This is not a stalk diary I want to write. However, even more important to do so, to recognise and learn from the first clear mistakes on my stalking journey thus far.
The earliest rise yet for a stalk heralded the start of the day at 03:45. Unceremoniously bundling self and the still half asleep lad into the car, we set out for the hour and twenty minute drive to our main permission. As we drove, the first vestiges of light appeared on the horizon and grew faster than expected. By the time we reached the ground at 05:20, it was almost fully light, a significant cause of concern given 600m of large fully open grass field we needed to cross in order to reach the main area the deer frequent. Thankfully, the already cooling August air delivered a fine mist and so we were able to make up a little lost time heading straight across. Almost at the other side, the mist lifted in a matter of seconds, lending understanding to how rabbits must feel caught in the spotlight.
Reaching the far hedgeline and peering through, the first Muntjac physically seen on the permission presented, browsing the hedgeline of an adjoining field. The gentle breeze this particular visit was chosen around however clearly wafted our scent in its general direction and it quickly hopped back into the hedge. Now making our way much more slowly into the prime area for the roe, we glassed frequently but nothing was showing. We consequently slowly made our way to the hole in the hedgeline in the field where I took three bucks on my first solo outing just over two years ago. I gave a few expectant squeaks on the Buttolo, but nothing showed. In no hurry, we just knelt there within the hedgeline, appreciating the unequalled beauty of the early morning, continuing to give the odd squeak. Ten minutes later we were rewarded with two roe appearing at the far end of the field although clearly uninterested in the squeaking. Carefully glassing, it was a doe with a buck in tow, giving her rear end a regular sniffing but not showing an sign of being any more amorous than that.
The two made their way steadily across the field and by the time I had dropped to prone with the Sako A7 on the bipod, they were almost to the hedgeline. Whilst the permission sports a good small and stable population of roe, it also has key limitations in shots in safe directions. Knowing that if they exited the field it would make getting onto them for a safe shot extremely difficult I knew I had little time left. Judging the distance based on previous experience to around 150m (later range found to 153m), I also knew it was approaching the limit of a safe and humane shot. However, priding myself on my marksmanship and having taken the three two years ago at very similar distances with perfect shots, I was confident and had no reservations.
The buck was squarely broadside on and I exhaled for the shot. The doe then moved directly behind the buck and I had to let the breath go. After what seemed like an eternity, the buck moved forwards just forward of the doe, paused briefly and then turned so quartering slightly away. Two more steps and he would be in the hedge. A very rapid calculation and judgement that although quartering slightly, the shot should pass through just forwards of the diaphragm and exit just forwards of the front leg or perhaps the brisket, taking out the heart on the way. Great theory. The shot released and the buck dropped on the spot and lay still. Although challenging, I felt the satisfaction of another perfect shot. Or so I thought.
The buck lay still and the doe was visibly quite confused as to what her lad was playing at. However, after a minute or two she moved off through the hedge leaving the buck stationary behind her. The lad and I were just readying to make our way over and the buck lifted his head and started writhing. I paused the lad and said we would now need to wait another minute or two as the buck had clearly not quite expired. Even after another five minutes or so, the buck was still occasionally lifting his head, clearly unable to move and yet also not finished yet. I was now getting quite concerned and struggling to comprehend that I had made anything less than the usual clean shot. Pondering what to do and not wanting to take another shot at such distance, particularly with the animal on the ground, we made our way slowly over. Getting to 20m, it was clear a coup de grace was sadly going to be required. I stopped the lad and made my way forwards on my own to complete the task, very sad that my poor initial shot and delay in making our way over had caused unnecessarily protracted suffering.
So, whilst a satisfying tenth deer from eight successful stalks, the fastest and cleanest gralloch to date and a good lesson for myself and the lad, it certainly wasn’t an experience I will be in a hurry to repeat. Even the best of shots is not infallible and capable of pulling a shot under pressure. Indeed, close inspection showed a very high shot, straight through the spine. Not my finest hour. As a final note, as only my second rut buck, it was of interest to note during the butchery that the buck had literally zero fat on him and was extremely lean. Nevertheless, he's delivered the steaks for the next two BBQ's and 6kg of mince which added to the 3kg from the buck two weeks back, should see us through the winter for my renowned stalkers pies, perhaps with a final top up with a last animal for the year over the October half term.
Thanks for reading gents and would appreciate not castigating me too much, I've already done enough of that for myself