I should begin by thanking everyone for their generosity with their hard-earned advice leading up to this trip. I can honestly say that without the benefit of a few of the tips here at times I would have been truly in the soup!
The syndicate covers about 1500 acres of forestry and open hill in the Scottish Borders. The terrain is in fact the very picture of the best of the Scottish lowlands, situated not too far from what was sign posted as the "scenic" route to Edinburgh from Carlisle.
I have the pleasure of sharing this lease with Londonhunter of this board and our mutual friend B although for one reason or another had been unable to actually go up there and stalk some deer.
We made plans to go up together and walk the boundary with the syndicate manager Peter on the 9th of this month finally, with Londonhunter and B to fly up via Glasgow and myself to drive from London.
The day finally arrived and I set off in good time to arrive at the B&B at the arranged time of 4 pm. The motorways in Britain are almost uniquely stressful; a sort of grinding monotony punctuated by moments of random madness at the hands of one's compatriots, so getting past Carlisle and onto the winding B roads of Scotland was a relief. There were very few people on the road allowing a slower pace and time to look around.
And what sights to see Gentlemen! I must shamefully confess to having never quite gotten around to visiting Scotland in all of my 27 years "da'n sarf", and with visions of endless featureless heather moors , rocky outcrops, bemused sheep and chip shops as the terrain, was pleasantly surprised and delighted by how the green and varied flora that now spread for miles and miles around me contrasted with the rather generic towns and conurbations I had been passing through on the journey up.
Even the topography seemed to please some innate hunter’s instinct that I noticed had been growing stronger and stronger the further away from "civilisation" I travelled. I drove through valley after valley for 80 miles or so after coming off the motorway, sometimes along a burn on the valley floor, sometimes high up along the ridge line, all the time looking around and wondering why I would ever go back home.....
Patches of forest abounded, cover was plentiful and the sun was shining. I was as content as stalker could be and had not even got of the car yet!
To the B&B then and finding the entire village utterly deserted had my first, but by no means last, "what the hell do I do now" episode of the trip. When I say deserted, I mean deserted. After ringing the B&B bell and that of a few nearby houses for a good hour I was beginning to believe the village had gotten wind of my impending visit and decided to bugger off in simultaneous response, when a voice from behind me caused my heart to leap for joy.
I turned round to be confronted by what appeared to be Old Father Time's maiden aunt regarding me severely with a slightly puzzled look on a face that told every detail of the battle with the north wind it had fought for god knows how long. I put my best foot forward, mustered my most charming smile and launched into a spiel I had prepared on the way up about how I was honoured to be staying in this wonderful part of the world for a few days and gently asked what time the B&B opened. This seemed to please her somewhat and she started saying something in language that was possibly English but phrased in a such a way as to leave the casual southern listener none the wiser. After a ten minute monologue that definitely ended with "but ye nae kin what a roundel is" she wandered off waving cheerily.
Still no sign of Peter, Londonhunter or B.
Why did I not call anyone you may ask, well the answer to that question is that one of the charms of the Scottish Borders is that there can absolutely no mobile phone reception for miles and miles. One has to basically find the highest local peak, climb the *******, sit in a howling gale shouting at loved ones, trigger a feeding frenzy in the local midge population and then climb down and drive twenty miles back to the B&B. 1894's words about broken ankles and lack of communications were brought home to me in a very big way that first afternoon.
Finally I spotted a stirring in the upstairs window of the B&B and with all the lack of good grace and manners of a woman at shoe shop sale started banging on the door and haloo-ing in my best approximation of Scottish. Finally the patron opened up and led me to the cottage we had booked for the remainder of the week.
I had just gotten unpacked and comfortable when Londonhunter and B arrived in their hire car, closely followed by Peter. It was time to change into stalking clothes and walk the boundary.
We talked about this and that on the half-hour drive to the lease, stories and salutary tales on the minor trials and tribulations of being a member of stalking syndicate on this small and idiosyncratic Island of ours. At first one is not sure how seriously to take tales of sinister local "characters", paranoid shepherds, fascist dogwalkers and pathologically nosy neighbours. Not having been a member of a syndicate before, and therefore not having encountered the politics inextricably tied into them, I sort of let it wash over me and admired the view out the window.
I really must mention the landscape again, for it left the single biggest impression of any facet of the trip; it is difficult to describe the feel of the Lowlands to one who has not seen it for himself. I am probably exposing my own lack of travel when I say I had not seen anything quite like it, rather than doing the raw natural beauty of the area justice. I found that it pleased on both the aesthetic and that nascent hunter's instinctive level to extent where more or less mesmerised, Peter's landrover stopped and a Yorkshire burr interrupted my day-dreaming with a request to mark this spot as the turn off to the, no rather my, forest.
We drove around the perimeter rides to the east and west of the boundary and parked the truck for the hike up along the burn that bordered the eastern boundary, up the hill onto the open part of the ground.
