The generosity of friends
Kiri is of course being overly generous when he talks of a quid quo pro, all I seem to do is get days out in the countryside doing interesting and rewarding things involving barbed wire, machinery and the furtherance of the life expectancy of small, suicidal yet paradoxically endearing birds; which enormous inconveniences then seem to have to be nullified by fishing, stalking and shooting.
Upon reflection it may just be seen why this is a state of affairs I'm entirely agreeable to, as a matter of fact.
It is certainly a night I won't forget, indeed I can foresee the tale evolving over the years to something along the lines of "so with the buck over one shoulder and a quietly sobbing Kiri over the other, I backflipped through the morass and skipping nimbly along the backs and over the heads of the pursuing cows, landed us and a gralloched deer into the back the truck."
Much as I look forward to the happy reminisces of my dotage, I am bound in the present to be a little more objective of that night's sport.
Well, when I say "objective" I suppose you'll take that to mean truthful and so it is with some slight embarrassment that I'll tell you how I came to bag the biggest Fallow I'll shoot for a long while.
The evening before we bagged this monster Kiri had invited me up to one the farms comprising his shoot to shoot some rabbits at the request of the butcher and perhaps a crack at a fallow buck or two. I don't think the account had been opened so far this season and I knew that the new walk in larder sat forlornly empty, but unfortunately I was going to be late. A previous commitment to an admittedly very good lunch in town meant that by the time I had gotten home to fetch my rifle and drive across London to Kiri's place, I arrived at half past four in the afternoon. I hope you'll forgive me the indulgence of a rant but that is nigh on 2 hours to drive twelve miles!!
Anyway, we arrived at the farm at about half past five and feeling no immediately pressing need to dress in shrubs and doggedly fight buttock cramp halfway up a tree quite yet, decided to pass the time with the farmer and his son, in the name of intelligence gathering of course, whilst trying to decide precisely what to do on that fine late summer's afternoon.
Something about Kiri's approach to sport that's worth mentioning is his catholic approach to a day in the field.
I truly enjoy this sort of incognito, relaxed day spent in the field with good friends where there is nothing so bothersome as a rigid plan to be slavishly followed with fixed times for this and no time for that.
His approach has very much influenced me and I daresay I am the better sportsman for it.
Tall stories and inappropriate jokes swapped; the usual farmer deer intel* gratefully received, we decided ready a to go for a gentle drive in the truck and pot some bunnies for the butcher.
*Some typical farmer intelligence on deer movements:
"there are five on a such-and-such a field every evening, about five o'clock" – In the field next to the house, just where you know you can't shoot them.
"there were millions of deer on such and such a field" - he may or may not have seen one deer on that field anytime up to three months ago
"there are far too many of them everywhere!" - He definitely did see a deer somewhere on the farm, anytime in the last three months
The particular field we were interested in is accessed by a gate a short drive up the (public) road, therefore the guns had to be covered and put in the back after stopping for a crack at a 100 yard magpie with the .22 ( I missed by the way, most shamefully).
We had just pulled out of the gate and were driving up the rough tarmac when Kiri stopped mid sentence, looking across me through a gap in the hedge to my left.
I have been around stalking men for long enough to recognize instantly what impromptu guppy fish impression in one's companion means; Deer!
I slowly turned my head to see a very nice youngish Fallowbuck sneaking, honestly it somehow gave the impression it was on tiptoe, from a wooded patch behind and to the left into a field of maize across perhaps three or four metre's of verge.
Kiri regained his composure instantly, put the truck into reverse and started backing up the path we had just come down as slowly as he dared.
The last glimpse I got of the deer he appeared to have twigged that something was fishy and had turned about 90 degrees when I lost sight of him round the hedge.
I like to imagine that he had just satisfied himself that all was well before stepping out from the hedge only to find his movement mirrored by a mysterious black Shogun, getting halfway before noticing the other, stopping again in time with the mysterious black Shogun, staring, making a quick decision, turning around, and more than a little embarrassed, tiptoeing back whence he came, all the time mirrored beautifully by the equally sheepish black Shogun.
Kiri stopped the car, said "Stay here", loaded his custom .260 and sneaked ten yards back to gap in the hedge to see if the buck was still there. I sat in the car barely able to contain my excitement and desperately fighting the urge to climb out the window and join in the hunt.
