Following my first two unsuccessful stalks in awful weather conditions with Sikamalc a fortnight ago, I posted on the SD that I was looking for another chance to shoot a deer in the London area, as Malc is fully booked for the summer. Amongst the responses I received (thanks everyone!), came one very generous one from a gentleman offering to take me out after muntjac on his ground for no charge, just out of the goodness of his heart and to help a newcomer out. I wonít name him as I suspect he doesnít want to be swamped with requests for similar treatment, but I just want to say how much I appreciate it. Itís good to know that there are genuinely generous, helpful people out there, prepared to take a chance on someone they donít know from Adam.
Anyway, we met at the appointed place around 5pm, and headed off to a large wood which we slowly walked through to help me get my bearings. As always, I was looking to learn from watching and was actively encouraged to ask questions (but quietly, without slamming the car door, sorryÖ). It was a different proposition from Malcís ground in West Sussex, for a start because it wasnít hammering down with rain and the ground wasnít a quagmire. Of course, this also meant that leaves crunched underfoot and it was a lot harder to move stealthily. There was quite a lot of low shrubbery and undergrowth in what I was told had been an impenetrable wood up to a few years ago. It had taken a lot of work to clear the rides, open the woods out a bit and generally make it possible to stalk in them. Evidence of muntjac was everywhere with slots dotted around the ground.
The brilliant deer dog several times pointed insistently at patches of wood but without itsí nose, we could not see beyond the vegetation, and pushed on along the rides. At one point, the dog was very insistent indeed, we froze, until it flushed a hen pheasant from a ditch at our feet, causing me to noisily burst out laughing (again, sorryÖ). However, after an hour or so, we hadnít seen any muntjac, and so repaired to a double highseat at the crossing of the main, grassy ride and a clearing leading onto a wheat field, and settled down to await the deer.
This was my first time in a highseat, and I had to experiment with the various positions around it to be able to bring the rifle to bear in different directions. After an hour or so, we had seen many squirrels, jays, pheasants, but no sight of a muntjac. And yet they were around, as every so often, two bucks would start challenging each other, invisibly around us. Iíd heard them before, but never really paid that much attention. Sitting in this vantage point, I found myself hunting by ear, working out where they were, where they were moving too, where they were most likely to appear if they ever broke cover, only they didnít. We had one fleeting glimpse of a small doe right at the edge of the field for a couple of seconds, and that was it.
Around 8.30pm, my host suggested that we descend to ground level and have a look in the field before we lost the light. He crawled under the hedge, and came back signalling that there were three deer in the field. I took his place, and sure enough, there was a large buck around 200m away in the top corner, a very small buck and a doe around 180m away. As the wheat was about 30-40cm high already, they kept dipping in and out of sight, not offering a shot. The large buck vanished quite quickly, which is how he became large in the first place, and the two others kept coming in and out of sight. I settled the rifle on the bipod and followed them through the sight, waiting for the confirmation of which one to shoot. Eventually, I was told to take the doe if a shot presented itself. Also, I was told to stop shaking! Which I did, especially as I lay there hoping for a shot for a good ten minutes. I have to admit that when I did shoot, it was a slightly desperate shot with a rifle Iíd never used before. The wheat was halfway up the doe, and I aimed just above it to avoid the bullet being deflected. I must have unconsciously aimed a little higher than I planned because the bullet went over the top of the deer, damn it! Interestingly, the doe and the small buck didnít immediately run off. With hindsight, I could have taken the shot again, but I didnít have the confidence. Next time, I will.
It wasnít all over yet though, because it seems that what eventually drove the muntjac away was the arrival of a heavily pregnant roe doe, who ambled along the hedge, oblivious to our presence until she paused perhaps 10-15m in front of us. We waited until she moved off of her own accord, and I managed to take the blurry iPhone snap below, having left my proper camera on the far side of the hedge. Again, a privilege to share her cud-chewing at such close quarters: I hope she successfully delivers a couple of bucks for next season! Then we moved off, glassing one last field on the way back out of pure hope, but that was our lot.
So although no deer were hurt in the writing of this post, another valuable experience, and a great new encounter with someone that I will no doubt be seeing again. Sorry I disappointed you, I realise that you really, really wanted me to bag my first deer. I promise to come back and make amends as soon as possible! In the meantime, time to get some practice in down the range.