Up this morning for what will probably be the last outing during this year's rut. Work takes me abroad this week so unlikely I can get out again before next weekend. The last couple of outings I've been lucky enough to have three bucks and two does come to the call. Rather than my regular Buttolo I've been using one of the Rottumtaler roe calls and - to me at least - it seems to be more successful at drawing the roe in. After today though it will be put away for another year
Arrived at the ground shortly before 05:30 and get the rifle set up whilst the dog sniffs around the car park. I'm stalking this morning in a wood that is frequented heavily by dog walkers, so at best I probably have 2 hours to play with. Despite the light rain it's a warm and muggy morning, so ideal conditions for calling. I stalk from the car park down through the wood and into the open valley. Standing with my back against a tree I give a couple of calls and spend the next 15 minutes expecting a buck to appear at any second, but the valley remains empty. Making my way through the valley I reach a path to the right that takes me up through a plantation and into some firs.
On the border between the plantation and the firs we positioned a double high seat a couple of years ago that looks out through the firs to the higher ground above. Stalking carefully up to the seat I sit the dog by the base of the tree, unload the rifle and climb the ladder. Reloading the rifle I give it 15 minutes to settle down and then give five or six short peeps on the call. Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch a doe and a buck chasing each other through the trees and now I try to mimic her call. Although the firs are sparse, their foliage makes it difficult to get a clear view all around, so I take my time to spy carefully through the binos.
Five minutes later something makes me glance down to my left. There, barely 20 yards from the seat and behind a small bush, I can just make out the front legs of a roe. Hardly daring to breathe, I manouver the rifle so that it's now resting on the left hand side of the bar. Now I can see the deer's head and whilst I can make out that it's a buck I can't get a clear view of the antlers. As I raise the rifle and get into position I move my left leg and see the buck stamp his feet - the noise has disturbed him and he knows there's something there, but luckily he still hasn't seen me or the dog. Comfortable now, I look through the scope and can see that he's a good, middle-aged, buck. I still can't get a clear shot, but he's now grooming himself with his antlers and seems to have relaxed.
He takes two steps forward and he's now drawing clear of the bush. There's not much undergrowth on the forest floor, but a few blades of grass here and there are enough to tempt him to graze. He's standing at an angle which makes an engine room shot problematic, so waiting for him to reach again for some grass I place the crosshairs on his neck and gently squeeze the trigger. When it comes the shot surprises me, but I see him fall, give two quick kicks and then go still. The woods have fallen silent, so I wait in the seat for a couple of minutes until the birds start chattering again. Glancing at my watch I note the time as 06:30 and then I unload the rifle and climb down the ladder.
Although I can see the buck is lying still, I reload the rifle, pick up my sticks and then turn to my labrador, Fallow. She's sat by the tree throughout, but aware of the shot she's now looking at me expectantly. I tell her to 'get on' and she's by the side of the buck in a flash. A couple of quick sniffs and then she sits down and looks back at me. I pace out the 18 yards to where the buck lies and automatically check his eye for reflex.
Unloading the rifle again and dumping most of my kit I proceed with the gralloch. Before I do there's time for a quick photo:
He's a nice buck, long in the antler though not particularly heavy and with little pearling, but a good representative six-pointer for this part of the world. Gralloch completed I decide to call it a day. The sun is coming out and, in these woods, every grassed beast has to be manhandled out. I tie his feet together and sling him over my shoulder. Grabbing the rifle and the rest of the kit I carry him out. It's uphill all the way and the muggy weather means I'm sweating with exertion by the time I reach the car. Back in the larder he weighs 37 pounds on the hook, though I'd have sworn he was that plus 10 an hour earlier!