As much as I've enjoyed rimfire since grant of my FAC in April, I yearned to return to full-bore, following finishing with the reserve forces a few years ago. I was initially granted .17 HMR, .22 and .223 with the intention of getting fully to grips with vermin control, before progressing to deer in a few years time. Realising however, the mounting cost of the hobby, and my FEO being amenable towards varying the .223 slot in favour of a .243, I took the opportunity to obtain a combined foxing and deer rifle. A kind fellow forum member from Chippenham stepping forwards and to mentor me, permitted the .243 slot to also be conditioned for deer. Putting off DSC1 until early next year to gain some experience, a few weeks ago my mentor took me through the butchering process on a good size Roe in advance of the first stalk booked for today.
With excitement induced insomnia, I woke several hours in advance of the 05:00 alarm call. Finally accepting sleep was not going to return, a slow and steady start seemed the order of the day. Having loaded the car the night before, quietly retrieving the rifle from the cabinet was the sole remaining task before slipping out into the darkness. Stopping at an Esso 24-hour station, an early morning Cornish pasty settled the grumbling stomach, otherwise destined to be denied the usual pleasure of breakfast. Running the risk of being pulled for kerb crawling, a slow drive proved a further vain attempt to kill more time and I arrived 40 minutes in advance of the arranged 06:30 meet. However, the opportunity to mentally run through a complete gear check and re-visualise the previous evenings pouring over deer vitals location and shot placement was most helpful, and to prove quite prophetic.
The stalk was to be held in Wychwood Forest over Cornbury Park (http://www.cornburypark.co.uk/deer-stalking.html) near Charlbury, Oxfordshire, one of the few remaining working estates still privately owned, by Lord and Lady Rotherwick. Being born and bred in the county and having spent many enjoyable evenings and weekends exercising in the forest during the early years of my reserve service, the pull to return was strong, and preferred to the open plains of South Wiltshire for my first stalk. The Estate Deer Manager Tom Marshall, my host for the morning, arrived bang on time and in some style. His 4x4 buggy, which was to serve as transport to the start point, was a most impressive and welcome sight, especially with early morning fatigue still very much in evidence. A brief tour of Tom's office and the extensive deer larder, and a map overview of the ground we would be covering, and we set off. Arriving on the edge of the forest at 07:00, we sat and chatted in hushed tones waiting for first light. Tom shared a little of his interesting and impressive background, including early career at the renown Woburn Abbey Estate. Softly spoken, engaging and highly professional, I immediately warmed to Tom and looked forward to the hours ahead.
Dawn having broken just after 07:30 and the light sufficient to see clearly, we set off quietly down one of the many forest tracks. Shortly into the stalk and Tom paused to scan the undergrowth. Passing his impressive Swarovski binoculars across, a doe and her fawn as yet unseen by me, could be clearly seen tracking us 20-30 metres into the undergrowth. The same scenario repeated several more times over the following few hundred yards and I was immensely impressed, not seeing a single one of the animals, until Tom showed me they were there.
Half a mile or so later, I was to finally understand the inner excitement spoken of frequently, of the sound of rutting deer. Moving steadily and stealthily towards the calling buck still a way away, the relative dark of the forest canopy gave way to a small clearing. Tracking around the edge, movement on the far side brought us to a halt. A Muntjac buck burst from the foliage. Readying the sticks, I enquired whether to set up for a shot. Although making clear it should be my decision, Tom, thoughtful of my earlier brief that ideally we would secure an animal large enough to satisfy the extended family for my 40th birthday lunch on Sunday, diplomatically suggested continuing the approach on the rutting buck might be more appealing. So, we just enjoyed watching this marvellous animal, still unaware of our presence, mooching around and periodically rising on his back legs to reach branches almost at the extent of his reach. Once he had moved on, I was curious as to how far Tom thought the Muntjac had been. I guessed at 150 yds and was surprised when Tom confidently pronounced 103 yds; his goochie Swaros sported an impressive and helpful in-built laser range finder!
Re-entering the wood at the track the Muntjac had appeared from and at the top of the slope of a modest sized valley, Tom stopped. Again spotting deer I would have missed, movement 50-60 yards into the forest on the left revealed a small group. Further movement at the bottom of the slope 60-70 yards away revealed two Muntjac and a fawn. Sandwiched between the two groups, we remained stock still to avoid startling them and risk spooking the rutting buck just the other side of the valley. After what seemed like an eternity, they finally moved on and we continued gingerly down the steep and slippery valley side, across the ride and up the other side. As we neared the top of the slope now just 70-80 yards from the rutting buck, frustratingly, we disturbed a group of does concealed in the undergrowth. Hope that their departure hadn't alerted the buck to our presence was sadly forlorn. We reached his stand to find no deer anywhere in sight.
