A quick write-up following a very enjoyable weekend's stalking with Ian on his ground in Dorset.
Having travelled down on Friday morning, I arrived at Ians on-schedule at 12:15 to meet up with Tom (dorsetvetstudent) who was also there for a couple of outings. Ian sat Tom and I down and, over a cup of coffee, ran through the format for the weekend, showing us satellite photos of the ground and explaining the beats we'd be visiting and the various rules to be followed regarding what could and could not be shot on the different ground. Having then unpacked all my clobber in the excellent accomodation we headed away to check-zero the rifles, which fortunately for both Tom and I passed without issue.
Away then for the first outing to some of Ian's ground about 45 minutes away. As we approached we realised that the weather was starting to close in. On arriving at the farm we were asked to stand ready whilst the farmer's wife ran the dogs through an area of cover which was thought to hold a marauding fox, though sadly said fox wasn't at home.
After this brief diversion we headed off to our stalking ground for the evening, which started a couple of fields away. After comprehensive instructions, I headed away to stalk the boundary of the beat. With the fog closing in it became a challenge spotting deer, but the first group of fallow I found - though only 100 or so metres away - were the other side of the boundary hedge. I retraced my steps for about 50 metres until I was hidden from sight, with the idea that I'd cut back round the group and head to my final viewpoint for the evening in the hope that the same group might graze their way along the hedge and then make a repeat showing at last light. Approaching my final viewpoint - a steep bank that overlooked a woodland edge - I made a stupid error and was concentrating more on finding a rest-up point than spying the ground, so that I missed seeing the 6 or 7 fallow that were grazing adjacent to the wood. The older doe's head went up and the next time I saw them they were clearing the fence and disappearing into the wood. I sat there for another 30 minutes or so, cursing my luck, but nothing else appeared. By 18:30 the light had gone so we RV'd back at the car and headed back to Ians. Tom and I dumped our stuff and then went over for dinner. I realised then that all I'd read beforehand about Jo's cooking was an understatement Fat and happy we then got our heads down ready for the next morning's stalk.
Getting up at 04:30 we got our kit together and left shortly after 5:00. Driving to the ground it was immediately apparent that fog was again going to be an issue. Arriving on site the fog appeared more patchy so we de-camped and, after more detailed instructions, I made my way to high seat that was on the top of a ridge where it was intersected by a hedge coming down from the road. I climbed up and, with perfect timing, the wind picked up, the rain started and the fog closed in. I sat in the high seat for the next 40 minutes or so with visibility decreasing all the time. Figuring that no self-respecting deer would venture out onto that wet and windy ridge, I texted Ian to find out if conditions were any better down in the valley where he had headed with Tom. The answer was "marginally better", so I left the high-seat, retraced my steps back to the car and then headed down into the valley towards the beat that Ian had said I could stalk. As I dropped into the valley the rain ceased and the fog lifted slightly, so I got a view of the ground for the first time. Mostly open fields surrounded by ancient woodland and with various copse and spinneys, it looked very deer-y. I stalked through a finger of woodland until I could see up the far side of the valley. I couldn't see any fallow, but three roe were out by an automatic feeder. I watched them for 10 or 15 minutes as shooting roe is "verboten" on this particular farm, but the pleasure from watching them grazing along the hedgerow was priceless nonetheless. By now the sun was out and the world had woken up, and figuring that any fallow would have retreated to cover we headed back to the car and into the nearest Wetherspoons for what can only be described as a prize-winning breakfast.