This wee hill was marked "K2" on the map, we very soon found out why...... An elevation change of something like 200 metres in 250 metres damn near killed me there and then. Londonhunter, who although much fitter than I am so soon after my back operation, was in similarly desperate straits. B and Peter being fitter pushed on and said that they would wait for us at the top of the hill, B kindly offering to take my roe-sac for me. LH and I had ascended no more than a third of the way up, some sections needing us to crawl up slippery mound of rock after slippery moss covered log, on hands and knees and with raw and burning lungs sat to rest a moment on the hillside and look out over the valley. Our breathing was beginning to return to normal and some tentatively positive talk was just about beginning to become appropriate when the midges found us.
Gerry, you once told me that man was at the top of the food chain; well not around those parts sir, 'round there be the domain of the midge.
Having been given excellent advice by the fine gentlemen on this forum I had already taken a whore's bath in deet ( pardon the expression but one of our members had me chuckling for days with that one, you know who you are :Clap: ) I reached for midge net and gloves. Reached into thin air as it turned out, my midge net was in my Roesack!
With suddenly renewed vigour LH and I set off up the hill, pain was suddenly relative and we cheered each other on with various remarks not worth repeating here and all the while the midges bit and bit and bit. Cresting the hill purple faced, dermatologically violated and generally not a happy camper, I immediately saw that the climb had indeed been worth it.
Scottish forestry is a strange thing to one raised in the concrete jungle. My understanding of a forest approximates to the sort of thing shown in Robin Hood type television programs, Richmond park and the various bits of forestry in the south of England that it has been my pleasure to stalk hitherto. This was something else entirely. Rows and rows of Pine trees planted so closely that to look at them from a distance gave an optical illusion of sorts where the eye couldn't quite focus due to the sea of branches so closely intertwined over such a large area as to give the impression of some sort of serrated green felt magic eye puzzle wrapped around the hillsides. The trees are so dense that it is actually impossible to walk through the planted blocks. I say this as being the enthusiastic sort I did at one point attempt to take a short cut from one ride down to a lower one, a distance according to the map of 50 metres, only to emerge 20 minutes later 10 metres from where I had gone in, terrified, out of breath, with a mildly sprained ankle and sans my hat. I swore a mighty oath never to do that again, the experience leaving the same impression on me that I imagine is left upon a goldfish surviving being flushed down the loo. It was dark, featureless and full of hidden ruts, veritable grass covered chasms to trap and break legs. As I sat there thinking "bloody hell" it occurred to me that one would not want to retrieve a deer at last light from too far into forestry like this if at all possible....
The light was fading as our wee introductory walk took us back to the car. We headed back to the B&B for a bite to eat and a some rest before heading back again the next day. After 6 hours of driving and 4 of walking I was grateful for the curry the landlady had left in our cottage for us and after the meal and a shower retired to bed knowing full well that there was not a hope in hell of setting out again an hour and a half later for that morning’s stalk.
B was disappointed, he is a new stalker all of 3 outings experience and was even more keen, if such a thing be possible, than I was to get out on the hill and take his first roebuck. His earnest face appeared at my door at 2.30 in the morning with cheery cries of “It stirs! It must be alive!”. A brief discussion followed along the lines of
“It’s 2.30 already lets go”
“You want to know where to (chuffing) go do you?”
“I thought we were going stalking this morning”
“(Chuffing) we?!? I’ve been driving for 6 (chuffing) hours, sweated like a Moroccan mine donkey for another 4 and you think I’m going to get up after a (chuffing) hour and half’s sleep and sit up a (chuffing) tree with a loaded rifle?”
In the end we agreed to set out for the afternoon stalk and together with Peter and a map of the lease worked out a plan whereby we would all stalk without endangering or disturbing each other, whilst staying within earshot of each other.
The plan was that we would split up at the first junction at the ride, LH and I to sit in high seats on the forestry beats and B would climb K2 to stalk the forest edge and the hill itself.
We were to remain in contact with each other through walkie-talkies if the situation demanded it, otherwise to maintain radio silence throughout.
We reached the fork in the ride and bid LH waidmansheil as he loaded up and stalked up the ride to his high seat a few hundred meters away. I loaded my rifle and together with B regarded the ride I was now to stalk down. The safety angle was good as LH and I would be stalking at 90 degrees to each other, he into the wind and B and I across it. This meant, worryingly, that if I did see a deer on the way to the high seat I could conceivably be in a position to safely shoot it. A terrible dilemma, I hear some of you remark but bear in mind my recent experience of actually going into the trees that bordered the ride. It was not, in fact, just the density of the surrounding cover that gave me pause for thought, the forest is truly the most beautiful I have thusfar experienced in the most un-assuming and subtle ways imaginable, here and there the bed rock was exposed by mudslide and the cutting action of many small streams trickling their way down to the valley bottom. A deer that ran and fell into one of these usually sheer, 15 feet deep, miniature ravines would indeed take some retrieval!
