Well, a few of you asked me to let you know how I got on during the 2 days that I spent on a Deer Park this week helping with the cull. I have not mentioned any names as I feel that it is not my place to do so and the park is privately owned. The chap that I was invited by manages the deer in the park for the owner and in exchange he gets access to all of the stalkng on the rest of the estate. I will call him R.
Well, R phoned me last Friday and as I had not spoken to him for about 6 months he had a lot of news for me. Unfortunately not all of the news was good. He had had some family problems and explained that he had fallen behind with the cull and would I help him out for a few days.
'What are you like at head shots?" he said.
"How the hell would I know? I shot a Roe in the head once and that fell over but other than that, I have not got a clue! I am sure I can give it a good go though." I said. I am not sure whether I came over as unsure as I felt but R seemed convinced that I would be fine. Then I realised that I still hadn't asked the boss and I knew that she would not be impressed. I was to be pheasant shooting on the Saturday, Fishing on the Sunday and shooting again the following Saturday, so I knew that 2 days culling fallow mid week was going to go down like a lead balloon. Well, what an understanding woman. She only swore 4 times and didn't hit me once!
I arranged with R that I would travel up on Tuesday evening and return on Thurday evening. Well, I obviously didn't appreciate the amount of work involved and had I known, maybe I would have delayed that homeward leg until after a friday morning lie-in.
I had a good drive up and rose early on Wednesday for a cooked breakfast and a run through of the plan. R wanted to take out at least 20 animals, mainly prickets and does, although there were some young bucks with poorly developing heads and an old boy that was now going back. I was confident with my rifle and so we set off for the park. I still did not really know what to expect, only that all deer where to be head shot as the estate wanted the optimum price for all venison. R did explain that mstakes do occassionally happen and if we injure a deer we were then to place the follow up shot anywhere to bring the animal down as quickly as possible.
Well, within 2 minutes of entering the park gates, I was looking at a herd of approximately 320 fallow of all shapes and sizes from 1 undersized fawn up to gold medal quality bucks. I then realised how difficult it was to pick out the correct cull beast when there were so many heads bobbing up and down. R took a shot at an old doe at the edge of the herd and missed so we immediately went to the far side of the park and checked the zero on both rifles. Mine was bang on I am pleased to say but R's had obviously been knocked at some point and was shooting 3" high at 100 yds. Better high with a head shot than low.
The first kill was the mother of the small fawn. R explained that once a doe had dropped a late fawn, she would continue to do so every year and so had to be one to go. The fawn then stood and looked at us at about 100yds giving me the perfect starter shot which I took cleanly. I then had a pricket stop and look and so I took that as well. Within an hour we had 10 animals plus the fawn lieing around somewhere in the 450 acres of park and we now had to remember where they were. R had said that the first hour would be the easiest! We then had dragging and gralloching to complete before we hung them in the chiller. By the time we had completed it, it was about 1.30 and R wanted to cull another 5. The deer now knew what our truck meant and were much more wary than in the morning. We split up and R used the truck to spook the deer in a direction where I would be waiting in ambush. Nice idea but the fallow seem to have their own mind on where to go and it was a good 2 hours before we had downed 4 more. All day we had seen a large buck which had gone back and one of its antlers had only grown to be half the size of the other. R asked me if I had a camera on me and as I did, he told me that we would try to cull the big buck. For nearly an hour the buck kept avoidng us. Always surrounded by fawns or other bucks. It was decided that if I did get the opportunity, I should neck him to keep the head in good condition. We were about to give up when, as if directed, all surrounding deer went down to feed and my buck looked up. I took the shot, approx. 120yds, and the buck dropped on the spot. We then had the dirty bit to do again and our day was over. 8 prickets, 6 does, 1 buck and 1 calf.
The next day went in a very similar way and up until 2pm, I had taken every animal cleanly where as R had made a couple of mistakes which we had cleaned up quickly without too much suffering.
We had taken 9 animals and were now after the final one for the day. I was dropped off in a likely ambush spot while R went to find the deer. While busy looking left and right down the ride, I had missed two young bucks appearing directly in front of me. By the time I had noticed them, 1 was lieing down with the other standing directly behind it. On closer inspection I realised that one of the bucks had a very poor head with little palmation at all. After making the decision and then checking again and again, I raised the rifle to take the shot. A branch across his forehead and the other buck directly behind him made it impossible. I slowly moved to my left and as I did, he clocked me and stood. Perfect and I squeezed the trigger. As I did he bolted and I thought that I had missed him but as he skipped away, I noticed that one of his ears was hanging low. I took a follow up shot at about 200 yards but I only had the option of the back of his head or a texas heart shot and so I went for the head and missed. Luckily, he was a distinctive buck and I new we would catch up with him soon. R turned up within a couple of minutes and I relayed my tails of woe. 'No problem." He said and we went to look for him. Luckily he was back with the main herd and amazingly he was feeding and, apart from the odd shake of his head and the low ear, you would not have known that anything was wrong. I am pleased to say that he presented himself for a shot and I took it without any more cock-ups. I was also worried that I had made the wrong decision in shooting him in the first place but R confirmed that he was a definite cull beast so all was OK. Total count after 2 days was 13 prickets, 10 does, 2 bucks and 1 calf.
I had learnt a huge amount about deer behaviour and about when to pull the trigger. All in all I had more than held my own and up until the last beast, had been extremely pleased with myself. The last animal reminded my why we should not take head shots when the animals are not fenced in. I totally understand why we head shot in the park and I don't have a problem with it. When it is clean it is very very clean but it can get dirty and the fence stops it from getting very very dirty! I also realised why many people use stainless rifles with synthetic stocks. My Sauer was a bit too pretty and you really needed a tool for this job. R's rifle was definitely a tool. Battered and bruised but made for the job.
I am sorry that this is so long, I am not a writer! I have got some photos which I will post as soon as I have managed to get them off my camera which seems to have gone wrong!!