Drove down to my parents place on Friday to stay over ready to make the 1 hour 20 minute journey over to see Sparko on his permission. Friday night saw me unable to sleep due to anticipation of the big day, my first ever stalk.
Saturday morning I was up at 4:30am and breakfasting ready to get going so I could join my host for first light at about 7am. The journey was nice and simple and the pub we had agreed to meet at was nice and easy to find being on the side of the main road. We met up, introduced and shook hands and headed down to the farm yard ready for the off. Making sure we were nice and quiet as we closed car doors and got ready so as not to wake anyone in the farmhouse, we then quietly wandered down the lane to the fields where we would be stalking for the morning.
Sparko was carrying the rifle and we had a brief whispered conversation about what would happen if we found a suitable animal, Sparko thought it best that he would take the shot. I was more than happy with this as my main reason for being there was to learn technique and how to stalk and I was more than happy watching a competant stalker and learning as much from him as I could.
As we were making our way up the first hedgeline the first piece of wisdom was imparted "The quieter you try to be, the more noise you are likely to make, don't try too hard to be quiet"
We headed up the hedgeline and over a couple of fields as Sparko explained to me the techniques of scanning hedgerows and how the Roe very often like to lie up in the hollows and ditches alongside them, keep watching for twitches of movement or a head popping up. He also explained the general movement patterns of the roe on this land and where they generally like to go.
Time for another piece of wisdom "Where do you see roe deer?" "I don't know" "Everywhere"
We headed over the next field and made our way quietly to the middle of a sloping field where we sta down for a while, scanning hedgerows with binoculars trying to spot something.
After sitting here and chatting about things for a while me moved down the field to a lane and made our way along this, quietly pausing to check over gates along hedgerows to see if we could spot anything. At the end of the lane we turned up the edge of another field and past one of the metal high seats which Sparko quickly checked to make sure it was still all stable and attached and safe.
Up the rest of the hedge and along the top of the field, we came to another high seat, again this was checked and we clambered up into the seat to sit and watch. We sat here, occasionally chatting quietly and all the while scanning the hedgerows and the edge of the woodland we could see with binoculars to see if we could spot anything. This was wonderful, being out early in the morning sitting up there with nature all around, song birds, rabbits along the hedges, rooks and crows swooping around and the sun just starting to cut through the clouds, magical
After a while we made our way down from the high seat and made our way up towards a patch of woodland, carefully crossing a barbed wire fence and observing good rifle safety at all times, we then headed through the woodland as quietly as we could. Halfway up the woodland there was a gap which allowed us to see out over a larger field, again scanning with binoculars to see if there was anything in the hedgerows or by the woodland opposite us.
We made our way out of the top of the woodland and across a couple of fields to get to the large field we had just been observing. At this point Sparko thought the deer may well be tucked away in the other piece of woodland so we made our way quietly over to this. We came through the woodland to another high seat, which was carefully and quietly checked, and we headed into the woods. This was where I learnt that stalking through woodland and trying to stay quiet was very tricky indeed, everywhere you put your foot there was a tiny crack or crunch and every one made you wince thinking of the deer sitting just ahead that can hear you coming a mile off!
As we stalked through, watching as carefully as we could, 3-4 roe hopped up in front of us and were away through the woodland, white caudal patches flashing as they went.
As we reached the point they had been, Sparko pointed out a couch, a indented patch of ground with tufts of deer hair all round it.
We made our way to the end of the woods and then turned back to make for the high seat. When we got back there we clambered up and sat quite still while listening to the woodland coming back to life. Sparko explained how you could just sit and become an integral part of the woods just by sitting and waiting, listening and watching. He was right, slowly birds started to sing again, pigeons flapped noisily into surrounding trees, everything started to come back to life. We sat there for some time, and this was where I got another important lesson in the value of good glass. Sparko explained how you could sort of "drill through" the woodland with binoculars by slowly and carefully adjusting the focus wheel and handed me the binoculars he had been using all morning - the difference from my old 10x50s was amazing, the colour, clarity and definition was 10 times what my poor old things had and it was amazing to suddenly be able to see so much.
