Yesterday I made the trip down to Farrington Deer Services in Devon to meet up with Ian and head out for the day.
The plan was to spend the morning and early afternoon going over some range work with both the .243 and the .22 before setting off in the evening for a deer.
I arrived at about 10am to a warm welcome from Ian, his partner and the dogs. We sat down with a coffee and chatted over my shooting background and experience and what I wanted to achieve from the day. It was quickly decided that there was a lot I could learn on the range before going out for deer.
We grabbed our kit and set out for the range. The first job was to check zero on my .243 and adjust if required. The old Tasco scope had certainly held zero well (more on cheap scopes later ) and my grouping was good from the bench at 100m - we tweaked the scope to get 1.5" high at 100m to allow the minimum of hold-over at different ranges and Ian discussed the various benefits of setting up scopes this way and explained the differences in calibres and how you might adjust scopes on different rifles for different reasons. We also covered some ideas and techniques for sight-picture, especially trying to ensure I knew how well I had hit.
Already I was learning a huge amount of rifle craft and Ian showed me several new ideas for gaining greater stability off the bench and in a high seat. I was amazed that with a few simple changes it was possible to achieve significant improvements that were exceptionally obvious just by looking through the scope and seeing how much "wobble" had been reduced.
We then stowed the .243 and moved up the range with the .22 to practice different positional techniques. Ian explained that practice with the .22 is just as valid and significantly cheaper than tossing .243 bullets down the range, especially as I am still on factory ammo at the mo!
We went through seated, kneeling, standing and prone positions and Ian gave a huge number of tips and tricks and some very useful techniques that produced several "hallelujah!" moments. Ian has an excellent teaching style which really helps you to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it and then suggests alternative methods and ways of improving your existing knowledge, all delivered with an excellent sense of humour and in a way that makes sense. I was soon shooting some very respectable groups from seated, kneeling, standing and prone.
We went through a discussion on kit and the various ways this can be reduced and some clever work-arounds so bulky and heavy items can be left in the vehicle or got rid of entirely. Ian has some superb recommendations on the subject of sticks, which sticks are good, which sticks are not and most importantly the best methods of using them in the field - certainly opened my eyes to making it quick and easy to deploy and make best use of sticks when out and about.
Ian also covered some of the finer points of rifle control and safe handling, including some very useful techniques for ensuring exceptional muzzle awareness at all times. This added to my existing knowledge from DSC1 and helped to "fine-tune" the good practice I had already learned.
This had taken us most of the morning and some of the early afternoon and we soon headed back to base for another coffee and chat over what we had covered that morning.
Then Ian demonstrated the "dark art" of reloading and quite clearly and easily demonstrated to me that is was a part of shooting that was well worth considering. Certainly with some good basic instruction it really is a no-brainer in terms of the money that can be saved and the improvements in accuracy that can be achieved.
About an hour later we set out to some of Ians ground where he was confident we would see Roe. It was a short stalk up the side of a field and then a sit and wait under a tree. The unfortunate thing was the weather, through the day we enjoyed some sunny spells with puffy clouds and good visibility, but now we had reasonably heavy mist, drizzle and the wind was picking up. Nevertheless we settled in under a tree and got the sticks deployed ready. Ian explained the various reasons for choosing this spot and the various places in our field of view we may see Roe. After a short wait, scanning with the bins, Ian pointed out 3 Roe deer in our field of view. 2 does and a young buck. The does were viable animals and we watched through the binoculars to see what they would do. They were clearly unaware of us and were browsing/grazing quietly at about 120m out. This is where I discuss the importance of a good scope. Looking through my 8x42 bins I could see the three quite clearly and watched them wandering around the area in front of us, then I carefully raised the rifle. We had tried everything we could to keep the rain off the glass, but the drizzle was horrible and the mist wasn't making things any easier - looking through the Tasco I could just make out three white blobs that were the rump patches, going back to the bins I could clearly see the deer still wandering around quietly, back to the scope, blurred mess and no chance of taking a shot. This was about as frustrating as it gets, the deer presented broadside shots about 3-4 times, but with such poor visibility through the scope there was no way I could make an ethical shot.
Ian was very understanding and we sat and watched the deer (who had arrived at the precise time Ian predicted) for a little while longer before heading back to the vehicle. On the way back we chatted over the various options for better quality glass and the things to consider when purchasing a better scope.
A fantastic day with so many new lessons learned, Ian is exceptionally knowledgeable on all aspects of stalking technique and could not have given me a better opportunity. I am already looking forward to my next outing with Ian and would highly recommend his services to any stalker, no matter what level of expertise, I am sure Ian will show you something new that you haven't seen or thought of before.
So all that remains is to say Thank You to Ian for a superb day, and looking forward to the next one