Sense did prevail and presently Kiri returned to the car looking just ever-so-slightly dejected; as with all these unexpected meetings with deer, and as I was to discover, the surge of adrenaline together with the sudden single-mindedness of purpose is a powerful emotion indeed.
"Right, out here! Take your tikka, have you got a face veil? You don't need the cammo trousers, pull the hat down tight around your neck, the high seat is just around the corner, remember they'll come out at 30 yards at most, you might need to cut the branches a little, have you got a saw, right then see you at dark" and with that he was gone.
As you may have gathered, my Cypriot friend's blood was now well and truly up.
"Lucky rabbits." I thought as I watched him drive away….
Despite sitting up about 20 yards from where we had seen the buck I had no luck that afternoon, unfortunately Kiri fared no better; one nil to the deer was declared and off home for a Chinese we went.
An unexpected and unforecast lot of sunshine and warm humidity was the situation I woke up to the next afternoon because, I discovered, the phone was ringing.
It was Kiri, he had also taken note of the weather and asked if I fancied helping him check the cover crops and generally look round the shoot in preparation for the pheasant season. "Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?", I thought, replying coolly "Could do, could do", "Excellent we might even get round to shooting those rabbits for the farmer" Kiri replied.
Excellent indeed, spend the day learning about pheasant rearing, together with all manner of plants and animal more generally from Kiri and the keeper and a spot of lamping for afters!
There are worse ways to break a sweat, it must be said.
Getting involved with the running and maintenance of a shoot is a great way to spend time and learn about the country in my opinion. One is afforded a much fuller picture of the countryside and it's inhabitants, human, flora and fauna, than solely as a gun, again in my uninformed opinion.
I was able to ask as many questions as I liked about various things, something that is not always possible when stalking, for example being shown the difference between the effects of deer, cattle and sheep grazing on various plants.
I managed to cut my hand pretty savagely on some barbed wire and so we eventually went back to the farm yard to raid the farmer's first aid supplies. Having secured some bandages and ointments and things we then got a little sidetracked talking to the farmer about the possibility of buying a calf for veal. We ended up going into the calves' barn and patting a few to remarks like "Hmm this on feels meaty, how much will he weigh in 6 months time? How much! Okay what about in three?" and so on.
The net effect was that by the time we had gotten my hand bandaged and Kiri's veal plan fully fleshed out it was about an hour at most from sunset. Not wanting to hang around until lamping darkness, nor get into a high seat for what would have about 20 minutes we decided to go with the same plan as yesterday and drive the truck around the field to pot a few rabbits for the long-suffering butcher.
There were some discussions about the need and means of catering for eventualities as we were to pass by that gap in the hedge where we had seen the buck yesterday but seeing no sensible, legal means of rolling heavy we decided that betting was as much we could do from the car if we saw it again.
I think there may have been a touch of embarrassment stiffening our resolve to shoot bunnies and only bunnies that evening, We had been so quickly and comprehensively distracted from the object of the game yesterday that I felt that we needed to show each other that we could be disciplined and professional and weren't just a couple mates out for an armed ramble, as a mutual friend puts it. We were doing a serious job with a serious sense of purpose and would not be distracted or put off, seriously.
We drove around; I potted one bunny and missed a few others, Kiri potted two with as many shots but then they seemed to dry up. Kiri shot a couple more that were visibly suffering from mixy but the rabbits were not really out that evening. There were pheasants everywhere though.
We put the bunnies in the back of the truck and drove a little way up the road to another farm on the shoot, perhaps there would be more here we thought.
Pulling up in the farm yard, Kiri took the three rabbits out the car and asked if fancied a little walk stalk in the last half hour of light; there is always a chance for a problem fox at this particular place and of course fallow, being fallow, can pop out anywhere on this patch.
Suspecting the question was rhetorical, the same strange light from yesterday was again shining from my friend's eyes, I of course agreed, donned jacket, hat and rifle and off we went through the farmyard, into the fading glory of sunset.
