Here's a little write up of my first introduction to deer stalking which came courtesy of this very forum.
I'd been dying to give deerstalking a go over the last couple of years but as hobbies go, it never struck me as particularly approachable. It's not like you can just pop out, buy a badminton racquet and rent a court at the local leisure centre. It's a passtime steeped in mystique, the regular stalkers are often quite discreet and I expected, the legal red tape is necessary and abundant.
As I read more and more about it and turned into a bit of a closet anorak I wanted more and more to give it a try, so eventually I bit the bullet (not literally) and posted an introduction here. As I do a lot of bass fishing out of the Helford River in Cornwall, I thought I'd offer it up as a swap to see if there were any takers.
I wasn't really expecting any responses, but really appreciated a few encouraging words from some experienced stalkers, none more so than Ruby Tuesday (I'll call him RT). RT messaged me with his phone number and after a few failed attempts we got in touch (trying to call Devon from Cornwall using mobile phones is less efficient than using carrier pigeons). After our first chat I couldn't believe my luck. RT was clearly a very experienced stalker and answered every one of my dozen questions on calibres, licencing, meat prep etc. I was half expecting him to get impatient but no, we had a good old yarn and even over the phone I learned more than I had in months of mags and forums.
A few weeks later I was winging it up the A30 into Devon to accept his kind invitation to have an evening and morning stalk on his ground. At RT's house I met his wife and lad (a fellow fishing obsessive) and some very well behaved dogs. We started out on the 'range' to check that 20 years of playing with air rifles translated into firearms. Luckily my shooting was straight and I got to try both RT's backup rifle (a Howa .243) and a gorgeous Sako 85 in 6.5x55 which is his rifle of choice. Both produced very tight groups and both were rather more dramatic than my PCP FX Cyclone in .177.
After a brief pit stop for a cuppa and some food we began our first stalk. RT's ground is English countryside at its finest. The steep rolling hills with broken woodland and mixed crops looked fantastic on a sunny evening and as the light started to drop, RT started to point out the fallow emerging from woodland about 1km away. Initially I thought he was making them up but as I got my eye in it was clear that deer numbers weren't going to be a problem. However, the issue was whether they'd reach our ground before the light faded on us. After some time stalking woodland and a corn field we ran into our first fallow. Unfortunately, it took of with a bound and we watched it disappear into the corn. This was the closest I'd been to a deer so a great result already for me!
The evening ended without a deer but we'd covered good ground and I was already excited about our 5am start to stalk an area of chestnut coppice which was receiving some unwelcome attention from roe the next morning. We started shortly after first light and all around us RT pointed out sign, from tracks to poo, I was learning to identify species and size as well as how to tell the difference between rabbit droppings and those of a deer. As we stalked some woodland with beautiful glades, RT was even able to answer my questions on plants and I now know my Himalayan Balsam and Rowan's as well as some good deer tracking tips!
The highlight of the morning was a perfect line up on a fallow at around 100 yards. RT explained about the range and backstop but unfortunately some glassing showed that the deer was a doe so due to the season no shot was taken.
Overall I had a brilliant time. Although I didn't take a deer I'm now even more keen to get into stalking as a hobby and a way of life. DSC1 is now firmly on the radar. RT was a brilliant host and mentor and I am really grateful for the opportunity to join him on a stalk.
Thanks also to The Stalking Directory for enabling me to get in touch and start on such a good footing. In a way I'm quite glad I didn't get a deer - good things shouldn't come easily (and now there's no pressure to catch a huge bass when RT comes to do some fishing!)