Well chaps, this is a somewhat delayed write-up of my outing two Fridays ago, which I was lucky enough to take with Paul, owner / executive director / BigChief™ of the GAP 180 stalking syndicate based in Hertfordshire.
I arrived a little after 2pm having arranged with Paul to meet him at the club house. There was plenty of parking and after working through my habit of getting lost in the Hertfordshire countryside and finding myself again, I finally arrived, only slightly late, and met Paul and some of the other members in what you might describe as a modern day interpretation of a Viking banqueting hall!
The clubhouse was adorned with what I assumed to be the trophies of past outings, with an unusual set of roe antlers here, a massive pair of red antlers there and plenty of other interesting things to look at and read. A huge log burner on one side of the room gave a welcoming feeling and a well-equipped modern kitchen at one end of the hall betrayed the promise of some excellent food to follow after the outing. Around a table and chairs in the centre of the room were Paul and some other members of the syndicate, who offered food and drink and made me feel welcome.
I had arranged with Paul to attend one of his "cull days" as a guest and I remain grateful to him for the opportunity. After collecting my kit together, it was soon time to drive out to the seat I would be occupying and I went with a degree of excitement, mixed with nervousness - I'm not a particularly experienced deer stalker and this would be my first outing where I'd be in the high seat by myself.
After a short drive, we arrived on the farm that I'd be covering for the afternoon. I had instructions to shoot (or attempt to shoot!) any fallow deer which came within range, irrespective of whether they were carrying trophy antlers or were this year's brood. Muntjac were also available to me, if I saw any. I was directed to the high seat and, having made the arrangements for the end of the day, trudged through the light fog and the mud, taking my time to ascend the seat without bashing myself or my rifle on the way up.
When I'd settled into the seat, I unpacked my rifle and used the slip as a cushion, taking care always to point the muzzle towards the ground in front of the seat as I loaded it. Safety was my primary concern: for the first time in my stalking career, I had no-one to point out, if it were required, something that I shouldn't be doing. Whilst I knew and always try to put into practice the right "drill", so to speak, I wasn't going to allow an accident to happen because I hadn't thought carefully about each stage of what I was doing.
Eventually, I had my rifle loaded, safety catch applied and checked and I was as comfortable as any of us ever are in a high seat, half way up a tree that swayed noticeably in the strong wind. Whilst always keeping my eyes peeled for deer, I was able to enjoy what nature had to offer and more than once wished that the woodpigeons going about their business would get that close when I was out decoying!
After about 30 minutes I caught a glimpse of movement in the hedgerow a little over 100 yards in front of me. It was the first of two deer I would see that afternoon, but alas, it was well back, into the treeline, and no clear shot presented itself. By the time I'd finished watching it, I had determined that it was a medium-sized muntjac buck, which would, I daresay, have made a fine addition to my freezer if he'd obligingly placed himself ten feet nearer to me on the "right" side of the hedge line.
By this time, heavier fog had descended and the light was just beginning to fade. As I scanned the treeline once again, I noticed a dark patch that I could not remember seeing before, between my position and a seat on the other side of the field. I scanned it several times with the binoculars, looking carefully - was it moving? Were those antlers?
After straining to see for some minutes, it transpired that, yes, those were indeed antlers and that I was in fact looking at the largest fallow buck I'd ever seen. That may not be saying much, as I've not seen a lot of them, but it was enough to get me excited that I might be taking home a large deer for the freezer if my luck continued.
The buck was feeding on what looked like tall grass in one of the ditches around the field boundary and I estimated that it was around 300-350 yards away. If it only it would come in to half that distance, I thought, it would be within shooting range! Way out there though, it was beyond my capabilities and the last thing I wanted to do was wound an animal with a stupid shot and create a first impression which involved roping my hosts into an all-night search of the woods.
In the end, it was a race between the deer and the combination of the fog and the light and ultimately, I didn't get the chance of a shot. The deer was still around 300 yards out, still contentedly browsing along the ditch line by the time my binoculars could not make it's shape out any longer. The light had gone and I descended the seat to meet Paul to tell him the story.
When we returned to the club house, we found that the story was much the same for everyone who had been out that afternoon. No deer were taken, but a fine meal prepared by Alan - co-owner of the syndicate, I believe - in the role of Head Chef awaited us, with a few drinks to wash it down. In all, a fine afternoon out and a very fine evening meal which I was pleased to enjoy. After some time for banter and conversation, it was time to depart, so I thanked Paul and set off in my car, reaching home by about 9pm.
It was at this point I realised I'd left my jacket behind.
After another round trip with some more thank yous and some degree of ribbing, fairly given and - I hope - graciously taken, I was back on my way home for the second time, having a had a very satisfactory afternoon and evening indeed, errant clothing notwithstanding.
I'll finish by giving notice that I fully intend to steal the recipe for the Phillipina (? - I believe it was called) marinade if I'm invited back in future...