Being therefore in the somewhat novel position of hoping I didn’t get a shot too early on in the game B and I stalked slowly the few hundred meters to the high-seat. On the way I attempted to pass on as much of the various bits of knowledge, wisdom and technique that I have somehow managed to pick up in my stalking career to B as I could, who was understandably a little nervous at his first solo stalk. It was then I realised how steep the curve can be in this game, and also how grateful I remain to the various folk who have taken me out stalking, showed me what to do and generally made things run smoothly for me over the past 3 years. I am incredibly lucky to have access to the collective wisdom of you most gracious gentlemen, the term I use in emotional moments is “internet shooting uncles” , and realised quite how much I have learned over a comparatively short period.
We reached the high seat overlooking an impossibly picturesque glade in the middle of pine forestry ranging in maturity from clear fell to fully grown trees. Some last minute instruction to B about what to do if he got in trouble or shot a deer ( just occasionally one and the same thing….), lending him my roesack in case he had any joy, being careful to remove all vital equipment first, gave him the map and bid him waidmansheil.
I climbed into the high seat and watched him wander slowly down the ride. He was to stalk to the end of it, make a right and stalk up a wide grassy bank to the top of the hill.
I settled into the high seat and started to glass around. To my left I commanded a view of the ride B had disappeared down to a distance of about 150 yards, ahead the glade with a steeply rising bank just below me extending 20-30 metres and then levelling off and to my right forestry above a bank extending 150 yards in each direction at a distance of perhaps 40 yards.
I’m not sure why but things just felt right, I had arrived in the seat at about 7.30 pm and with last shooting light at about 11 pm I felt that I had more than enough time to get a feel for the area and possibly even see a deer. Shows what I know…..
Contentedly I daydreamed, glassed, daydreamed and glassed some more, time of course being immaterial in such circumstances; it is either “stalking” or “too dark to shoot so pack up and go home” time out there on the hill. It was with some surprise therefore that instead of a deer timidly venturing out onto the ride to my left I spotted B cheerily waving and walking towards me.
It’s at moments like this I am glad I don’t do things as silly as glass using a riflescope…….
Not knowing quite what to do or say I waited until he reached the foot of the high seat.
We regarded each other for a moment.
“What’s up?” I asked, feeling rather foolish.
“I couldn’t find the path up the hill so I carried on up the ride until it finished and came back, I saw a nice buck but it was in the middle of the ride and ran off before I could shoot it”
“………..the hill is the large thing in the opposite direction to the ride you stalked down mate……”
( a few minutes of uncomfortable silence )
“Do you want to sit up in the high seat with me B?”
“No, erm, I’ll, erm, try and find the path up the hill”
“Ok, it’s the wide green path over there” pointing to the ride 300 yards in front of the seat through a gap in the trees “ just go to the end of this ride here and instead of carrying on go through the trees on the verge there and follow it up. Stalk along the forest edge and come back down along that forester’s path near the caravan on the opposite side of the hill”
“Ok see you later”
I watched him wander back down the path again with some sense of trepidation. The incident had left me a little shaken; nobody likes to have people potentially wandering around in their arc of fire, especially so far from help and in any event to say nothing of the disturbance to the game in the area.
I looked at my watch, it was 8.30 pm, had my location been compromised or not? I didn’t know and because of the mobile phone signal reception issues I could not ‘phone anyone for advice.
I decided that to stay put would be the best course of action, so as to minimise disturbance and not to wander into anybody else’s arc of fire myself, and sat it out.
The evening wore on but I confess that the magic had now somewhat lessened. I was worried about B, had he finally found his beat? Would he begin to come down off the hill in good time? If he tried that forester’s track for the first time in the pitch dark I would not like to think about the possible consequences and finally would he somehow make his way into LH arc of fire?
Knowing that LH had almost certainly seen events from his vantage point I knew he would be on his guard but the ground here was rocky, with exposed boulders often covered in moss and by the grass with the attendant worry of ricochets.
Anyway I waited.
By 10.30 the sun had set and the atmosphere in the forest changed. The magic half-hour was upon me, that time when anyone with the hunter’s instinct in their blood finds their senses more acute, their movements instinctively more deliberate and their heart perpetually on the cusp of beating like a war drum with suppressed excitement. It is this half-hour that I stalk for, this somehow special time where man and beast become grim and serious, knowing that this is when the stakes are at their highest.
It was precisely 10 minutes into this most holy half-hour that an owl tried to fly in the highseat and land on my head. Scarcely a moment had passed after dealing with that distraction when B came wandering down the ride I had sent him up earlier, flashing his torch at me and whistling to get my attention.
Whilst I was still glad that I don’t do anything as silly as glass with my rifle, I am ashamed to admit that I was conscious that I was not quite as glad as earlier :sofa:
Resigning myself to the fact that the game was up, I unloaded and packed my kit up to climb down from the high seat.
Tired and slightly bemused I asked no difficult questions and together we walked back to the car.
