I'm not the sort of chap that wins prizes. I did win 5 litres of disinfectant in a prize draw during the 2001 Foot & Mouth outbreak, but that's about it. Therefore I was pretty startled to see myself heading up the list of prize winners for the opportunity of a free stalk, with my host being none other than the man himself - Dave (223) who organised the impromptu competition.
Contact was quickly made, a date agreed, and I arranged to be at Dave's house by 5.00am on the appointed day. Given that it's a 3 hour drive from here to there, that meant a pretty early start!
Arrived 4.56am, to find my host on the doorstep waiting for me, and with the barest minimum of introductions ("pleased to meet you, jump in the jeep!") we were on our way to the ground for a dawn session in the highseat. For some reason I'd got it into my head that we'd be after Roe, so I'd spent the whole of the previous week swotting up on the species, it's habits, and, more importantly, shot placement. So when Dave told me the quarry were Fallow (melanistic and "you can take any one you like, even if he's got the biggest antlers" - top man, my host!) I thought my research had been in vain! However, Dave produced a number of diagrams and other bits of info for me to gen up on as we travelled.
Parked up by the gates to the estate, and donned plenty more layers of clothing, before heading off, in silence, into the darkness across the frozen fields. After a while Dave nudged me and whispered "highseat up there", and I found that we were standing at the bottom of a ladder leading up into an oak tree. "You take the drivers side" he whispered, so up I went. Dave passed up the rifle, a .308, and climbed into the seat beside me. A round was chambered, checked saftey, and the wait began...
The first peep of birdsong from the wood had Dave scanning the field margin through binoculars, but, to be honest I think they were singing in their sleep, because I was still struggling to make out the mod on the end of the barrel. As dawn gradually eased it's way across the sky, our eyes began to play tricks, to the extent that every shadow appeared to morph into a deer, only to fade away at a blink! As it grew lighter I was able to make out the woodland boundary about 120 yards away, but by this stage my fingers were like a bunch of icicles (despite the gloves), so if some majestic lord of the forest had stepped out of the trees and stood broadside on I don't reckon I'd have managed to move the safety catch, let alone the trigger!
Eventually we had to conclude that the deer weren't going to put in an appearance, so it was time for a brief walk around the ground to see if we could catch anything out feeding on the otherside of the wood. Alas, this drew blank too. Evidence of the deer was everywhere, but so too was the evidence of some recent poaching activity, which clearly wasn't helping matters.
Next on the agenda was a full cooked breakfast, before heading on down to another of Dave's permissions for a session of clay pigeon shooting. I told him straight that I prefer to shoot everything (including little orange discs) with them sitting still on the ground, but, undeterred, he persisted in launching a stream of clays over my head, which I persisted in missing, spectacularly! (Although I was perhaps hampered by my antique ironmongery, including an old BSA side-by-side that I've had since my student days, which sometimes goes bang when you pull the trigger, and sometimes doesn't!).
Luckily a light drizzle had set in by this time, which helped cool the barrels.
With my ears still humming after blasting through half-a-dozen boxes of 12g shells in record time, we moved off to another field for some rifle range work, using all my previously unbusted clays as tartgets! First up was the .308, and it gave me a great sense of satisfaction to get my own back on those erstwhile elusive clays, by blowing them (and some of the hedge behind) to bits at 110 yards. However, Dave must have though I didn't look sufficiently impressed with his rifle, so he removed the mod in order to give me the full effect. If you've not tried it before, I can assure you that plinking takes on a whole new dimension, when using an unmoderated .308
Next Dave taught me about shooting off sticks, using the .243 this time, which was a different ball game altogether and had me hankering after the relative security of my bipod!
Lunch time came and went without a break - regular meal times clearly don't form part of Dave's agenda when he could be shooting (he knows where his priorities lie!) - and we got my little .22 out of the jeep. Now, thanks to Dave, it's properly zeroed, and we rounded off the afternoon session by destroying some more of those pesky clays at 60 yards. The final challenge was 4 shots / 4 clays with my newly zeroed rifle, so when the last 2 both fell to the third shot I felt I'd kind of got even with them!!
After a quick bite to eat we returned to the ground for the evening stalk. With me carrying the rifle, and Dave guiding, we worked our way around to the opposite side of the wood from where we'd been in the morning, and took up position on a grassy bank about 140 yards from the woodland edge, overlooking a regular deer path. With a light breeze blowing in our faces, conditions seemed to be ideal. As hour followed hour, and darkness gradually settled upon us, plenty of rabbits came out to play but sadly no deer! I think we were both kind of wishing we'd brought the .22 and a lamp, instead of the .308
Eventually, when even the amazing optics on the .308 could no longer penetrate the gloom, we had to give up and call it a day. Poor Dave was mortified that his deer had let us down, particularly after the effort he'd put in to ensure the day would be a success, but I had a wonderful time!
So, thanks Dave, for great day out. You're one of those rare blokes who knows when to talk and when to listen, and you never once scoffed at my ignorance (although you pulled my leg a bit about the clays...!). Thanks, too, to your lovely (and very tolerant) wife and family for letting you out to play for the whole day. Pity that the deer didn't want to play too, but there's always next time....