Last weekend, well 26th through to 29th July I had some spare time between shifts so headed down to the folks for a long weekend with the family. As always my rifle was with me as I intended to do some stalking.
On the Friday evening I had arranged to meet a good friend and we would go out together. We met up and he suggested we go to a patch he shoots over so after parking up we headed down a track. Thick hedge opening onto fields to our left, a wood on our right that has a dwelling within it. As we got to the edge of the wood we looked up the edge. There was a doe, two youngsters and a buck. He had curiously deformed antlers. A thin one sticking up and a malform bent down the side of his face.
As we watched it became very obvious this buck was not moving well. He moved with an awkward gait, there was something wrong with his back end. We watched him for a while but as that particular field belonged to someone else, we had no permission to shoot and the buck was within 20 metres of the garden fence of the house in the wood we had to move on.
We moved three paces and looked through a gap in the hedge to our left. A yearling buck was feeding just out in the field. A quick mount of the rifle on the sticks and he was down second later. I retrieved him while my companion carried on to see if he could see anything else as I gralloched the downed buck.
He returned a while later after seeing nothing. On our way back we looked up into the field where the injured buck had been. He was still there. The others had fled across the field and were looking at us. The buck was struggling to move. Eventually he gave up trying to follow, went back to the edge of the field and lay down. It was a dilemma to leave him in that way but the ground wasn't ours. The house was very close and although any shot would have been safe, it was towards a footpath at the far end of the field so although it didn't seem right, unfortunately there was nothing to be done except for my friend to return on another day and see if the owners of the house were aware of the buck and if not, would it be possible to end his suffering with their permission.
The following morning I was up and out by 05:00. I was on my permission this time so had my plan sorted out. I set off and stalked down a long cover on the edge of a field. Not thick, only about 20m wide at it's thickest. This was the boundary and I had the wind with me. As I approached the end of this cover it gives way to a rougher area of the field. A stream runs along in front of me and the corner of the cover and three fields converge with hedges. Ideal to happen upon a Roe. A doe was feeding on the edge, just her rear end visible. I stopped and watched. She was in no hurry and eventually moved off to join another who had until now had remained unseen in the dip where the stream runs.
I watched for a while until one of them hopped over the stream and made her way across the field facing me. As she did, a buck appeared from the spot where the fields and cover converge. It is a typical quiet spot, ideal to find a deer feeding quietly.
He ran across to the doe who immediately took off. The buck became aware of the other that was in front of me and came back to watch her. Through the binoculars I recognised him. I had seen him earlier in the year in velvet. Back then I noticed he had a growth of antler just above his right pedicle, this was the same buck, I hadn't seen him since February. A mature buck but with a poor head
I mounted the rifle on the sticks, found my target and seconds later he had dropped on the spot. I reloaded as he kicked a couple of times and lay still. Satisfied he wasn't going anywhere I picked up the spent brass and waited for the remaining doe to disappear. I went the long way to collect him, not fancying the long jump across the stream. I dragged him back to the edge of a wood and gralloched him, admired his antlers before hanging him in a convenient hazel bush to cool off. It was still before 07:00 so I decided to stalk on and see if anything else was about. It wasn't so I collected my buck and headed home for fried liver and kidneys.
Here's a pic after I got him back.
That evening it rained and rained hard so I didn't bother venturing out. The following morning I woke to the sound of more rain on the roof so stayed in bed but it was clear in the evening.
I made my way back to where I shot the buck above but stood under a tree about thirty yards to the right of where I took my previous shot. It is a good place to stand and wait. A wood to my right, a wood in front of me across the field, the rough patch where hedges and stream collide, a safe field of fire in front of me. I was optimistic. Then it rained again. I sheltered in the lee of the oak tree for half an hour until it had passed.
Hopeful that after this shower the deer would once again start moving I watched a doe exit the wood to my right and start feeding, she came a little way out into the field and made her way away from me to the far end whereupon her twins came out and she stood there while they suckled.
As I watched, another deer came out of the wood in front of me at the furthest point of the field. He stood there, the doe saw him and then thing moved fast. As I watched, he ran straight for the doe. Her twins were unceremoniously cast aside as she fled before him, they followed on, unsure of which way to go. She ran straight towards me down the field followed by the buck. His head was poor. I knew there were better bucks out there so decided to take him if I could get a shot. Obligingly he stopped. The rifle was ready on the sticks as I watched the drama unfold. The light was fading now but through the scope the image was clear. I squeezed the trigger and heard the thwack as the bullet struck home.
Briefly unsighted and in the gloom I saw deer scatter. As I reloaded I saw the tail end of a couple enter the wood and disappear. There was no sign of my buck.
Slightly worried I hastily made for the place where I had shot him hoping to pick up a blood trail or any evidence of my bullet strike. As I approached the spot my heart sank, I could see no sign of him. In fact I didn't see him until I was less than five yards away. I needn't have worried, he was dead as a doornail on the spot. Even though the grass wasn't particularly long, he had fallen flat out and was masked by a tussock of grass that completely obscured him from view until I was right upon him.
Tutting at myself for doubting my shot I thankfully took a look at him. The shot was through the lungs and shoulders, pinning him there.
His antlers were non typical, two front points on his right side and a bent point on the left. There was evidence of a fly bite from his time in velvet which had produced this curious angle.
The next morning I was up and about by 05:30. There were no bucks to be seen today but during the wait to see if anything came out, a fox appeared. I squeaked him over to me and he sat about ten yards away head cocked to the side trying to figure out if I meant him harm. Eventually he decided to beat a retreat and he trotted off into some longer grass and was gone.
Now, before all you fox shooters suck in air between your teeth and sharpen your typing fingers I will add one more thing.
Until this weekend my daughter had shown no interest in coming deer stalking with me. She comes beating on the pheasant shoot and loves it but had never expressed an interest in stalking so imagine my surprise when she asked in the vehicle on the way down if she could come with me. I was only too glad to say yes.
To give her credit, trying to raise her in the mornings is like entering a cave troll's lair but she was up and dressed and out with me each time. In fact the first three outings had produced three deer so there was no way I was going to leave her at home on the fourth.
Even though we didn't keep her 100% record intact, we did see the fox and the look of wonder and excitement on her face as she saw the fox come in and sit in front of her was of far greater value than looking at a mangled bloody corpse in the grass.
I also hope she took something away with her. Just because you can shoot an animal, doesn't mean you have to. Sometimes it's more about not pulling the trigger.
Here are the heads in chronological order from left to right. The first four point yearling, the older malform with broken point and the final young buck with the extra point.
Apologies for the length of the write up.