LH had had no luck; he had spotted a deer over a patch of clear fell some 700 yards away however, and this together with the news that B had bumped the other buck gave us something to be upbeat about on the way home.
We were however shattered. The constant elevation changes and general lie of the land meant that even the stalk to high seats had been a bit like hard work at times and B had climbed K2 for the second time in as many evenings.
We arrived at the B&B and had post mortem discussions. Poor old B was feeling rather rotten and I felt rather bad myself at not having been perhaps more sympathetic over the course of our various chance meetings that evening. Remembering what I must have been like on my first few outings, and the corresponding trials and tribulations I must have put such fine, kind and patient folk as Boggy, IanF and Kiri to name just a few, through I resolved together with LH to have a discrete word in B’s ear and try and persuade him that his best chance for a deer would be to sit up in a high seat and wait it out.
He agreed and telling him all the information I had picked up during the evenings wait, including the about the owl and we retired for the night.
We would try again the next morning.
That use of the word "morning" turned out to be a bit euphemismistic in truth; summer Roebuck stalking is an exhausting affair to the inexperienced stalker. We had finished at 11.30 pm and really and truly, had to be back and in the high seat for something like 2.30-3.00 am the next day. If you can’t seamlessly go nocturnal, you will have trouble…
Not having really slept enough during the day we were all quite tired, LondonHunter and I were not sure about setting off again after an hour’s sleep at the most. B was however was not daunted in the least at the prospect.
I am ashamed to say that LH and I prevailed in the discussion as to when we went out the next day. A nice lie in interrupted briefly for a full Scottish breakfast, rounded off with another snooze was the selected tactic. Incidentally as it was my first I shall briefly compare the good old English breakfast with it’s Scottish counterpart, the chief difference being that the full Scottish is served with a fried slice of black pudding and haggis. I had not had the pleasure of haggis until it was whisked in front of me before I had a chance to anything about it. The landlady, hands clasped in front of her worn, distinguished looking apron, beaming with unashamed glee at the sight of an exhausted looking Chinese rambler, an unshaven yet devilishly debonair middle-eastern bird-watcher and a token blond, blue eyed Gestapo officer look-alike simultaneously trying to repress recoiling horror at what had just appeared in front of us. We ate it though, our honour was at stake.
After nap number two we went to a local gunshop to find B a roesack, who having seen and admired the utility of the one I had along wanted one of his own. Further and greater thanks to Ian at this point, who after telling me to get one forever, finally took matters into his own hands and gave me one of his old ones just before the trip. I am now completely sold on the idea for these small deer, the fact that the one I now own was once owned by Ian, and therefore looks every inch the used and abused trusty sack of a much more experienced stalker, was the icing on the cake as far I’m concerned. Unfortunately the shop did not have a suitable model in stock, the one they did stock having un-padded nylon shoulder straps, chiefly good for digging into the shoulders and slipping around at inopportune moments, B did get himself a good folding buck knife.
LondonHunter picked up a fine hazel and Stag-antler shooting stick for a song. I did look around but rapidly concluded that there was nothing I really needed, therefore only buying a small folding Opinel, a Sylvia compass and an OS map of what turned out to be the wrong area….
We headed back to the B&B at after lunch to check our equipment and discuss tactics.
I have frequently posted asking what bits of kit are needed for what stalking circumstances and invariably have received a raft of excellent advice from all quarters. This is of course one of the advantages of posting on an international forum viz, It is highly unlikely that there are circumstances that another member of this board has not hunted in and is unable to pass advice on.
A slight disadvantage, if I may be so untactful as to mention it, is that with such excellent advice from such wide ranging and uniformly impeccable sources it becomes difficult to ignore any of it when packing one’s Roesack for a weeks shooting in the borders.
I mention this as I had noticed how heavy the Roesack seemed to feel after the first and second day and out of curiosity, weighed it on the bathroom scales.
I consulted the advice on this thread, which I will admit to having printed out and stowed in my bag, and worked my way to realizing the inevitable conclusion that I was at no time more than about a mile and a half away from the car at any given time on my patch and perhaps a cunning plan to lighten my burden could be wrought. With that in mind I thought that the fire-lighting kit, the ultra-light camping stove, mess-tin, emergency meal, the emergency survival bag, the small folding shovel, the three flares, the small survival kit tin, the backup maglight, the spare orange Gore-Tex jacket, the MTM box with the spare 40 rounds of ammunition, the GPS, the 2 litre bottle of washing water, the disinfectant and the roll of duct tape could in fact be taken out of Roesack and left in the boot of the car and retrieved if needed without critically compromising the expedition.
This left as the personal kit list as of lunchtime on the second day as comprising of:
A full magazine of three rounds, together with 5 more in my breast pocket,
Midge net, gloves and DEET,
Roesack with liner,
Length of webbing,
Small LED torch,
Lighter, cigarettes (purely for wind deduction problems)
Shortbread and thermos of coffee.
