With the arrival of my FAC came the start of my stalking life and first of all came the search for a rifle. My mentor Steve and I had discussed the situation and costs were going to have to be kept to a very reasonable level indeed. For ages I had been looking in every available gun shop I came across and hunted through magazines. The advice I had received in various establishments varied a great deal. From as I saw it, a genuine desire to help me get started and at the other end of the scale people who were in the business to make money quickly. In the good section I would mention Hardyís in Sheffield who offered excellent advice on the purchase of a .22 rf, and Melbourne Tackle and Gun who offered loads of good advice and where I did buy a .22 from. The others said things like about £1500 will see you started then you want a sight, I never compromise on sights and a Swaro will start at £1500 ish, no gun purchased here this time. At Steveís recommendation I looked at Parker Hale. I think his words were they are not sexy but they are very accurate, some people do not like the slack open bolt but it doesnít matter a bit. They are a good rifle and represent excellent value for money.
My local dealer did not offer much help and consequently Gun Trader on the internet had several visits and very soon I found what was described as a one in very good condition in Cheltenham. After a phone call I paid by credit card. I did wonder if I was being sensible buying unseen like this. They shipped it up to my local RFD. Under £300 a .270 with a Nikko Sterling Gold Crown 3 / 9 x40 sight, long Harris bipod and a leather sling. We looked at it in the shop and it looked ok to my very inexperienced rifle eye. It looked clean and tidy and as though it had not had much use. We updated the FAO by fax. I bought a rifle bag to put it in and off we went home.
A week or so later saw me off to Pudsey to visit Henry Kranks with a list of stuff from Steve, IMR 4350 powder, Sierra Gameking 130 gr bullets and a .270 die set for his press. They didnít have the bullets, or the die set but I was lucky here and got the deluxe version for the same price as the normal one. Its things like this that bring repeat business rather than the spend £3000 quid attitude of some places. I also bought some Pivi bullets, cleaning rod, brushes and jag etc.
It was great to be out doing some shopping for the stuff I needed and I felt I was getting nearer to getting started on the education of becoming a stalker.
As soon as Steve was available I was off to Lincolnshire where Steve and his family had very kindly offered to put me up. I left my Derbyshire home this time equipped for stalking usually my trips had been for wild fowling and it was quite exciting to have such a different set of gear with me.
I arrived at Steveís around lunch time and he himself was waiting for the FEO having just moved. We had a brew and talked shooting for a while and after the visit Steve said lets have a look at this rifle then.
He was quite pleased with it and didnít think it had much use and said we will check everything it tight give it a clean and go and see how it shoots.
We filled the barrel with bore foam and went off for a brew and a route in Steveís garage where he found me a bit of plastic tube to get foam into my barrel. After a good soak we brushed it out and the brush was green, Steve told me this was brass deposit and we cleaned it again until the brush was clean and it was really obvious looking down the barrel how the rifling looked more pronounced. Steve swabbed out the barrel with a meths patch and off we went to the quarry he uses as a range.
I had never fired a centre fire rifle before and while looking forward to it was slightly nervous.
Being very safety conscious I loaded my rifle with 5 rounds, resting on a bag on Steveís bonnet with the muzzle down range. The target was almost invisible an inch sided triangle on a piece of A4 just over 90 yards away.
Steve said just have a look through the sight and get a feel for the target and what you are looking at. He pointed out that the pad of my finger should be used on the trigger and how to control my breathing. I had my ear plugs in .
Steve said push the bolt home hard, good job he did or I would have assumed it had jammed the round went into the chamber and I closed the bolt. Steve said shoot at the point of the triangle.
I slipped off the safety and controlled my breathing as per the books instructions and tried to hold the cross hairs steady on the triangle point and BANG.
The muzzle flipped up, the recoil and the noise was literally stunning. I quickly worked the bolt and reloaded. The spent case spun away onto the windscreen in a some how satisfying way. More prepared now I took a second shot. Still very loud but I felt better about it. Reloaded and fired again and then again. On the last shot as I squeezed the trigger I had the feeling that all was right with that one. It just felt right, that the cross hairs were right on the target and steady as I fired.
Steve said what do you think. I hadnít a clue. We left the bolt open to facilitate the rifle cooling and walked down the range to see the target.
As we neared the target I could see holes in the paper. Thatís not bad said Steve.
