Out this morning down near Andover on a piece of ground where we have permission.
Arrived on the ground (a valley with a nice combination of woodland and arable) at 04:40 and headed off to one part of the ground while my stalking mentor headed the other way. No deer visible through the valley so crossed the road and headed up the footpath along the hedge and up the hill.
Rabbits and hares everywhere (well, it is near Watership Down ) but not a deer to be seen. Glassing the valley I turned back to look up the hedgeline and see a fox trotting towards me. About 50 yards away it stops and stares at me and the dog, but it's still too close to the skyline for comfort. I give a couple of calls on the buttolo and on it comes. 30 yards away it stops again and sticks its head into the hedgerow for a sniff - a fatal mistake. It's a big vixen - the keeper will be pleased. Time now, 05:20
Carry on stalking carefully up the hedgerow, glassing the valley all the time for any sign of deer, but nothing shows at all. 10 minutes later my mentor calls me on the radio - he's shot a buck. Time now, 05:30
Reach the top of the hill and carry on down the other side. Make use of a gap in the hedge to look the other side, but nothing there either. Step back and there, 50 yards away, is a roe buck on the path trotting towards me He must have been in the hedgerow all the time and decided now was a good time to come out.
He's a nice buck, and we have two mature bucks to take in the cull plan, so with the dog sat beside me I put the rifle up on the sticks. With the buck coming towards me there's no chance for a shot to the boiler room. He stops 42 metres away when he sees the dog. He lifts his head up for a better view and I decide on a neck shot. Time now, 05:40
Gralloch the buck and we decide to call it a day. There are two yearlings to take in the plan, but the season is still young with the rut yet to come. On the way back to the car I spy a doe on the far side of the valley, browsing by a feeder, and wonder if she's got a fawn somewhere nearby. It takes an hour to collect both bucks but we're still away before 07:00. It makes up for those mornings when we've stalked hard for hours with nothing to show for it.
The buck weighed 42lbs and is hanging in the larder now. I'll put him in the chiller later today and butcher him in a day or two's time. When I prepare the head I'll post his age, but I'd think he's maybe 4. The other buck was 7 or 8 and starting to go back. There should still be a cracking six-pointer on the ground from last year, so we'll try to spy him next time we're down, though he's safe now for this season.