West Berkshire, 21st – 23rd May 2010
After a kind invitation to stalk with Dominic, I made my way to his house for the weekend. We stopped for a quick cuppa before we loaded up his truck and headed off to one piece of the ground. When we arrived, a quick zero check at 100m. Inch and a half high and we were on our way!
A walk along the track, where we could glass the valley either side… what fantastic stalking country! Great Southern rolling chalk down land with woods either side; a perfect partridge and pheasant shooting estate. We turned off the track and made our way into a wood, along the edge of a pheasant pen; stopping and glassing as we went. Out the other side of the wood and onto a plateau on the top. We glassed the edges of the corn field, but nothing was showing so we headed down the field margin and turned right back down into the wood, about 200m from where we came out.
We stalked down through the wood which was carpeted with bluebells. Now if you open any stalking book and they describe Muntjac woodland, I am now looking at it through my bins. As Dominic was glassing ahead into an open glade, I glassed to my right and a movement caught my eye. Then I saw a tiny figure below a hazel stump and then a larger figure. Great… I’ve spotted my first Muntjac fawn and doe. Mum was happily grazing away and the fawn nuzzling every now and again. We decided to leave them to it and carry on with the stalk.
We made our way across the glade and out into the valley that ran from right to left, with the wood on our left and the valley dropping away to our right. We stalked all the way until the hedge across the valley to our right turned into a wider spinney. We paused and glassed up a further valley in front. I had ducked down to glass under the overhanging trees when we spotted a Roe right at the top end of this valley. We watched for a while and just as Dominic got up to continue our stalk, two Muntjac does came crashing out of the spinney to my right and made their way back in the direction we had stalked. I had taken the long bipod off the rifle before the stalk… First mistake! Then I could not get my sticks undone and consequently couldn’t use them as a bipod either… Second mistake! Mental note to self… Don’t over tighten your shooting sticks; you can’t get them undone with summer gloves on! By this time, the following Muntjac had gone back into the spinney and the first just kept on moving down the valley.
By this time, we were starting to chase the light and so made our way back to the start point, we didn’t see any more deer on our way back, but as we came down the valley heading for the truck, a Muntjac gave us a last couple of defiant barks!
After the drive back to the house, we were met by Dominic’s wife, Pippa and a lovely supper of Chilli. By the time we’d finished and headed for bed it was midnight… alarm set for 3am!!!
Saturday 22nd May.
Early morning stalk… up at 3am! Coffee made and in the mugs. Flask done and rifles packed into the vehicle along with Fallow, Dom’s black lab.
We headed for another part of the estate, for a stalk to a high-seat, which overlooked an area of rough grassland. As we got through the cover to the rear of the high-seat, Dom spotted three Roe out in the field, a good 250m away to our right, but out in the middle of the field. I must admit I had trouble picking them out in the pre-dawn light, amongst the patches of high grass. Made the rifle safe and climbed into the high-seat. Fallow waiting patiently at the base of the seat.
We continued to glass the Roe – it turned out to be two does and a buck. Great, we had plenty of time to watch them graze in the pre-dawn light. Then from the right another doe came out of the spinney, which was at the end of the hedge that our high seat had its back to. She went over to the group and made her way up the middle of the field, stopping, sniffing and occasionally giving a single bark. It was great to watch as she kept coming. Now she came to within about 60 – 70m of the high-seat, directly opposite us; still sniffing and still barking! The rest of the group were still 250m away and not taking a lot of notice of the noisy doe! She then let out two barks and she was off back down the field to join the others. She paused and ‘took’ one of the group with her back to the spinney. Luckily it wasn’t the buck; he was still out in the middle with a doe to keep him company.
So we began another waiting game to see what they would do. After what seemed an age, they were still in the same location; just browsing and keeping an eye on the cattle in the next field. I have no idea of the timescale, but the eventually turned and started browsing back to the spinney. Damn!! I wish they would read the plan!
When they got to the spinney, Dom decided that we would stalk them down the hedge from the other side. Rifle made safe and down we went, gear collected along with Fallow. Heading through the hedge from where we came, we stalked to where we had last spotted them. We got to the point where we thought they would be, but the cover was really thick; a mixture of hawthorn hedge and bramble… nightmare! Dom found a gap and spotted the doe behind a tree some 20m away. We had a gap where we could see the field, but I spotted the buck making his way back into the field with the doe following him. Now for a bit of jungle warfare as we pushed through the spinney and were now overlooking the field opposite the original position of the doe. By now, the doe followed by the buck were well up the field and we were losing them in the cover every now and again. So no shot on! He was a cracking 6 pointer, but will be there for another day… We stalked back down the track past the high-seat position and waited by a small wood just in case they made their way through the wood, but again they were not playing ball!
