Good morning everyone!
This weekend found me heading off to Sussex for a long-awaited first ever attempt at the roe bucks with Sikamalc. This was particularly special as I was also to meet Scrumbag there, who has been my deerstalking “pen pal” from his Alpine lair for a couple of years now, however we’d never actually met in the flesh despite attending the same rifle club at the same university back in the day. That said, I suspect that our times there didn’t actually overlap due to the fact that I arrived on this earth a bit earlier than he did. Anyway, just to make it even more significant, he has a brand new Voere 7x64, I have my Steyr-Mannlicher stutzen 7mm-08 ordered about the same time as his, so we’d both be using new unmoderated Austrian 7mms. How’s that for narrative symmetry?
Scrumbag had arrived on Friday night and already been for a morning stalk with Malc on the Saturday, but the 7x64’s barrel had remained cold. Given that this entailed a 3.15am start, it was understandable that he overslept during his nap and picked me up a bit later than planned from Crawley station, but still in plenty of time for us to head up to Malc’s range. At the bothy, in addition to Malc we met up with Joelewis55, who I’d already had the pleasure of meeting when I was last down there in February, when he’d just become a father. We headed off to the range to check the zeros on the various rifles, and I was very pleased to put two shots within 2cm of each other and of the bullseye. I love this little rifle! I also had a shot with Scrumbag’s Voere, which is lovely although those Mauser 98 actions always feel a bit floppy to me when they’re open. Obviously that doesn’t matter, it’s when closed that it counts. My verdict is that whilst the 7x64 makes louder bang and the recoil’s a bit harsher, it’s still completely comfortable to shoot. Given that it’s near-as-damnit the same round as a .270Win, and that this is an unmoderated rifle, I’m now firmly in the camp that believes that a lot of old twaddle is talked about the supposed punishing recoil of that chambering. Once accuracy and acceptable levels of competence were established, Scrumbag headed off to a highseat with Joe, and Malc took me off to a new patch of set-aside at the end of a field about half an hour away.
We headed along the edge of the field near the woods, aiming for a slight rise at the bottom of the slope, from which we would be downwind from any deer that may emerge from the woodlands onto the field and set aside that we could survey. We set ourselves up together with Todd (the dog) near a telegraph pole and behind some buttercups and what I think may have been alexanders (not sure though). The cover had recently been cut, making the place a little less attractive to deer, but Malc assured me that he’d never been there and not seen any. For the next couple of hours, we surveyed the field, the birch plantation to the right, the other field behind, all to no avail. I had the chance to observe a pair of buzzards waltzing around above us, as well as a few swallows, a green woodpecker, and no end of oblivious pheasants strutting about. What we didn’t see were any deer. There was a point at which Todd sat up and stared towards the crest of the ridge in the field we’d come through, as if he was catching a scent on the wind, but we couldn’t see that far. “If we walk up to that crest, we’ll see that all the roe are just behind it” I joked, although it also seemed vaguely possible. About 9pm, Malc said we’d do just that, so we set off along the opposite side of the field from the one we’d walked in on.
About 200m along, Malc spotted a roe couched in long grass on the other side. We couldn’t tell whether it was a doe or a buck, and we couldn’t approach across the field. I thought to myself that what we should do was to retrace our footsteps to behind the set-aside where we’d been before, cross the field there behind the ridge, out of sight of the deer, then approach back up the edge of the field, the way we’d arrived. So I was quietly pleased with myself when that was exactly what Malc did. We walked more and more slowly as we approached, always out of sight of the deer, my heart was beating, this was exciting stuff, but we still didn’t know what it was. Malc repeated “I hope it’s a buck” a couple of times. Unfortunately, about 100m away, we were able to establish that it wasn’t. Still, I’d had a proper practice stalk and some excitement, and decided to put my rifle down and complete the stalk with my camera instead. I shall post the photos later, as they are really quite lovely.
Back the bothy, Scrumbag hadn’t fared any better, seeing only does, although Joe had shot a couple foxes. After a quick chat, we headed off for last orders at the pub next door, and Malc said “See you later” as “Good night” didn’t really seem appropriate for less than four hours. And so at 3.15am, we were up again, albeit with pretty damned bleary eyes. This time, Malc dropped me off at 4.30am on the edge of a wood nearby with instructions to go and set myself up on a highseat. Now sitting on a seat isn’t as exciting as stalking on foot, but on the other hand, I relished the prospect of being left to my own devices, so as Malc drove off with Scrumbag, I unfolded my sticks, loaded up, and crept into the wood, fully aware that a buck could be behind the next bush. It could have been, but it wasn’t, so I climbed up into the seat, set myself up, and then started to battle sleep. I was helped in this by the midges breakfasting on my forehead, which now has a polka-dot pattern, ending abruptly in a straight line where I’d pulled my hat down to. There were a lot of rabbits hopping around the clearing, but little else. Malc had told me that I was welcome to shoot foxes or muntjac. I would have taken a munty quite happily, but not ruined my chances of a deer by shooting a fox beforehand. This was academic anyway. At 5am, I caught the fleeting outline of a doe’s head through a gap in the trees to my right, complete with flicking ears. At 6.15am, probably the same doe came noiselessly out of the side of the wood, turned right and trotted off down the ride to vanish down a slope before I could raise my camera. She’d been in view for less than 10 seconds. If it had been a buck, I’m not even sure I could have shouldered the rifle and aimed fast enough, even assuming I could stop it for a second by whistling. For the next hour, I amused myself taking pictures of rabbits… Malc came to pick me up again, and they were empty-handed too, although Scrumbag had had an adventure that I’ll leave to him to recount. It’s not my story to tell!
So in conclusion, obviously I’m disappointed that I didn’t shoot my first buck. On the other hand, in addition to now having almost total confidence in both my rifle setup and ability to use it, I also worked out the correct stalking approach on a doe, even though I kept quiet about it, and I had the pleasure of being left on my own to make my own decisions on the Sunday morning, all important parts of growing as a stalker. In fact, I’d even climbed off the highseat as the wind was right to walk down a ride where I couldn’t see from the seat and have a cheeky stalk on my own. Well, it could have worked, couldn’t it? Worth a try anyway! Finally, I have some beautiful photos of that doe, including a pretty special one of her leaping through the field, which I will post shortly.
So once again, thanks to Malc and Todd. Thanks to Joe and Scrumbag for the company and lifts, and I hope to do this again a little more successfully at some point in the future. By which time Joe and I should also be able to hold a lengthy discussion about prams, nappies and so on.