I did this stalk in February last year I hope you don't mind me posting it on here so long after the event.
I hope this doesn't get too boring.
Almost all the areaís I normally shoot have been flooded (by that I mean I would need a snorkel and flippers to go across most of it) for the last few months, so the trips out have been few and far between. However as the weather has been a little drier of late I have been able to get out and do some target work, and a few rabbit sessions, to get my eye and technique back in.
We had some clear weather yesterday, with a light breeze and the occasional break in the clouds, which let down the very welcome sunshine, and I took the chance to get out with the .223 for a session on the long range paper.
It took me about thirty minutes to get all the gear together, and then I was off.
On route to my range I decided, as you do, to go and check what was happening in one particular wood.
I pulled onto the field, and spent a few minutes scanning the visible area inside the wood, which due to the lack of foliage is around a hundred metres, but there was nothing to be seen.
Normally I would have just carried on to the range, but it looked nice, and it was still early in the day, so I figured I would give myself an hour, and take a bit of a look around to check out the tracks, and look for increased activity in the field.
After donning my gear, and setting up the rifle, I walked a few hundred yards into the wood. At this point I decided that I would put a few rounds in the mag, just in case something showed, and it was then I realized that I had left my gloves in the truck.
I knew that my hands would stand out like a beacon, but decided to continue any way, as I actually wasnít out for a stalk, just a walk around, or at least that was my intention.
I began the slow walk towards the high seat, which is a few hundred yards away, (when I say high seat it actually means very large oak tree, with low branches which allow me to go up to twenty metres in the air, from where I can see everything for miles around) with frequent stops to glass and wait.
I had moved around 120 yards, which had taken me about thirty minutes, before I realised that the chain saw noise I could hear was coming from an area not far from the high seat, so figured it would be a waste of time, a change of plan was called for.
I know the wood really well, and have spent the last year following tracks, clearing paths, and spending hours sitting up trees watching the deer and other woodland dwellers, go about their daily life. In this time I have found one point where I can see through the lines of trees for about fifty yards in all directions, and out to eighty yards in others, so this was the area I made for.
The only problem with getting to this area is that it is exposed for about fifty yards on the approach, and as I was making for this area, my casual walk had turned into a full practice stalk, so I would have to be in full stealth mode if I was going to get there undetected.
By now it was around 13.00hrs, and the beasties seem to come alive at this time, so I was keeping very low, to the point where my chest was no more than a foot off the floor most of the time, and moving one slow toe to knee step forward every few minutes, and only then after checking the area for life for at least a minute.
I finally made it to the central area of all the main paths in about forty minutes, and got myself settled for a long wait.
I had been there for around ten minutes, and I needed to adjust my position, as my legs were going dead, and, as always, I began to check for signs of life, when I noticed a change in the shading sixty yards away, behind a fallen tree. I froze, and just sat watching.
After an age, more so because my legs were now completely dead, the shadow moved, and looked in my direction, and I could see that this was a buck that I have watched many times, but like always he was behind cover, so even if my rifle had been up I had no clear shot.
We watched each other for a few minutes, then he carried on feeding and as he moved into thicker cover I lost sight of him. I took my chance, adjusted my position, and brought the rifle up to the aim and chambered a round.
I was gripping a few twigs with my left hand to steady the shot, should it be presented, and with my right elbow resting against the trunk, and me still sat in the V of the tree trunk, I was very steady, and surprisingly comfortable.
I remained like this for at least five minutes, as I knew that I would have a clear shot as soon as he came forward into a clearing, where they normally like to graze. But after an age he had failed to show.
Rather than all the movement to raise the field glasses I did a quick scan through the scope, but nothing was showing, not a shadow, a darker patch, a splash of colour, nothing.
I had to gain elevation to allow me to see over the fallen tree where I had last seen the buck, but standing had to be slow, and above all silent, which is difficult when your feet are four feet apart, you can no longer feel your legs, the floor is covered in dry leaves and fallen twigs, and no matter how you try to avoid it you are going to have to inch yourself up by rubbing your back up a tree trunk. But where would the skill be if this stuff was easy!
I inched myself up and after some considerable pain I could see over the fallen tree, which was halfway between me and my quarry.
Nothing was showing.
I knew that he had turned away from me and that I had to move.
I eased myself out of the tree, whilst constantly scanning the ground ahead, and around me (it is not unusual to turn around only to discover that you are being watched, I once started to make my way down from a hide (another tree), only to discover that there was a young doe couching little more than three metres away) checking for movement.
Now from where I was to where I needed to be there is no clear path, so this was going to be slow, noisy, and very smelly, as I was now in the centre of a bog, but I like a challenge.
I selected my path, based on availability of cover, wind direction, and intended target, and off I went.
The first ten metres was covered quickly, as the path was straight and fairly clear, with only the occasional boggy patch to negotiate, but as I got closer to the fallen tree I caught sight of my quarry, so I had to get low, which also meant holding my breath a lot to avoid the nauseating stench from the bog.
I was half way between my earlier spotting position and the fallen tree, and on sneaking a locating peak I saw the quarry, only it was thirty yards beyond the tree, and it had turned into a doe!!
I watched her for some time, and she was an odd shape, nothing I could put my finger on, but definitely not right.
