It seems like forever since I last wrote up a stalk. This morningís outing has been long awaited; nine months to be precise, finally finding a new approach to recovering from chronic fatigue thatís actually working. My lad has been quite desperate to get out too. His Saturdayís are usually taken up with football and over the two week Easter holidayís, today was the only day with favourable wind.
The alarm was set for 04:00 to give sufficient time to breakfast, to get the kit into the car and make the hour and a half drive to the permission to arrive an hour before sunrise and give sufficient time to walk the mile or so to the prime area for the roe. Under strict instructions from wife, father and even farmer, that I wasn't to carry the deer back if successful, it was a most pleasant and refreshing change to leave the roe sack at home and travel light with just a waist belt.
Despite being Easter, it was only two degrees and I had a wry smile seeing my lad pulling on his Seeland jacket, over the top of his fleece, jumper, shirt and thermals. Michelin man had nothing on our Dan this morning. Anyhow, we made our way swiftly down a track separated from busy road by a hedge per usual practice, crossing a gate into the large grassed field before the main Roe area. To my surprise, we were no more than a few steps into the field and a young buck shot out from the hedge, running 100m or so into the field and turning to look at us. I hadnít even considered the possibility of Roe in this spot so close to the road and assumed they would be gone well in advance anyhow, having the light breeze directly behind our present direction of travel. Quickly getting the rifle onto the sticks, the buck presented a superb sight picture in the dim light thanks to the cracking Meopta optics. Unfortunately, the decision to only load the magazine but not chamber a round given the speed of movement and expectation of very low likelihood of encountering deer on the way to the main area, seemed rather remiss. Working the bolt was enough to set the buck off again, until he paused and turned side on to us once more. Now somewhere around one hundred and fifty yards, despite the still good sight picture, the shot would be stretching it off sticks in such low light and just not feeling right, was not taken, much to the lads annoyance. He was however satisfied to be reassured that if the shot had been possible so soon into the stalk, we would have carried on to see what else was around.
Completing the passage to the main area, speed was dropped to the customary stalking snailís pace, glassing frequently. Despite great expectations, the young buck didn't show again and another half a mile slowly passed before we reached the spot where I was fortunate enough to take three young bucks with three shots during my first solo stalk, some two years previous. Just thirty seconds or so sitting in the gap in the hedge and the lad was already restless and started to walk off inside the hedge. A hushed recall and stiff reminder that stalking was all about quietness, stillness and observation and he finally settled down. After fifteen minutes or so the light was almost full, with nothing showing. I consequently decided to move around the field and across the front of a small copse with inner pond to have a look through the hedge into the large field beyond. We got half way around and I looked back, spotting two roe slowly browsing down the hedgeline where we had just been sat. Smoothly and quietly getting down onto the bipod, it was apparent the first was a doe and the second had disappeared behind the hedge. Giving the lad the binoculars, hoping he would now finally be able to see the deer up close before the shot was taken, I patiently waited for the other to show. After a couple of minutes it finally did, but was a second doe. The ladís disappointment was palpable, along with protestations that the shot should be taken anyway. So gave the opportunity to broaden his understanding of the seasons and purpose for them. I was however also quite relieved, since the shot direction would have been back towards the farm and next door town and would have required very careful consideration of backstop.
Watching the does for a few minutes longer, I decided to slowly and carefully complete the 10 remaining yards to the next hedgeline. Despite our stealth and moving perpendicular to the wind, the tall and thick hedges and very low breeze must surely have wafted some of our scent over to the does as they went onto alert and moved into the relative safety of the hedge. Watching them somewhat forlornly for another minute or two, I glanced over my shoulder and through the hedge and nearly jumped out of my boots. The previously clear field/hedgeline on the other side just moments ago, now sported two roe. Slowly and smoothly glassing, the first was clearly a doe. However, the other was sporting a nice size rack, we were on!
The lad was still chuntering in the direction of the other two does as I was all fingers and thumbs trying to unsling the rifle whilst readying the sticks quickly, and yet without moving sharply enough to catch the attention of the two new roe. However, although not quite downwind, it was close and the doe was clearly on the ball, watching and sniffing in our direction. As the rifle came onto the sticks and the sight picture slid into focus, I instinctively felt I was not going to have long. Fortunately, many years of snapshooting practice came to the fore. As the cross hairs made first pass, the distance calculation of ~seventy yards with zero two inches high at one hundred and ten yards suggested aiming directly at the top of the shoulder. However, the buck was also quartering slightly and a judgement of just back from the shoulder should put the shot straight through the heart and out through the other shoulder. As the cross hairs moved back over the shoulder, more slowly this pass, the right spot was selected and the shot gently squeezed. As the light .243 recoil hit the shoulder, the buck jumped high in the air, cartwheeled backwards, kicked a few times and lay still.
Scarcely able to contain his excitement (well, not at all actually J ), the lad shot off towards the buck, only to almost fall into the several foot deep ditch in between. Rather inconveniently finding the simple bridges no longer present, we ended up having to fashion two separate crossings to actually reach the required field. There he was, another beautifully conditioned animal, characteristic of this previously unmanaged populous, effectively existing in its own little bubble untouched and unseen except by the farmer and perhaps very rare walker. The buck sported a six point rack and pretty long, indeed, by far my best yet, although equally characteristically of the unmanaged population, without the grandeur of a more finely managed group.
Unfortunately proving not quite the same as riding a bike, the nine month gap since the last gralloch rendered it although perfectly functionally, rather agricultural, to say the least. The subsequent tractor ride and then drive home, the skinning and then butchery was equally appalling, renewing the determination to have another guided stalk and gralloch or two as soon as funds allow. Saving some small measure of grace however, was the satisfaction of seeing the shot placement having surgically removed the complete top of the heart and accompanying valves.
A tiring, especially given helping the farmer with the feeding and spreading of fresh bedding in return for the ride, but immensely satisfying day. Both for the successful stalk and that very carefully pacing, I managed very well. Hopefully this bodes well for the future, both for the fatigue and return to work, with accompanying ability to then hopefully be able to get out more regularly once again.
Michelin Man and Roe:
Fine looking lad Ė incidentally, skinning and stripping his head, it was interesting to note that he is missing literally half his teeth Ė all those between the incisors at the front and the molars at the back. That doesnít however seem to have affected him in any way. Although unable to weigh, he is a very big lad and was sporting a lovely thick and perfectly manicured winter coat:
Distinctly agricultural skinning, even managing to screw up removing on of the legs, leaving only one to hang him from:
At least I got the shot placement right:
Thanks for reading folks