Having shot only a small number of deer, and my Deer Stalking Certificate level 1 course and test booked for a few weeks time, I wondered when would be appropriate to take my first deer on my own. Surely before the test would be the right thing to do, so I have a little more experience. Or would it be best to have done the training. The truth is there is no right time to take your first deer, other than when you think you are ready.
The opportunity to shoot my first stag came up a couple of weeks ago. Mum had a few grazing on her pasture this summer, and her patience with them was running thin as her planters outside the chalets were being munched down as quickly as she could replant them.
I made sure I asked my pal Colin, the stalker form the hill behind, which I could shoot – whilst strictly speaking not his deer, but only good form to ask. Colin picked me a switch stag, with antlers that had grown bowed and without many points.
I thought about it for a couple of days, and in the end gladly accepted his offer to escort me for the kill. It didn’t take long to find him, and when Colin showed me all the gralloching, inspection and general post mortem dealings, this time I paid particular interest. It wouldn’t be long before I hoped to be doing this myself, on my own. I was also extremely glad to be able to use the estate’s game larder on what was an extremely hot July in the highlands.
We got a new puppy last weekend, so atypical for a summer weekend the wife and I had to stay around and about as the pup’s not allowed out yet. A beautiful poodle cross springer, but that will have to be another story. The point of this is that I had to find some sport close to home or I’d be in trouble! I emailed a good pal who has some access to some fallow and roe stalking, and asked whether we could get out on Saturday morning.
It was clearly a well timed self-invitation, as it was pounced upon. I found myself sat in a high seat at 4.30 am in deepest West Sussex, with just my .243 for company. JB was in the next door wood in the same position. Fallow bucks only unless a ropey roe buck turned up.
Sitting in a high seat watching dark turn to light is a magical experience. Nature really does not seem to see you. As the day broke, I sat watching over a maize cover crop and combined wheat field as probably two hundred pigeons came in to the field by about 6.30. It was at this point I saw a deer wander out of the wood into the field.
On closer inspection, it was a doe, or at least it was short of antlers. The cover crop stretched out 150m or so, and she was a few more metres from there. I watched her for a good half an hour as she grazed on what had grown up through the stubble. She seemed to look over to me a couple of times, but I don’t think she saw me. I tried experimenting by moving a little more to see what she’d pick up. I also tried squeaking like you would a fox or a rabbit, but I think the distance was too far.
Over time she wandered back into the wood. Then ten minutes later, she wandered out again. I had a look at her through the bins. Hang on, this one had antlers. Two spikey ones. Having never seen either roe or fallow growing up, I had to rely on learning material for DSC1 and I thought I new the difference. I was nervous now. Was this to be the first deer I shot on my own? Still unsure if it was a roe because of the antlers, I sat and watched.
Then I saw a tail swish behind him. Not a roe then. I have to admit double checking the tail issue on my phone. It would be seriously embarrassing to grass the wrong beast. So I trained the scope on him.
I was nervous. I had been trying to assess the distance of the doe earlier on, and this chap was in roughly the same location. I new it was over 150m, but just not how much. I figured my .243 would drop 3 inches at 200m, and not much at 150m. So I got the cross hair 1.5 inches above the ideal chest target.
I have not chest shot a deer before. Always head shot red deer on the hill from 100m or less, and it hasn’t yet gone wrong, but I have always had an experienced stalker with me - and to be clear, i don't think I'll be doing it again, certainly not on my own. This was a definite candidate for a chest shot, possibly at 200m.
So I glassed the buck. He wasn’t quite the right position for me, facing me at a three quarter angle. I waited a few minutes and he turned and showed me his flank. This was it. First deer on my own, first chest shot. What to expect? Would he run on a long way, what would happen?
I started on my three deep breaths. As I exhaled the last one, I found myself not squeezing the trigger quite right as I needed more breath. I aborted the shot and relaxed. I started the breathing cycle again and in an almost out of body way, I felt myself squeezing the trigger and the shot went off.
It clearly hit the target. The bucks head went up, and he darted into the field. He must have made 25m and then stumbled. I had loaded my rifle again, and sat ready should I need to take another shot. He put his head up again and I wondered if I would need to fire again. Then it dropped, and a couple of flicks of his body and he was still. The whole event must have taken no longer than thirty seconds.
I waited in my seat another ten minutes, as directed by good practice, in case he got up and needed another shot. It was not necessary. On closer inspection later on, it was a heart shot. Experience will tell me in the future that this is the reaction to a heart shot.
I wandered out to have a look. I paced the distance and I made it around 200 strides. I bled him and started to drag him towards the track. JB would have heard the noise, and I had shot enough for the morning, so I waited around our vehicle until he appeared ten minutes later.
Donning the latex gloves from the truck and borrowing JB’s much sharper knife, I gralloched the buck. What a good start to the day. The gamekeeper kindly gave me the carcass, and I headed home loaded up. Watch this space for a tale of skinning, butchering, mincing and sausaging a fallow buck.
I have my DSC1 starting Friday, and then a couple of stalks booked with Sikamalc with a bit on my own in between. Whatever happens in the future and however many deer I stalk, I will never forget the moment I pulled the trigger on this buck. And was I right to do it this soon? Yes I was. I was confident in my set up, and now I'm confident in me BEHIND my set up. It can only get better from here.