We came round from two different sides of the barn, glassing every nook and cranny from the advantage of cover before stepping into the fields. I value these stalks with experienced stalkers over a hundred sessions in the high seat alone as there is so much to learn from simply watching a good stalker about his endevour. Indeed, in these circumstances I like to hang back slightly, perhaps watching the stalker more than the landscape in a greedy effort to glean as much information about the craft as possible. Again I suspect Kiri is understating his skill and also his generosity, considerably if the stalk he took me on was him not being too bovvered about whether he got anything or not!
The farm in question is a fairly rugged patch for that bit of earth. I had never been in the forested bit before that day, but what little I was familiar with consists of almost hilly fields separated by patches of mature deciduous woodland and established hedgerows. One is hardly ever without the possibility of a backstop, let us put it like that.
In the gathering gloom we made our way across the first field, down through what I call woodcock copse and towards an insolated field where the fox is usually seen. It was there that we paused and seeing as how there really was no point sitting up Kiri decided to have a look in the patch of clearfell two fields across.
We crept as quietly as we (I) could along the tree line across the fields, contending with twigs and gates, glassing all the time.
I have noticed that regularly successful stalkers, as opposed to the occasionally lucky amateur like me, seem to not only use their binoculars a lot, they also seem to know just when and where to glass; when to stop and when to move. I must admit that I have not mastered this stalking sixth sense quite yet…..
We entered the third and final field before the path to the heart of the forest not long after sunset, it would not be long now before twilight's inexorable march across the skies would rob us of shooting light, especially in those depths. To compound matters a herd of bloody cows had seemingly decided that tonight was night they would show humanity, or at least the two of it's members there present, that they were not afraid anymore and would be quite prepared to wetly nuzzle the backside of a fox-walking stalker if circumstances dictated…….
They were making quite a racket behind us, imagine a sort of suspicious mooing interspersed with the tinkling of bells and the passing of wind, as we lambada'ed through a barbed wire fence and into the forest.
The concentration of the slow, hunched-over stalk and the humid air meant that I was getting hot, and just as I needed it the least in my life, my glasses began to steam up. Kiri was in full-on stalk mode now, one step glass, next step glass as I just tried to stay in cover and out of the patches of dappled gloom the gaps in the canopy at the edge of the clearfell let through.
Kiri seemed about to take a purposeful step into the clearing when he stopped dead with bino's somehow already raised.
I could tell from his body language that he had seen something interesting but as I could not see it myself kept absolutely still.
"Get behind me!" came the urgent whisper, I was rooted to the spot for a moment not wanting to move in case I scared whatever it was that had such a arresting affect on my companion. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something, a ghostly grey bulk suddenly snapping into sharp relief as something vital and alive against the grey twists and columns of the half-light woods.
There was nothing for it but to slowly and surely inch behind Kiri, raising my binoculars under his cover and getting at least one eyepiece to my partially steamed up lenses.
The Buck was about 50 yards away, facing us dead on. To look at that magnificent animal with the benefit of eight power magnification fairly took my breath away. As Kiri alludes to there may have been some spurious gibbering on my part, but I had simply not seen such a big beast, so close, in such circumstances.
To have spotted it before it had spotted us in thar light against such a backdrop as Kiri had done had very definitely evened the score with these deer. I of course was batting well ahead of order.
It was suspicious, probably due to those infernal cows, though not outright spooked as we watched it through the binos.
I was in a little world of my own at this point watching the beast, Kiri is quite right in his description of these big boys, the majesty and perhaps not arrogance, perhaps something more akin to the concept in Chivalry of Pride, about them is arresting and I must confess that it is not a small thing to pull the trigger on these nobility of the forest.
He stared hard in our direction, the very picture of brooding disdain, time stood still except for a bead of sweat running in slow motion down my forehead following the contour of my eyebrow before stinging into the corner of my eye. I involuntarily blinked, only for the briefest moment and opening my eyes again saw that the beast was now looking away to my left.
A whisper punctured my reverie,
"Put your rifle on my shoulder!"
It took me a moment to work out where I was.
I eventually managed, like a fool.
I was starting to compose some thoughts along the lines of "No you shoot it mate I couldn't possibly shoot something that nice just like that" when I saw it was no use, Kiri had turned back towards the deer with fingers reaching slowly for ears. "Centre of the chest then a little right" was the last thing he said before sealing his ears.
