A big thanks to Malc for a cracking weekends stalking. Itís a ramble but hereís a bit of an account of the weekend from my point of view.
The weekend started with a two hour drive to a friends house on Friday night, it should have only taken me an hour and a quarter but thanks to someone in a freelander breaking down in the middle of the M3 (literally in the middle lane) it took longer than planned. The main thing I noticed as I was heading east was that the temperature was dropping and there was progressively more and more snow on the ground, from a few days before I understand. By the time I arrived at my friendís house at 7pm it was already -3 and falling further.
At 5:45 when I got in the car to head off to Sikamalcs ground for the days stalk, the temperature was -9.5įC! On the half hour journey over to Malcs the temperature fluctuated between about -5įC and -10įC. Either way it was cold and there was plenty of snow on the ground.
I parked up and walked down to the bothy to be greeted by Malc, Sandra and Ken and a nice hot cuppa. The plan for the morning was a stalk with Malc in the persuit of roe/fallow and then back for breakfast. After finishing the tea I headed back to the car, kitted up and then jumped in Malcís wagon. We headed off to a smaller patch of land he looks after away from the main estate. After walking about 20m it became apparent that stalking was going to be tough, walking on the snow, which must have melted a bit and then re-frozen a couple of times was like walking on cornflakes. It was crunchy as hell!
Nothing showed around this small patch and Todd wasnít interested either. We only saw one or two sets of fresh (ish) slots and so we knocked it on the head and headed back to the wagon to have a look elsewhere. As we were walking back across the fields the sun was starting to rise, a big bright orange ball through the leafless trees in the woods to our right. It really was quite stunning; at this point I should have stopped for a photo, but didnít as it was too bloody cold to get the gloves off and the camera out.
We headed off and arrived on the edge of wooded area, Malc informed me that there should be deer about but that it was going to be tough stalking in the snow. Within about 100m from the entrance to the woodblock we came across loads of fresh slots and Todd was showing interest, instantly you start to switch on more and become ore in tune with the woodland, looking and listening for any sign or sound of movement. We stalked on, periodically glassing as we went. Another 100m or so we came to a junction of a couple of different rides, a high seat was located on the corner of the woods looking out over an open patch (this was to be my seat for the evenings affairs). We pressed on round the corner, all the while seeing fresh slots, and now Todd was really starting to show interest.
A few paces further a roe buck jumped out in front of us, maybe 40m away (Todd was quivering with excitement as it stood perfectly broadside in the middle of the ride. I could have easily shot it if it werenít for the fact that it had no backstop and it was out of season. We just stood there for what must have been 20+ seconds to wait for it to bugger off, then all of a sudden a doe jumped out and crossed the ride. She then stopped but all I could see was the top of her head, so I tried to get myself in a better position, but due to the white cornflakes underfoot she was well aware of me and bolted into the undergrowth for safety, along with the buck. Malc told me to walk ahead in case they popped out onto the ride just round the corner, they didnít as they were long gone.
We pressed on but after no more than another 50m, another deer bolter from the left of the ride into the woods after the two roe. Iím not sure it saw us, rather heard us because of the cornflakes underfoot, and went for the thicker cover. It was clear though that it was a muntjac, ďprobably a doeĒ says Malc. To be honest all I saw was its tail stood tall as it ran. My thought about it not seeing us was sort of confirmed as when I carried on, I could still see it in the woods, all I needed was to walk another 10m or so and I could have had a clear shot at it up the gap between the trees. Needless to say the frosties scuppered my plans and it was off never to be seen again (or was it?). Malc caught up with me (he was only a few meters behind with Todd) and we chatted a little. Apparently this was the first muntie Malc had seen in this part of the estate and only the third (think thatís correct?) since he took on the lease, one of which succumbed to an incident with a car and the other spotted by Ken a week or two before hand.
We pressed on, all the while Todd was scenting deer and there were plenty of slots and fresh bambi dung standing out like a sore thumb in the snowy woodland floor. We cut off the ride and followed a very fresh set of slots (the dung was still very fresh also, it was still sticky). Through the trees Malc spotted a roe running fro our right to left, I then clocked it and noticed it was followed by another. They were too far away for a shot and never stopped to look. Not sure if it was us or a wandering German Shepherd that spooked them, they were a good 100m+ away.
