The early morning of Monday 2nd Agust saw my brother and myself stalking our local ground looking for a buck or two. I had left him in the centre of the estate and continued onto the boundary. As I stalked along a dale top hedgerow towards an game strip and young plantation I came across this very fresh roe ring on the headland.
Hoping that the deer responsible were still nearby and quite possibly in the yellow clover game strip I glassed the area very carefully before stalking across the end of the game strip so that I could look up the track on its far side. Peering around the corner there was nothing to be seen apart from a couple of hares. I moved a few more metres to get a bet position before getting the rifle up on the sticks and trying a few sqeaks on the Buttolo. There was no reponse so I gave it a few more minutes before trying three loud 'distress' calls. Nothing appeared out of the game cover but movement behind my right shoulder caught my eye, turning around 100 metres away and coming over the brow of the hill on an open pea field were two deer, running straight for me. They kept on coming, doe leading, buck chasing, and at 40 m I sqeaked loudly with the Buttolo, but they did not miss a step and as they ran past 10 m away I barked at the buck but he did not even turn his head and they both disappeared around the corner and down the hedge where the roe ring was. I got my breathe back and crept up to the end of the hedge before looking down it, and there not thirty metres away was the buck, standing right in the middle of the roe ring. All I could see was the head and neck, but the real problem was there was no back stop. After a minutes stand off they were off again, dropping down the valley side and up the far side. They could not have been at all bothered by me because the doe took him on a couple of very quick circuits around a gorse bush before they cleared the rabbit wire and were into the young plantation. I tried to cut them off if the small trees but all I saw was the doe on her own, she was knackered and soon lied down in the long grass. I tried the Buttolo again loudly and was rewarded by the sight of a red coat bounding its way towards me, rifle up but it was another doe, and this one had twins in tow.
The arranged meeting time with my brother was past so I gave up on the buck and wished him well as I departed the scene and headed back to the car. My brother had also been unsuccessful this morning with 9 seen but only one buck. But we had taken three bucks in our last stalk the previous week so a blank was in order even if the rut was now obviously underway.
On the way back home we collected three crates of poults and stopped off at our shoot to add them to our release pen and those we had bought the day before.
Once home I grabbed some lunch and loaded my car with all the stuff needed for a couple of days stalking in Scotland. By the time I was sorted it was late after noon before I set off and I did not arrive at the caravan on my stalking ground until 7.45. I emptied the car and connected up the gas bottle but decided against a quick brew and headed off with the rifle instead for the last hour and half of daylight.
I was walking along a typical forestry ride when a buck came out of the trees just 80 m ahead, he was questing around the track and heading away from me giving me a chance to get the rifle up onto the sticks, he decided to turn around and zig zagged his way back towards me, I was stood out in the open but he seemed to have his mind on other things. At 60 m he turned to head back under the trees, I gave he a loud sqeak on the call and he stopped broadside. At the shot he jumped then walked off into the firs, not good, I gave him ten minutes before going to the point of impact and sending the dog, who had been straining on the lead for the last five minutes, the time it must have taken the blood scent (hopefully!) to drift down wind to our shooting position. Raff found him straight away, 40 m into the plantation and dead as a nit, perfect top of heart shot, is it just me who thinks he has screwed up every shot until he finds the body?
Well that was quick, thirty minutes after arriving I had a buck down, my pal who had left the lease that morning took five days before he got one, albeit grassing two bucks that same morning.
I carried on to a doe box that overlooked a large open area central to the forest, I call it the Serengeti as when we first took on the lease it was shall we say popular with the deer. 9.15 a big buck came out and made his way into the open to feed about 120 m away but we have an agreement among ourselves to leave the real good bucks until after the rut and this one was safe under that criteria. Not heavy in the antler but they were long, very long for this type of ground, anyway it would have been like shooting an old friend as I am pretty confdent he was the first buck I saw on the place two years previously, maybe next year would be his time but not now.
