Having spent all but the past two years on Canadian soil, I was keen to pursue the sport I enjoyed at home on this side of the pond; as such, I set aside some time and money for the DSCL1 course. Based on positive anecdotal reviews from various SD members, what appeared to be good value for money, and the generous offer from Mike (Pneudart) to be picked up from the airport – as I would be flying in from Ireland – I booked in with Jelen Deer Services. Thinking that I’d be coming all this way anyways, and after receiving the nod from my employer and (vegetarian) girlfriend, I booked in for a day’s stalking on the Monday after the course concluded. A few months later I was on a plane to Southampton.
I arrived in sunny Southampton mid-day and a quick phone call later the Jelen entourage were on their way to chauffeur me to my hotel. Banter ensued, laughs were had, and we soon arrived in Stockbridge. Even at this early stage I had a strong suspicion this weekend would be a blast. The rest of the DSCL1-ees convened later that eve with a series of introductions and biscuits. Class lads all round. Lectures commenced and notes were feverishly scribbled.
The following morning we assembled on the range to assert our paper punching skills, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, I found myself in the latter cohort. But, after some incredibly helpful one-to-one coaching from Dave (DaveJelen) and sending thirty-some-odd rounds down range, my groups and my confidence were well prepared for the following day’s shooting test. Upon receiving some further hands-on safety training, it was back to the class for a bite to eat, a caffeine pick-up and an exhaustive deer ID tutorial. Mike revisited the material we covered the previous day with a friendly peppering of queries, instilling confidence in some whilst leaving others with faces in a shade similar to our newly acquired sunburns.
The examinees assembled early, pens in hand and knowledge sufficiently crammed for the looming tests. Deer ID. General Questions. Meat Hygiene. Coffee. Back to the range. Shooting ensued with reckless abandon. Everyone shot well, or well enough, and flew through the safety assessment. A collective sigh of relief was breathed and whistles were subsequently whet by a round of pints, on Mike, at the local Three Cups Pub. War stories were exchanged, piss was taken and burgers were eaten. We all thanked Mike and Dave for an informative (and frequently entertaining) weekend and went our separate ways. I headed back to the hotel for a celebratory dram and tucked in early.
Arising well before first light, I packed my bag, cleaned the lenses on my binos and made a quick cuppa for the road. Dave picked me up from the hotel (as they had been doing all weekend) and we headed out to the estate. We parked, loaded the .25-06, and took to the field.
Creeping slowly along the roadways and tramways between fields, we glassed some of the Estate’s suspect Roe haunts. Whilst dawn eagerly broke, the resident roe population refused to break cover. I remained hopeful; especially given the genuine astonishment Dave expressed having not seen any deer (yet). We hopped in the truck and headed to a woodland patch Dave had previously seen bucks in. As we slowly made our way down the over-grown road, every roll and dip held the potential for new prospects and prospective opportunities. Suddenly, a flash of auburn red caught Dave’s eye. He motioned in the general direction of the flash. I brought my binos up and caught my first glimpse of a roe in the flesh, ever. Further investigation revealed that this roe buck was a shooter. The final stalk was on.
Ducking behind a rising bank of earth, we lost sight of him. However, a quick retracing of steps revealed that he had moved towards a group of trees, and also had a doe in tow. With the buck preoccupied, we snuck into comfortable shooting range. Settling behind a large tree, Dave kindly braced his arm on the trunk, creating a surprisingly steady rest, upon which I settled the Sako. The buck soon looked to head elsewhere with haste, but an impeccably timed “YIP!” from Dave stopped him in his tracks: broadside. Dave had done his part and now it was my turn. I steadied the crosshairs, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. A fraction of a second later 100gns passed through both the buck’s shoulders and into the soft earth on the far side, anchoring him on the spot and sending my heart into palpitations. I quickly reloaded, kept the downed beast in my crosshairs and attempted to contain my utter elation.
After carefully observing the beast from a distance, waiting, then cautiously approaching, a quick eye-blink poke confirmed that I had successfully grassed my first roe buck. A flurry of handshakes and picture taking ensued.
Dave furthered the brilliant instructional aspect of the Jelen Deer experience with a comprehensive gralloching tutorial. Inspection of the lymph nodes and pluck revealed that the beast was in good condition and that I had taken out both lungs and nicked the top of the heart. Well pleased. Time for breakfast.
I headed back to the hotel where I ate and slept away the rest of the day in anticipation of the evening’s stalk. As the evening settled in, Dave pulled in the Land Rover up to the hotel. Meanwhile the persistent precipitation had intensified from a pleasant mist to pesky droplets. Undaunted, Dave laid out the evening’s game-plan, including spending some time in a high-seat with a roof, which was a relief. Before heading to the high-seat we took a drive to a vineyard estate to glass for bucks. Not 15 minutes in to the evening and the rain had ceased and we were stalking in on a grazing buck. As we crept along the leeward side of a hedgerow to get to the opposite side of the field, another buck leapt up, flashed its white rump and bounded away. The buck stopped a hundred or so yards away, but presented only a skylined headshot in the tall grass. Pass. We continued along the hedgerow until we got to the area where we had seen the original buck. He had moved off slightly, but it became apparent that he had company: another buck as well as a doe and fawn. Although the winds were in our favour, the deer had other plans, strolling out of range and out of sight. We headed to another field where we saw no less than 30 fallow bedded down. Wrong season. En route to the high seat we spotted another doe/fawn pair, but no bucks. The high-seat was a well made, very comfortable piece of furniture overlooking a newly treed area. Alas, the golden hour produced just a doe; as such, we headed out to glass one final field. In the distance we spotted another buck. Losing light, we headed on the leeward side of a hedgerow towards him; however, a pair of fallow impeded our progress and the sun dipped slowly behind the hills.
Interestingly, the morning’s stalk saw only a pair of roe while the evening’s stalk saw no less than 10 roe and 30 fallow, but it was the morning’s stalk that resulted in a grassed beast. That’s stalking. Despite not getting a crack at a buck in the evening, I had an absolutely brilliant time, seeing lots of animals and enjoying a pleasant evening in the countryside; which was more than enough for me.
On the whole, the weekend was a resounding success - due in no small part to the hospitality, instruction and quality of the Jelen team. Both the course and the stalks were great value for money and produced favorable results. As long as you do your part, both in the course and in the field, they do theirs. Accordingly, hearty thanks are in order to Dave, Mike and the team for an incredibly memorable introduction to UK stalking. If the past weekend was any indication of what the sport holds on this side of the pond, I may be staying longer than originally expected.