We headed over to where we saw the two roe deer in the distance, Todd was still keen as there was so much evidence of recent activity. We reached the other side of the woodblock and stood in a ride, and then started walking up it. After about maybe 30m I heard Malc ďJim, JimÖ.FallowĒ. I looked over to my left to see maybe a dozen fallow does who had just broken cover, Iím not sure if they were more startled or we were. They were only about 30m off to our right and standing (some perfectly broadside). I slowly lifted my rifle off my shoulder and (annoyingly) in the process clipped the mod on the end of my sticks. This caused the fallow to split, although one group didnít run far, maybe 2 or 3 meters. Rifle on sticks I tried to get in a better position only to have my intended targets obstructed by some thick foliage, I could hear Malc ďshoot Jim, Shoot!Ē Ė or something like that anyway. Unfortunately, all I could see was the top of two heads and four ears, nothing big enough to really shoot at confidently. As it happens when I Ďmoved into a better positioní I should have actually moved left rather than right, as Malc could see the head and neck of at least two or three. He was in the better position. They then scampered away after a while, as I could not get in a position to shoot. Not to worry, it was really my fault for being clumsy, but then these things happen.
We headed back to the wagon and breakfast. On the way back we saw loads more slots and other signed of deer. We walked up a ride that brought us back to the highseat near to where we bumped the roe buck, it was right in front of us. As we came over the crest we could see where the deer had been scraping the snow away to feed on the grass. Again, there was plenty of fresh slots and dung. On the way back to the wagon, Malc suggested I sat up in the high seat that we passed first thing, and on the way back to the wagon for the evenings outing, as there was as good a chance as any to see a deer there. I wholeheartedly agreed!
Back to the bothy for a hearty breakfast and pondering of the morning stalk. Probably the toughest stalking conditions Iíve ever been in (albeit my limited experience), yet we still managed to see approx 17 deer and three different species to boot. An absolutely fantastic morning! In all honesty I was not that bothered I didnít manage to connect with a deer, it was great being out pushing your own skill level, all the while watching a highly trained dog practically point the deer out to you, and actually managing to get within a shootable distance considering the frosties underfoot.
For the evenings outing, Ken dropped me off by the entrance to the woodblock I was in that morning and I made my way up to the highseat. Within about 20 minutes of being there I heard the tell tale sound of a rifle in the distance. As Ken was in the woodblock the other side of the main road to me (to my rear) I thought it was him initially (actually it turned out to be Malc). About 10 minutes later I caught a glimpse of a deer crossing the ride out in front of me, but as the ride dropped away, all I could see was its ears and rump. I guess it was browsing as it was walking. A little frustrated it wasnít closer I nestled deeper into multitude of layers I was wearing to keep myself warm. I think it must have been about -4 or -5įC at this point. A couple of minutes later I heard noises in the woods to my right, and then I saw a leg move, followed by another. Eventually I could make out a fallow moving, within the undergrowth of a pine woodblock, possible the one I saw crossing the ride not 5 minutes earlier. I identified a point about 5m ahead of the deer where there was a small clearing in the undergrowth that I could get a clean shot, it was at perfect heart/lung height, but only about a foot square. It would need to stop in the right spot. Then I noticed a second fallow, a third and fourth all walking in a line, right towards my chosen shooting point in the undergrowth. The first one slowly walked straight past, followed by the second (I was cursing to myself at this point) and when the third was in the right area I let out a loud grunt hopeing to try and get them to stop. Either they didnít hear me or they didnít care as none of them stopped, and by this time the fourth one walked past the target area. Chance missed. In hindsight, they were moving that slowly, and only about 20-30m away I could have probably had a shot and connected without any problems. I guess that comes with greater confidence with the more stalking you do.
Not more than 10 seconds after the fourth fallow had walked past, all four broke cover startled and ran towards me, and stood in the middle of the ride, no more than 5m to my right. Three fallow does and a pricket. Iím not to sure what startled them, maybe they had winded me as it was swirling a little. They then ran into the woods behind me so up I was, turned around 180 degrees and had my rifle resting on the back the seat. The woods to the rear of the seat were all pine with no under storey and so there was every chance of a shot except they never stopped as they pronked their way through the woodland and into the distance. Opportunity missed.
Still, it was quite early and so I carried on waiting, with a heightened sense of alertness. Every twig snapping or rustling caught my attention. Then I heard another rifle shot in the distance. This one had to be Ken as it came from behind me. Everyone seemed to be getting in on some action.