"(Chuff) me what am I going to do now?!?!!" is a distinct memory I have of that moment, the rest is a bit of blur I'm afraid, I don't think I consciously raised the rifle, put on Kiri's shoulder and took up aim but I nevertheless I found myself staring at this magnificent beast, bracketed by the comfortingly familiar reticule of the Meopta seven power.
He looked huge in the ocular, he couldn't have been more than 40 yards away, but I hesitated. I had not shot a deer at this angle before, it was a little above me and facing almost dead on, perhaps quartering towards a little. Not knowing what else to do and sensing that Kiri was getting nervous as my breathing is always a little erratic until I calm myself down for the instant of the shot, I just placed the crosshairs on the centre of his chest, went a little right and put those last few ounces of pressure on the trigger.
The crash of the 30.06 together with the orange ball of fire that streaked from the muzzle rendered me senseless for a half second or so, the orange haze melding together with the grey of gloom, clearing only in time to afford a glimpse of the buck rearing back, staggered for a moment, and taking off in headlong rush.
And the adrenaline came in came with a bang……I was in pieces, chest heaving, hands shaking, mind spinning, the rush of stalking at it's keenest.
Kiri, who had not seen me après-shot before, turned round looking a little worried and asked if I was alright. I did my best to mime "Never better, just having a little moment, gosh that was exciting" at him but if his reaction ( "right I'll go find it then") was anything to go by, I probably didn't do a very good job.
I was fairly certain of the shot but hadn't seen where the deer had dropped. Kiri had managed to follow it's line but then had been distracted by what he first took to be a somewhat random and rather selfishly timed panic attack in his novice friend.
I tried to light a cigarette but actually couldn't.
We set off immediately on the line of the buck had taken, but it was dark and the ground was treacherous. Unseen stumps and branches were not the only danger, the place was littered with old bomb craters and, as Kiri discovered, patches of unseen bog.
He did manage to sink up to his waist in two steps in one particularly nasty bog but as soon as he realized he wasn't going to sink any further he scorned my offer help to his person, instead insisting I take his new custom rifle and "Make sure it doesn't get any mud on it"!
We eventually found the deer, having almost inevitably gone too far and found it doubling back to site of the shot.
The shot had entered it's chest about halfway up, cut the plumbing at the top of the heart, shredded the left lung and exited about halfway along the ribcage, the beast had gone about 20 yards.
There was a quiet moment as we considered it's motionless bulk in the darkness, many emotions ran in my blood at that moment; I still don't understand a few of them but I do remember that elation and sorrow were chief amongst them.
We dragged it over to a clearing where Kiri took charge once again, borrowing my knife to gralloch it in the dark and sending me off for the truck.
A certain member of this forum has my small, emergency torch, you know who you are, which would have made life infinitely easier and I still don't know quite how Kiri found the deer and gralloched the deer in the dark but so it came to pass.
After some more petty drama we got the deer into the truck and after even more petty drama, including the hock of the deer slipping in my hands as we tried to lift it to the gambrel in the chiller with the result that the point of the S-hook managing to catch the recently cut bit of my hand and ripping it open and then some, We got him in the chiller.
His coat was beautiful, still in the summer coat and he was in fantastic condition.
The very impressive trophy has been boiled out and is currently in a bucket of soapflakes.
As I look at I can't help but think that it's considerable aesthetic appeal must forever be deeply secondary to the significance of the manner in which, and the company with whom it was taken.
Kiri, thank you again sir, the memories of that stalk will be with me for ever mate and the trophy I will cherish for precisely that.
Beautifully written and a pleasure to read - thanks for sharing your experience!
Brilliant write up, well done.
Great write up.
Excellent write up in every respect to your stalk & your cull truely desreved for youself as i sat back with a cuppa & read in delight.
A compelling account of a once in a lifetime encounter.
Well done to you both, after recently seeing Stone's fallow head as he said it will be worth getting him measured.
Thank you for the kind words chaps, much obliged.
I would have it submitted for measurement but it has a deep fishtail on one side.
It's not really an issue for me, one day perhaps, but for the time being it is it's own reward.
Amir, thank you for taking the time to produce this excellent article, most enjoyable. Cheers, Pete.
Well done old chap....We've all had that adrenalin rush on such a stalk - beautifully written peice...
We must meet up with Ben/Haq sometime for a beer (perhaps even up near us to include Simon)