I have received a lot of support & advice from a number of forum members (thanks in particular to Buckup & Willie_Gunn). As a result I am pleased to report that I now have my FAC (with permission for a 7mm & .22RF) and have been out as “the rifle” on my first guided stalk 2 weekends ago.
I met the professional guide, who had been recommended to me by a member of this forum, at the RV at 14.00hrs. I followed his Land Rover down some very narrow, wet & muddy country lanes to part of his permission which he uses for zeroing / shooting tests.
We had a thorough discussion about my previous firearms experience and went through a comprehensive safety briefing and a familiarisation of the Parker Hale .308 estate rifle. I then had to demonstrate my competence by grouping 3 rounds inside the 4 inch circle at 100 metres. Having passed this we had a discussion about the likely species to be seen on the ground (roe & muntjac) and the point of aim, should I be in a position to take a safe shot.
I was shown how to carry the rifle in a safe manner & also so that it was easy to get up on the sticks with the minimum of movement. We then had a short drive to the area of woodland that the guide had chosen for the evening stalk.
We parked up and my guide talked me through the plan of action and instructed me to stay as close to him as I could, just behind his left hand shoulder, as he would be whispering instructions to me. Unfortunately his dog assumed that this was its rightful position and it definitely won our little tussle around the woods !
Due to the tremendous rainfall in the previous few days, the ground was boggy and even though we progressed very slowly, our footsteps made a lot of noise. We stopped every 5-10 metres to scan the woods through our binoculars and I know understand just how slow the required pace can be. My new Minox HG 8.5x43 binos, which I bought as a result of various reviews on this forum, gave a good performance and I was particular pleased with how easy they are to hold with one hand and how quick the fast focus is.
The wind was about 10-15 mph and coming from the South-West which carried the noise of the nearby motorway to us. I had chosen to stalk whilst wearing my amplifying ear defenders as my hearing has already been permanently damaged from my time in HM Forces, but this proved to be a mistake. They did enable me to hear all noises better but I struggled to hear my guide, due to the traffic noise also being amplified. As such I chose to remove them halfway through the stalk.
No matter how slow we progressed we put up a lot of pheasant which must have alerted all animals in the woods to our presence. After about 30 minutes we stood still for about 10 minutes in an area that the guide knew to be a well used entry / exit route into a thick part of cover. He used his call to try and entice a deer out but nothing stirred.
As dusk approached we moved off into a slightly more open part of the wood. I was led up onto a slightly higher part of ground that looked down over a small dell with a thicker conifer plantation the other side (about 100 metres away). A whispered instruction told me that now was about the time that the deer would be coming out of the thicker cover. We scanned the ground continuously but all we saw were a lot of pheasants!
I sort of picked up a vibe that it was unlikely that we would see any deer this time, but I was content just being out in the woods, watching, listening & learning. However, my guide suddenly whispered “there’s one” and he indicated it had just come out of the plantation and was moving from right to left. To be honest I couldn’t see it but he gesticulated for me to follow him and we had a quick move of about 15 metres before I was instructed to put the rifle in the sticks, flip the scope covers up & prepare.
I then spotted the muntjac buck moving rapidly from right to left and about 75 metres away. I was instructed to pick it up in the scope and whisper when I had a clear view. When I did, my guide gave a shout to get the muntjac to stop which it did just as it disappeared behind a tree trunk I had to quickly reposition the sticks but the buck had started moving again. My guide gave another shout and this time I had a clear view. A quick check of a safe backstop, control my breathing and I took the shot.
The muzzle flash (no moderator) and noise (no ear defenders) temporarily blinded / deafened me but I remembered to automatically reload, apply safety and observe. The buck went down, a couple of kicks of the legs and then still. After a while my guide complemented me on a good shot and said that the deer was dead. We approached carefully and from about 10 metres, to my dismay, we spotted the exit wound about halfway back the abdomen. My guide showed me how to do the eye ball test and check for a reaction, of which there was none.
We had to move fast now as the light was failing. On turning over the buck we found that my shot had gone where I had aimed (just behind the foreleg and about 1/3rd of the way up) but that the bullet had travelled diagonally across the chest cavity due to the deer not being completely broadside on when I took the shot. As a result the stomach had been clipped on the exit .
Rifle unloaded, we had time for the obligatory photograph which has not yet been received from my guide but when it is I’ll post it up and you can check out just how big the grin is! I was then talked through the gralloch and how to check for a healthy animal. We found the bullet had passed through the heart and had expanded well. My guide estimated that the buck was about 3 years old by looking at the teeth and he also pointed out how it had lost a tusk in a territorial fight. It was a truly beautiful animal and in good condition.
Having cleaned up we had a short walk out of the woods back to the Land Rover and the debrief. Needless to say I found this to be a wonderful experience, never to be forgotten, and I realise just how fortunate I was to take an animal on my first stalk with a rifle in my hands. The buck's head is being skinned, bleached & mounted and I am now saving up to book my next outing with the guide. I am now hooked and have started the journey on what I hope will be many years of learning about deer and their management.