Part 1: Chinese water deer
After eight months of anticipation, during which quite a lot of important things happened, I have a Chinese water deer in my sights, and theyíre weaving all over the place. Thirty seconds before, I had been chatting with Sikamalc, having set forth from the B&B five minutes earlier, weíd just turned the corner of a field near a large haystack, when he stopped and urgently whispered ďThere! Use the haystack!Ē. It was like being awoken suddenly, I hadnít really mentally started stalking yet, but I put up my rifle, put the deer about 100 metres away in the crosshairs. Unfortunately the sudden adrenaline rush meant that my reticule was doing figures-of-eight all over the deerís body. I couldnít stabilise it, and I didnít want to risk injuring it, and then it moved off, so I stood down. This turned out to be a mistake, because it only sauntered off a few metres. ďItís stopped againĒ says Malc. What? But I havenít come down from the previous excitement yet! OK, back up on the haystack. This time I try to control my breathing, itís better than last time, I hold the crosshairs on the chest, squeeze the trigger, squeeze, squeeze, and the deerís off again, before I had time to squeeze hard enough to let the shot off. Perhaps a case of exercising a little too much trigger control there. All of that took about a minute and a half. ďYouíre going to have to be faster than that, mate. That could be your chance for the morningĒ. Yes, I know, damn it. Now in my mind Iím falling back on my usual silver linings: Iíve seen my first Chinese water deer. I didnít risk wounding it. And then I think that itís not even 8am, the sunís very low in the sky, and we havenít finished yet.
We move off to another area. At the crest of a hill we stop to glass the area to the right. After a few minutes, from about a kilometre away, we (I mean Malc of course, but Iím going to say ďweĒ for stylistic purposes) spot four deer grazing on a field near the end a hedge that stops halfway through it. Theyíre just under the top of a ridge, presumably a little sheltered from the wind, so we head off around the area to arrive downwind of them, with a possible hidden approach path. This is different from before, there are no surprises here. We know exactly where the deer are, that theyíre out in the open with little cover, and that we will stick out like sore thumbs if we peep over a ridge. We walk to the edge of the first field, stop to glass, but canít see them. We can see the hedge though, on the other side of which they should be. They probably canít see us, so he move, increasingly stooped, across the next field until we enter a shallow dip. Now we canít see them, we think theyíre over the crest of the ridge, through the hedge, but we donít know, so weíre low, slow, quiet. My pulse is racing now, but itís not panic like before. This is just alertness, concentrating on not ruining this opportunity. Near the end of the gully, we can just peep over the ridge to glass the next field. Thereís one deer a long way off, in a totally different place, and we think theyíve moved since we first saw them. We move up the slope towards the hedge, and suddenly weíre proved wrong: there they are, still grazing peacefully, through the hedge, down the other side of the slope. We pull back, back up the gully, meaning to approach them upslope from our side of the hedge. At this point, Malc says ďIíll leave you to itĒ. Iíve never done this before, but Iím not particularly worried about my ability to move stealthily. So off I go, slower and slower, lower and lower, keeping below the skyline. I can glimpse the deer as they move in and out of holes in the hedge. Then Iím on all fours. Just before the ditch in front of the hedge, I bring my binoculars up, but I realise that I canít tell whether these are bucks or does, and that my selection criterion now is whether I can find a clear line of sight through the hedge. So I ditch the binoculars and start to move sideways towards a likely-looking hole in the hedge. There are a couple of twigs across the left-hand hole, but the right-hand one is clear, so the deer in that window is the target. Iím lying on my front, rifle shouldered, I control my breathing, this should be a straightforward shot, perhaps eighty metres away. This time, itís a relaxed shot from a good rest, so I set the trigger to avoid a repeat of earlier events. Then I just sort of imagine firing and bang! The deer goes down on the spot. I reload, watch for signs of movement through the scope, there are a few twitches. ďItís not going anywhere! You can go and see what you gotĒ says Malc.
The feeling of relief is immense, then pride starts to creep in. Itís last yearís doe, a beautiful little animal. I look around for something to give it a ďlast biteĒ, but thereís just nothing around yet in February. Malc gives me a hug, which canít be part of the usual service. My first Chinese water deer. But with hindsight, thatís not the point: I owe Malc my first real stalk on my own. I have photos, a deer, and Iíll look at the pictures, and eat the deer. But what will remain will be the knowledge that I know I can do this. So Malc, my heartfelt thanks for that, because that's something that I can keep.
(Part 2 to follow)