We were to be stalking up in the hills this time in and around some forestry land.
We set off from Johns place at 05.00.
It had been a clear night with some light rain and there was frost and ice everywhere.
On route to the middle of nowhere again, and we were lucky not to collect a number of deer on the way, they were running across the road every hundred metres at one point.
After forty minutes, a few slides, and a steep off road hill climb we parked up and looked out on to a winter wonder land.
It was ice cold, there was frost everywhere, there was a very slight breeze and a little crunchy under foot in places. It was a good start.
It was just getting to that eerie predawn light.
I got kitted up and we set off.
We navigated the edge of a quarry and glassed about for activity, but only a few bunnies showed.
We had just entered a clearing when there was a crash as a buck broke from right to left, it would have been impossible to see him had he not moved, as even the bunny that was sat less than ten metres away was still just a dark blob on an otherwise white background.
We gave him a minute, then edged toward the exit of the clearing, on the off chance that there were others in the area, and as we emerged we could just make him out in the distance heading for the wood we were going to stalk.
We glassed an adjacent wood, but nothing was showing, so we turned right and headed uphill toward the main forest.
As we went along, stopping to glass all around every ten or so metres, the light came up, and I could see for miles, and it was white, everywhere was just white. Luckily at this time there was very little wind, or it would have also been bitterly cold.
After a five minute glassing walk we entered the main wood, then made our way down hill to where it opened out on the valley below, and a stunning view.
All around us was dense pine forest.
An almost sheer drop sixty metres below us was the valley bottom.
The opposite slope was fully forested for as far as the eye could see.
Four hundred metres to our right were the sandy white walls of the remains of an old quarry with free planted shrubs here and there.
To our right was an almost ninety degree slope which stretched for four hundred metres. This had not been planted with only the occasional shrub and grass growing there.
The whole area was covered in frost.
At this point it would probably have been a good idea to take some pictures, but I was on a mission and the only camera I had was my phone, which I must admit I was starting to think I might need to call for help with it, so no photos, although John did take a few and he might post them later.
We allowed a few minutes to adjust to the surroundings, and began to glass the slope.
Almost immediately John spotted a buck at 150 metres.
I moved to clear the bush I was behind but then had trouble finding a stable footing for the sticks.
Just as I got the rifle up something spooked the buck from above it, and it turned and headed off down hill.
I watched it go, then as I looked up I saw that it had started to snow. It proceeded to white out and I could only see about fifty metres in front of me.
We decided not to stalk along the slope as it was a little precarious under foot, and instead we headed back the way we came in, mainly to get us into shelter and out of the bitterly cold wind and driven snow.
Another steady walk back across the field, glassing all the way, yet more snow, but as we were on the leeward side of the main wood there was less wind.
Ten minutes of steady progress and we were there.
We entered the smaller wood about 150 metres into the field and, although the floor covering was wet, we were still having to move very slowly and pick our foot placement carefully, but still breaking a few twigs.
After half an hour I was getting the hang of not tripping over Breeze, avoiding walking into low branches, quietly pulling myself clear of snagging bushes, navigating my sticks and rifle through the otherwise impassable openings and still glassing as far as I could ahead (a little bit like a cross between the scene from the film Entrapment where Sean Connery has Catherine Zeta-Jones navigating string like a cats cradle, and Jack Douglass in a carry on film), when John said we may as well exit the wood and re-enter it further down, ďas we are getting to a bit thatís hard to find a way through!Ē.
So out we went.
We traversed another hundred metres of field then dropped back in.
The first thing we see is a few scrapes, then a squirrel, and by looking hard into the distance I could make out what appeared to be the end of the wood.
Again we followed the well used track, and it looked like someone had had a JCB in there where the badgers had been busy.
Another eighty metres of far easier to navigate wood, meaning it had to be very slow progress as we were more exposed, and the end of the wood was clearly in sight. This was the laying up area for the deer.
I was very slowly moving around to find the best line of fire allowing me to cover the main track and surrounding area when Breeze picked up on something.
John was out to my right and he glassed the area and confirmed that we had found the right animal.
Out in the field there were two young bucks, that looked like brothers, having a pushing match.
I moved position but there was no chance of seeing anything, so I upped sticks and stalked/crawled toward John.
