Out yesterday morning to try and make more inroads into the doe cull.
Arrived on the ground at 06:30 and made my way through the woods to the clearing. Set myself up about 20 yards back from the clearing, with my back to a tree and the rifle up on the sticks. Fallow, my labrador, settled down by my side and started her customary quiet whining.
About 10 minutes later I look to my left and there's a young Fallow buck grazing in the woods. I watch him for 10 minutes as he grazes his way towards a large clump of pines and then I lose sight of him. Across the clearing come a couple of muntjac, but this morning it's only roe does that I'm after so I leave them to bimble their way through the woods. After about 35 minutes I notice that Fallow is looking behind us, so I carefully look over my shoulder and come face to face with a roe doe and two kids. They are only about 20 yards away but they've seen the dog already, so I watch the mother stamping the ground until, with a flurry, the three of them bound away into the firs beyond.
It's light enough now to see colour in the woodlands rather than just shades of gray. Looking down I can see the frost glistening and I decide that it's time to start my stalk through the woods. I take half a dozen steps towards the clearing and then a movement catches my eye. Through the trees to my right I see four fallow does leaving the woods and crossing the field. Behind them is another buck. Fallow are not hefted to our ground so we only take one or two each year. Eyeing them up I'm in two minds as to whether I should stalk them, but it's the doe cull that we're focusing on so again I decide to leave the fallow be as they make their way across the field to the green lane beyond.
I'm now at the edge of the clearing. I've stalked here many times before, and I know that the roe tend to favour the far edge. I look through my binos and sure enough, just beyond an oil drum feeder on the far side and about 100 yards away, four roe are feeding. Checking them through the binos they all look like does, but I watch them carefully and see the tell-tale anal tush on at least three of the four.
Stepping back carefully to the nearest tree I once again get the rifle up on the sticks. The roe are obscured by trees, but I'm pretty sure that as the sun rises they will make their way into the clearing. Just then I notice a doe kid leave the other three and run to my side of the clearing. She makes her way down the edge, stopping occasionally to browse on the brambles, and stops just short of where I can get a clear shot. I'm looking through the scope and see the twigs in the way. She reaches up to a branch and I ease the safety off and place the crosshairs on the base of her neck. Before I can squeeze the trigger she stops and stares at me and the dog, leaps in the air and runs back to the older doe. Two minutes later she repeats exactly the same process. Again I get ready for the shot and again she stares, then runs back to the doe.
After two or three more minutes the doe herself comes down the edge of the clearing. Mirroring the kid she browses on the undergrowth. Now about 75 yards away she stops and looks at me. Unlike the kid, however, she steps out into the clearing and turns broadside on.
She falls to the shot and the other three run back into the woods. Waiting for a minute or two I pick up the empty cartridge and make my way along the edge of the clearing towards the doe. As I approach her I can only see her head. My heart starts thumping as I see two lumps on her head. I'm sure she's a doe and as I walk closer I can now see the anal tush. Reaching down I see she the lumps are like pedicles of antlers, and I realise she's the first 'antlered' doe I've ever shot. As I'm studying her I look back to my right and the three followers emerge from the wood and now stand in the clearing. I'm in the wide open and my rifle is on the ground next to the dog. I pick it up and place it on the sticks, but before I can steady myself the three lose their patience and bound away barking.
I gralloch the doe and note that she is carrying twins, one buck and one doe, each about 8 or 9 cms long. With the time now at 08:45 I decide to call it a day, so attach the carrying strap to each of the legs, place her over my shoulder and carry her back to the car. Back in the larder the doe weighs in at 44 lbs - the biggest so far this season.
I take the head and decide to boil it out. You can see the results below.
Here's one of the skull on its own:
And one with the jaw alongside:
Here is the jaw on its own:
and from the top:
I'm no expert, and I'd be interested in others thoughts, but I estimated her at between 6 and 7 years old. The outside of the teeth are worn down towards the outside and the jawbone has a well-defined ridge. The top of the skull is heavily ossified and the nasal bone is solid with very little cartilage remaining. I'll compare it to a reference chart when I get the chance, but so far as the cull plan is concerned she's definitely no yearling