I suspect the low one is your first shot, and perhaps there was some oil or cleaning residue in the barrel. Thatís good shooting.
Steve had a go with his 30.06 now that was loud.
After a few more shots and sight adjustments we went back to Steveís. Had a brew and cleaned our rifles. Jo had made a fantastic stew with loads of vegetables for tea which was most enjoyable surrounded by Steveís family. As we sat talking shooting over another cuppa Steve disassembled my bolt and checked the spring. I have never seen a radiator used as a gun smithing tool before.
We had a walk out in the village to the squash club. Not I hasten to say to play but because they have a lovely fire in the most hospitable bar where we had a pint or two of Bombardier. It was great to think that in the morning I would be taken stalking. How fantastic is that.
I heard Steve putting the kettle on before it was light and got dressed gathering my limited stalking bits together and making sure I had the 4 bís. barrel, bolt, bullets, bipod.
We had the tea and Steve drove us to the start of the stalk just as it was getting light. We parked up at the side of a farm track. Steve had his rifle to, in case I should shoot and mess up he would have the opportunity to rectify the situation if required.
I loaded my rifle, very aware of safety and where the muzzle would be. It was very satisfying to load bullets into my own rifle. I love just getting it out of its slip, my .22 is synthetic and stainless, but the .270 is traditional and although if I replaced it I would go for the functional tool for the job route, it seems fitting and pleasant to have the Parker Hale. To be outside with the breeze on my face and the rustle of the trees, it was a grey morning and the light was getting better. We moved off Steve slightly ahead. The ground was arable with woodland patches and Steve pointed out how deer shelter in the trees coming out to feed, and that looking was all important, but to start with I may not see. I knew what he meant, a few years ago I had a layoff from shooting for a while and went I returned my mates saw and shot rabbis in a field I thought was empty until I heard the shots. Here we were after a quarry I had never looked for before. Steve asked what was ďchinkingĒ I took another step and I heard it too. Spare rounds in my jacket pocket, I put two rounds in each shotgun loop inside my pocket and this stopped it. Subsequently I invested in a bullet pouch on ebay.
Steve stopped frequently and glassed the woodland margins. Stalk slowly and then stalk slower still was his advice. I followed suit.
Steve saw a fox ahead of us. We discussed whether it was a safe shot or not. We agreed while there would be no danger from the bullet to anyone, but that there was a house not far off the line of fire, all be it way above the line of fire on a hill, and should anyone be looking out with binoculars they may be alarmed so we decided that in the best interest of keeping the permission the shot was not on for now.
However the fox circled round behind us and crossed the field. Steve saw it and said safe shot yes or no, yes I said, BANG went the 30.06 and a spurt of dust kicked up just over its back. In the time it had taken for me to decide yes which I thought was pretty spot on Steve had upped the sticks, raised the rifle aimed safety off and fired.
He looked at me, I guess he had been waiting for my shot, my rifle was still over my shoulder, guess I am going to have act quicker if Charlie is to get the good news. But I had identified the quarry decided it was ok to shoot and some time next week would have been ready to do so. But then he did clean miss. Though we did not know it then when I was to take my first fox, we would be together and it would be with the centre fire and it would be some shot. See Articles, My First Deer
We stalked on. It was cool and grey there was some stubble with feeders, cover crop for the pheasants and Steve hoped that there be some Muntjac holed up there feeding, we glassed it well and I was remembering the size of the deer we were looking for and that I may well only see a small part of it rather than the photographs I had seen in books. My binoís were large and bulky and I thought that some newer ones may well be going on my wish list. I was bought Wetland 6x42ís at Newark shooting show, they are inexpensive by stalking standards but have to represent excellent value for money.
We stopped in a leafy depression and Steve produced a flask of coffee. What a good man.
We moved on taking care at corners, looking over hedges and where there were trees sticking out into the fields where the deer would be sheltered from the wind to graze.
I was so pleased to be out with my rifle, the plaited leather strap was beginning to make my shoulder sore and I wondered about a different one. I had a Bisley wide leather one as a present later, fitted it with quick mounts and so I can use it either way up and it makes fitting it in the slip easier. The PH is heavy and a good wide strap a definite bonus.