An otherwise successful stalk, overcoming numerous possibilities of earlier frustration, mutual disappointment at the 11th hour failure was almost palpable. This was not made any easier by the going in the wood on this side of the valley, being considerably harder. ~09:00 by now and we trekked onwards for a good few miles, without a single sign of another animal. Almost wishing we'd taken the Muntjac Buck after all, it felt an unsaid resolve to take any opportunity now presented. Just a hundred yards or so into an area Tom said was frequented by Muntjac, a buck appeared along a side track 40-50 yards away. Just getting sticks and rifle set, he hopped into the undergrowth, out of sight. Starting to follow, I spotted another Muntjac buck off to the right, just 30 yards away. Quickly mounting the rifle, Tom suggested it may be worth leaving that one, since retrieval from the swamp he was crossing could prove problematic Thick foliage screening any further sign of the first buck, disappointment of another narrowly missed opportunity started to rise.
As we continued down the track, Tom was frequently scouring the adjacent slope with his Svaro's. Just 20 yards further on and we spotted a good size fallow at the top of the slope just 40 yards or so away. Disappointment started to rise again, as my inexperienced eye took it for a doe. A hushed check with Tom and my heart jumped when he assured me it was a buck. Setting the sticks but struggling to get a clear sight picture through the undergrowth, I slowly slid downwards to a half sitting half crouching, but stable shooting position. Just as I reached a workable sight picture, disappointment started to rise once more as the animal was almost full front on. However, unbeknown to me Tom had done his homework in advance of the stalk and checked out an earlier thread where I shared my zeroing and trajectory plotting results. Confident of my marksmanship, he quietly counselled that if I was confident, I should take a neck shot, half-way up the neck, as that was the only shot on offer. Knowing the shot would fall pretty much bang on at 40 yds uphill and despite all the furore seen on the forum about ill advised neck shots, I knew it was the only option available, but more importantly that I could make it. Tom calmly repeating his counsel, I steadied the breathing and released the safety. A smooth clean squeeze and the rifle jumped. The awkward position failed to return the sight picture to the point of aim, and I was hurrying to reload. However, it wasn't necessary. Tom shot out his hand; congratulations Tim, excellent shot! The buck had dropped on the spot, the round falling exactly where aimed, in the centre of the neck horizontally and vertically, cleanly severing the spinal column.
Reaching the fallen buck, the last vestiges of life in the leg nerves causing then to slightly tremble, Tom quickly, smoothly and expertly, applied a precautionary coup de grace cut across his throat, severing the jugular. The adrenaline rush starting to give way to euphoria at realisation of the successful stalk for this magnificent wild animal, it was my turn to start to tremble slightly. Events in that moment seemed to move in slow motion and leave me not quite sure what to do next. So, I just stood and soaked up the moment. Gradually coming back down to earth, the small camera came out of the waist pouch and Tom was good enough to do the honours, capturing the special moment for posterity:
Leaving the buck in situ, we completed the lengthy trek back to the vehicle in short thrift. The 4x4 buggy then came into it's own, threading it's way effortlessly back across the bumpy and very muddy tracks. Indeed, with a fella this size, I wouldn't have liked to have to drag him far. Back at the Deer Larder, Tom completed the gralloch with an ease that surely only comes from having undertaken thousands of times previously, helpfully explaining and demonstrating each step. The gralloch compete, the buck weighed in at 40kg and only slightly overhung the Roe tray in the car boot, ready for his passage to the next stage of the process.
In summary, an outstanding stalking experience with a true gentleman, and one I definitely wish to repeat. Thanks Tom!
Having received a 'best wishes' text from my mentor minutes into the stalk (oops, forgot to switch off the phone), but still slightly off balance from the 'moment', I hope he forgives me for having received the text destined for my wife; with kisses on the end Anyhow, he kindly came to my place and helped me through my first hands-on butchering attempt. An amazing amount of meat picked from the bones, all is now in the fridge/frozen ready for the next steps.
The kids arriving home a little later was priceless. Asking where the deer was and being told it had already been dealt with, they rushed straight out to their swing where the seat had been removed to be replaced with the carcass on s-hooks and duly dealt with. Having missed the event itself, they insisted on a blow by blow account of the whole experience, along with detailed explanation of all the different cuts of meat and where on the animal they had come from. Mission to ensure they understand that meat doesn't start off shrink wrapped on the shelf in Tesco's, accomplished.
Onwards to the Frying Pan
The final step in the journey will be serving the choice cuts for the extended family on Sunday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/fi...sonandwi_89763). I'll try and remember to take a few more pics of the process and end result.
Thanks for reading and to the forum members for all the advice and support that has enabled such a memorable day, I'm much obliged