Some of you may know that about eighteen months ago, I started a new job conveniently located between my house and Willie_Gunn’s, and I remember emailing him when I left the last interview to say that we should look into Friday afternoon stalking outings in the summer. Obviously this plan was too good to be true, the stars never aligned, it didn’t happen. Nevertheless I wanted to return to his ground where I had stalked with him a couple of times before because in addition to his company, it’s just such a beautiful place to stalk and I enjoy his style of creeping up on the little deer amongst the bluebells so much. Incidentally, you all know that W_G takes fantastic photos, but you’d have to be especially useless to take ugly ones of his woods. Having not been stalking since November last year, I finally headed off to meet W_G yesterday afternoon.
It was raining and grey on the way, but by the time I arrived at the station, the weather had cleared up, the sun was shining through, and there was the prospect of muntjac coming out to dry in the sun. We returned to the place we’d been to before, essentially a shallow valley occupied by a field, and above it a wooded long hill. We started off along a path on one side of the field, looking out across it towards the woods, and within a few minutes, W_G spotted a roe buck making its’ way across the hedge from one pheasant feeder to the next. “Are you sure you don’t want a buck?” he asked? But no, I’d come for the muntjac, and more to the point, I’d only come equipped to carry a muntjac back, I couldn’t have dealt with a roe. It turned out to just about be a six-pointer, with little back tines. We continued along the field, seeing a lot of hares, beautiful animals that I’m always surprised are quite low in British shooters’ esteem, but highly-prized on the continent. We spotted another roe near a feeder at the far edge of a field leading up to the woods.
2016-05-02-175810-29 by pinemarten, on Flickr
Then the wind changed. Now I have to confess that by this stage, I was doing a little soul-searching because for all that I daydream about stalking all the time, I just somehow wasn’t feeling the usual pleasure that it always brings. I was still distracted, thoughts all over the place. W_G decided to cross the field into the woods. We stepped into the wood, slowed down to a paranoid snail’s pace, started peering into each little hole between two twigs lying in the bluebells, and somehow, that was it, I was once again completely immersed in what I was doing. I didn’t even notice the transition until later. My goal changed. In my theoretic musings on the train, I had thought how it would be nice to shoot a good buck, but here in the forest, that became utterly irrelevant, it was about the stalk itself, the context, the surroundings, the feelings and the moment. Antlers don’t matter. Antlers are useless. And anyway, I already have some at home. What I don’t have is any venison or stories to tell.
2016-05-02-182536-33 by pinemarten, on Flickr
I followed behind W_G, careful not to tread on twigs (I daresay to him is sounded like I was crashing through the undergrowth though), peering around trees and fallen branches from all angles, mindful of the wind. Then suddenly, he indicated ahead, and there was a very scrawny roe doe about thirty metres away, who then turned around and vanished, but we were seeing deer. I then saw two backs move fleetingly between the trees, probably a pair of roe given the size. Finally, we spotted a muntjac doe with a buck in the fallen twigs. Well, actually, we spotted bits of them as they scurried about, and not at the same time, but enough that it was worth trying. I moved back a few paces to give myself a clearer shot, drilling up on the sticks, couldn’t find the deer in the scope, looked back in my binoculars, found the doe again, but only her head poking over a log. Then they ran off. Of course it then turned out that W_G had had a perfect broadside view of the buck from where I should have stayed standing, but you never know. Anyway, I had seen some action, and there were plenty of deer!
2016-05-02-184454-35 by pinemarten, on Flickr
We veered left along a deer track through the bluebells, paused to scan the area for a bit, and “There’s one, right of that huge tree” I whispered. “I see it” came the answer. Drilling up on the sticks, trying to track moving patches of brown through holes in other brown things. As is usually the case, the muntjac moved constantly: there’s a hind leg, a tail, an ear, a whole head (Ah, it’s a doe!), a front leg… It kept moving right, fifty metres away, disappearing behind tree trunks. No shot. Then I selected an area right of a large tree and thought that if it stepped there and stopped for a second, that would be my window. After a few seconds, it did. W_G whistled, the drilling went bang, and I just had time to see that the doe had collapsed on the spot. I fumbled around for another round, reloaded a 7x57R cartridge, waited a few minutes and we walked towards where the deer had fallen.
2016-05-02-184836-37 by pinemarten, on Flickr
This is always a surprising moment, somehow, it shouldn’t be over so quickly. But there was relief, smiles, and a beautiful muntjac doe in superb condition, lying on a carpet of bluebells in ancient woodland. I picked a handful of the flowers and put them in the doe’s mouth, admired it for a few minutes. Then I set about one of my horrendously amateurish grallochs. I could almost hear W_G wincing, but as I said, it’s only to feed my in-laws. Besides the process is ugly, but the end result is fine! Not quite ready for DSC2 though shall we say.
IMAG0824 by pinemarten, on Flickr
IMAG0825 by pinemarten, on Flickr
When that was done, W_G said “I’ll carry it and we’ll carry on stalking”. “Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like to call it a day. I won’t be any happier if I shoot more, and I can only deal with one”. To his credit, he was fine with that decision. I was glad it had happened this way, with a proper stalk in the bluebell woods. Shooting another wouldn’t add anything to the experience. So we quietly headed back, I put the deer in my rucksack with my rifle and gear, and returned to the station in plenty of time.
ZOE_0003_1 by pinemarten, on Flickr
I would like to thank W_G for once again making this a superb experience, different from the previous ones, but very memorable. The bluebells come included in the service.