On Friday night I went up to the forest alone. I didn't really expect to get anything - only my 3rd ever stalk, and was convinced that should I see a buck I would choose not to take the shot.
I was more keen to keep practising stalking, and trying to apply what I had learned from Wadashot.
Friday afternoon and Friday night, I saw what I think were 5 different deer - 4 does and a buck at various times. Still, they were too far away, or over a boundary, or in cover, but I was enjoing sitting perched up on the hillside watching them.
At about 8.00 pm, to my surprise I saw a buck and doe making their way along the valley to where I was sitting. I ran down the hill and began to creep up, I picked an ambush spot and dropped to my knees.
I began to unshoulder my rifle and quietly get into position, expecting to see them making their way into view. How wrong I was. Accompanied by the sound of thundering hooves, the doe hotly pursued by the buck came pelting at full tilt right at me and screeched to halt 20 feet away.
The buck took one look at this idiot frozen in space with a partly unslung rifle, snorted and ran away, leaving his girlfriend to face me - naturally she was quite safe and after a minute she too scarpered.
I crept forward a little way and lay in the heather to see if he would return. I heard him barking his head off but he did not re-appear. So I headed back to the caravan for a few beers and to watch the Tudors.
Close but no cigar.
Saturday morning I returned to the spot. Again I saw lots of deer appearing and disappearing 400-500 yards away, mostly does, and a single buck. I watched and watched but nothing came my way.
Then, on the other side of the valley came two bucks flying down towards me, one chasing the other. The pursuer stopped and the pursued carried on. I thought this might be my chance depending on where he decided to go next. At this point, I would have been quite happy to just stalk and scope the beast.
However, by the time I lifted my binoculars I couldn't see him anywhere (funny how they can can disappear like that). Ok, I think. Where has the pursuing buck gone then? - but now he's disappeared as well.
Not too disappointed I checked the time - 10.15 a.m. time to go back home. I was about to pick up my bag when I saw a buck, standing in the grass, under a tree about 70 yards away.
He was just standing there, broadside on looking around. I checked him with the binoculars, I assume he must have been one of the two I saw - but I don't know which one.
I knew the backstop was safe and raised the rifle. Whenever I had visualised this moment in my mind previously, I was worried I'd be mucking about with the scope, fussing and fiddling with the rifle, bipod etc. and lose the chance for a shot.
What actually happened was that I put the rifle onto the bipod, lined up the cross hairs and squeezed the trigger. From seeing him to firing must have been less than 10 seconds. I was actually surprised that I had done it.
I knew instantly I had hit him, even though I lost him in the scope because of the recoil. I picked him up immediately by eye and could see the exit wound. He fled behind a clump of trees and did not emerge.
Then followed what can only be described as a few of the strangest moments of my life as I waited a few minutes before following. Alone, on a hillside, thinking about what I had just done. You know what I mean.
I walked to where I had hit him. There was a lot of blood, and the trail was not hard to follow. He had leaped over a stone wall but had not gone much further - I found him in burn, dead.
I dragged him out of the burn, getting soaked in the process, and back up to where the trees were. He seemed small when I first saw him, and small through the scope, but he was a lot bigger close up, and very heavy.
A fine animal in life, he looks less so in death due to the dunking he had. He was in pristine condition. The photo does not do him justice, but that is due to me - I was knackered and had also had a dunking. The bullet hole you see is the exit wound.
I managed the gralloch, getting the pluck out etc without too much difficulty. The bullet went through the top of the lungs, the heart was intact. He only went 30 feet, and must have been dead very quickly.
Carrying him back up the hill with all my gear was an effort, and I'm still aching today.
I got home with him, head and feet off, skinned him, and he's hanging in the garage under a net curtain as I type.
There was a lot of bleeding from the bullet and the front end of the carcass has suffered from bleeding between the ribs and muscle that covers them. I'm not sure what I'll be able to do with that - but the back end and saddle look great. I'll be jointing it tomorrow.
What I learned : bleed more quickly, straighten out the deer before rigor mortis sets in, you can't always locate lymph nodes, bullets do a lot of damage.
I wasn't scared when I pulled the trigger, nor when I had to gralloch and clean him - but in following the blood trail I was scared that I'd find him still alive and need to finish him off - so I guess I also learned that his never knowing I was there, or was hunting him, is important to me. I hadn't expected that.
I did this stalk alone and shot my first deer alone. I'm sure that had someone else been there I would have someone to talk to about it all - a reference point for how I should have felt. But I was left alone with my thoughts, and I intentionally allowed my mind and experience to take me where they wanted. I found shooting, and then cleaning him, a profound and humbling experience. I wasn't upset or scared at all, but it took me to a place I haven't been to before. I learned more about me than I did about stalking. I'll never forget about me and my buck.
That was trippy.
Anyhoo - here is the pic, it's in the trophy room, let me know if you can't see it.
NB - I'm going up on Saturday to do it again.