Tom was leaving that morning, so once we were back at Ians I cleaned my kit and then popped over to the house for a coffee. Jo does scrimshaw work and engraving to an exceptionally high standard, so I whiled away a happy hour discussing this with her but likely distracting her from her work - sorry Jo After catching a couple of hours kip Ian and I headed away again for the evening stalk. We were back on the same ground as the morning, but for the evening I was sitting in a high seat on the other side of the farm where Ian and Tom had been that morning. The high seat looked out over a couple of paddocks bordered by ancient woodland, which then rose up the side of the valley overlooking fields. Arriving at the ground we spied a small group of fallow up near where I'd seen the roe that morning. Ian kindly offered me the chance to stalk them but I was keen to try a different beat on the farm. Ian therefore carefully explained what was likely to happen, deer being creatures of habit, and so I made my way to the high seat. It was a glorious evening - clear skies and beautiful sunshine - as I sat there enjoying the view. Looking over my shoulder I could see a group of fallow on the skyline. As they dropped down away from my view Ian texted me to say that he was stalking into them. I then had a message to say that they were coming my way, so I turned around in the high seat and got the rifle set up so that if they appeared then any movement on my part would be minimised. Another text message said that they were now heading away from me, so I turned back round only to see a roe doe had appeared about 100 metres from my high seat. Where did she come from??! After about 5 minutes another roe doe appeared, followed by yet another in the paddocks. Looking up the valley side I saw another two roe emerge from the woodland edge, so now I had five within view. I texted Ian who reminded me that roe were off-limits but I wasn't tempted, honest .
The original roe doe then looked back into the wood. Following her gaze I expected to see a buck emerge, but instead saw fallow moving just inside the wood, first walking and then running up the side of the wood. They were about 140 metres away and I figured they were heading up the hill towards the high seat that I'd sat in that morning. I kept glimpsing them as they moved away, wondering what I'd done to upset Lady Luck?
As the light began to fade I then caught a movement to my left. About 175 metres away the fallow had emerged out into the paddocks. I'd used the rangefinder before on some of the large oaks that were dotted about the padddocks, so I knew that if and when they got to a couple of the oaks they would be about 150m away. There were now about seven or eight fallow in the field, mostly kids but with a few older does and prickets amongst them. The light was fading fast as the fallow chased each other about the paddock and engaged in mock sparring. I followed them and waited until one of the larger does fortunately came to a stop broadside on about 120m away. I had the dot illuminated in the scope reticle and drawing a line up the back of the front leg I squeezed the trigger as the spot fell halfway up the body. At the shot every deer in the locality - fallow and roe - took off at pace. I kept my eye on the doe I'd shot as she ran about 75m and then collapsed in full view. Having texted Ian I then got out of the high seat and made my way to the doe, stopping only to realise I'd left my sticks at the base of the highseat. Retrieving them, I got to the doe and dragged her to the edge of the paddock next to the wood. It was now dark so, completing the gralloch by torchlight as Ian arrived in the car, we dropped off the carcase at the farm and headed back for another slap-up meal courtesy of Jo.
My Saturday night's sleep was interrupted by the sound of heavy rain and strong winds and, sure enough, things hadn't improved by 04:30 Sunday morning. We drove through heavy rain back to the farm we'd visited the first evening. Sitting in the pick-up and waiting for the light to improve, we'd already decided that nothing was going to be daft enough to appear in the open fields. So Ian guided me through a number of blocks of woodland, the pair of us gradually getting saturated. We bumped a couple of deer but with a fickle wind that changed direction a number of times during our stalk things were never going to be easy. Eventually we admitted defeat, realising about the same time that any sane person would have done that before getting out of bed! After drying the rifle and changing my sodden kit for something dry, it was over to the house for one of Jo's superb breakfasts - the silver lining to the clouds that had spoiled that morning's outing.
Packing everything back into the car, we said our goodbye's and I headed back to Oxfordshire.....then turned back round 5 minutes later as I realised I'd left my coat and stalking sticks in the back of Ian's pick-up.
Some might think that one deer from four stalks does not amount to a very successful weekend's stalking, but only if your sole criteria is the number of carcases in the larder. The conditions this last weekend were hardly the best for stalking, with two outings in fog and one in torrential rain, and yet still we saw deer on every outing. But stalking to me is as much about visiting new ground, watching deer, learning from other people and making new friends and acquaintances, and by any of these criteria the weekend was a huge success. I'd heartily recommend anyone to book up with Ian - he has some fantastic ground, plenty of deer and a vast fund of knowledge of all things deer and stalking-related. Jo is a superb cook, a talent only equalled by her skill in scrimshaw and engraving. My thanks to them both, and to Tom for being such good company as a stalking companion. Here's to the next time!