Ten thirty am and the key is turned in the "beast" a short drive to Billys house to pick the old chap up. The hundred and fifty miles to the stalking ground is swallowed whole by the growling Chevrolet and we arrive just forty five minutes before the chaps are due to take us out for the first evenings stalk. The sun is lowering in the Suffolk sky and scant white clouds drift across lazily as a third member of the group arrives. Kit on, rifles ready we wait in anticipation outside out picturesque lodgings. Coffee finished and two green fourtraks arrive, pleasantries are exchanged and we set out into the glorious countryside in search of our quarry.
We arrive at the appointed place with a good hour or so before twighlight sets in and discuss who is going to cover what area. Within five minutes the stalk is in full swing and clay is gathering on my boots as we yomp around the edge of the fields. My guide has already pointed to the distant woods that we will be setting up on the edge of. The wind is shifting and several times we alter course on our journey edging closer to our target. Finally after a half hour or so we reach the far side of the woods and settle into a small depression in the field containing an oak tree and rough grass. The wood is a good hundred yards away and we settle down in wait, whispered conversation almost lost on the slight breeze as the darkness rolls ever closer. My guide stiffens and out of the corner of my left eye I see a dark shape bounding from right to left. "Get ready" he whispers. The adrenaline hits me and all thoughts dissipate as I roll over to my waiting rifle sat on the bi pod the other side of the oak. No shot as the buck gallops off into the wood before me. Minutes pass and out he comes again, a hundred and fifty yards away this time with four more bucks in tow. No not four but three the other is a doe. They cross our path in the increasing gloom like dark ghosts heading to a better world. My guide whispers "sticks" so picking up the X Bolt I step slowly around the tree and lower the gun into the cradle. Breathe in, breathe out, hold and no shot as the cross hairs are dancing around the kill zone. Shifting my body position a little, breathe in, steadily out, the crisp trigger gives up the ghost and the lead tipped cone sears across the wheat field. "Just over her back" informs my guide as the spent shell cruises past his binoculars, round chambered the breath leaves me again, squeeze and I am greeter by a resounding slap echoing back to me. Another round flies off into the ether and the cross hairs are settled onto the doe who is now down but not out. A quick sprint to narrow the distance and down onto the trusty Harris, the third shot flies as true as Robin Hoods arrow striking her spine just below the atlas joint. On gralloching the young lass it transpires that the first strike was just across the front of the heart.
Five AM and the alarm drags me from sweet dreams and into the dark cold reality of Saturday morning. The second stalk led a merry dance to a complete blank but still had its rewards.
Saturday afternoon and into the great wide open once more. This was to be a first for me. Most stalking that I have done has involved a hike this was to be a low seat over a baited area. This particular corner of our beautiful land is plagued by aliens that breed like rats, or as they are correctly known Muntjac. The low seat is just off a track on the edge of the woods so parking the Chevy a short distance away within a couple of minutes I am in, down and as comfortable as possible whilst sat on the wooden sawhorse that passes as the seating arrangement. The panorama in front of me could easily be a scene from a Disney film minus the characters bursting into song. Pheasants of both sexes, grey squirrels availing themselves of the free buffet designed to draw in our foreign visitors, robins flitting hither and thither. As the sun passes the treetops in front of me a small movement catches my eye just below the crest of the ridge. The deer crosses the clearing at a pace chastened by a male pheasant until it is lost from view behind the trees to my left. The rifle is already solidly positioned and ready to go when she comes back into view. There is no such thing as a free lunch in this clearing and payment came in the form of a Sierra bullet guided to its target by the Schmidt. Deer down and no medic in sight.
Sunday morning and once again the chill air blows the cobwebs away. On the way out I am asked where I would like to go. As I had a feeling that the baited area would yield another result I chose to return for a second stint, this proved to be a more uncomfortable experience. The enclosure had now been cooling for the whole night and entering it was a sharp reminder on the benefits of warm clothing. Or in my case the lack of it. I had presumed that I was off for a good walk and had dressed accordingly. By the time the sun started to rise my core temperature had dropped sufficiently to leave me with the odd shiver. I donned another layer, one potato sack left in the corner possibly just for such an occasion makeshift but effective enough. The light now good enough to see by revealed a brown shape already out and feeding in exactly the same spot as the previous evening. Another alien off to meet its maker.
The final tally for the five of us.... seven Muntjac, one roe one fallow and three charlies.
Roll on the next visit to the leafy south.
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