Quite by coincidence I came to speak to John after posting a question on the Directory about copper bullets and there use with T8 moderators. This lead to a PM and subsequently a conversation and the offer for me to join him for the day.
I am very much a novice and have yet to shoot my first deer. I have a mentor in Lincolnshire, Steve, who has been fantastic and was instrumental in my venture into rifle ownership and stalking and who reloads for me. The opportunity to visit another part of the country and gain a different perspective and more than anything to learn some more about the craft of stalking was a very exciting prospect. John was busy with work and clients so the trip had to wait for a slacker period but in late March the time came, with John offering me the chance to join him on a stalk. Principally as an observer and mentee, but to bring my rifle so that I could have some shots on the range and he could observe me with my rifle all be it empty.
Up not too early as John had said his deer were not stressed, he is the deer manager, and said a 1030 arrival would be fine, so up I got at 0545 a quick brew final check of my seemingly exhaustive list of gear and off I set for the south.
The trip was good the were a few hold ups around peak times near a large town but nothing to arduous and I had left enough time not to worry, I hate being on the last minute or late.
I had detailed instructions for the final part of the journey a its easy to miss the turn in but I arrived with no difficulty and wended my way in bright sunshine through the grounds to the game keepers house where we were to meet.
I actually met the keeper who pointed me in the direction of the house where John as it turned out was just coming out to meet me. The setting was fantastic, beautiful woodland and a nice day to enjoy it after the harsh weather of the last few months. The keeper, Mick, asked where I had come from and offered a very welcome brew. Iíd really like to thank him for allowing me on the estate. There is always something that I love about keepers homes I think itís the visits to the Prestís in Capesthorne with my uncle as a child where my interest in all things shooting was fostered.
We had the tea and John took me out in his 4x4 to the range. He set up a target on a huge round bale and drove up the slight hill and we set up on the bonnet of the vehicle. John suggested removing the bipod as I was not likely to need it woodland stalking. I do like it better with out. John wanted me to take three shots at the target within forty five seconds. I had forgotten to swab out the barrel and as expected the first shot was low, the others were better and on inspection John suggested lowering the POI to dead on not the inch high at a hundred yards I had used before. As basically, as a novice I would not be shooting anything much if anything over a hundred yards anyway. I was using the Barnes home loads and as we inspected the target John found two behind the bale. They had started to mushroom out nicely and John took one to weigh. He had never seen a bullet pass through before. I guess to you experts this raises a few interesting questions.
However my shooing of the bonnet was adequate although not the best I have done John was happy, I thought I could do better, I had a try off his tripod sticks and again was satisfactory. John recommended practicing with my air rifle or .22 rim fire and shooting as soon as the cross hairs are on the target, as the more you delay the worse the shot gets. So thatís some food thought and seems a very good idea.
We packed up and went over to the start of our stalk. I changed into cammo gear complete with gloves and face veil at Johnís suggestion. He said not everyone does, but I find it works and I get nearer to the deer than some others it suits me. Me, I am here to learn.
John said just follow me, if I look round and you are 50 yards away glassing something then I will not be happy other than that off we go.
It was not long before I started of appreciate the nice wide leather sling I had been bought as a present. John liked the rifle carried muzzle up so I had put the sling on the other way up, not a problem as its on quick releases. Previously I had carried it muzzle down, I found this easier with the T8 moderator fitted in my very limited experience. John pointed out that muzzle up meant much less movement through the body when bringing the rifle to a shooting position, also being safer and consequently less movement for the deer to notice, more learning taking place. Off we went with no problems.
The ground was fantastic and I followed John watching the way he moved and the places he was looking for deer. He explained how groups of deer were very alert to the rear and could easily sense approaches from behind and could see and hear very well to the front, consequently actually stalking across the wind could be very effective as he had noticed solitary Roe and Muntjac appeared less aware from the rear.
The sun dappled the ground as we moved through the trees I was very conscious of where my feet were going and avoiding treading on the many twigs that could make the loud advertising snap. John stopped and glassed areas where he knew deer often layed up.
Shortly he pointed out Muntjac droppings on the ground these glistened and John pointed out that they were fresh, some near by were dull and dry obviously old. I had never seen Munjac droppings before I donít know what I expected but this wasnít it.
We were both in Realtree gear, the big difference being Johnís was drab and well worn of the experienced stalker, mine was bright and Ďflashí being relatively new.
The woods were beautiful there was plenty of room under the canopy to move around and in general the view between the trees was good. I could well understand why 100 yards was perfectly adequate. John moved quietly forward and looked down a ride and there about 60 yards away was a Munti, the first I had ever seen. John slipped up the sticks and put his rifle up on them, the Munti looked up and was off, John barked but it did not stop. John pointed out that it is important to present a steady controlled fluid movement when raising the rifle as this is less noticeable to the deer than a jerky one, I hoped my peering down the ride had not disturbed the Munti spoiling Johnís chances, but perhaps these things are the way of stalking.
We moved on and saw some Roe moving through the wood ahead of us at the limit of our view and left to right, I was pleased as I picked up the movement flitting through the trees at about the same time as John did.
