Hereís an account of my first stalking experience which also turned up my first Roe buck!
I booked a couple of days with Ian Farrington (IanF on here) down in Axminster, Devon. Through a few emails back and forth and a telephone call or two I explained to Ian what my shooting experience was (centrefire target mainly) and what I would like to get out of the trip. He came back with what sounded like an excellent itinerary so off I went!
I was welcomed warmly by Ian and Jo and after a quick chat over a coffee I was introduced to my accommodation, the Hunters Lodge (a finer place you could not find) and sat down for a PowerPoint presentation covering everything Iíd need to know for the next couple of days. Better to start with the basics and assume I know nothing as then both Ian and I could be sure that Iíd had the required information! I have to say, I learned a lot and the presentation was excellent.
As I hadnít done any field shooting before I had a practice shooting from standing/kneeling/sitting using sticks with a .22LR. After getting used to the positions (and finding I have zero flexibility!) I fired a few shots from each, the result of which was a boost to my confidence. I now felt that I could go on and try the same thing with centrefire riflesÖ.
So, after a good breakfast the next morning we set off to a local shooting range where I would be trying the rifle Iíd be using on the stalk in a simulated DSC1 shooting test. After a couple of zeroing shots it was onto the prone, sitting standing shots at the varying ranges onto the deer target. After completing this I felt a lot more confident with the rifle/sticks combination and felt ready for the stalk
For the evening stalk Ian decided to construct a small hide and sit in wait for a buck which regularly wanders out of a hedgerow 50 yards from our position into the middle of a field. Nice angle, good backstop, all we required now was the buck! Unfortunately for us the farmer had cut the field that day, and left his tractor right next to where the buck usually appeared. As the light began to fade we realised that the buck had probably caught sight of the tractor and his lack of grass cover and thought better of it. A fox appeared on the far side of the field but I couldnít shift the sticks fast enough to get him in the crosshairs, every time I got them near him he ran off again! Disappointment set in as I realised had I been quicker with the sticks the shot couldíve been mine. We decided to stalk over to a tree in the middle of the field and see if we could call him out again. I was sat facing the direction that the fox disappeared whilst Ian was facing the other way using the call at varying frequencies and volumes. It was approximately 2145 now and the light had pretty much gone however just as I think itís all over a fox comes racing towards me from the right! Thinking it wouldnít be wise to just fire the rifle without Ian knowing I tap him to get his attention. Three things happen in quick succession now, firstly the fox bolts towards the hedgerow, then Ian is shouting ďTake the shot!Ē down my ear as Iím bouncing the sticks around trying to get a shot off. The fox made it to the hedgerow and I seriously couldnít see it through the scope now, it was too dark to make out any contrast. Ian meanwhile is telling me to shoot it as it was looking straight at us! Swapping equipment (Leicas for rifle) I could see the fox clear as day! Those binos were seriously good in the low light! Anyway, we called it a day and retired ready for an early stalk the next morning with me feeling quite gutted that iíd let 2 foxes get away due to a lack of speed with the sticks
The next morning we were out in the Land Rover before dawn. The first field we ventured into was shrouded in mist and covered in long grass. We saw evidence of spots in the grass where deer had rested but then found a load of cattle occupying the far side of the field. Upon spotting this, we made our way back to the road. Leaning on a gate to the next field on the road we saw deer running around 2 fields in front of us, down a dip. My heart missed a beat. Ian gestured for us to use the separating hedgerow to gain access to the next field. After a few hundred metres we found ourselves in the same field as the deer. They were in a depression maybe 120m from our position so we made our way directly across the field, aiming to come up just short of the brow before the depression. After a bit of crouching, then crawling, Ian told me to stop and passed me the sticks. He then pointed to what I thought was a doe about 70m in the distance, which upon looking down the scope had antlers! My heart rate had been increasing all the way across the field as I felt the anticipation build, but then realising it was a buck in view gave me a new shot of adrenalin and set my heart hammering. It did all I could to stop the rifle bouncing off the sticks! Ian told me to take the shot when it presented itself so I waited as the buck was looking directly at us. After a moment he continued to graze then moved off maybe 5 metres. After about 30 more seconds he presented me with a broadside shot, I got the crosshairs and my breathing under control and took the shot. The adrenalin of anticipation and excitement was quickly replaced by anxiety as although the buck had dropped like a stone, it was in a depression and we had lost sight of it. After a couple of minutes Ian led me around towards where the buck had been, and as we got closer (and I still couldnít see anything) my heart began to sink, did I pull the shot? Has it run off? All sorts of thoughts spring into your head. 2 seconds later a wave of relief takes over as we see the buck, and Ian turns to me with a smile on his face and gives me a congratulatory hand shake. It was then that the "**** eating grin" appeared on my face and stayed for at least 2 days!
He turned out to be a nice 6 pointer, maybe 2-3 years old. After Ian had performed the field dressing, with me watching intently trying to take in the process, I lugged the carcass back up the hill to the vehicle (I swear that buck put on 20 pounds during that walk) and made our way back to the house and my first stalking experience came to an end.
I canít thank Ian and Jo enough for their hospitality during my trip, Joís fantastic cooking kept me going and Ianís patience and knowledge provided me with the skills and confidence I needed to take the shot. They have given me an incredible first experience into the world of deer stalking and Iím very much in their debt.
I would recommend a stalking trip with Ian & Jo to anyone, and will definitely be making a return trip in the near future to continue my stalking training, although next time Iíll have some new kit (my trousers were that loud I may as well have had a brass band following me, so much for silent material!)
Apologies for the overly long post, but if this persuades one person new to stalking to take the first step itís worth the keyboard blisters!