As I could only see the upper half of her back, and her head when she raised it to browse, I decided to try and reach the fallen tree, where I could get a better look.
I slowly dropped out of sight, and then eased forward as quietly as I could amongst the dry leaves, snapping twigs, and sucking bog, until I was four or five metres closer, at which point I drew myself back up for another look.
I got to the point, still crouching slightly, where I could see the doe, which by now I didnít need the field glasses to clearly make her out, and she still looked strange. Then as I was looking on another head popped up just to the front of her, and began licking her neck, whilst she was leisurely browsing.
I took a closer look with the glasses, and realized that this was a buck, but a different buck to the one I had seen earlier.
Now normally an attentive buck means that the doe has recently given birth, and so she was discounted as a target, but as this young fella was here the stalk was still on.
I eased back down and carried on towards the fallen tree, which would give me the best point to clear all obstacles, and be sure of a clean shot.
It took me another fifteen minutes to reach the fallen tree, and by the time I was there I was breathing heavily, and my heart rate was way up though the exertion. I stayed down on one knee to give things time to settle.
Once I was about normal I eased myself up to get a view over the tree,,,, and found that I was all alone. Not surprising really as I had got to within forty yards of where they had last been, and I must have sounded like a water buffalo, as at one point I stepped on to what looked like a solid footing, only to find myself in a brown gravy coloured bog half way up my thigh, and it took a boat load of effort to drag my leg out, whilst still making sure that my wellie stayed on.
I placed the rifle across the tree boughs in front of me, and stayed low and very still, as they often come back just for a look after they have been spooked, and waited, checking for any sign of movement.
A long time passed, and I started to see mallards, then woodies, but still no deer. So after about twenty minutes I thought it was worth pushing on, and see if they were in the next small clearing, which was eighty yards further on.
I dropped back down low, and made my way around the tree roots, yet more stinking bog, which I was now used to, and now the added delight of old bramble bushes, but I had only just got around the upturned tree root, when I saw a brilliant flash of red and white only thirty yards away, with a beady pair of very bright eyes staring straight at me.
I froze, just facing straight at this new object, and it was one of the many foxes which also live in the marsh. The fox was doing itís best pointer impression Ďone paw in the air, tail straight out behind, and Iím off if you move againí trick.
My heart rate rose, and even though I had a face veil on, I didnít even blink, waiting for Charlie to move first. After a minute or two Charlie decided to sit but keep watching me, all the time I was sinking, and buy now I was just short of getting another wellie full of water.
I thought about the shot, all thoughts of bagging a deer now gone, but I needed to move, as there was a bush between me and Charlie, so a move left was called for, as a move to the right would probably put me in up to my waist.
I eased out left, all the time looking straight ahead and trying to keep my upper body stock still, kind of like a duck on a pond, all serene above, but paddling like mad below.
Two steps and I was behind a tree, another few yards and I would have a clear shot, and something to lean on.
I checked the route I had to take, and this time decided that it was best to make like a lizard, and go on all fours, so I slung the rifle across my back, dropped to the deck, and crawled the few yards to the point of clear shot. I adjusted myself to get the best supported shooting place, and raised up slowly, Charlie was still there, and still looking where I had been.
I raised the rifle, and as I opened the front lens cover it made a slight noise, Charlie turned his head, clocked me, and enough was enough, he was off, deftly leaping across the tufts of marsh grass, and fallen trees, but he only went around twenty yards away, then stopped and turned for a look.
I could see the back of him, and part of his face, but I had to move around, as the tree I was leaning against was now in my way. I looked around to check my steps, but just behind where the fox had been I could see an out of place dark red area, right in the centre of a tree bowl.
I knew what it was, but not which end it was. As I leant to my left I saw the face of a doe, and she was looking in my direction, but didnít appear to be alarmed at all. I didnít know if it was the doe from before, and there was no buck around, so I eased back, and checked my way to a point where I could see the complete animal.
With two slow steps I had a clear unobstructed view, and this doe was clearly pregnant, I rested the rifle in a V at the base of the tree I was now behind, by this time I was only thirty five yards from her.
I placed the cross hairs right between her eyes, and sent the 55grn SP on its way.
She appeared to drop on the spot, but she was now out of sight.
I cycled the bolt, and held position just in case.
After a minute I began the slow stalk in to the target area, and it was only when I was level with where the doe had been that I could see her. She was exactly where she had been standing.
I scanned the area for the bucks, but nothing showed, then as I stepped from cover the big buck from earlier started barking, and made a dash straight across my path, from about twenty yards further on.
Now came the fun bit.
Where the doe had been stood was on an island, in the centre of a particularly deep section of marsh water, so I had to pick my way to her by using the partially submerged fallen trees and the clumps of marsh grass, oh to be as agile as the fox, or as light as the deer.
The easy bit over I then had to carry her and the rifle back to an area where I could dress and inspect her. The added fifteen or so kilos made for a very interesting almost 300 metre hike, and having to raise here up to keep her out of the mire, meant that by the time I got to my normal grallock area my bicep was burning, and my hand was cramped up, but it was worth it.
All in all it was a good challenge, and even without the end result I was happy with testing my stalking skills.