Back to the truck, off with the warmer jackets and now with lightweight gear back on we were to stalk some field margins and into another cracking looking Muntjac wood. Things seemed to be against Dom this morning due to the fact that one of the fields had been disked and drilled. So we made our way to and then through the wood, where you can imagine that behind every tree and clump of cover, you are going to see Muntjac looking back at you. By this point, I am also beginning to realise that I stalk far too quickly!
Out of the wood and along the headland of another field, but they have all been sprayed off, ready to be worked down. So what was once nice, green fodder for the deer is now brown. NOT so good!
Still no idea of the time – I tend to lose track while I’m out stalking. We headed back to the truck, before heading back to Dom’s for a shower in preparation for a breakfast ‘meeting’ with Chris Rob. Up the road for an ‘Olympic’ brekkie and look at some cracking photos of Chris’ recent trip to the Green Isle, where he shot an impressive Billy Goat. We arranged to join Chris at a farm where he shoots, for an informal get together and clay shoot. I borrowed Dom’s shotgun and fired a few shells at the clays. Time was now getting on and we had to head off to meet another group who were stalking that evening. Once again, thank you Chris for a great afternoon!
Saturday 22nd May – Evening stalk
Rifle packed back into the truck and off to pick up one of the guys before heading back to the ground to meet the other group of stalkers. A quick ‘ish’ check of the zeroes and we split up to stalk different parts of the ground.
We parked up and made our way along a wood edge. No more than 100m along and we were met by a black lab and its owner. We allowed them to pass and Dom made the quick decision to change the planned stalk. We headed into the wood. We followed the path which ran along the edge of a pheasant pen. We got to about 20m from the edge of the pen, when Dom stopped. A roe doe was no more than 10 m beyond the edge of the pen. She continued to browse, unaware of our presence. She made her way in front of us, moving slowly to the right. At the closest point, she was no more than 15m away from us and didn’t know we were there! Fallow was sitting the whole time, transfixed by the Doe. It was great to stalk into a Doe, seeing her natural manner and watching her make her way through the wood.
We made our way out of the wood and onto the headland, with a rape field to our right. We reached a point where the headland dipped down and then up the other side, In the hollow was another Doe browsing away. Up onto the sticks, just in case a Buck was around. The doe was popping in and out of the rape but sadly, no buck was present. We were just about to move when Dom spotted something coming up the dip. Rifle up and Charlie decided to pop his head above the rise. Dom said to take it if I was happy with the shot. Safety off and squeezed the trigger… shot straight over its head! After a few choice words we continued along the headland. Just before the corner, another Doe came crashing out of the rape. She paused, and then made her way to the hedge. There were no Bucks around with these Does.
We headed towards a wood for the final part of the stalk, as we were now chasing the light. Down through the rides, glassing as we went. As we entered a small clearing, Dom glassed one way and I glassed another, then we saw the familiar sight of a white ‘flag’ bobbing its way up through the trees. With the light fading fast, we made our way out of the wood with the Muntjac giving us the familiar triumphant ‘bark’ to bid us farewell. Back to the vehicle, rifle packed up and off to meet the other guys. One of them had had no luck, but a buck for the other; it had an ‘Aladdin’s slipper’ on one of its front feet. Another first to see. A quick bottle of beer and back to the larder to hang and weigh the buck.
Back to Dom’s for a late supper and off to bed. By now it’s 12.30 am.!
Sunday 23rd May
Alarm – 03.00 – aaagh!
It only seems like 5 minutes since I went to bed! Mugs of coffee sorted, flasks made and out of the house by 03.30.
The now familiar drive to the ground, parked up by an area comprising of 4 fields which had a road through the middle. We parked up in the middle of the ‘square’ and headed off into one field, glassing as we stalked along the boundaries. The early morning mist was now hanging in all the hollows – early morning stalking at its best!