Another 10 or 20 minutes passed of me watching robins, blackbirds and squirrels making all sorts of noises and then out of the corner of my eye, crossing a ride to me left I saw what looked like a roe, closely followed by another. Again, all I saw was the rump and a set of ears on both. Exactly the same place we saw the two roe earlier in the day (the doe and the buck). Slightly frustrated, I was starting to think this it was going to be one of those evenings and then at about my 10 oíclock I saw movement the other side of some brambles, my first throught was it was one of the roe I had just seen, and then there was a second movement. My second though was actually these were too small to be roe (I could only see the rump at this point, whatever it was had its head down) and maybe it was two foxes? Before I had a chance to have a third thought, they were both gone again, disappearing into the brambles. I decided that they might pop out on the ride where I had initially seen a rump and set of ears which was right in front of me. I got the rifle ready, on the rail and lifted my binos.
Muntjac! A muntjac doe came out of the woods and onto the grassy scraping I had seen earlier in the day. It was right in front of me at approximately 60m, by the time I had my eye up to the scope she had turned her back on me and was feeding. No chance of a shot. I waited and slowly she started walking down the ride away from me. I was starting to think it wasnít going to be my day, so many sightings just never a shot. Then a second muntjac came out of the woods, a buck this time. I double checked in the binos and then lifted my rifle to my eye again. Again this one turned away from me and started to follow the doe away down the ride. Following my lack of confidence of not taking a shot at the fallow earlier to my right, I decided I needed to man up and be more confident - take a shot if any opportunity presented it! As I finished this thought, the buck turned his head to look over his right shoulder and so I sent a round right at the back of his head, about an inch below his ear.
I panicked a little as I didnít hear the tell tale thwack of a round hitting its target. So rather than wait too long I decided to get out the seat and wander over to where I thought I had shot it. Sure enough, it lay where was standing. I lifted my binos to see if there were any signed of life. Nothing so I moved in to collect my first ever muntjac, the grin was big and cheesy!
In hindsight I should have waiting longer in the seat and had more confidence in my shot as when I was within about 3m of the dead buck I heard the doe no more than 5m inside the brambles to the left where they had both initially broken cover. She hadnít gone far at all and I guess she might have come out again if I had waited in the seat. Never mind I was chuffed to bits with my little buck. He was little, later Malc reckoned he was only maybe a year old.
I carried him back to the highseat and did the gralloch. It turned out the round had hit where I had aimed and smashed the lower part of the skull to bits. He never felt a thing. I then clambered back up the seat. There was about half an hour of useable light left I think, and so you never know what might have started moving around. Having been back up there no more than 30 seconds, and still grinning like an idiot, I could see to my 10 oíclock (exactly the same place I thought I had seen the two, what at second thought was, foxes) the muntjac doe, she was feeding on the brambles/grass. I then spent the next 15 minutes glassing her as she pottered backwards and forwards, all the while protected by a thick later of brambles and so no shot ever presented itself. Then she just disappeared, not to be seen again. Still I was happy with my little buck and so waited out the dimming light just hoping something else would present itself against the nice snowy backstops.
Nothing else did show except a pair of woodcock that landed in the snow about 30m to my front and started feeding (I could have had a nice left and right if I had a shotgun). Still, it was a pleasant way to end an excellent days stalking. When I decided it was too dark to reasonably identify what I was shooting at, I clambered down the seat, loaded the buck into my not so new but unused roe sack and then walked back to where Ken had dropped me off.
10 minutes later, Ken had picked me up and we had exchanges stalking stories, we arrived back at the bothy to find Malc had actually shot a roe and a fallow. He was pleased when I told him I had managed to connect with a deer and then shocked when I told him it was a muntie, as neither he or any of his clients had ever shot one off the estate in the last three years.
I finished the remainder of the gralloch, with some help from both Ken and Malc and headed back to my friends for a beer and the rugby (which ended up to be cancelled due to frozen ground). I had a cracking day out which ended up in me seeing plenty of deer in very difficult conditions and bagging my first ever muntjac (Iíve seen a fair few out whilst stalking before but never managed to get a shot on one).
Sunday morning Malc and I went for a wonder round the woods where Ken has shot his roe doe the night before (and seen a few fallow), but nothing else showed except for a fresh snow flurry and a couple of squirrels.
Thanks again Malc for a cracking day and a half stalking and my (and yours of that patch) first ever muntjac. Heís now hanging in the conservatory which it like a giant chiller in this weather. Iím looking forward to eating him. Big thanks to Todd too, for being even keener than me on every new fresh set of tracks, it certainly starts the blood flowing knowing your close to deer.
Also thanks to Sandra and Ken, good to see you both again. Hopefully see you all again sometime in the not too distant future.
I have a picture but its on my camera and I donít have the right cable with me at the moment, will add it later.
If you could be arsed to read it all i hope you enjoyed it. I had a great weekend!