Well, I've been out on my first ever deer stalk.
Here's a 'little' write-up ...
I'm, I'll readily admit, a complete novice on deer stalking. I have a couple of friends with considerable experience, however, and as a group of 8 (only 2 of us being shooters) were down to Devon for a week, with one other being an experienced stalker, she made enquiries and we managed to get a day out on a large estate (morning stalking, evening high seats)
Alice (DSC2, and more FAC experience than you can shake a large stick at), arranged the stalking through Clinton Devon Estates. Alice using her own .243, me on estate rifle (I've currently only got a .223Rem for foxing, so not a suitable deer calibre)
On the Monday afternoon, we turned up at the Estate Office to meet up with Tom Garner, the Wildlife Ranger for the Estate, Alice to check zero, and for me to do a shooting check. Alice, unsurprisingly, put the first bullet exactly on the spot, and packed her rifle away. I will confess I felt like a nervous wreck whilst closing the bolt on the .308 that I was to be using. After all, screw this up and all I'll be doing the following morning is deer spotting and photography !
Thankfully, the first round struck about 1" high and dead centre. My second round was half an inch lower and a quarter inch to the left of the first. Tom declared himself satisfied.
Tom explained that, on the following morning, we would meet up back at the Estate Office at just after 6am. He would be taking Alice to one part of the estate, whilst I would be out on another part with his manager, John.
A largely sleepless night ensued for me. My wife Caroline, an understanding soul usually, elbowed me twice before finally mumbling "Now can I get some sleep ?", when I got up at 5 am. When I left the room 5 minutes later, gentle snoring was coming from the depths of the duvet.
Upon arrival at the estate, we were introduced to John, and split up. The morning had a nice crisp frost, with very still conditions. Myself and John headed off on a 10 minute drive to an area of the Estate, John discussing with me the plan for the morning and gleaning from me my experience levels of firearms, etc.
After leaving the car and getting set up, we crossed through some woods, and carefully entered the first field. Past the remnants of a cover crop, and there they were, the first deer of the morning ! A roe buck, doe and juvenile doe, grazing quite comfortably in the middle of the field, about 200m away, and downhill from us.
We conferred, and decided to backtrack a little, and see if we could approach around the cover crop. However, though there was no wind, the cold air must have been sinking down towards the deer, as they alarmed and were gone into a nearby wood within a couple of minutes. Oh well, easy come, easy go.
Three fields later, and another doe with juvenile buck were sighted, these being at 180 m initially, though gradually moving away from us, and with no chance of a safe shot. The entire field would have been completely exposed and skylined to them, so we attempted to close the distance along the hedgerow. A mousing fox put paid to that for several minutes, however, and by the time the deer slipped into the woods they were close on 300 m away.
We now entered the woods, lots of pheasant rides and small trackways, so very hard work with quiet, slow steps and delicate foot placement. A beautiful good-sized buck was sighted at the end of a track about 50 m distant, and we watched him for a good 5 minutes without him being aware of us at all. He finally moved back into a thick area of brambles, and will undoubtedly not be seen again until November !
We continued through the woods, spotting large numbers of slots and regularly-used routes, though no more deer were sighted, for the next hour or so, until it was time to return to the 4*4 for the trip back to the Office. John was great company, and immediately obviously highly knowledgeable, but incredibly approachable too. (But more on that later)
On arrival back at the Office, Alice was grinning from ear to ear. A lengthy stalk (crawling through a turnip field) had, after a further 20 minutes wait with rifle in shoulder, resulted in a perfect but tricky shot, and a lovely doe into the estate larder.
We headed back to where we were staying (Axmouth), to meet up with the others and for a late breakfast, with the afternoon return scheduled for 4 pm.
Food (and a nap!) later, we were back. Tom was happy for Alice to be completely solo for the high seat, and would accompany me to another high seat, about half a mile away.
After setting up and ranging out the new patch of woodland that the high seat overlooked, we settled down, quietly talking occasionally, and regularly glassing our surroundings. More grey squirrels than I've ever seen were in evidence, along with enough pheasants to make you think that they were massing for world domination. However, not a single deer was sighted in the next 2 hours (though the trials bike making a racket in the next valley, but miles from where he should have been wouldn't have helped matters). On meeting up with Alice back at the 4*4, she hadn't seen a single deer either, though she had seen so many rabbits along the field edges that she'd found herself humming the music from 'Watership Down'. Tom was mystified (not by the humming), as he'd seen plenty of deer there previously, and the keeper for that area had told him they were still around.
Back to the Estate Office to make our farewells, and pack up. Tom would be at the monthly Farmers Market on the Friday, so we arranged to meet up there to purchase venison, for ourselves and others in our party.
Nighttime road closures and diversions meant what should have been a 30 minute drive turned into an hour. When we got back the others had all eaten, but re-heated chilli and burritos never tasted so good !
On Friday, when we turned up at the Market, Tom had found out why no deer were in the wood in the afternoon. Three days previously over 500 pigeons had been shot in and around the wood. As he put it, "Words had been had" with the person responsible !
Friday evening's dinner for 8 was venison sausages with mash, broccoli and home-made onion gravy. Absolutely lovely. We've got a pack of sausages in the freezer, along with some diced venison steak.
I mentioned that John was obviously highly knowledgeable and experienced, but very amenable and approachable. It later transpired that he is John Wilding MBE, a Chartered Forester, with his MBE for outstanding services to the environment.
Many thanks to Tom Garner and John Wilding MBE at Clinton Devon Estates. Do be aware that they don't do a huge amount of paid stalking, we were incredibly lucky to get on with them.
So, that's my first ever stalking trip, and I loved it. One of the others on the holiday remarked that it was surprising to him that I didn't get a deer, or a shot at one. As I replied to him, "It's called stalking, not shooting".
Hope you've all enjoyed the read.