Steve had to cancel our last stalk due to family commitments so I was really ready for a trip to Lincolnshire. My last outing had been with Deerwarden.
After work I picked up my stalking kit and realised I had left my binoís with there new harness at a friends house, fortunately it was pretty much on my way to the M1 or so I thought as I collected them.
I flicked on the sat nav and decided to do what it said. Normally Iíd nip to junction 29 via Chesterfield especially in the late evening. Almost an hour later I am working my way through Sheffield city centre, well you will seldom have seen a rabbit with less positive euphoria. I was livid and shouting at an inanimate electronic gadget. Perhaps I am over due a day with good company in the outdoors. It did pop me onto the M1 further north but in the future IQ routes can help when Iím stuck.
I intended to arrive about 11pm. But it was nearer half past when I arrived, Jo let me in to a Labrador and terrier welcome, Steve was still at work so we had a brew. He arrived shortly and we had a chin wag for a while then got our heads down before the alarm went off at four to be on the ground at five. A quick brew and we set off. The sky was covered with high cloud but the forecast was for rain some heavy later.
Steve parked up and we got out our gear. I am still on the Ďgirlyí stalking bag from the garage. I soon realised its better to have it under the binoís harness.
We loaded up, me with Barnes 130gn. home loads in my Parker Hale .270, still with its Nikko Sterling Gold Crown scope that it came with, set on x6 magnification.
We set off Steve leading, me being very muzzle aware, (I have been reading the manual) I hope I always was. The bino harness was excellent, stopping the swing to and fro, I use the same one on my camera it just clips on and off.
The sun came out and through the binos I was struck by the beauty and brightness of the flowers in the field margins, bright blues, purples and pinks. The sandy ground was dry hard and cracked. Easy walking but also rather crackly underfoot and despite taking care we both occasionally made the tell tale snap of twigs.
Glassing the margins of some rape Steve saw a Muntjac, which was the first sighting on this ground which pleased him. The ground was mixed, woodland bordering arable, mostly a mix of rape and cerialsí
I had a dry cough the night before and knew this often to be the first sign of my hay fever. Occasionally I gave the quietest apologetic cough I could manage. In future I must remember Piriton and some thing to suck. Steve was quite quiet very little was said just the odd point of whispered tuition. Usually where to look.
Steve asked me to go first. I had never had the lead before and I stalked slowly on through the deciduous woodland. Steve pointed out it was still important to use the binoís in the woods, as a roe face on can look like a stump three feet high to the naked eye and to keep looking every three to four yards as the angle changes a deer that was hidden by a couple of trees may appear.
Woodies flapped out of the wood around us close by. Steve told me to always stand still when woodies go or at any other similar disturbance or alarm call, as a feeding or layed up deer may lift its head for a nosey and check for danger.
We emerged back onto some rape margin, the morning chorus was still going on and it was like some weird sort of stereo, my left ear to the field was quiet the right one to the wood was filled with bird song.
There were gaps in the crops where the machinery moved through, Steve pointed out that deer use these as highways and I may see just a pair on Mickey Mouse ears moving just above the crop.
The wind picked up a bit. As we crossed a sandy small field Steve pointed out a Roe dropping but we saw very little sign of deer.
I then realised my attention had wandered. I was cross with myself. Someone was giving up their day to take me out on their permission and I was not paying full attention. I came back with a jolt. I thought about it and decided that to be successful as a stalker you needed to be dedicated, attentive and permanently focussed. Otherwise you would miss seeing deer and not be prepared to take a calculated accurate shot.
I checked my safety. Steve took the lead as I stepped back. I kept glassing hoping to see a bit of a deer. We came to the end of the wood and popped out into a ride. Cut to let power lines through the trees. Steve pointed out a run used by deer to get onto this arterial highway, we moved out very slowly just in case any deer were passing by today or laying up but nothing was seen.
