I can't say whether it was childlike excitement or something else that woke me several times during the night, but when my alarm went off at bang on 4am I quickly pushed all thoughts of tiredness to the back of my mind. I dressed crept from the bedroom, dressing on the landing to avoid the wrath of Mrs SimpleSimon, and set about sorting out my rifle and a great big thermos full of coffee. My dogs watched me reproachfully as I closed the door behind me and hit the road south.
I met Malc at the B&B where he'd been staying, which also happens to be directly on one of his pieces of stalking ground. We chatted for a while and waited for a bit more light, then headed out on foot. The temperature was a little warmer than I'd expected, still cold enough to have frozen the ground in most places, but certainly bearable as long as we were moving around.
We stopped frequently to glass the fields and peer around the end of hedgerows. Eagle eyed Malc spotted a CWD in the distance, and I got the binoculars on it just in time to see it run out of sight. I quickly saw more movement, but our excitement was short lived. The distant field we were looking at was full of hares chasing each other, their size difficult to judge at first. We walked and stalked, returning to the B&B with no further sightings, and jumped in Malc's truck for a short drive to a large estate where he also holds the stalking.
We drove l
Along the estate tracks, leaving the truck eventually to walk a likely looking area. We moved up a hedgerow and before long Malc had given me a tap and pointed through the hedge directly to our right. He held up three fingers, and pointed to a gap in the hedgerow a little way ahead. We stooped low and moved along the hedge, keeping out of sight until we reached tube gap. Malc gestured me into a shooting position and whispered "about 150 yards, there's no way we can get any closer". I brought my 270 onto the sticks, and struggled to get stable and comfortable standing on the uneven ground.
Disaster! An estate worker appeared on a quad, chugging up the hedge we'd just stalked along. Desperate gesturing from Malc stopped him before the deer were spooked, and I laid the crosshairs on the middle deer of the group. I squeezed the trigger and saw the explosion of mud and water behind the deer, a clean over the top miss.
Bugger! I kicked myself for my incompetence as we watched the deer scatter. One left, one right, and the one which had just escaped death more or less just stood there, before lying down and becoming almost invibible a little way down the field. We turned back the way we'd come, to skirt back around the field using the hedge for cover, and see if we can get a second chance. We turned the corner of the field and soon saw our deer, but this time we had to push our own way through the hedge, and it had seen us almost immediately and ran away, taunting us. We walked on in the same direction and soon saw the same deer again but it was in no mood to hang around, and ran back over the field, almost to the same place where we'd first seen it with its mates.
With much cursing and sighing from both of us, we once again hatched a plan. The deer was on the open field commanding a good view for 360 degrees, but for one spot where a lone tree stood about 60 yards from him. We'd have to say in the field, the hedge was too thick to get through, but if we moved slowly against the hedge until the tree lined up with the deer, we'd have a perfect approach as lo g as we kept the tree between us and our quarry. Off we went, pausing once or twice to mark the deer's location. We lined up with the tree and my excitement mounted. No way could it see us now, when I reached the tree it would provide a perfect shooting position.
Half way across the field, Malc and I were left once again to exasperated cursing. Whether it had smelt us, heard us, or just decided it didn't fancy sticking around, we couldn't say. But it was up and running and it wasn't coming back. We headed back for the truck.
Suddenly, as we neared the vehicle, Malc spotted another CWD laid down against a hedge in the next field. We briefly began stalking in to it, but it slipped away without our notice whilst we were in dead ground. We returned to the truck.
Driving back along the estate tracks, Malc was just coming to the end of (one of his many) entertaining stalking tales. We rounded a bend and there, directly in front of us on a field were 3 CWD. They were staring straight at us. We watched them, watching us, as Malc drove around the field to a place out of sight. They must be used to machines and vehicles coming and going.
We were now perfectly placed, a thin band of woodland separated us from the field. We could walk along it, cut through at the right point, and shoot from the cover of the woods without ever being seen. We covered the distance quickly, cutting into the woods at what we estimated to be the right point and then stalking through. Malc gave me a thumbs up, he'd spotted them, still grazing. He pointed me to a forked tree, through which I could see a CWD framed almost perfectly. I approached, set up the sticks, and watched him through the scope. Almost immediately he went broadside, and I took my chance.
For the second time that morning I saw three deer scattering in different directions. Surely I haven't missed again?!
"He's hit, reload... You might have got him a bit far back... Try and shoot him again..."
No sooner had Malc said these words than the little deer dropped.
"No, it might be ok. I think you got the heart... Watch him"
I watched him, in a few seconds it was all over. We found when we reached the carcass that the shot had been slightly back, but not a gut shot as I'd feared. I was elated after so much exciting stalking to have shot a deer, and being a new species put the icing on the cake. Performing the gralloch in the gamekeeper's larder we found that the shot had damaged the back of both lungs. We left the carcass there to collect later and returned for a well earned breakfast of bacon sandwiches which the B&B proprietor had kindly laid on in spite of us having been quite late returning!
During breakfast we were joined by M. M is a keen stalker who has done a lot with Malc, and would be out during the evening looking for his first CWD. We chatted and swapped tales of adventure (and misadventure!) for a while, then Malc suggested I should drive over to Woburn to see the deer in the park which I found quite interesting. Several species spotted and a few bad photos later, I returned to the B&B in readiness for the evening's stalking. Malc and M had been joined by 3 Hungarian hunters who would also be out that evening on different parts of the estate, and we had some enjoyable banter and hunting talk. Shortly Tom joined us, who would be assisting Malc, and between Tom's, Malc's and my truck, we moved everybody to the estate. Harry, the keeper's son, met us back by the larder as he had volunteered his services to guide. A plan was hatched, M would go with Malc, Harry and Tom would each guide one of the Hungarian hunters, and the remaining two of us would have a high seat each. We arranged our rendezvous time and place, and split off.
Unfortunately I didn't see any deer whilst in the seat, but whilst walking back to the meeting place at the very last light I heard a shot from the direction Harry and his client had gone. Back at the larder it turned out that all of tube foot stalkers had been successful, M had his Chinese and the others had taken a CWD and a muntjac doe between them. Unfortunately the other high seat had also been unlucky.
After some chatting, tale telling and mickey taking I took my carcass and we said our congratulations and goodbyes, me to head home and everyone else to dinner at the pub. A truly memorable and fantastic day out for me, Malc is a cracking guide and a good laugh, it was a bonus for me that he had other clients coming out and the chat and collective excitement of the hunt was great.
Well worth the early start!