Having failed to pull the trigger on a sika stag (again) with Jamross I headed south as I did last year to try for a Norfolk red with Jim from DVGM. Last year I was successful and picked up a nice 11 point head that was one of three stags living together, the other two apparently being considerably larger didn’t show themselves.
I arrived at Jim’s just after 5am and we loaded up his vehicle and headed for Norfolk. I was stalking on the same estate as last time and was put in a high seat a couple of fields away from where I had been last year. Jim told me that Steve the keeper had said that there were two stags running together in the area, one was 14 points and the other 20 points and he didn’t want either of them shot, or to put it another way I couldn’t afford to shoot them!!! Anything else was OK except for the other 20 pointer on the estate that had gone missing for a week or so.
As we approached the high seat location Jim’s lamp revealed a roe in the field and he said that if the reds didn’t show I could take a roebuck or muntjac if I saw them. I quickly got up in the seat, loaded up and got ready. As the light started to improve and the pheasants and partridges were getting fidgety I could see five roe grazing in the field to my left, all does and no bucks though very nice to see. There were a lot of hares around too and I enjoyed seeing them at very close range under the high seat. As the light got better I thought I heard a stag roar a couple of times in the woods a few fields away but I wasn’t sure.
The morning was a blank and after having lunch with my daughter who lives in Cambridge I returned to Jim’s at 4pm to go back and try again. This time I was to go into a high seat near the one I had used the previous year but this time I would be facing down a ditch where the deer came out from the wood into the field on most evenings. The high seat was out in the field but had a copse as a backdrop and any deer exiting the wood shouldn’t see me.
The weather forecast wasn’t great as heavy rain was expected and it was cold, and Jim and Steve both chuckled as I climbed up into the somewhat exposed seat, mumbling about the Welsh being a hardy breed but feeling the chill push of a strong breeze on my cheek and a few drops of rain starting to fall as they headed back for the warmth of Steve’s cottage after another lecture on the evils (or potential financially crippling cost) of shooting the 20 pointer, I said that I would be thrilled just to see it. The wind was from my left and blowing directly across me but not likely to cause me a problem.
I settled in and got prepared leaving the caps on the scope and binos in place to avoid problems later. Pheasants started to go to roost and I was amused by watching a conveyer belt of five or six squirrels carrying maize cobs down the ditch and into the wood.
Apart from fractious squabbling pheasants settling down for the night, the rain was holding off and all was quiet until a roar came from deep within the woods, quickly followed by another and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, there is something quite primaeval about the roar of a red stag, I was starting to think that something might happen.
I was watching the exit to the wood intently and the light was beginning to go with shapes becoming indistinct. I started to imagine that I could see something just inside the wood that wasn’t there a few minutes before but it was nothing. After I had been up the seat for about 45 minutes I glanced to my left and was surprised to see a stag a few yards clear of the wood, he had come out about 50 yards to the left of where I was expecting and was making quick progress into the field. I checked him over through the binos and stopped counting when I got to 12 points as this was clearly the off limits 14 pointer. He wasn’t very long or heavy in the beam, possibly a very promising young stag, it was difficult to tell, but anyway he was not on the menu and I just watched him as he progressed up the field alongside me. When he was level with me and about 40 yards to my left he stopped and looked directly at me. From that position I did not have the backdrop of the copse behind me and he could probably see me, whatever he didn’t stay long and moved a bit more quickly up the field and into the maize behind me.
I wondered where the 20 pointer was as they were supposed to be bosom buddies but another roar reverberating from inside the woods told the story, they weren’t going to be mates for the next couple of weeks and the smaller stag was making an early exit.
The light was fading fast and had almost gone after another 20 minutes and I decided that I would not be able to tell whether a stag was shootable or not in a few more minutes and unloaded the rifle. Almost as I completed the operation I looked up and there were miraculously eight or nine dark shapes right where they should be that were not there a few moments before. As they came onto the stubble that gave a light background a quick look through the binos confirmed that they were hinds and calves and still no big stag. At that precise moment there was another roar from just behind them and an enormous stag stepped into the field. There was no doubt about it, this was the 20 pointer, he had long sweeping and very symmetrical antlers, heavy in the beam and with his tops covered in tines. I couldn’t count them all but I wasn’t going to argue with 20 and he was mightily impressive. The hinds moved out into the field and the stag followed roaring every 30 seconds or so. I put the crosshairs on him and squeezed the trigger on the empty chamber, I don’t know why, maybe I was saying to myself that he could have been mine, or maybe it was something else, I don’t know, it was just something I felt the need to do.
None of this had spooked the deer and they were all within 30 yards of me, I could see the breath of the stag every time he roared and was fixated watching this magnificent beast dominating his ground. I decided to have some fun and roared back expecting to be so hopeless and unconvincing that the whole lot would bolt but no, he stopped, looked towards me and answered and for the next five minutes we had a conversation. He never came in my direction or deviated from his course but every roar from me got an immediate response. Maybe I wasn’t loud enough and appeared to be further away than I was, whatever it was he wasn’t going to be bothered to come looking for a fight and after something like 10 of the most exciting minutes of my stalking life he and his ladies walked calmly into the maize, with him still roaring intermittently.
Steve and Jim duly arrived and were delighted that I had not only seen the 20 pointer but at very close range and completely understood that on this particular night it would not have been the thing to take a shot, even if a shootable beast had presented itself. In a way I was pleased that it was the 14 pointer that came out earlier, although at the time I was cursing it, as a shot would have kept the big boy in the woods and I wouldn’t have seen him. I couldn’t have been more happy that I spent the money to not get a shot, just to sit in a privileged position and watch this spectacle was worth every penny and I will never forget it.
I had had four stalks this week with no shot fired but thanks to Brian and Jim seldom have I had a better time even with the trigger pulled and it got me thinking, On the long drive home to Wales, still buzzing from the overall experience, I started to wonder what the actual difference was between stalking up to a beast or pulling the trigger on an empty chamber and actually shooting a beast in terms of personal fulfilment and to be honest I’m not sure that I know the answer. One tangible difference on the last night was that we weren’t going to have to manhandle probably all of 200kg and more of stag in the dark!