I considered the lesson well learned…….
The rifle was of course my trusty Tikka, she performed faultlessly this trip by the way, stoked with my home-loaded 150 grain Speer soft points. Some of you may recall I had expressed concern that this bullet was a bit soft for this loading after my experience on a Chinese Water Deer earlier this year, but more of that anon.
We sat and played around with kit happily for a little while, LondonHunter was wiping down his gorgeous Blaser K95 in 6.5 x 55 and B was admiring his new Heym .243. Of course we passed our rifles around and had a good look and general play with the different rifles.
Londonhunter’s Blaser K95 will be familiar to a few of you, it is a wonderful little stalking rifle. The whole thing, without the moderator and scope, cannot weigh more than 5 1/2 pounds and in that guise handles like a 4 weight fly-rod. It also has the advantage of looking gorgeous even with a moderator and large objective scope on it. LH has taken quite a few deer with it and rates the calibre, especially with the new Lutz Muller bullets he is using, very highly.
B’s Heym was a very well preserved SR20 with bluing to compete with the best of them, an un-marked bore and a Swaroski scope on top. He was rightly as pleased as punch with his first centre-fire rifle, a feeling I could understand very well as I sat next to him oiling the metalwork on my Tikka. It was the sort of rifle that whilst one might own a more expensive or flash model in time, it may prove that one might never own a better one.
We decided to get out on the ground early that afternoon, around 5 pm, so as to be able to ensure we could have a wander around at nice leisurely pace whilst still ensuring that we could be where we needed to be in good time for last light. We were still learning the ground after all; expectations had been tempered by the realization that until we knew where the deer were laying up, where they were feeding and what routes they took to get between the two, any deer that we did meet would effectively be by chance.
The idea was to rotate the locations from the day before i.e. B to stalk to the seat I had been in the night before, I was to take LondonHunter’s beat and the good doctor to tackle the hill. B was as keen as mustard but LH did not fancy the hill, I didn’t blame him, I didn’t fancy it much either!
LH and I divided up the second lowland beat so that he could sit up in a high seat within earshot but not in my arc of fire. The poor chap had had quite a week at work, those 16 hour days that a surgeon of LH’s calibre is obliged to put in catching up with that weekend.
As always though, when one is heading out to do what we were privileged enough to be doing, we drove to the ground in high spirits.
The ground was thusfar a bit of mystery to me, I am not the most experienced stalker in the world and my limitations were very apparent to me as I considered my plan of attack. I had not seen much in the way of sign, as I knew it, the day before. As I have mentioned my idea of forestry was the mature deciduous woods and field of the south east of England. The ground is soft and muddy which is excellent for showing up slot and also I roughly know what plant's to look at for evidence of feeding. I was all at sea, there appeared to be very little slot, but then the rides were stony hardcore rather than the soft mud of the south east, I was in fact was wondering if there were in fact deer crossing the rides or whether they had some other route to their feeding grounds that I had not yet discovered.
I did find one area, an out of the way section of ride overgrown with grasses and heather, with an abundance of pellets but my excitement was lessened somewhat by news of two escaped sheep on the loose, probably on our lease, received later on. I mentioned paranoid Shepard earlier. I though Peter was joking but no, it turns out that Willie, the paranoid Shepard is actually real and is actually paranoid. He may have reason however as we later found out that a sheep that gotten on to our lease had been shot last year, necessitating a rapid drive by Peter from Yorkshire to placate an outraged Willie. Still the initial meeting could have gone better LH, B and I were driving up the stone path along the side of the valley leading to our patch when we saw a tall, spare white haired man a quad bike herding sheep into enclosures made of a circular low stone wall 10 metres in diameter and perhaps 1 metre high, incidentally these turn out to be the fabled "roundel" of earlier.
We stop a respectful distance from him as he crosses back onto the road. We regard each other for a moment.
It of course being preferable to be on good terms with the users of adjacent land to the alternative, nothing for it but to get out and smiling like a pack of salesmen, walk up and introduced ourselves:
" Hi , my name is Amir, I'm stalking the estate over there, these gentlemen are LH and B, we are all members of Peter's Syndicate. Pleased to meet you"
"Aye, ye'll no be shooting ma sheep!"
"Erm, no sir, no, we're after the Roe"
"They'll be up on the hill this time of day"
"We'll be off then, a pleasure to meet you"
"Aye, mind how ye go"
We therefore set off, wondering who the hell some of syndicate mates were, and worried now in case some sheep met it’s end on our land somehow. I mentioned the politics of syndicate membership before, I confess I had no idea that it would end with us being concerned for the welfare of lost sheep.
The main ride into the property is at the south end, it forks almost immediately into the north and south perimeter rides. The south ride is one I took the day before with B, so today I was to stalk the north.
