At midday on Saturday, I found myself engaged in the traditional rural pastime of leaning on a gate, waiting and watching whatever happened to go by. The gate was that of a B&B in Sussex, I was waiting for Sikamalc to come and pick me up, and I was watching variously two cock pheasants in the garden over the road and the big fluffy cat who every so often jumped over my head on his patrol round the walls and fences. About an hour after the appointed time, a car pulled up and the driver, Wadashot, who I have to thank for acting as my chauffeur all weekend, emerged, saying that Malc had sent him to pick me up. On the way, we had an impromptu IT support chat as it emerged that Wadashot was having trouble with his PC, whilst listening to a trance remix of the theme from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Ten minutes later, we arrived at the bothy where Malcom and three others down for a weekend’s deerstalking were drinking tea whilst watching “The Cruel Sea” on television. The tea part may seem like a trivial detail, but it’s not because in the next 24 hours I drank more tea than I probably do in a month or two usually. It was like an episode of The Archers: every single event was punctuated by drinking cups of tea. Someone mentioned how they didn’t like Earl Grey. I attempted my “proper tea is theft” joke, but only one person understood it, exclaiming “My God, that’s a pretty highbrow joke! I barely got it”.
Almost a year ago I’d already been to Malcolm’s patch for a first attempt at stalking, but it had been a complete washout, with heavy rain and wind, so Malcolm had kindly invited me back for free to make up for it. Of course as a result, I’ve made further bookings so rather than a pure act of generosity, it’s perhaps more akin to a free sample, but that’s fine with me. Anyway, Malcolm was really keen to help me shoot my first deer, but recent weather conditions (it hasn’t actually stopped raining since last April) had meant that the deer were staying in cover later and only started moving when it was almost dark. But on this particular occasion, the weather was dry for a change, although the ground certainly wasn’t, and in fact it was starting to feel a bit like Spring. After stopping at the range so that I could acquaint myself with Malcolm’s rifle and check that I could actually hit things – which I can do adequately enough, if not yet brilliantly, but I’ve been practicing – we headed off for a double highseat in a clearing in quite a dense wood, hoping to ambush some fallow deer should they cruise by at dusk.
After about an hour in the seat, the cold started to seep in. Earlier on I’d been thinking that I had dressed too warmly, but as the sun went down, that stopped being a concern. What was more worrying was the total absence of any deer. We kept scanning the edges of the clearing, peering between gaps in the trees into the woods looking for a hint of movement or the horizontal line of a deer’s back contrasting against the vertical tree trunks, but there was nothing happening. Until suddenly, Malcolm nudged me: in the woods behind us to the left was a white fallow doe, maybe 120 metres away, broadside on. “I’d shoot that”, said Malcolm, “but you need a clear shot for your first deer”. I quickly spotted another slightly darker doe. For the next half hour or so, they kept flitting in and out of sight in the thick wood, but they never presented a shot again, or came out into the open. To be honest, I had in fact hoped that they would vanish, because irrational as it is, I didn’t want my first deer to be one that looks like it comes from a fairy tale Disney cartoon. Somehow, a white doe doesn’t look like a proper deer.
By that time, I’d twisted myself round to rest the rifle over the back of the seat. Malcolm told me to swing back round again. “If they come out again, it’ll be in front” he said. Maybe ten minutes later, as Malcolm was looking behind into the woods, I spotted a dark grey fallow about 50m in front to the right, cautiously stepping out of the woods and across the clearing. One second there had been nothing there, the next there was a fallow deer in front of me. Their ability to appear suddenly then evaporate just as quickly is extraordinary. Everything then happened within perhaps ten seconds. I nudged Malcolm, resisting the urge to shout “There’s one!” or more likely “Oooooo! Ooooo!”, who whispered to me to not make any sudden movements. “It’s a fallow pricket!”. I found it in the scope, but it was moving. “I’m going to whistle to stop it” said Malcolm. As he did so, it stopped momentarily, raised its’ head and pricked up its’ ears to see what the noise was, and I squeezed the trigger. The deer made a little jump, and then ran off to the left into the wood. “Can you see it to shoot it again?” asked Malcolm. I tried, but I couldn’t see it clearly in the trees. “It’s lost” he said, as my heart sank. I had been pretty sure that I’d hit it just where I should, but then again I’m new to this and am not hugely confident of my own ability. But maybe ten metres into the wood, the deer started tottering a bit, and keeled over. We waited for five minutes, then climbed down the ladder and walked up to the deer, which was dead as a doornail, shot exactly where it should be after all. “Congratulations, you’ve shot a fallow pricket” said Malcolm as he shook my hand.
At this point, things became difficult, because although a fallow pricket doesn’t look that big from atop a highseat, it’s actually easily twice the size and weight of a roe, somewhere in the region of 80 to 90 kilos. We had to drag and carry this thing back through the woods, over streams, making sure to avoid any mud entering it and damaging the meat. After all, the moment it’s dead, it’s food. This raised another problem of course: how the hell was I going to carry this thing home on the train? Even stripped down to just the carcass, it was still maybe 50kgs and 1,30 long. The answer was that it wasn’t possible. Malcolm offered to cut it up into as many cuts as I could carry, which would have worked but been awkward. Luckily, one of the other chaps who was there with Wadashot had shot his first roe the same weekend, but he had more hungry mouths to feed, so he offered to do a swap. So I took his roe back on the train packed neatly into my collapsible coolbox, and he took the pricket. I owe him a debt of gratitude for that! Now it’s hanging in my customised shed, and I’ll butcher it all up nicely this evening, in the garden, by Camping Gaz gaslight.
Huge thanks to Sikamalc for a great weekend and all the work he put in, not only in terms of stalking but also hospitality. Also to Wadashot for transport and good company, to his friend (not an SD member so I'm not going to mention names without express permission) for swapping deer with me, and to everyone else for general friendliness!