I was out for a stalk yesterday on a patch of ground in the New Forest, one controlled by Jelen Deer Services. I met Mike Allison there and we discussed where each of us would stalk. That settled we got kitted up and set off, me to the west him to the east, aiming for a wander of about 1km or so each then into high seats for the last hour of the day.
Less than 100m or so from the car I saw my first deer, a roe doe - a big one, but without a follower. She didn't seem aware of my presence but neither did she stop, she just purposefully made her way deeper into the woods. I waited with the rifle up on my sticks just in case she re-appeared.
A couple of minutes later I saw a nice buck, a 6-pointer, heading towards where I'd seen the doe move to. I hung around for a bit in case he flushed the doe out of cover, but he didn't. From the way both animals moved they weren't spooked, they hadn't winded me for sure, but, they must have seen me as I was in a break in a ride, surely in plain view.
No matter, it was time to move on and within another 200m or so I glimpsed something deep in the woods, a patch of brown grey that didn't fit the rest of the shadows.
I stopped, slowly raised the binos and saw that it was a young roe doe. That was the good bit but the bad bit was that she seemed to have clocked me. She was rocking her head from side to side then lifting her head up high one second, down low the next and all the time she was sniffing the air. She seemed wary but unsure of what I was or what to do.
She ducked behind a tree and I got the rifle up on the sticks, adjusting my position so that I had a chance of getting the sights on her if she moved into a little clearing to the side of the tree.
Unfortunately, or so I thought at the time, she didn't stop she just kept moving.
I couldn't believe what happened next.
She walked, no, make that trotted, closer to where I was stood - much closer.
When I first spotted her she was over 100m away, now she was 40m or so right in front of me but looking straight at me, sadly from within a stand of hazel - so I couldn't get a clear shot at her.
It was like she was checking me out.
Her last move, a bad one for her, was to move out into a perfectly clear patch and turn to her right - presenting me with an almost perfect broadside target.
She dropped to the shot, kicking only a couple of times.
I reloaded and got the sights back on her, just in case, but she was dead so it was safety on and get ready to close in to check her, do the gralloch etc.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bit of movement, I couldn't believe it, it was a young buck, a 4-pointer, looking right at me. He moved, looked at me, looked again, moved again - keeping this up for what seemed like ages until he was deep in cover, when I first saw him he was about 60m away - he must have heard the shot, seen the movement of my reload etc but hadn't bolted. Why not?
Mike and I had a quick check in via the radio and then after finishing the gralloch I started off towards the high seat which overlooked a field of winter wheat. I reached it without any further excitement and settled in, pressure off having already grassed a beast.
Mike won't be done under the trade description act re that high seat - Feck! it's tall enough to need oxygen tanks to reach the top, I felt the old vertigo beginning to take hold.
Nothing much happened until about 30minutes before last light. I heard some movement way behind me, but the cover there was too thick to even try glassing it. So I just sat still and patiently waited.
Eventually a fallow doe appeared to my left, but it was like she suspected something was up, she definitely knew where the high seat was and thoroughly checked me out. She was twitchy, never standing still, moving about - even barking and pronking a bit. Yep, she was on edge, I definitely thought that she would bolt, but after a bit she seemed to calm down slightly and with a soft cough she called her follower out.
When the young'un came out she seemed to relax a bit but never completely settled down, amazingly she kept checking me out, I swear she looked straight at me several times. I had, as always, already got the rifle up on the rest but couldn't even bring it to bear on her as I was sure any movement at all from me would spook her.
Anyway, when she finally got the head down to feed I eased into position - ever so slowly - took the shot, again a heart and lung hit. Off she bolted, fortunately out into the field and not back to cover, she made 40m or so, it's amazing the way they can do that when they've been on edge. However, she gave away the fact that she was well hit by doing that turning to the exit wound side in an increasingly tight turn.
Over she went but her follower just kept going, pronking away across the field and off into the woods over 300m away.
I did of course wait, right until absolute last light, to see if the follower would come back or another deer would show, but that was it.
All in all not a bad couple of hours in the New Forest, a couple of good clean beasts off into the estate larder and a contribution to the cull effort - but the best bit for me?
Further evidence, to my thinking anyway, that wearing a face veil definitely seems to be an advantage at times. Six deer had looked straight at me, some from only yards away and none of them seemed to be able to figure out what I was. Anecdotal evidence for sure, but I'll put that face veil on every time now and ignore the mocking from the unbeliever.
Thanks to Mike, Dave & the rest of the team at Jelen for giving me the opportunity to stalk on what is a cracking bit of ground.