LH and I bid B waidmansheil as he loaded up and began to stalk the south ride, the high seat was a few hundred metres away and I was confident that B would at least see something, if not get a shot. It was about 5 pm, he was in for a bit of a wait in that seat but hopefully at least he might be able to watch an undisturbed deer and perhaps get an opportunity for a nice broadside shot. Our biggest fear was a wounded buck on our hands. To be fair to B the concern was pretty high up in his mind and we knew he would take a dodgy shot; however buck fever can make the most experienced hunter do strange things sometimes.
Watching him disappear LH and I considered our plan for the evening. It being a bit early really for any serious chance of bumping a deer on the rides we decided to have a cup of coffee and a rest in order to discuss our impressions of the ground so far. We knew that more or less any block of forestry around the area was more or less guaranteed to have deer in it, what we didn’t know was the density and how hard these particular deer were shot. There had been cause for hope, we had seen a few deer around, but also cause for concern, little sign.
LH said that he was happy to let me stalk nice and slowly up the north ride towards the two high seats we were to end up in that night whilst following at a distance. At about 6 we prepared to set off and with only my rifle loaded began the approach.
The speed at which one should stalk in any given situation is a bit of a controversial subject. In areas where one cannot see more than a few dozen metres one should of course go as slowly as possible whereas there is no earthly point in going at a snail’s pace when there is nothing but miles of short grass ahead of you. The North ride has a mixture of wide open ride running through grassland and then dips through patches bordered by forestry. It was on this ride, in one of the forestry bordered bits, that I eventually found a few slots where the verges were soft, at one point I did find one big lump of droppings a few feet into the pine block of about 3” length by 1 ½ “ diameter. It was compacted looking like a pine cone or a Mills bomb rather than discrete pellets. I theorised it may have been Sika droppings, naturally adding to the excitement.
The stalk was staring to feel good now. I had seen slot, I had picked up and checked droppings for freshness and the wind was in my face. Looking round to check on LH’s position ( he was glassing about, whether he was checking on B or me I’m not sure!)
I continued down a rocky exposed bit for perhaps 500 metres, there was sheer hill to my left and the valley floor dotted with sheep to my right. I wondered whether the metre high two strand fence was enough to keep sheep out of our patch, I mean it seemed to work but if a careful and long anticipated stalk was ruined by an intellectually negligible woolly-back……..well, lets just say that in that eventuality Wille’s paranoia may well have justified.
The ride entered a forested section which wound back into our valley. This was a particularly pretty bit of the forest, I apologise I have no photographs of it at the moment but my camera appears to have been damaged and the only photos I have are the one’s I took with my phone. This is the view from the section of ride described above looking to the right. Simply stunning country.
This is the view looking ahead from the fork:
The north ride can be seen meandering along the side of the hill leading into the wooded copse in the centre of the photograph. I then curves back to the left into centre of the wooded valley in the far background of the second photograph.
The section I had entered was a perhaps 200 metres from the mouth of the valley proper, here it meandered sharply right and then left whilst rising in elevation by about 15 metres. To the left was dense mature pine, in front of me a rising bank of clearfell 100 metres wide by 30 metres to the crest. To the right a steeply falling away bank covered in lush grass to a metre’s height went all the way down to the grassy valley floor. It seemed a perfect spot to ambush Roe on their way to feed on the fields, in fact there was even an enclosed continental style highseat in a corner overlooking the whole thing.
Things were not quite as they seemed however; I climbed into the high seat to get a better vantage point to look around and immediately noticed that there were branches all over the arcs of fire. The seat also appeared not have been used for quite a while, so after a good look around I climbed down and prepared to push on up the ride to the seat at the end of the valley. Incidentally I found out that Peter had also gotten the same impression of productivity about that particular spot and hence put the high seat there, he then went on to fail to even see a deer out of that seat for 3 year. I understood why it was overgrown, one of the jobs for the off season is to get a work party down there and move it to somewhere more productive.
The time was now 7.00pm, I had a distance of about a kilometre to cover to the high seat in the end of the valley. I was guessing that with sunset at about 10.00 to 10.15 pm I would want to be well ensconced in the seat by about 9.30. The pace was therefore as slow as possible. This stalk was great fun, the ride meandered left and right the whole way, with elevation changes as often as turns, giving some exhilarating “what was that?” moments on sneaking a look around the corners and cresting the bits of dead ground. This was the area were the Sika were alleged to be, with forestry surrounding the valley floor on all three sides. The ride went half way along one side of the valley and stalking up was a twofold exercise in observation. On the one hand one had to keep an eye in front for deer crossing the ride on my side of the valley from the forestry to the clearfell on the valley floor, on the other hand it was possible that the deer would be in the forestry on the opposite side of the valley and so I had to be sure I had glassed the verges and clearfell to my left thoroughly before moving on.
I was amazed to see how long it took to stalk the distance when one is really concentrating. The next is a photo, my apologies for the darkness of the shot taken about half way up the ride looking back towards LH.
