Out last Sunday looking for a roe doe or two as part of the cull plan. It's bitterly cold, so wrap up in several layers, go outside and scrape the frost off the Jeep. Putting the dog, stalking kit, thermal mug with first coffee of the day and myself in the car, set off from home. At least stalking at this time of year means a relatively late start, so got to the beat at around 06:45.
I'd seen deer before in one of the fields so I stalk through the narrow woods in the dark and get out onto the field edge. I can see four roe but it's still too dark to tell what they are, so sit down and wait for the light to improve. Of course, stalker's luck being what it is, just before it's light they move off into the woods
Three more roe appear, but too far off to worry about so just watch them through the binos while my ar5e goes numb on the cold ground (message to self, remember next time to bring the inflatable cushion!!). A muntjac potters along the far edge of the field, but again too far away to really be bothered with.
The light is steadily improving, so I walk across the field and stalk into the woods. The leaves underfoot make it sound like I'm walking on Rice Krispies - good old Snap, Crackle and Pop! I'm not exactly silent, but the dog sounds like a herd of elephants Question - do you think deer notice sounds like these, or do they assume that it's just another animal in the forest?
Carry on stalking through the woods and spot a couple of roe, but they must have heard me as they disappear pretty sharpish. Across the glade in the valley and a quick spy into the plantation - I've taken a fair few deer in here in the past but the trees are now high enough to make a clear shot difficult. Can't see anything so stalk along the track between the plantation and the pheasant pen, looking carefully down each ride. Nothing doing, so turn around to go back down to the valley.
A glance to the left back into the plantation and I spot the back end of a roe - the anal tush says it's a doe. A spy through the binos shows another one alongside it - where on earth did they come from?? Get the rifle up on the sticks and wait for them to move for a clear shot...and wait...and wait. Then for some reason I look behind me and back along the ride - there's a muntjac buck pootling away and heading up the hill. Oh the agony of choice! I quickly turn around and get lined up, waiting for the buck to turn broadside on...and wait...and wait. He only does when he's skylined at the top of the ride - b*gger
Back to the does. Of course they've chosen exactly that moment to move over a couple of rides. Off they go, never presenting a shot I'm comfortable with. They head back through the plantation and down towards the valley. I drop into the valley to head them off and get the rifle back up on the sticks. I wait...and wait...and wait. They never appear, and despite glassing the area carefully I never see them again.
Okay, head up the valley instead to spy into the field at the far end. This field is surrounded by woods and is a natural deer magnet, but I can't see anything this morning. Over the stile and up the side of the field to stalk back into the woods. Suddenly out of one of the few pieces of dead ground a roe doe appears - where did she come from!! Rifle back up on the sticks, dog sitting at my side, the doe crosses the field and then just before she disappears into the wood she stops, broadside on, nice backstop, I fire, I miss.
She has no idea where the shot has come from so turns around, runs in a nice semi-circle stopping conveniently 30m closer to me, again broadside on and again with a nice backstop. I fire, she drops.
Watch her through the binos for a couple of minutes - she's not getting up. I pick up my cases from the ground, and release the dog who's sat there patiently by my side. She works her way up to the doe and then goes bonkers - jumping around and generally make herself (and me) look foolish. Methinks there's more training required to make her sit there, bark, and look at me adoringly - just wait until after deer dog day 2!
I think back to the first shot. I said 'I miss' but the reason I thought this is that there was no "classic" reaction to the shot. That said, I'm sure I missed, and when I check the doe there's definitely only one entry hole, so head off to where she stood originally to check there, but nothing. At least with the backstop I'm comfortable that the bullet is somewhere safe in mother earth.
Carry the doe to the side of the wood to perform the gralloch. Then remember I have my camera:
She's in good condition (weighed around 48lbs back in the larder) and I can see that it was lung shot, an inch high maybe but effective nonetheless. For sure there's only one entry hole. I check the carcass but can't see any signs elsewhere. It's certainly not the first time I've missed and probably won't be the last.
So all in all a bit of a mixed morning. The stalking proving challenging, frustrating, perplexing and rewarding in about equal measure. But still better than staying at home