Next morning I drove down to the lowest part of the estate, I had seen a good buck in a small, herb rich, riverside paddock on a couple of occasions previously and I though I could justify taking this beast as he was on the very boundary. I gave it an hour observing the paddock from a small hillock in the field next door which provided an excellent vantage point. Looking back uphill away from the river I could make out a buck coming from over the boundary wall from our neighbours and heading towards the woodland which surrounded the 'big house' on the estate, he would have been 800 m away so was not the buck I was looking for, I was sure he held a long territory which basically followed the river for about a kilometre. I decided to stalk down the river bank, which being fenced off from the stock in the grass fields offered good feed for the deer. I soon saw a pair of twins on their own. The Buttolo was used and one youngster ran at and past me whilst the second did not know what to do but stood there looking for mum, she soon appeared and cleared a wire fence to join her kid, but no buck was with her.
I followed the river along but with no more sightings so headed back in the direction of the car. I got talking to a chap who lived in one of the cottages on the roadside (turned out he was from my hometown although had left 32 years ago), I knew he fed the red squirrels in his garden but he told me this year they had been joined by three grey squirrels, the first he had ever seen in the area, so that was a bit of bad news. I told him next time I was up I would bring something a little bit more suitable for squirrel shooting and try to deal with them.
I had a good kip that day to catch up on sleep and was a bit late getting out for the evening stalk. I tried another wood which was 50:50 soft and hardwoods, the only deer I saw was a young doe which I bumped on the main track just after leaving the car.
I returned to the same wood the next morning and seated myself where a side track ran away uphill from the main track. Half an hour past before there was movement 140 m away where a deer path crosses the track. It turned out to be a fox but as I positioned myself for the shot I accidently squeezed the buttolo in my pocket, her head went straight up but no harm done as she was then trotting straight towards me down a wheeling. I could have easily taken the shot but decided to wait for her to stop to be 100%, she did stop, at 50 m, but in the long grass in the middle of the track. Next thing she slips off and away into the trees. Cursing my missed opportunity I awaited my next customer. Fortunately though the fox reappeared from the trees in the same spot and started to trot off back uphill, a whisle stopped her and the bullet ran through her from the back of the rib cage and out the throat. She was a tiny vixen, the kind that looked as if she could easily squeeze through the bars in a fox grid on a release pen.
I left the vixen at the side of the track for the gamekeeper to see and headed off up though the wood and then up the open hill to a piece of old woodland on the tops which holds plenty of deer but is a nightmare to stalk. I hoped the buttolo would lure a buck to me instead of me searching for him. This wood is an hour glass shape, the lower half is commercial softwoods but the upper half is old, twisted, scots pines. Half of these have fallen yet are still alive, the wood looks like a little piece of Caledonian forest with the scots pines and grass, heather and bilberry as the ground cover.
It was a good tramp up the hill so once in my chosen position in the narrow neck of the wood I gave it five minutes to get my breathe back before I started calling! Just a few squeaks now and again, less is more as I had been told to do. Twenty minutes and the dog was aware of something out there, at my 2 o'clock. I could see nothing, a few more calls, nothing, but my dog was staring at some fallen trees 60 m away. I decide to do nothing, ten minutes on a single bark reveals there is a deer there after all but out of sight. Three more preeps from the call, nothing, then a sequence of barks as a disgruntled deer moved off. Buck or doe? Whatever it was it is going in the wrong direction. Three loud distress calls from the the Buttolo in my pocket. The dog was still telling me it is out there but I had not seen a hair yet and twenty minutes must have past since the dog first alerted me. Then a half second glimpse as it moved across my front, 50 m away but slipping between fallen trees. Every nerve in my body is alive, five minutes later, again another glimpse, a millisecond look at a grey face and antlers 30 m away, at my 10 o'clock, at least its a buck. How can he move position so easily without me seeing him? its like hunting a ghost. He is there, only 25 m away behind yet another fallen scots pine. I know he is there, he knows I am here. I think something is bound to go wrong, the most likely candidate is the dog, he is patient but can only take so much, it would be no surprise if he were to move after the deer, after all his lungs must be full of deer scent. I look for a branch to shake but there is nothing within reach, I use the Buttolo yet again, before I have chance to take my hand from my pocket he is chargeing at me from twenty metres away, from my 12 o'clock. how the hell did he get there! He runs past me at full speed about two metres away, curves away, I swing around behind me to follow him as he runs away, I bark, nothing, my chance has gone, but no, he stops, 15 m away, one last look over his shoulder at his tormentor. A fatal last look, the dog hits him a second after the bullet, the end of an encounter that will stay with me forever.