I had reached the maximum elevation of the ride, it was a point about 300 metre’s away from the valley end and the highseat I intended to sit out last light in. I glassed all around, took a few steps and glassed again.
A reddish patch of the landscape near the seat had definitely moved!!!
I instantly dropped to one knee ( thanks Ian ) with my heart in my mouth. I had gone from the proverbial 0-60 in an instant, one moment the relaxed, almost devil-may-care contentment of a stalker out in the open air he loves, the next heart pounding, mind racing borderline panic of an inexperienced stalker faced with the ultimate test of his skill and nerves.
Panic most accurately described my state of mind at that moment, I had started to resign myself to the idea of not actually shooting a deer that weekend, Much like B I had decided that the main objective had to be to further my skills as a stalker rather than to necessarily shoot a deer and so had contented myself with getting the stalks right. I would be just as happy to see a fox or magpie as a deer, reasoning that one was as easy to scare off as the other.
The deer was about 280 yards away, browsing on the clearfell on the valley floor towards the cul-de-sac of the valley and presumably onwards up the hill. It had about 60 metres as the crow flies to the safety of the forestry at the far end. Things were complicated by the topography of the valley floor; it was not flat at all rather a series of undulating mini-hills with step sides and little streams running through the bottoms. The deer was on the crest of the third undulation from the valley end, the wind was right and I had perhaps 100-150 yards to stalk to just under the highseat to be in a position to take the shot.
The problem was the inevitable small stream that was between me and the vantage point
Crossing it subtly would be the test of skill that would be difference between shooting the buck on a nice open patch of clearfell, rather than trying to ambush and shoot it across 3 metres of stony, possible dodgy as far as ricochets were concerned, just in front of the forest edge. If I shot him there he could conceivably get far enough into the thick stuff to ruin my evening.
I had almost made the descision to fox walk my way to the side of the ride and crawl up the bank to go along to my chosen spot when a small voice in my head, possibly Ian’s but not being able to see any eyebrows I couldn’t be sure, saying “Is it a buck, Luke”
A very good point my disembodied friend, was it a buck or was it the biggest tease since Kelly Brook made it known that she had left her husband?
My binos came to the rescue once again, one really does depend on them more than any other bit equipment except the rifle you know, and a quick glance even with my shaking hands confirmed that it was either a buck or a four-eared doe, either way a shootable animal.
The adrenaline came flooding in again. I was conscious of actually having to make an effort to control my breathing as I was too loud! The whole heaving chest thing and everything such as I have on only one occasion, an enormous fallow buck at 25 yards with Rick Whitely, forced me to sit down again and tell myself to calm down.
It was half nine by this point, plenty of light, and the stalk was on. My first solo stalk; my decisions leading to my consequences. It was like nothing I had experienced before. If you recall the stuff I said earlier about “magic half-hours” “Stalkers’ innate instincts”, forget them, I couldn’t have known what I was talking about until this moment.
Each step, like the gathering momentum of a poker game that starts with a wager of £5 and ends up with the protagonists’ house keys on the table, was tenser and fraught with the risk of discovery than the last.
The deer had no inkling of my presence, and with the wind being favourable, I realised that providing I did not make any noise to alert it, I began to believe I would actually get to my chosen position.
It took me 30 minutes to close the final 150 metres to the spot just to right of the highseat above.
I went prone and resting my rifle on my roesack acquired the buck in my sights.
It was a magic wee thing, a young buck of perhaps two or three years old, with 4 points adorning it’s delicate, elegant head. It was still browsing across the clearfell’s newly planted trees, helpfully nipping the growing buds of the young shoots, when I finally realised what I here to do.
This may sound silly to some of you but I had gotten entirely preoccupied in watching the wee thing through my scope, with a jerk I remembered I was here stalking, that the stalk had been real, the deer was a reality in front of me and now was the time to shoot it, if indeed that was what I wanted to do.
I paused briefly, the buck was young, only a four pointer, and whilst it would make a magnificent eating animal it would be perhaps better to let it go for another year.
I decided in the end to shoot, it was the penultimate day after all and I have never been one to turn down venison.
Back to reality with a bump, I positioned the crosshairs on it’s chest as it fed. I waited tracking it in the scope hoping for a perfect broadside shot if at all possible. The range was about 120 metre, at which distance my round would be approximately 1.5” high, so held a third of the way down the body in line with the foreleg as advised by you most excellent gentlemen in my other thread. My aim was for the “Andre shot” (named after the redoubtable Mr. Mertens who illustrated it so well on that other thread ) and after a moment the deer stopped totally broadside to my position with it’s head down feeding. I adjusted my point of aim a little bit forwards to compensate and suddenly the rifle went off.
Boom!! The peace of valley was shattered by the shot, the sight picture disappeared in a hazy orange cloud of blurred movement and came back down again to the image of the deer seemingly 2 metres in the aim at the apogee of a jump that looked exactly, and I mean exactly, like the drawings in the textbooks on the leap of a heart shot deer. My heart was in my mouth, I was sure that I had hit it, but where ?
