I managed to get a day out after cull hinds/stags on Monday....this was eventually rearranged after having been weathered off from my 'original' date last November, and then a combination of rain, gales, snow (my weather jinx ), work (Booooo! Gets in the way of doing fun stuff! But pays the mortgage ), and Christmas (Bah! Humbug!) meant that it took until late January to find a day that 'fitted'.
So - Sunday saw me getting my kit ready, checking the weather forecast, and setting the alarm for "early o'clock".... Monday saw me scything up the M6, kit in car, coffee in cupholder!!
Upon arrival, I was told to make sure that I took "a few rounds out" - we needed to get a few on the floor ideally, as the bad weather over the last 5-6 weeks had buggered up the cull target. "No problem" says I.
We headed out in the ATV, and upon entering the valley we were to cover, we stopped and started glassing. Clumps of deer all over the shop, so we set off with (a) a degree of optimism, and (b) plenty of ammunition!!
You know that saying about best laid plans of mice and men? Well I'm by no means what I would consider an experienced stalker, but the deer that day were incredibly skittish. Perhaps it was the wind that seemed to swirl here, there & everywhere that stopped them getting settled, perhaps it was the military chopper doing low-level swoops that spooked 'em, but we really struggled to get anywhere near any of them at first..and eventually when we did get into range, I was pointing downhill - a VERY steep hillside - and the group of hinds we'd stalked into drifted across the small plateau towards its outer edge, meaning a miss would have a backstop of a tearoom in the village far far below us. Not ideal... .
We left that group, carried further on, and spotted another smaller bunch; by the time we'd got into a sensible range, the Stalker told me not to shoot, as they were on the edge of a ghyll that was so steep that they'd end up smashed to smithereens at the bottom, and then we wouldn't be able to extract them anyway.
This was turning into a moderately frustrating day so far, but the scenery was stunning, the rain wasn't falling, and I was out on the hill rather than in the office!!
We swung around to start heading back up the valley; after another 30 minutes or so, we spotted around 20 below us and around 450-500 yards away, so with some swift rerouting, scuttling and crawling, we managed to get to within 150 yards of the nearest hind. I got steady on the bipod, settled my breathing, lined up the crosshairs, confirmed the beast to shoot with the stalker, released the safety, started to squeeze....and then she moved, twisting around so that she was facing away from me. With that, the whole group started to head off, to vanish around the ridge of the hill. No shot, rifle made safe. The stalker had been lying right next to me, and in his words "I could see the tip of your finger change colour as you started to squeeze, just before I heard you say 'F*CK!'...". Double !!
Time was now rolling on (...am I the only one that thinks the day gallops by when you're out? Nope? Didn't think so.), so we carried on back up the valley, stopping when we spotted a mixed clump of around 50 or so animals. That was the good news. The bad news was they were pretty exposed, meaning the only way in was to crawl on our bellys over very sqeulchy wet ground for about 350 yards. Mid-crawl, I was thinking to myself that I was gald I'd got a stainless/synthetic rifle.....
We managed to cover around 345 of those long wet yards before the deer decided they'd had enough of where they'd been lying quite contentedly, and trotted out of view over the ridge....... (I don't think that we spooked them, they literally just ambled off to somewhere else.)
This wasn't quite going according to plan.
We headed back uphill to try and cut along the top edge before dropping back down into the ghyll where we thought they'd be. But they weren't. Somehow they'd managed to come around underneath and behind us without being seen, but they were definitely somewhere we could get to, and this was probably now going to be our last chance of the day, so we cut uphill AGAIN, backtracked and dropped down. BINGO! At last! I was advised to crawl down to the ridge, pick a suitable beast, and try to get more than one out of the bunch down. Well the hillside was that steep, there was NO WAY that I was going to try and crawl headfirst down that; in all seriousness, it would have been very risky, and could have resulted in going headfirst over the ledge. So I slithered down on my backside, checked they were still there, and then had to twizzle round to get into a shooting position, drop my bipod, and not alert the deer when I was flailing my feet around trying to dig them into the ground to anchor myself....easy-peasy. Not. I finally managed it, lined up, confirmed the shot - and this time there was a 'BANG'. First hind was struck squarely at about 130 yards; I'd cycled another round in, lined up on number two - and then another hind stepped right behind her; I hesitated slightly, waiting for the 'behind' deer to step clear, but as she did, she took the 'infront' one with her. As I looked for another suitable target, the stalker next to me said "Look right!". I glanced round, saw two hinds around 220 yards away with a youngish stag at around 200. "Take the stag!" he said."You sure?" I said. "Yep" he said. BANG! Another good solid hit, but by now the rest of the deer had taken flight.
So - we ended up with two for the game dealer which was a whole lot better than none, I had a thoroughly enjoyable day out on the hill, and my legs still ache from the amount of walking that we did!!. (And I'd do it all again tomorrow....)
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