As mentioned in part 1 of my inane ramblings on my 'weekday home permission' there was 2 roebucks that I had marked down in particular to take out when the season opened. I also mentioned that due to growth of cover the best chance I had to stalk in most of the woods on the estate was April when I only have Bluebells to contend with.
Having succesfuly grassed the aforementioned beast the second buck I was after was a middle-aged buck with a malformed head who I had seen in velvet and hard horn when culling does and doing a census in March. He resided in a stretch of mature, broadleaf woodland around 400m thick that runs along the slope down to a small river at the Eastern edge of the estate. The first time I tried to grass him after quietly stalking the length of the wood just on last light I saw him with a doe on the other side of the river, over the march! Everytime I had seen him when he was out of season he was on my side of the river...
In the 3rd week in April the cold weather meant the cover was still not advanced and some blue skies had me hopeful as I set out. My first port of call was to spy from the top of the steep bank down a track where some big pipes crossed the river. I got my bipod sticks shorterned and sat down with the rifle at the ready grateful for the long back on my Nomad jacket to keep my backside warm against the frosty bracken! After about 20 minutes I could see a young roe doe on the other side of the river moving through the rough grass near the waterside. Presently a buck joined her and I thought 'it will be that young 4 pointer I have seen there regularily.' However, to my dismay my Swarvoski 10x40 binos revealed him to be the malform! Although just watching the activity had warmed me up I was willing him to be on my side. Luckily the unseasonably dry spring had meant the river level was low so I started praying!
Suddendly, for no obvious reason the doe took off at rate of knots and as I lost them out of site behind some mature larch I heard her splash across the river towards me. As she crossed from right to left on my riverbank 120 yards below me I was delighted to see that the buck had followed her, I was less pleased, however to note that they were still as a canter. I considered trying a bark to get them to stop but they were just travelling too fast, within seconds they had dissapeared in to the wood below me to my left, however at least they were on 'my' ground now! I waited about 5 minutes to see if they had reappeared and at that decide to try and pursue the buck.
The wood is difficult to stalk as, because of the steep, slippery slope and many steep sided burns that run in to the river the only real route is along the top where, in many places it is impossible not to be sky-lined and thus more obvious to the deer as a silouette. Anyway, I slowly picked my way along at snails pace glassing every couple of steps. It was difficult to know how far they had gone as I don't know what had made the doe take off. I had stalked for about 25 minutes and the dusk was creeping in when I saw a 'black' shape below out of the corner of my eye about 60 yards away. (In winter coat they so often look very dark against a light, bluebells in this case background) As I very slowly raised the binos on the sticks I saw it was my malform buck, 'yes, perfect' I thought. There was no sign of the doe and the buck was thrashing some low holly bushes. His chest was covered by a small holly bush but his neck was clear, the problem was it was going up and down at a rate of nots as he frayed the holly bush.
The light was now fading rapidly so I gave him a bark to get him to look at me and drew a bead on his neck...the problem was as he raised it his neck was now behind the same holly bush as his chest, arghhh...A mexican stand off ensued and I stood rock still for what felt like 5 minutes but was probably one. Eventually after much sniffing and the usual 'head bobbing' (in an attempt to catch you out) he took a step forward and, to my relief had another fray of the bush. He then wandered about 15 yards forward and clear of the holly scrub, this time a bark from me left him in splendid isolation with no ocver in the way. The rifle was still on the sticks and had followed his progress so at under 80 yards I drew a bead on his chest and gently squeezed the trigger. There was a good, solid 'thump' noise and he gave a really defined kick out with his back legs. Perfect, or so I thought..
The buck ran off too the left along the bank and after about 20 yards dissappeared in to some cover. I waited the usual 4 or 5 minutes, perhaps less as it was now nearly dark and set off. At the point at which I shot him I could see some pins but no blood but as it was quite dark by now I wasn't too worried so I set off in the direction I had seen him run. Unfortunately as he had ran along a well-used rack (run) his slot marks weren't distinguishable and I still couldn't see any blood. What followed was a good 45 minutes of searching, luckily I always keep a wind-up torch in my roe sack of which I was most grateful this night. It was just as I was beginning to think I needed to put a call in to a local 'keeper friend who has deer dog that I had one last rake about and went lower than I had previously done so. Suddenly my spirits were raised by what looked like a bit of beige under a thick holly thicket near the riverbank. As I neared relief flooded in as the blob of beige indeed turned out to be the light under belly of the buck, I touched his eye with my stick and with no reaction got down on my hands and knees and after a prickly crawl dragged him out for a better look. Looking at the leaves on the floor above he had evidently run about 100 yards and then falled down the steep bank another 100 and only stopped as he got wedged under the thick holly!
After the usual external checks and bleeding him out I proceeded with the gralloch. The top of his heart bottom of his lungs were smashed to bits by the 100 grain .243 bullet and I can only think he ran so far as his adrenaline levels were up from me barking a challenge at him not once but twice! The bullet had managed to miss a rib on the exit side so that hole wasn't very big which perhaps explains the lack of a blood trail.
On closer inspection of his head it looks like he had damaged one antler in velvet, not sure how, perhaps on a fence?
A few more pics from the next morning:
In to the roe sack and a long and hard climb up the 'skitey' bank rounded off an enjoyable stalk grassing an animal I had noted down to harvest for some months.
As mentioned, by the look of it I had assumed that the malformation was caused by damage in velvet but not long afterwards at our local DMG meet I showed the pics to our Chairman and he said, 'I saw a head just like that shot the other day by a friend.' It turns out that it was less thatn 1/4 mile away the other side of the river and set me wondering if it could be some form of genetic deformity in that local population, if it wasn't it's a hell of a coincidence.