Out last weekend in northernmost Hampshire on some land we have access to that is primarily laid down to grapevines. Arrived on site at around 06:45 and headed off from the farm to stalk through the fields on the far side of the road where the fields contain newly sown winter wheat surrounding a small area of woodland.
To give an idea of the lay of the land, the fields and woodland together form one side of a valley, with the woodland stuck in the middle and situated about halfway up/down the slope. On the upper side of the woodland is a strip of maize used as a cover crop. The maize itself is then bisected by a hedge that runs to the top boundary. On the side nearest the farm a minor road forms the boundary, whilst on the opposite side is a railway line, so the area is nicely self contained. The only real problem is that the opposite side of the valley is off our ground, though the undulating ground also makes finding a safe backstop a priority.
Walking around the top perimeter of the ground I could see a doe and two kids heading down the hedge from the top boundary towards the woodland. I waited for them to enter the wood and then I carried on stalking around the top of the valley towards the railway line. Seeing no more deer, I kept the railway line to my left and walked down the side of the field to spy into the bottom of the valley. Still nothing moving, other than the farmer opposite firing up his tractor and working on clearing up his farmyard.
Now about half way down the slope, I decided to head across the field to stalk the woodland. When I was about 100 yards away I caught sight of a young roe buck leaving the top of the wood and heading into the maize, closely followed by a more mature buck and a roe doe. Taking a few cautious steps back, I dumped the roe sack, got my labrador to sit down next to it and then I crept forwards again, thinking that I could perhaps crawl far enough that I could stay out of sight and take a prone shot off the bipod. The roe had other ideas, however, and decided to head back into the wood.
Grabbing the chance I retrieved my kit (and the labrador!) and circled round the top of the wood and into the maize. Reaching the edge of the wood I could now spy down through it towards the bottom of the valley. A movement caught my eye, and I realised that the two bucks were browsing their way along the woodland edge at the bottom. Getting the rifle up on the sticks I decided to take whichever buck presented the first shot. The youngster took a few steps up the hill and reached forward to nibble a branch. As he did I lined up on the base of his neck and took the shot. Through the scope I saw the buck collapse.
The doe took off through the woods, trailed by the older buck, but unusually for a more mature animal he stopped about 50 yards in rather than putting safe distance between us. From my vantage point on the top of the wood I could see the doe clearly, but the buck had stopped behind a fir tree so that any shot was prevented by a screen of twigs.
For what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was just a few minutes, the buck and doe stood almost motionless. They were looking back to where the youngster had been standing, his absence and the shot itself having raised the alarm. Eventually the doe started to graze, followed a few seconds later by the buck. Keeping the scope on the buck I waitied for another possible chance for a shot. This time the farmer over the valley did me a favour, as a sudden noise from the tractor caused the buck to step forward and raise his neck to see what was happening. Lining up the scope on the base of his neck I took the second shot, again being rewarded with the sight of the buck collapsing on the spot.
The doe was again perplexed, standing motionless and wondering where her second beau had disappeared to. After another few seconds she decided that enough strange things had happened and bounded off through the wood. All this time my labrador had sat by my side, watching events unfold and waiting for her time to arrive. Now sending her forwards, she worked her way up the youngster and looked back at me. Reaching the buck myself I sent her forward again and she successfully hunted her way up to the older buck.
Gralloching the pair of bucks, it meant that the limited cull we do on this permission was now complete. We'll return in a month or so to target the does and then leave the valley in peace until next year.