Firstly thank you to .223 and Solway Stalker; because of your generosity I have been able to take the first step on the stalking ladder. The thread offering the opportunity for a novice to experience a free stalk was one I watch develop, and as it snowballed I decided to through my hat in the ring. To my surprise I was successful and having made contact with my host the date was set.
Having met Solway Stalker a little after 6.30 we headed up to some plantations over looking the Solway Firth, having left the vehicle and a short safety briefing we headed up the track out onto ground. Scanning likely area’s as we went.
Having previously been focused on shotgun shooting I found it impossible not to be distracted by a large skein of geese as they lifted off the estuary beneath us.
We moved from the first plantation onto walled pasture where there was definite evidence of boar in the area, Colin took the time to explain the difference between the marks left by the boar and the sow and also the reasons for them doing so.
We moved along carefully using the wall as cover to get onto the next area of established plantation. As we reached the area Colin quickly spotted a doe browsing amidst the trees and tussocks. Despite my scouring of the area through the binoculars it was only when the doe decided to move did I see what Colin had seen some minutes earlier. As the deer was heading uphill Colin explained how we needed to approach from below in order to prevent the wind –coming from the hill- from betraying our presence. We climbed over the wall and once out of sight gained some ground descending step gullies and negotiating fallen tree limbs, which would have been avoided in any other situation. We again looked at the doe to see where she was standing and in order to present a safe shot had to get a little further along the underside of the ridgeline. This time crossing burns and gullies so steep I found myself on all fours climbing out the other side. My heart was pounding at this time though I’m not sure if this was due to the exertion of the stalk or the prospect of getting onto my first deer. As we got into position we discovered the doe had moved on, we waited in a state of readiness for a few minutes in the hope she might reappear from some thicker cover of trees. Alas it was not to be she had made good her escape leaving me to wonder if that had been our only chance of the morning.
Had that been the case then it would have been an appropriate lesson for me as a novice to realise that there are no guarantees and that some days you might return empty handed.
We pressed on along a track after removing a layer of clothing, as the day got warmer. As we moved over the open hillside the view over the Solway coast just added to the experience of the morning.
We cleared the next area of gorse walking slowly along the underside of a young plantation of what I refer to as Christmas trees, stopping frequently to scan for deer. Yet again, Colin spotted one on the hill over the boundary a good 600m away, one that I would have most definitely failed to see on my own. I again thought the likelihood of getting onto a deer more unlikely believing that they would all be higher up as the morning was getting on.
We moved into a mature wood with some open rides, the sort of place I would typically associate with woodland stalking, again scanning frequently for deer. As we reached the far end into a clearing Colin suggested we stand quietly and wait as there are usually deer about, Colin set the sticks and I rested the rifle in readiness, only for a fine doe to appear from nowhere, approximately 90 yards away with a safe backstop. I took aim and followed her progress, as Colin got her attention she paused just long enough for me to take the shot.
The shot took her off her feet and she landed not 5 yards away from where she was shot. I instantly had reloaded just in case but for her this was not needed. My feelings were one of satisfaction that the shot had been a clean one. Despite having practiced on the range I was still nervous over the shot, but at the time I had focused on the task in hand placing the shot using her front legs as a reference.
As she fell a second deer ran from the cover where she had appeared running past her before turning, tentatively returning to the area, it was her kid and for a while was obscured by the tree’s. For what seemed like minutes the kid was either obscured by branches or was stood at such an angle that a clean shot was not to be had. Finally it took a final step closer free from obstructions and stood broadside for a second shot to be taken. Again I squeezed the trigger and hit the target. This one ran a little further into a dense plantation leaving a strong blood trail to follow, it took a little while of searching on hand and knee under the bottom bough’s of the spruce to locate and retrieve the second deer, which Colin gralloched, taking the time to explain what he was doing, why and how before examining the contents of the pluck explaining what to look for.
We dragged the deer back to a position where we could get to them with the vehicle, before heading back. It was amazing just how far we had travelled throughout the course of the morning. Having retrieved the deer we returned for breakfast giving time for a chat.
My experience had put into perspective lots of advice I had been told by friends such as ‘buy the scope and then buy the rifle with the change’. The clarity of the scope in this case a Zeiss really does allow you to just focus your thoughts on the shot. My anticipation of the day had been on a par with my first days driven game shooting, and my satisfaction did not disappoint.
For my first stalking experience I fail to see how it could have been better, breathtaking scenery, a host who has an obvious passion for the sport, yet a demeanour that puts you at ease. Coupled with a taster of both open hill and woodland stalking and two good deer in the larder. All this has given me a memory that I know will last a lifetime.