Back out of the first field, down the road 50m and into the second field. Same again, glassing all the way, mist in all the hollows but no bucks or does. We turned back and as we headed towards the road, we could glass to the field opposite us. ‘There’s one’ said Dom… ‘He’ll do!’ So down the road and slowly up to the gateway of the field; making ourselves as low as possible. Dom got the sticks up, but at that range, I decided I’d be happier with a sitting shot off the long bipod. So we slid our way to the other side of the open gateway with my back against the post and my bipod up.
By now he was tucked down into a dip in the ground, browsing on the lush clover. Up popped a head from the dip 130m away; a nice 6 pointer was looking back in our direction, not quite sure if he had something to look at or not! He was slowly making his way to the left, not providing a clear shot. Then he came up from the dip, broadside on BUT… he was now directly in line with a house 300-400m away. We both looked and the decision was made for us – no safe shot. We continued to watch him as he turned away from us and headed up the field. Now we began a game of cat and mouse as we followed him across the field, keeping out of sight as we went in and out of the ‘dead’ ground across the whole field.
We were just before the last crest before the final dip. NO buck! Where had he gone? Then we spotted him some 200m to our right. He was now browsing up the wood edge, still in the field and heading for the top right corner. ‘He’s going into the wood in the corner’ said Dom. But lady luck was now showing her face. He turned left as he reached the corner and made his way along to the top hedge, heading towards the house. He made it to the garden. Now he did something that I have never seen and might not ever see again. He stopped, looked straight at us; as we were some 200m away, crouched down in the middle of a clover field with no cover and then ran straight at us!! It looked like a fox coming in to a call.
He headed down the dip and into dead ground. ‘Put the bipod up’ said Dom. We were both sitting down – I had the rifle up in a nano second!! The Buck then popped his head over the dip and stopped. He was obviously trying to decide what on earth the two things in his field were! Sorry 3 things… forgot Fallow! ‘He’s not going to turn’ I whispered to Dom. No sooner had the words left my lips, when he turned towards the wood. ‘NOW… take him’ said Dom. Crosshairs just behind his shoulder and BANG! A good thud came back. I reloaded as I saw his back legs kick up before he ran 20-30m before he stopped and fell.
We turned to each other grinning like Cheshire cats. We both felt an enormous sense of relief! Handshakes exchanged and on with the job. I made the rifle safe and went over to the strike point. Good amount of pins. Dom set Fallow off and she found the beast with no trouble, even in the long clover. I did chamber another round just in case.
We performed the gralloch on the headland. Unfortunately, despite the shot being spot on the heart/ lung area, I hadn’t compensated for the slight quartering position of the beast and as a result, the bullet took out one lung, the liver and ‘nicked’ the rumen; so there was a small amount of ‘green’ inside. All organs checked; kidneys and heart bagged. A few photos taken and we carried him back to the vehicle.
A quick clean up and we set off to stalk the wood which was in front of us. There had been a lot of felling work inside the wood which had opened the canopy a fair bit, allowing the early morning sun to light up the woodland floor. After about 150m inside the wood, we spotted a Roe Doe among the clear fell, perfectly camouflaged against the brash. We had a five minute staring competition; then decided we should move off. Along the track made by the machines used to extract the timber. Muntjac slots crossed the newly made track at various points as we went. The wood now became a beech wood and opened right up compared to the first half. Up a bank and back down the other side where then wood opened up even further due to the clearing/ thinning of more trees. A movement to our left caught our eyes. Another Doe was making her way parallel to us. We lost sight of her for a moment, but she was on the track no more than 30m in front of us, looking straight at us!
Yet another stand off followed; this time we were the victors as she bounded off up the bank to our right, paused for a second before continuing to circle around us 90º from her original position. She was now 20m away on the top of a bank and staring down at us. What a picture it would have made as the early morning sun lit her against the newly budding wood. Sadly, I had left my camera back at the vehicle. What an opportunity to miss!
As she made her way back into the wood, we continued to a vantage point which overlooked a natural ‘bowl’, but nothing showed. We stalked back to the timber station and then back to the vehicle. I made the rifle safe and parked up. We headed off to the larder where we weighed the buck (44lbs), measured the length of the antlers and took the data required for the cull records.
All cleared up and back to Dom’s house where Pippa had made us a cracking breakfast to round off a brilliant morning and weekend.
Dominic – thank you very much for a fantastic weekend, which will stay in my memory for many years to come.
As Dom said:
48 hours, 5½ hours sleep, 12 hours stalking, I buck. Experience… priceless!