When I got to him there were so many trees, dead branches, shrubs, long grass and fencing in the way that I had absolutely no chance of a clear shot. I had to move.
From where I was it looked like there was a slightly clearer patch ten metres further on, but I would need to move both forward and left. The danger was that if I went too far and there was another deer laid up it might alert the others.
The sun was now shining.
It took another five minutes to inch forward ten metres, then as I stood up I had limited head room meaning I was standing at an odd angle.
I still had no clear line of sight, but I had two possible shots if the deer obliged.
I sat watching the pattern they had been working, then with a few more shuffles I found a route which, although still very much like threading a needle, gave me an eight inch or so hole to shoot through.
I stood up and put the rifle on the sticks, but I was too high.
I got Johnsí sticks, and they were too low.
I went back to my sticks, leant them back to clear the branch above me, then checked in front of the muzzle, only to find I had a dead branch about a foot away.
I moved back into a clearer area, straightened the sticks, checked everything three times over, then looked through the scope.
I found that I was aiming through a gap that was a good ten inches height wise, but was probably less than two inches width wise. There were two lines of barbed wire after it, with blades of tall dried grass in front and behind it, and the wind was wiping all the branches and grass around. In other words it was an easy shot and one that I have taken many times before.
It was a very long five minutes until one deer lay down, and the other looked like it was moving into my line if sight.
Most of the time he was facing me whilst grazing, but he eventually turned almost broadside, and not expecting another opportunity I aimed slightly forward, released the safety and squeezed the trigger.
He dropped on the spot, and the other buck only ran thirty yards before stopping.
I cycled the bolt, but failed to pull the bolt fully back and it didnít feel right.
I drew the bolt back slowly again and sure enough there was no round in there.
A final click of the bolt and all was good.
After a few minutes, with the shot buck still in view, and clearly not moving, John was now directly behind me, and almost filming through my scope, I asked if we should go for the second buck as I could still see him. W
ith Johnsí confirmation I looked around for a less restricted view as I had no shot on.
By moving back a little more I would have a lot more visibility and options, and as any older deer would have been up by now I checked around, and decided I was ok to move.
A shuffle which took about two minutes to complete gave me a better but still limited line if sight.
I was all set, but the buck was behind a tree, patience required, donít rush the shot.
A minute later and he was still edging closer but turning this way and that.
Another minute and he decided to move right up to his brother, he paused and at the same time gave me another slightly quartering shot, move from the scope and check my line of sight, all clear, one slow half breath out, pause, safety off, squeeze.
He dropped on the spot. Cycle the bolt (fully this time).
After the normal waiting/observation time, and I could see him lying very still from where I was standing, we moved forward.
I ran through the grallock, and even though both had been shot at an angle there was no spoil, very little meat damage, and the carcass cleaned up perfectly.
Now for the fun.
Each carcass weighed close to 20kg, and I had them both in one Roe sack.
Robbo suggested I walk in a straight line back to the main forest which, even though it was up hill, was nearer than the truck.
We traversed the first hundred metres along the outside of the wood then, at a break in the fence, I turned right and Robbo went straight.
He must have been wetting himself laughing.
I hadnít gone more than five metres when I had to drop under a low branch. I took a knee, shuffled forward enough to clear the obstacle then hoisted myself back up. This was going to be fun.
There was a thirty degree uphill slope for the first 350 metres, the ground was wet and sticking to my wellies so they became more like moon boots with every step.
I set off like a prancing horse.
By 200 metres I was going a little slower.
By 250 I was a lot slower and my lungs were ready to burst.
It was a good job it was still freezing despite the sun or I would have been seriously overheating.
By 300 metres all I could hear was my own heart thumping in my ears, and it takes some sound to drown out my tinnitus so it must have been loud.
Thankfully the ground levelled off at 350 and I quickly regained my normal heart rate.
One of the buckles came undone on my Roe sack, but there was no way I was stopping to re-attach it, so I gripped the strap and hung on to it.
By the time I was able to stop, 150 metres later, my breathing and heart rate were pretty much back to normal.
It has been a great three days stalking, and I have gathered a mountain of information.
I canít thank John enough and would recommend a trip out with him to anyone.