In advance of my DSC1 at the weekend, I wanted to slip in a second stalk and guided gralloch (as helpful as I've already found the pre-DSC study, I'm amazed that DSC1 qualifies one to shoot deer unaccompanied, yet without any requirement for experience of the gralloch - but that's a discussion that's already been done to death in other threads). Queue a second visit to the Cornbury Park Estate, near Charlbury, Oxfordshire. Having so much enjoyed returning to old stomping grounds and appreciated the company and expertise of Tom Marshall, the estate deer manager on my first stalk, I eagerly awaited the return.
The recent awful weather lending expectation of a soaking, as daylight broke, it was a pleasant surprise to find silent prayers answered with clearing skies and even a few rays of sunshine. Meeting at the Deer Larder, a short drive in Tom's 4x4 buggy took us to the area of a collection of modest sized woods with sizeable rolling fields between where Tom commented he had not taken any deer yet this year. Glassing the area after dismounting, a group of 8 fallow bucks were visible 400-yds away on the other side of the field. Waiting a few minutes as they worked their way into the wood, we set off steadily picking our way around the muddy puddles along the side of the field. As we reached the corner of the wood a Muntjac presented itself teasingly 60-yards away. After enjoying watching it mooch around for a late breakfast, Tom whispered that Muntjac would be the backup. As we moved off, the Muntjac sensing all was not well, hot footed it into the wood and we then tracked our way down the side of the wood glassing regularly, but seeing no sign of the Fallow bucks. Another Muntjac barked in the distance and we headed into the wood via a ride where Tom had been leaving a little feed. Bumping several Muntjac in the process, we came close to taking one out of sheer frustration.
Composure regained as the Muntjac trotted off deeper into the wood, we hung a right down the main ride bisecting the wood from end to end. Signs of deer were everywhere and several Roe were making their way across the ride towards the end of the wood. Opting to leave them be and keep the focus on the Fallow, we about turned and made our way back to the main ride and to the top of the wood where Tom was confident the bucks would have gone, across another field to another wood they liked to frequent. As we picked our way across the field, my extra few inches of height spotted the bucks over the top of Tom's head and the crest of the hill we were approaching, 400 yards away down the side of the wood. Freezing, ducking down and making our way back ten yards and then over to the cover of the wood, we inched toward the corner.
Six of the bucks were standing in the open. After watching for a minute or two to make sure they had not seen us, Tom took my rifle and led a careful crawl around the side of the wood and to the top of the rise. This took us to within a range found (thanks to Tom's superb Svaro's) 250 yards, with a clear view of the bucks. Taking back the rifle and setting up on the bipod, Tom carefully inspected each animal through the binoculars, determining the best animal to take. Four had what looked to my inexperienced eye to be pretty fine racks, one plain spikes and another nothing at all. Tom whispered that we would take the spiker in preference, but that any one of them would be good cull animals. Not being quite comfortable with the backstop, we waited, suspecting they may well work their way back towards us and present a safer shot.
We weren't to be disappointed. As the bucks made their way back along the side of the wood, the missing two hopped out of the wood to join them. Gathering speed, they quickly reached 60-yards and counting, showing no sign of stopping. Tom whispered to be ready to take the lead buck as soon as he 'barked' at them. Everything then happened at once, the adrenalin rush causing everything to go into slow motion. The lead buck was clearly not daft and as soon as Tom barked, sped off into the field taking the next two with him. The next five presenting less than 50 metres away but without a clear broadside shot and knowing me capable, Tom encouraged a neck shot. Quickly adjusting onto the now lead buck and steading the breathing, a gentle squeeze was followed by the reassuring thump into the shoulder. The buck dropped on the spot and the remainder sped off across the field, following their compatriots.
After the remaining seven bucks dropped out of sight, we mad our way over. The bucks spinal column had clearly been cleanly severed, but a coup de grace was also clearly required. With Tom explaining and then closely supervising, a cut swiftly and cleanly downwards from the ear taking the carotid artery, ensured a swift end and speedy bleeding process. Collecting the buggy, we loaded the buck and made our way back to the deer larder. Tom patiently and helpfully took me through the gralloch and explanation of the pluck inspection for a second time, this time also providing some hands on practice. I still wouldn't be confident to attempt a field gralloch on my own, but assuming a pass at the weekend, I'm sure that will be remedied in due course with a little further support from Tom or my mentor.
Thanks for reading and I hope has been of interest.