We stalked round the margins of some big fields. Steve showed me where Roe came down a bank into the field and how the track they had worn was like steps. How they had worn holes in the hedge and slots I the mud and how the shadow would accentuate them. Roe slots were smaller and more delicate than I imagined.
As the sun rose higher we called it a day. The industrial sounds from the works near by were strangely at odds with the idea that we were stalking deer. The noise of machinery and locomotives moving around on the one side with huge grey buildings and gantries, and we were in fields with wet grass and wild birds stalking deer with high power rifles.
We called at a local gun shop, I was tempted by the goodies as I always am but despite looking did not part with any hard earned. I could do with a knife for stalking, but really do not know what I need or want yet. One of my shooting mates has a hand made beautiful thing but I feel I would loose it and then there is the handles debate etc. Eventually bought a couple of cheap bright plastic handled ones for a few pounds each from a gun shop in Bude, the lady knocked £2 off one of then as she had used it to cut tape. I plan to get a Mora 2000 Never Lost. Tried to order it today but the lady was out.
We stopped at Morrisonís for a cuppa and a cake. We went to see a RFD near by and bought some .270 brass bullets, for a very reasonable price indeed about 20 pence each. It was later we realised what a good buy this had been. Then back to Steveís and into his reloading suite. He set up the press with my die set and showed me how to reload the brass from the Pivi rounds. Steve pointed out we could do few more using some of his 30.06 brass necked down.
We went back out to the range and tried them out. They were fine no sign of powder marks or the primer case being bulged, we walked down to the target not to bad, and reset the scope for an inch high, three more confirmed the inch high. Then I tried three of the Pivi and they came in a fair group half an inch lower than the home loads. So, no problems using either round.
We went out again and parked up in a yard with open farm buildings. Steve let his Jack Russel out of the truck for a run round, she dived into the buildings and started to root around very excitedly She grabbed a rat and killed it. We moved a couple of fertilizer bags and off went some more rats with her in pursuit. We called her off ratting was for another day.
We stalked along some fields, arable with deciduous woodland close by. It was pretty flat, I asked Steve about the safe shot, as there was not going to be a bank or hill behind the deer. Steve said that basically if you could see field above the target was the main thing. However there were other things to consider, bullets ricochet off water and frozen ground, houses in line of shot even a very long way away may be watching through binoculars so even though its technically safe its not a good idea. Then there was all the usual of woodland, skyline, undergrowth in the way etc etc. Steve showed me some slots in the mud in a vehicle track.
We saw no deer.
As dusk approached we holed up in the edge of a small wood looking across open farm land to another wood, where Steve had often seen deer using this route between them.
It was cool now the light was going and the wind was in our faces. Steve said to glass slowly and take care as it would be very easy to miss a deer in this light. The dog was a few hundred yards away. We were standing on a small pallet type bridge over a ditch. Steve said put your sticks up and be ready, we watched the gap and the margins of the far wood as well as along each side of the wood we were in, in case a deer stepped out. Nothing appeared.
We unloaded our rifles and returned to the car. A stalking day had come to an end. I had learned a great many things. I was hungry for more, other great days like today.
On my drive home I became aware of a strange sensation in my left ear. It felt sort of open and when I closed it with my finger there was a buzzing, I had tinnitus. That lasted for two weeks. A subsequent hearing test and a ct scan revealed slight hearing loss in my left year. Which I guess is not to be unexpected after 40 years of shooting and 30 of those with two tone horns or wailers mounted close to my head. But despite ear plugs a few shots with a centre fire rifle had changed something so a moderator was decided on.
The saga of the moderator was well reported in posts here on the SD but eventually a T8 was fitted and returned to me. This has improved the shooting characteristics no end, its quieter and gentler and the sight picture is now retained after shooting.
Gradually my stalking kit has expanded often from recommendations on the SD and seeing others with nice bits of kit, including a harness for my binos, I think these are great. Gerber bone saw and ez zip, and a Mora Neverlost knife, rope, Ikea blue bag, string etc.
So here I was with lots of gear and little but expanding slowly idea. I bought the Deer Stalking Manual and study started in a more earnest fashion.
Late June saw my mentor and I out in Lincolnshire again and on nice sunny morning I got my first deer. See Articles for write up. The seed that was sown three years before had come to fruition. To have a successful stalk with good company and to return to Steveís home and have breakfast with Roe liver with his family is something I will always remember.