So, a few months ago, I decided that I'd saved up enough pennies to go stalking again (or would have done by the time the date came around) and, given the time of year, trying for a roe buck was the obvious answer.
I had a good look through the forums and based on all the excellent feedback, I decided to book a couple of sessions with IanF of this Parish.
The week duly arrived. Unfortunately, due to a variety of things, my work plans had changed a bit this week, so it was a pretty knackered Tom that arrived at Ian's place on Thursday night - the five hour drive from Liverpool and the preceding days had certainly taken their toll. Ian and his partner Jo gave me a really warm welcome and a great meal, followed by a much needed caffeine boost.
Then it was off to Ian's range set up, a short distance from the house. As a pretty much complete beginner, I was keen to learn as much as possible and Ian certainbly obliged, with an endless list of hints and tips delivered in a non patronising fashion. I was particularly pleased to spend some time practising using sticks, as both of the deer that I'd taken previously had been off a bipod. It was a lovely evening and given that this was the case, we had a quick scout round to see if any deer were showing - sadly they weren't (although by that stage I'd have probably dozed off lining up the shot anyway).
Despite the comfort of Ian and Jo's accommodation, the 03.10 alarm was a nasty awakening. I'd probably managed about three hours at best and I was not at my finest. However, a suitably strong coffee in the car and a bit of anticipation soon saw that off (ish).
We stalked one of Ian's pieces of country down towards the South Coast and, to cut a long story short, didn't see a thing. It was a lovely morning, a nice piece of land and there was deer sign all over the place but sadly it was just one of those mornings where nothing showed. After over 3 hours, we gave it neck - I think Ian was even more frustrated than me. So it was back to base, more excellent food and some much needed kip.
The rest of the day followed in an equally agreeable, chilled fashion, with more good food, until it was time to go out again that evening. Ian took me back up to the valley we had checked out on the previous evening and we started glassing the area. It was only just after seven, and neither of us was very hopeful that there would be anything moving. However, Ian soon spotted a roe lying in the grass on the other side of the valley. Given the distance, through binoculars we couldn't tell if it was a buck or a doe, so we quickly rigged up the spotting scope and, much to my delight it turned out that the deer in the view finder definitely had horns! We were go!
We decided to approach the buck by dropping down into the valley and up the other side. The wind wasn't overly favourable and, as we walked in I wasn't feeling very hopeful of success. As we got into the bottom of the valley, we could see that the buck had moved on and presumed that he had swung round to the left, into a patch of thicker ground. I admit that I kind of thought that was probably it and started wondering what I'd done to deserve such a jinx (plenty of things!).
We carried on stalking in and were traversing the valley slopes on the side where the buck had been when we reached a gate. Ian climbed over and then turned round to take the rifle off me so that I could cross. As he did so, he said very matter of factly " Whatever you do, don't stop". I just presumed that Ian thought we would be particularly visible crossing the next field and wanted me to keep with him to cause less disturbance.
It was only when I got over the gate and was in the shelter of the typically thick Devon bank that Ian said to me "Right - he's just come out of the hedge fifty yards behind you!". As Ian had turned to take the rifle off me, he'd seen the buck emerging from the hedge!
I now had a handy rest in the form of the gate and, after a bit of safety catch fumbling, which must have had Ian rolling his eyes (mental note - apply for FAC and get own rifle), I managed to take the shot. I'm pleased to say that the buck, who was eyeing me with curiosity trying to work out what I was, dropped on the spot.
The rest as they say is history.
Apologies - this reads like a bit of an essay. It also reads like a eulogy in praise of Ian and Jo. However, in this case its richly deserved. They are two very capable, professional and friendly people. If you are looking for good guided stalking, with the option of good accommodation thrown in, you won't go wrong.
PS - here's the head after a bit of prep.