Much like the Star Wars films, Episodes II and III of the Hertford cull weekend were sh*t.
I am being harsh. The seats I was placed in were beautiful locations, full of promise but I just didn’t see any deer. Episode II found me in the ‘Pond seat’, a truly beautiful spot where I saw partridge, pheasant, hare, rabbit, squirrel, duck, goose, rook, crow, woodpigeon, fox and Shetland pony, but no deer. Episode III saw me in a rather high seat in a woodland clearing. I saw no wildlife, but I did spy some rather fit dog walkers. Somebody fired 4 rifle shots nearby, obviously having a good time but despite our mutual expectation and excitement, it wasn’t one of our party. Another blank.
So the fourth and final outing beckoned. We met at 04:45 to depart for Uncle Tony’s. I was taken by Tony himself (I believe) to my location. Tony lead me through a woodland glade, but then left me part way up and gave me directions to the seat. I wasn’t completely sure where I was going, as it was still very dark, but I decided to move quietly. After a short while I found the unmistakeable wide woodland ride exactly as described, with the seat to my right. Once again I moved stealthily and climbed into the seat with minimum noise. I undid the zip and unpacked my bag carefully, removing my binoculars and then loaded my rifle as silently as possible. It was now about 05:35.
Earlier in the weekend I had been chewing the fat with a more experienced stalker. One of his comments that stuck with me was the idea of scoping out your surroundings first and marking those things in your field of view that aren’t deer; those fallen logs and misshapen branches that might catch your eye later. I’ll try that, I thought. So I swung my bins to the left and started on the prominent deer shaped fallen tree. Well f*** me, it’s only a bleedin’ fallow deer.
Even with the gloom the 10x42 Swaros showed that the deer was clearly looking straight at me. I raised my rifle and took my time securing a firm and comfortable position in the high seat with zero noise. I had a slightly better view now with a 50mm objective lens and lower magnification, but I had no idea of backstop and even with illuminated reticule I was not confident of shot placement, so I put down my rifle silently and waited. If the deer had initially heard or sensed something, it didn’t seem too concerned now and quickly moved into the shadows of a substantial tree and started feeding from a pheasant hopper at about 90 metres. My view was now too dark and the chances of a shot were even less. I could no longer even tell the orientation of the animal, catching the odd flash of tush. Looking carefully again I could see more than 4 legs. Clearly this deer had company and I did not want to use another deer as backstop.
And so the waiting game began. As the light improved I could see more, but the 2 deer remained stubbornly in the gloom under the large tree. Muntjac now began to appear, scurrying about under the trees. The darkness prevented me verifying the sex or seeing the quality of any bucks. I was keen to avoid trophy animals and their attendant fees. In time I thought that I could see up to 9 munties. Most appeared to be very small, but there were 2 very good sized beasts. One large animal started to come towards me and entered a relatively light patch on the open ride. I would have been confident of a shot, but still could not see the antlers on the beast. I decided to forego this or any munty and to wait and take one of the fallow.
The light grew quickly, but still the fallow remained in relative shadow and the shot chances did not improve. I was now able to see that the other beast was a larger animal, perhaps a lead doe or the mother, and resolved to target this one in hope of securing a double kill. The deer remained so close together that at no point did I raise my rifle, for fear of wounding. Still I waited as the deer fed greedily. Time passed very slowly as I watched intently, but strangely at no time did I doubt that my chance would come. I’d earned this and I wasn’t going to balls it up now. Mind you, I’ve said that many times before….
Suddenly the larger beast disappeared from view. The remaining animal seemed alert, but was not looking my way. I guessed that the larger deer was now behind the tree. If it did appear on the other side, it would not be far from reaching cover and I would have to be quick. I did not fancy my chances. I decided to quickly change target and raised my rifle to the original deer, still standing alert by the feeder. The light was good enough to see a good backstop and no other deer was close. I quickly cocked the mechanism, slid the illuminated reticule low onto the deer’s chest and squeezed the trigger.
I heard a good connection as the rifle kicked mildly, allowing me to witness the deer’s reaction. It swayed as Muntjac exploded in all directions, but then it took off. I reloaded the rifle, but in doing so I lost sight of the beast momentarily as it went behind another tree, but it did not appear on the other side. My heart sank briefly. Then I saw the beast ‘moon-walking’ back slowly from behind cover before keeling over on the entry wound side. I could hear the deer breathing heavily, clearly gravely wounded but having learnt from the first outing of the weekend, I stayed in my seat and waited for the deer to expire. It didn't take long. I hoped that if the other deer was the mother, it may return.
It was by now only 06:10 and I had a lot more time left. I waited in the seat as the east wind picked up and snow began to fall; my feet slowly froze but no more deer appeared. I was in no distress though as this was another lovely spot, with superb all round visibility. After a couple of hours Tony appeared. We approached the deer and surveyed the devastation. The woodland floor was strewn with blood and I paced out the deer’s flight; 12 paces. Close to feeder my eye was caught by a fleshy lump. Picking it up I found the bottom third of the deer‘s heart. A huge grin spread across my (stupid) face. I couldn’t help but be pleased with myself.
Cull weekend now over, but I really felt that I was leaving a much improved stalker thanks to Gap 180, Ian and the great blokes that helped me over the weekend.