After some time we decided to head off for lunch and I was treated to a very nice all day breakfast at a cafe up the road while we chatted about shooting, reloading and various other related things.
After lunch it was back out for another go. Sparko explained that you could really see the roe at any time of day and how they were particularly keen on laying up in the sun which was now shining across the fields. I took off a layer under my stalking jacket and was down to just a t-shirt and the jacket it was so warm.
We headed out again in a similar direction to the morning and as we went up the hedge Sparko described a couple of situations looking at the local hedges and fields to check my knowledge of safe back stops - I was quite glad I got the answers and reasoning spot on
We slowly and carefully made our way out into one of the fields that overlooks most of the ground and started scanning with binoculars again, it wasn't long before we spotted a roe, a buck in velvet leaping away over the fields out in front of us. We watched him for some time as he jumped and skipped his way across the fields and through hedgerows.
That had made my day, getting such a good view of a buck through binoculars as that Fantastic.
We continued to scan and picked up three more roe down by the hedge in another field, initially they seemed to be making for the same route as the buck, but much more slowly. We crouched down and continued watching them through the binoculars to see where they went. We lost them at the corner of a field where they seemed to dissapear.
We headed carefully down a hedge, checking every 100 yards or so to see if we could pick them up again, and eventually we did, grazing in the corner of a field at the bottom of the valley.
Sparko suggested that we carefully make our way back up the hedgerow, keeping the hedge between us and them and then into the field the roe were in and over the brow to get into a good firing position. Carefully and quietly, slightly crouched, we made our way back away up the hedgerow. Eventually finding a good spot to cross away from the deer.
Once in the field we crept across to the top, checking wind direction and angles to make sure we would not be picked up. First a walk, then a crouch, then all fours and finally crawling on our bellies as we approached the top of the hill. Ahead of us we could see them grazing in the corner of the field. Sparko got the rifle set up on his bag and motioned for me to crawl up next to him.
To say I was a bit nervous would be an understatement. Two bucks and a doe. Sparko explained the exact shot placement required and then got the range finder out to check. 116 yards so pretty much bang on for the scope. He checked through his binoculars and advised that the shot was safe and checked with me that I agreed and why.
Sparko was happy with the shot and confirmed that I was happy with the situation. BANG.
Down she went. The two bucks were milling around a little before heading off. We stayed lying there, watching carefully to make sure she was dead.
Once we had waited about 10-15 minutes with no movement from her, we carefully set off down the hill away in a diagonal line to the opposite corner so that we could approach her from down wind, just in case.
Carefully walking up to her, about 50 yards away, check with the binoculars for movement or signs of life - none.
Walked a little further up, check again, no signs of life.
Approach the deer very carefully and reach out with sticks at arms length to touch the eyeball to check for response, none. She was definitely dead.
We then carefully put our gear down and set about dealing with the deer. Sparko explained that the shot was textbook, a really good heart/lung shot and the positioning was very good.
I helped Sparko to drag her the short distance to a suitable spot to perform a suspended gralloch as this is less likely to cause environmental contamination.
We went through the process with Sparko explaining at various points what we were looking for. I was pleased that I was interested in the process as I had never been close to a gralloch before and was reassured by the experience that I would be quite happy dealing with it myself as and when I obtain the skills.
Once the gralloch was done and disposal complete we wrapped the carcass in muslin and into the roe sack.
We had one stop on the way back to the vehicles (didn't realise quite how heavy a roe could be!) while Sparko checked if there were any other questions I had and we went over a few things to do with DSC1 and some other questions.
We got back to the vehicles and tucked everything away and sat down with a coffee and chatted about the day. Then it was time for the off. I thanked Sparko for a superb day and for making it as good as it had been.
Sparko is a real gent, excellent knowledge, excellent advice, and very generous and helpful - I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to stalking and feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have had this opportunity - and as we discussed, I hope in a few years to be able to extend the same offer to others starting out in this amazing field.
Huge thanks to Sparko, and huge thanks to 223 for organising this all - it has been an experience of a lifetime!