didn’t come as a surprise; I’d been awake for an hour beforehand wondering whether I actually wanted to be a stalker at all. I was tired, nervous and starting to wonder whether Asda was a more appealing source of meat after all. Their battery chicken is remarkably good value after all. However I resolved not to trust my misapprehensions - worries always seem bigger at 4am, and surely I could trust the last 2 years of ambition over my current mindframe? I decided to at least get out there for a walk with the rifle.
I was staying on a friend’s farm so the drive in his truck was just to the other side of the property. Mist sat in the hollows of the fields and an inky blue had just started to run into a previously dark sky. The doubts started to wash away and I started to feel the first flicker of enjoyment of my first solo mission. I flicked the engine off and ‘let it all settle’ for a few minutes, following the lead of Ruby Tuesday (off this directory no less). He’d been the first of two very generous blokes from this community to show me the ropes. Although after 5 stalks I still hadn’t managed to get a shot away, I learned a heck of a lot from him and still feel indebted to this day.
After 10 minutes or so I clicked the door of the Ford Ranger shut with my shoulder, making as little noise as possible. Three rounds went in the floorplate and one up the spout and with the safety checked I set off along the field margin. My mate the farmer had taken me for a couple of drives the day before so I had a very clear understanding of boundaries and backstops and we’d seen a lot of deer - roe and muntjac aplenty. Of course once my rifle was on my shoulder the land seemed devoid of life. Slowly I stalked up to some bails and set up for half an hour or so until the day had fully broken. Still no deer.
I relocated to the other side of the farm and set off again. This area seemed far more promising and after just 15 minutes of slow stalking I bumped a roe into the maize. I was cross with myself now, I had blundered into the edge of a field and the first I saw of it was its white rump disappearing into the maize about 10 yards away. Much like being on the pull at 16 I thought.
I pressed on, slower now along the woodland towards a long rolling field. Given the light wind and lie of the land I wasn’t sure how to approach the field. I hadn’t planned this part of the stalk and my confidence was wavering. Instinctively I reached for my phone in my pocket to call a proper stalker, someone who actually knows how to do this kind of thing. Buckaroo8, also from the Stalking Directory has been a true mentor to me over the last year and the temptation to call on his expertise was running strong. He’s been an absolute gent and has taken me out countless times, helping me grass my first deer and fox and guiding me through the FAC application process. I can’t say one person has ever given me as much guidance or generosity as Buckaroo8 and in fact, I don’t think I’d have come anywhere near this far without his help. I hope I can do the same for somebody one day. Nevertheless, I am determined to become a stalker in my own right - my phone stayed in my pocket and I pressed on.
Glassing along the margins I saw a muntjac. I’d been hoping for a roe but decided it was wiser to break a duck before worrying too much about what species was going in the freezer. The muntjac buck was about 250 yards away and not moving anywhere with conviction so I decided to try to close the distance. I crossed the field to his side out of view and worked along the margin towards him. Typically after about 10 minutes he began to walk directly across the field almost on to the spot that I had been standing.
Luckily at this point I heard movement about 50 yards away in the ditch on my side of the field. I slowly moved towards the commotion. I knew that if it was deer they would likely emerge on this side of the ditch due to livestock having been grazing recently on the other side, so I dropped to one knee and waited. Within 30 seconds a doe popped out into the field. My heart was racing as I waited in hope for a following buck. Good fortune played its part and my buck emerged shortly after. He froze on the spot as he entered the field, looking towards me and clearly sensing something awry. The half second it took me to fix the crosshair on his shoulder felt like plenty and I barely noticed squeezing the trigger. Before I knew it the crack of the old Parker Hale fractured the peaceful morning and my first ‘solo’ buck was down on the spot. His foreleg cycled slowly once and he expired almost instantly. More than anything I felt a huge relief, the little cull buck had left the world as quickly as I could have hoped.
I took my time in the minutes that followed. Soaking up the morning as the birds picked up their song again, and paying my respects to the beautiful animal on the stubble in front of me. Eventually I started the gralloch, taking my time, following the methods Buckaroo8 and his good friend had shown me. It all went fairly well and I was pleased to see the young buck’s heart had been hit very thoroughly by a well-placed shot.
I checked my watch. It was 7.30 and the sun was well over the horizon. The worries that had troubled me since 3am had burnt off like the morning’s mist and as I loaded the deer into the back of truck everything felt right with the world. I shared the first of many meals from my first solo deer with brilliant friends and a bottle of red that night, and there are still a few joints to go.
Anyway, this has only been possible thanks to a couple of good mates. No doubt there’ll be a lot of stalking adventures to come in future.
p.s. more to come on my first butchery, cooking, biltong and sausage making escapades as and when I get the chance.