Steve said well thatís about it, time for tea, fry up at home I think. Unless we happen to see something on the way back to the car.
We will eat the have a bit of a nap until this evening. We walked along the open track bordered by fields and Steve asked me to estimate various ranges, I did ok, Steveís level two assessor had pinged various ranges for him.
As we walked I was slightly ahead, a quiet voice said stop.
Steve said to our left across the field is a buck sat it the grass. I looked, well if stalkers develop a skill of seeing deer, I need more exposure, but as I looked through the binoís what I was looking at fell into place. A Roe buck, I could identify that, sitting head to my left facing our direction, I could see his antlers. Steve said he looks scruffy, I didnít even know they had a choice of clothes or a dress code. But this I had not noticed.
Steve said put your sticks up, I remembered John saying slow fluid, not jerky movements as deer find them more disturbing.
Everything went very still. Up went the sticks I marked the spot, slowly and carefully I put my rifle up on the sticks, no time to make a safety error now. The buck appeared in my scope, now looking to its left, head and high neck clear above the crop. Good bank behind the deer to higher woodland beyond. A good hundred yards away, slightly down hill. I pushed off the safety.
Ready, said Steve, Johnís words came into my head the longer you hover the worse it gets fire as soon as you come onto the target.
Yes I said. Steve barked, the buck got what appeared to be carefully to its feet. Broadside on, classic position, I brought the cross hairs smoothly up the leg, I knew the rifle was bang on at a hundred yards. Bang. The sight picture stayed steady. The 130g Barnes brass hollow point home load was away.
The T8 held down the barrel and I saw the buck bowled over. I did not hear an impact.
Steve prompted me to reload, I had not completed the follow through. Steve said thatís dead, but keep watching and if he raises his head or makes an effort to get up shoot him again. We saw a leg kick above the crop thatís broken he said. I became aware that I was shaking, especially my legs. Steve patted me on the back, Well done mate he said. We watched he made no effort to rise, we waited a while longer watching, mark the spot well said Steve. I lowered my rifle from the sticks.
As we walked round the margins I became aware of the day again, it was warm, birds were singing and flies buzzed around. I am sure I was smiling, we cut through a vehicle track and came to the buck.
The approach was limited but I remembered the theory. His eyes were glazed over I touched it with my stick and there was no reaction.
Steve rolled him over, the exit wound was extensive. Steve looked back to where I had shot from. Itís a good shot he said. One hundred and twenty yards. He looked at the hooves and in between them and at the mouth. Front leg was broken and the skin discoloured, an old injury. The antlers were twisted and still in tattered velvet, his coat was not in good condition. Scrawny was a good description. We took a couple of photographs.
I had shot my first deer. Steve showed me the graloch. We hoisted him into a tree with the rope from my stalking bag to allow for drainage. Then Steve used his EZ zip to open the skin , what a good bit of kit. Then the organs were removed and the lymph nodes inspected, on the neck abdomen and top of the heart. Steve pointed out the use of biodegradable string to tie off the oesophagus and to squeeze the stools back up the tract before tying it off and how to free the oesophagus to pull it through into the abdominal cavity. We cleaned up and packed up I got out my Ikea bag and put the deer inside. Steve not being daft said I will carry your rifle.
As I picked up the bag I knew why Steve had the rifle. It was heavy and the bag had narrow straps but I soon sorted a better way and it was only a couple of hundred yards to the road.
On the way back to Steveís we stopped at a great butchers for bacon and eggs. With the deer hanging in the shed we had the most wonderful late breakfast of the full English with Roe liver in well seasoned flour. It was fantastic.
Then it was back outside while I watched the carcass prepared for the larder. The front right leg was broken, I played close attention and hoped I was retaining enough to be able to do a credible job myself.
I decided I would like an EZ Zip, I keep doing this, its becoming a habit. But it also means you acquire good bits of kit a bit at a time and each piece is a reminder of a good day.
