Despite putting in a few stalks by myself this season, my first buck of the 2011 season had proved a bit illusive, until last night.
I have the stalking on a small farm down in west dorset, and luckily for me the farmer is keen as mustard that I come down and get a few deer each season. The farm basically consists of one steep sided valley about three quarters of a mile long, and a few fields on the top of one side of the valley and at the end.
The farmer gave me a ring during the week, to say that he was seeing quite a few deer in the mowing grass, and that it was likely to be cut this week so come on down. Well that is an offer I find hard to refuse, so last night I took the 50 minute trip to the farm.
I arrived about 7.30, and I dropped into the farmhouse to check in, finding the farmer in the back garden. I was stood chatting to the farmer on his back lawn overlooking the hillside on the left of the valley when I spotted a vixen and about 5 small cubs playing by a thick hedge about 200 yds on the hillside. I pointed them out to the farmer, who allows a few around to keep the rabbits down. Time was pressing on so I said fairwell and then got suited and booted and started to head on up the valley, up a stone track that runs up the righthand side of the valley affording good views of the opposite side as you go up.
I hadnt gone far when I spotted a buck feeding on the top of the valley against the stock fencing along the boundry.The buck was around 500 yds away. I watched him for a while trying to work out my approach.Going up to him would be difficult as all approaches would be in plain view of the animal, however I figured he would probably be headed for the deep mowing grass in the bottom of the valley so I backtracked back to the farmyard. At the end of the farm buildings the lush grass fields start, and I positioned myself in the edge of the lefthand side field looking up towards the steep hillside and the boundryfence. I watched the buck start to work his way down the steep bank only to lose him under the thick hedge that separated the steep hillside from my field. Eventually, after what seemed like an age the buck came through the hedge and started to feed along the hedge in my direction. At that point the buck was about 300 metres away, and as I watched I became aware of a doe walking along the hillside above the buck. She too came through the hedge and both fed slowly towards me as I watched.
The rifle was set up on its bipod, and the wind was coming from the deer to me, so I felt confident in my position, and just had to wait it out to secure my first buck of the season
I lay behind the rifle, and took a few pictures as the buck slowly drew nearer and nearer. The grass was quite long, and the buck disappeared from view a few times only to re-appear a bit closer. The doe had by this time worked her way out into the field a fair bit, however the buck stayed by the hedgeline, which was about 150 yards from me at the closest point. The field ran uphill from my position to the hedgeline, so as I ran the scenario through my mind I reckoned on allowing the buck to get to the 150 yard mark before firing.
I guessed that the animal was in range of the .243 anytime as soon as he got within the 200 yds mark, however with the favourable wind and time on my hands I thought "Why chance a long shot when all the time the buck is totally unaware of your presence and is walking towards you"?
Well I watched the buck and doe slowly feed towards me for about 45 minutes and the buck was just coming level with me (the magic 150 yds mark, I had planned out in my head). Suddenly without warning the buck threw his head up and looking back up the steep hilside from where I first saw him appear. the doe spotted the change of body language immediately and as I looked back at the buck I saw him gallop towards the hedge and dive straight through followed by the doe. The pair charged up the hill and ran past a single fallow spiker that had magically appeared on the hillside before running into some dead ground and disappearing The fallow looked bemused and watched as both deer bolted past a full gallop. I just couldn't believe my luck and cursed the fact that I had hatched the stupid "perfectly planned 150 yd shot" instead of shooting the animal at 200 which would have been perfectly possible.
Bloody hell I thought, and started to think that my 2011 jinx was still alive and well!
I slowly got to my feet and gathered up my camera and sticks and headed on back towards the gateway from the farm.
I got to the gate and glanced back onto the hill side to see if I could see anything other than the fallow pricket, which was uncharacteristically hanging around watching me reveal my position and pick my way back to the farm gate. (Why dont they do that in the fallow season???)
As I looked back from the gate, I spotted the buck and doe running along the bank from my left this time (How the hell did they get there!) and leg it along the steep hillside away from me, come into my field again about 300 yards further on and run diagonally across the field into the centre of the valley and into the largest of the grass fields alone the valley bottom.
Well on seeing this I thought "Game still on", so traced a path alone the central hedge linking my position with the animals.
I had gone along the hedge about twenty metres or so when I had a quick glass around up both sides of the valley to see what was about.
On the right hand side of my position the valley rose almost from my hedge up to the stone track 3/4's of the way up the steep valley side. This track turned to follow the contours of the valley about 150 metres further on and a broad area of steep hillside continued up to the top of the valley, with the track continuing along the top to the fields above the valley.
I caught a movement in the binos and noticed a small buck feeding where the track turned.he was feeding right against the edge of the track where it bent out of sight, so a shot from where I was would have been dangerous. I reasoned that as the light was begining to fade fast I didnt have much time, so a more or less direct approach was in order. I crawled up the steep hillside keeping to the dead ground using the contours. I got to within 100 yds or so only to see the buck move more around the corner and up further onto the hillside. Bugger I thought, so I legged it back down the bank and eventually out of sight of the animal, then up the hillside again to get onto the track itself. I slowly inched up the stone track to where it bent around to the right. As the track turned I came into full view of not one but two animals feeding on the hillside about 80 metres in front, however because the track at this point was sunk below ground level, and the grass was long I could only see the animals backs. I had to get closer.
Light was fading all the time as I inched closer in full view of both animals. I took the opportunity to glass the animals and both were young bucks. one animal was a lot smaller that the other, so I picked that animal out in my mind for the bullet. Eventually I got up to where the track turned, and managed to scramble up the steep cutting side into the field. The smaller of the two deer heard me, and looked my way. I froze and after a tense few minutes began to feed again. I lowered the biopd legs and found a convenient gap in the grasses through to the buck. I had him in my sights now and waited for him to turn broadside at about 60 yds. The other buck had layed down about 20 metres further on and down from my buck. I picked my moment and fired, and the boom of the un-moderated .243 sent my buck dashing forwards collapsing as it went. The other buck lept to its feet and ran up the bank only to stop and look back after about thirty metres. I dropped the second animal to a quarter angle shot put into the leading point of the shoulder. That animal collapsed. Time 9.45pm and 7/8ths dark!
The farmer had been waiting in the yard and shouted out did I want the tractor brought up?. I of course said yes, so it was an easy extraction out of the valley.
All in all a great night, and as far as I am hoping jinx lifted, so I hope to get into a few more bucks soon.
The smaller of the two bucks had suffered a badly broken back leg, just above the hock and had a very withered haunch on that side. So a good one to take.
Larder weights were 14.5kg and 10.8kg