The plan was a simple one. Head out for a round of sporting clays in the morning, then get the pheasants fed and watered and check a few likely spots for any lurking bucks. My host for the day (who I won't name, but he can identify himself if he wishes) was an acquaintance from my DSC1 course last year. Through strange coincidence we discovered on the course that despite being strangers we had some mutual acquaintances in common.
We met in the morning and headed out to the clay club, where I put on a brave show and was able to take on much advice and a fair bit of Mickey taking. A few others even shared their "toys" with me including my host's brand new semi auto and a brilliant little 410 with which I had a lot of fun. After tea, cake and a chat, it was back to the house and then out around the farm. We stopped off at a few release pens to sort the birds out and check the traps (which yielded a somewhat unexciting squirrel) and at each one plus a few places in between had a walk about with rifle and binoculars equipped.
Our first sighting of a buck was on the edge of a maize field. We'd come to the corner of the field, and passed through a hedgerow that extended down to the right. My eagle-eyes accomplice managed to spot a buck lying down under the hedge, but to get a shot off I'd have to walk out into the open and look back at him. I hadn't got far when he stood up, seeing me, and took off. He paused briefly, but I was too slow and he slipped through the net, heading off into the maize.
We caught up with him on the other side of the field, where he spent a long time in a stand off, watching us watching him. Eventually he lay down against the hedge putting us out of his sight line and allowing us to close in.
As we got close, I readied my rifle on the sticks and started a slow advance. Step - sticks down - observe. Can't see him. Step - sticks down - observe.. Still can't see him. Step - sticks down - observe. There he is!
Alas, almost no sooner had I spotted him than he was up on his feet. He stared me down for a while, but was facing me head on and I didn't fancy a dodgy head shot. After a second or two he turned and worked his way back into another maize field.
A little later we saw a buck and a doe crossing a freshly ploughed field at another part of the farm, but they were moving as if something had already startled them, and all we could do was watch them cross the boundary at a trot. We didn't solve the mystery of what had spooked them, but returned empty handed to the house for a brew and a recharge, just as the rain was setting in.
A short while later, the shower eased and we planned our last effort. We'd walk out from the house this time, and see what we could see. Less than 5 minutes later, we rounded the edge of a hedgerow. Extending to our right was a ploughed field, and some 10 yards out from the hedge and well within rifle range was a young buck. I'd learnt from my mistakes of the morning. As quickly as I dared, moving as little as I could, I set up my sticks and brought the rifle up. I found him instantly in the scope. A four point buck, slimmer in the body than the bigger fella we'd seen earlier in the day, but still a prime candidate for the cull. He presented himself like the textbook "good shot" from the DSC1 manual. Directly broadside, totally still, and with a gentle rise of undoubtedly soft earth behind him.
I didn't wait. A deep breath in, slow exhale, and a squeeze of the finger.
Momentarily, I lost the sight picture in the recoil from my 270. But as everything settled I saw the buck had fallen instantly on his shadow.
A big thank you to my generous host for the day, whose spontaneous invitation has helped me scratch the stalking itch, and filled my freezer with delicious venison!