The deer landed and took a faltering step forwards. It looked very sick and as I watched took a few more steps in the manner of a drunk looking for the support of the nearest lamp-post, I was sure it was dead but suddenly realised that I had been sitting there like a dumbfounded bystander and gawping instead of reloading the rifle. I hurriedly wracked the action and resumed watching the deer. It looked very ill by this point and I decided not fire again, it taking three more steps and dropping out of sight.
I have heard a lot about the importance of marking one’s shot and especially of marking the last sighting of the deer.
The following picture was taken from exactly where I shot the deer.
the deer was on the right hand bank of the little depression immediately in front of me, literally the point on the bank where the head of the blurred thistle in the foreground is. It disappeared 3 metres behind and 5 metres to the right of that point.
I stared the point where it had dropped with a mixture of elation, sadness and relief that is particular to this moment, trying to etch in my memory the spot, the scene, the stalk. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins like never before, had I done it? Had I successfully found, stalked and shot my first deer?
No, is the answer, not until you’ve found it mate
I had the wait-five-minutes cigarette, in those circumstances I tend to “fumar como una puta en la cárcel” as the Mexicans say, the cigarette disappearing seemingly in four pulls and 30 seconds flat. It’s ok though, as getting the bugger lit with shaking hands takes the other four and a half minutes….
I decided to approach the site of the shot, though not without some trepidation. I was sure it was dead but to approach a deer without a loaded rifle just in case is unwise. The problem in this case was that the terrain of the clearfell, whilst looking relatively easy to traverse from a distance, turns out to be as rutted and uneven as the forestry block floors except covered in grass so as to be even more treacherous.
I therefore ditched all my kit except the rifle and roesack and went in. Of course it is one of life’s givens that any given patch of God’s Green Albion looks completely different from 10 metres than from 100.
It took me 10 minutes to find the site where the deer had been standing when I shot it. There was a good splash of bright red blood and most comfortingly, for me that is-in all fairness not for the deer, a lump of lung tissue.
Knowing now that the deer was dead I opened the bolt of my rifle to unload it, to find that there was no round in the chamber!
Another lesson learned, make sure not to short stroke the rifle in moments of high tension!
Since there was so much blood at the site of the shot, for me anyway I’m sure Brian would have left a patch the size of good sized inflatable dinghy, I was expecting a healthy blood trail to a dead deer.
As the ever-increasing circle reached 5 metres in diameter, with not a drop of blood to be seen on the grass, I had another of those “what the hell do I do know” moments. Sitting on a log I stopped, consulted the ever-useful print out and had a mental conversation with the spirits of absent stalkers that ran a bit like this:
“Get a grip on yourself, the deer must within 50 yards of here”
“There’s no (chuffing) blood anywhere!! The grass and moss is half a metre high and there are holes half a metre deep anywhere and everywhere, what the hell do I do now??!”
“ Calm yourself grasshopper, were you sure of the shot?”
“yes actually, it was like target shooting in a way, when the sight picture looked right the rifle went off almost by itself. I’ve put enough rounds through this rifle at the range to know when I’ve pulled a shot”
“good, are you sure of the site of shot?”
“yes of course, I even found a lump of critical organ!”
(absent spirits suddenly coalescing into an image of Ian with eyebrows giving it some sixes and sevens)
“WELL GET OFF YOUR ARSE AND BLOODY FIND IT THEN!!”
(in a small voice)
I kept searching in expanding circles, 5 metres, 6 metres, 7 metres and then suddenly oof!! I tripped right over the deer and headfirst into a lump of Sphagnum moss.
I slowly rose, convinced I had a branch imbedded in my side and came face to face with my deer.
There was a ”moment” I confess. I just lay there and stared. This buck, this creature that I had driven so far and hunted so hard to see was inches away from nose, beautiful and motionless in the soft twilight of that warm summer’s day. It seemed to me that the forest, so recently silenced by the incongruous brutality of the rifle blast minutes earlier had erupted in a spontaneous cacophony that seemed just then to be an eulogy for it’s fallen son.
A single bird sang it’s strident song, seeming to me unbearably loud just at that moment, the trees rustled in a sudden breeze and I don’t mind admitting that I may have had a tear in my eye, as I reached out to touch his.
I got up and looked around, he had fallen a scant ten metres from where I had shot him but had taken over 30 minutes to find. I put him in the Roe sack an took him to the side of the ride to gralloch him.
I was so nervy and adrenaline addled that I cut and tied of the trachea, before realising that it was the oesophagus I should be paying attention to….
The next day was dedicated to trying to get B a buck. We decided to not get any sleep that night and hunt whole of the next day to try and put him onto a buck. Unfortunately even with LH scouting and spying and with me doing my best to put him in the right spot at the right time we did not manage it.
No matter, next time it’s B’s turn, getting him his first roebuck is the goal for our return trip this month.