I was out last night helping my friend and mentor guide a couple of French stalkers who are over here for three days after roe and muntjac. His normal 2nd guide was away, so I was standing in as relief guide. Because my labrador is not 100% steady I decided to leave her back at home, not wanting to get too embarassed in front of the clients.
After zeroing on the ranges we headed off to stalk. I took my client out to stalk through the woods. We saw a couple of roe and then spooked seven fallow as we moved quietly (but not quietly enough!) through the first wood.
On exiting the wood we stood by the hedge which links it to the next wood and spied across the valley. We could see a spiker roe buck on the far side, as well as the fallow at the far end of the valley. As well as being a difficult stalk - pretty much all open to view - my client was not keen on the roe as it was a only a yearling, so we decided to carry on stalking where we were. We then spied the other side of the hedge and out came two muntjac - a doe and then a buck. They were about 120 yards away browsing along the side of the pen. They carried on, eventually stopping under one of the keeper's feeders where they proceeded to munch away at the grain. The doe moved into the wood but the buck stayed at the feeder, now about 90-100 yards away. With another oil drum feeder in front of us I placed my bum bag (with all my gralloching kit) on top of the drum, the client rested the rifle on top of it and said he was comfortable to take the shot.
At the first shot the buck just stood there with no apparent reaction, and then started to scratch its head with a rear leg I asked the client to reload and take another shot, which he did. At this point the buck ran into the wood with his tail raised. We both thought it was a miss, as the buck's movement after the shot looked normal.
We walked up to where the buck had been standing and, remembering the advice from the deer dog day, I checked out where the bullet would have hit. All I could find were a couple of white hairs - no blood, no bone, nothing. We moved into the wood in the direction the buck had gone, at which point the client saw a muntjac run away with it's tail raised. From the look of it, it was moving pretty easily. We returned to where the buck had been standing and searched again, but still couldn't find any blood. It was now getting dark, so we decided to head back along the hedge towards the car where the other client was waiting. As we did so, we spooked the same muntjac, which ran off with its tail up. I went up to where it had been standing and - again remembering the dog day - checked the ground. Using the torch, all I could find was one leaf with a single spot of blood. Back at the car we concluded that the shot must have been low, just creasing the brisket.
The client was naturally upset at the turn of events, but having driven over from France earlier that day we didn't feel there was any more we could do that night so they drove off to get some supper. We headed back, but as we drove I kept thinking about the muntjac and that blood, so I said I'd head back to the same ground this morning with the dog to check it out again. Although I kept telling myself any wound was minimal, I don't like the thought of the buck being out there injured. I got to the ground at around 05:30 and spent the first 30 minutes spying the ground. I then stalked back through the same paths as yesterday, working my way back to where the buck had been shot. I examined the scene again in daylight and couldn't see anything. Turning along the hedge I had the dog by me. I didn't have her on a long lead (sorry Stone and Mark ) but instead walking at my side. When we got to where the muntjac had been spooked, the lab showed a lot of interest. I followed her on as she moved forwards, nose down and tail wagging for 25 yards or so through the undergrowth. She then darted forwards and out the other side of the hedge. It was then I saw her run up to a dead muntjac, give it a desultory lick, sit there and look at me
In the field I checked the buck. He was definitely dead (and stiff), and I could now see where the bullet had gone in - low and back - with no noticeable expansion on the exit wound (he was using a .243). I gralloched the beast out and there was a lot of grain and green stuff which presumably had helped to plug the hole. Throughout this, the lab looked well pleased:
I texted my mentor who was guiding the client this morning. The client was naturally delighted that we'd recovered the buck.
On reflection, I realise a number of errors that I made:
1. I didn't take the dog with me yesterday evening.
2. From the evidence I saw (minimal hair, no blood, no bone, apparently healthy muntjac) I made the mistaken assumption the buck was not badly hit. As they say, don't assume.
3. I followed up too quickly - I should have given the beast 15 minutes after the shot. This is one reason I prefer stalking in the morning, as you're not fighting the fading daylight.
4. I should have kept the lab on a long lead, as if the muntjac hadn't been dead the results could have been bad
On the plus side, the dog was great. Even though the scent was 10 hours old she followed the line like a good'un. Also, the buck was recovered, even though I'd failed to catch up with him the evening before. Most of all, many thanks to Stone, Mark, Muddy, Poppins and everyone else who helped organise the SD Dog Deer Day. I picked up a lot from the day, some of which I could put into practice today, the rest of which I'll try to remember for next time.