We hung up the carcass and wrapped it loosely in net curtain to keep the flies off and slipped a drip try under it.
Brew time, we gathered our cups and retired to the lounge to watch the rugby. I donít think Steve and I saw much rugby. Waking up a couple of hours later Steve was stirring. More tea and we were out to another permission
I was really chuffed this three year project had come to fruition with my first buck. This time last year I was impatiently waiting for my rifle to come back from being threaded for the T8. Also everything had worked, the Parker Hale was accurate, the Nikko Sterling Gold Crown scope was more than adequate, the Barnes home loads were accurate and did the business really well. My garden cane sticks had been solid and I had not had buck fever or been unwilling to shoot. The nerves and excitement had come once the job was done.
The sky had become overcast it was spotting with rain and the breeze was in our faces. We gathered our gear and loaded our rifles. I knew this was a time for care, no room from complacency or the slightest inattention.
We stalked down the farm track, glassing the margins carefully as we went. The track took us through a gap in the wood. Slowly we checked the wood and a small ride to the left. The plan was to come slowly out of the wood and check the far field, the woodland margins and then return to the wood and stalk through it. Pheasantsí were calling and pigeons flapped out above us. There was nothing on the margins but Steve saw a fox. It was on the track in the evening light, the breeze was still in our faces. I put my sticks up Steve squeaked, the fox came a little nearer, stopped turned side on investigating the edges of the track. We watched through binoculars and I put my rifle carefully on the sticks. Steve said the basis of the permission was fox control.
In over forty years of shooting I had not shot a fox, this could be the time. I flicked up the Butler Creeks. Steve said itís a long way. I thought of inches of bullet drop, I asked Steveís opinion, took the middle figure. As she turned side on again I controlled my breathing, lifted the cross hairs through the shoulder above the back and fired.
She flopped over and was still. Steve was watching through the binoís I promptly reloaded, watching her, my lesson learned from this morning. Steve said I saw her hit. Still no flicker of movement so we set off. Count the paces said Steve. After a while Steve said itís a long way how many you up to, two hundred I said we looked at the distant fox, Itís a bloody long way he said, off we went again, I stopped at three hundred and we looked back to the wood, wasnít a bad shot then I said. We looked at the fox now in shotgun range, and we walked the forty paces up to her, the bullet had entered in mid body level just forward of the shoulder the exit wound was impressive. Photoís were taken in what Steve called my Hemmingway look. I thought for that you needed your foot up on the quarry and your rifle at a jaunty angle on your hip.
We stalked the wood, a pheasant burst out from cover right between us and we both jumped. An owl flew lazily and silently up the edge of the woodland. Pigeons came in to roost, others flapped out as we moved on and in a neighbouring field hares sat out. We stopped for a coffee.
We moved forward to another ride Steve pointed out to check carefully across corners and look through woodland into the fields, especially where you looked from the dark into the light. We saw nothing the light was going and the dog was along way away. It was time to bring this fantastic day to a close. We walked back to the car.
I thanked Steve for all the fantastic help I had been so freely given since a chat in the pub launched my journey to becoming a deer stalker. I am still not far down the road but some valuable steps were taken today. Once in a lifetime events never to be forgotten.
It was gone 1.30 am when I had hung the carcass in its jacket in a friends shed.
The Tuesday as the Monday was a bank holiday saw me at the local butchers. I asked for any tips, he said why not bring it in at 7.30 in the morning and Iíll show you on one side and you do the other. Next morning I was there and we hung the carcass on a gambrel . he showed me how to start to remove the skin cutting at ninety degrees to the skin to form a lip and then pull it back and then get your fist in and push them apart. I slipped the knife up the inside of each back leg and pulled off the skin. Two cuts with the saw and the rest was done with a knife, he did one side and I did the other, not as neatly but adequately. Forty five minutes later everything was done, on trays and cling filmed. He even gave me the gambrel.