My mentor had previously said there will come a time when you start to see deer where you wouldnít have before. I hoped this was the start of my development.
John pointed out the slots in some soft mud on the path they had taken. John was concerned about the wind and tested it occasionally with a small bottle from his pocket, the direction was very variable. He expected us to have seen more deer than we had by this point.
I was having a great time, loving every minute of the surroundings, had seen some deer and learned so more stalking lessons. What could be better.
We returned to the 4x4 and had a sandwich and a drink and we had a chat about our morning. John had his binoís on a harness I liked the look of that and thought eBay would be getting a visit on my return home. (It did and I now have my own, they remind me of this day)
We moved to another part of the estate. As we moved through conifer woodland John pointed out a Fallow moving away to our left. He checked the wind again and found again for the umpteenth time today it had veered again. But although not closely I had seen another species.
I occasionally heard a musical ting eventually it permeated through my shooting damaged hearing and along with it that if I could hear it, it must be like a bell to a deer. Of course it was my T8 brushing the lower pine needles. I see why people use moderator covers and I immediately took more notice of what was above my head. When I started stalking I found myself still in rough shooting mode of looking up in trees until it dawned on me deer donít climb or fly and I had to switch to looking at ground level. Still climbing the learning curve.
We saw some Muntiís and eventually came to a high seat. John offered me the choice of walking with him or sitting in the seat while he stalked the wood with the possibility of moving the Muntiís and any other deer towards me so that I would have the opportunity to see them up close from the high seat.
I asked John about the best way of getting me and the rifle safely into the high seat. I climbed up and John had a length of cord he looped round my rifle and I pulled it up and settled in the seat. My rifle was unloaded anyway but John pointed out that in normal circumstances the rifle would always be unloaded before hoisting it up into a high seat.
I looked around an glassed the surroundings basically in front of me was a patch of scrub woodland with a hedge to my left about 150 yards away. John would be stalking to my rear and had said he would return from my right along the hedge next to the tree.
I sat still and looked around carefully, the birds were singing and the sun was out. I had never sat in a high seat and was enjoying the experience.
To my left three Muntjac ran out from the undergrowth from behind me, I called but they did not stop, I sat still and waited. A lady in a red dress appeared in a gap in the hedge to my right 150 yards away. John had not mentioned a road or path. I sat still and she disappeared walking past the gap. Then a big diesel engine started up and a crop sprayer appeared in the gap and paused for several minutes before moving off.
Then three Roe a family group walked out to my left 60 yards away. I was enthralled and stayed very still. They moved to some bushes and started to eat the leaves. I moved slowly and brought the rifle up to my shoulder brought the cross hairs up the front leg of the doe and to half way up the body. All I would have to do was push off the safety and squeeze the trigger. From the high seat the shot was safe. My breathing was controlled and the rifle was steady. I was pleased. I felt good, I hoped I would be the same if the chamber held a round.
I waited and revaluated the situation. I had a .270 rifle ready to take the shot and take my first ďvirtualĒ deer. I had no nerves and had the cross hairs very steady half way up the deer so my theoretical Barnes 130g bullet would scythe down through lungs heart and great vessels. But a lady had appeared in the gap 50 yards in a direct line beyond the doe, I did not know where she was now so there was no shot to be taken. Then I thought its March doeís are in season until the end of the month. Then my inexperience and lack of knowledge lead to uncertainty, I was almost certain the doe was in season, which of course it was. John had listed the deer in season earlier, It goes to show that even though I thought I was taking everything in I so obviously hadnít. As it happened it was academic but I realised how I had to get these basic things sorted out and quickly. I slipped my rifle back onto the high seat bar and raised my binoculars and watched the deer again for many minutes until they slipped away. It was really nice to watch and I also wished I had my camera along. They moved around eating from the bush each presenting the classic stance for a shot. At other times there would have been no shot due to their close proximity with each other.
Various thoughts went through my mind as I sat in the sunshine. There could be no excuse for shooting a deer out of season and how the doubt had overwhelmed me, if I did so there would be little chance of ever being invited back, there was the chance of the lady reappearing or being in the close vicinity and while there was good ground all around the deer she had been in a direct line beyond them. Also that I had seen the deer and lowered my binoís and raised the rifle and paused while the deer moved into a good side on position, lowered the rifle and resumed with the binoís without disturbing them. I had learned a great deal and had a wonderful day full of experiences.
John appeared to my right and stood for a while waiting then when he had seen me watching him walked up to the high seat. Have you seen anything he asked I havenít, I told him my story, he was surprised and most concerned about the woman as there is just the field there, there was no footpath and no right of access to this part of the estate.
We went on and eventually arrived back at our vehicles at about 4.30. John was apologetic about our day the variable wind had made it very difficult and we had not seen the numbers of deer he expected and usually saw on a days stalk. However I was thrilled we had seen about 20 deer in total, I had seen three of the UK species only having seen Roe in the wild before, I had been taken stalking learned some more of the art and some self realisation about the knowledge I had to acquire, made a new friend who was good enough to invite me down on the strength of a phone call, had some shooting practice on the range and had the cross hairs on a deer. What a great day. Thank you again so much to everyone concerned.