I’ve been a bit slow at getting this online, but I’d just like to say a big thanks to IanF and Artemiss for being great hosts and putting me onto my first deer. Actually it was the second deer Ian got me on to but I'll let the story unfold below...
Spending Christmas down in Somerset with the in laws I took advantage of that quiet period between Xmas and New Year and slipped out the backdoor when nobody was looking and headed for the Devon border.
Once across the border into bandit country it wasn't long before I was supping a cup of tea at Ian and Jo's place and showing them my latest new toy. A Parker Hale Safari in .308 (or as my wife keeps referring to it the Parker Knoll). Finishing my tea, I quickly dump my overnight bags in the hunting lodge and we headed up to the range to try the Safari for the first time and check the zero on the PH .270 of Ian's I would be using the following day.
Leaving the Disco at the gate as the ground was pretty waterlogged, we walked up to Ian’s private range. There is a nice sturdy bench rest set up permanently in the field. First we played with the Safari which whilst hitting the paper, the scope mounts were creeping terribly. Next up was the moderated .270, a few shots each to confirm zero and we headed back to wagon.
Having jumped back in the wagon we then took a little tour around the lanes looking for deer. About 15 minutes later we pull up to scan the opposite side of the valley through a gateway. Ian quickly spotted a Roe doe which slipped into cover before I got my bins on it.
After a few minutes I spotted a flash of caudal patch and there she was - tucked up close the hedge at the top a rising field. Due to her location there was no chance of getting into a position with a safe backstop and wind was in the wrong direction for us to enter the field undetected. But I can confirm – there are deer in Devon!
We drove down the valley and pulled up in the lane adjacent to the field and watch her over the hedge for a few minutes before heading back to the house for dinner.
The hunting lodge has two floors; ground floor has a kitchen area, comfy lounge/diner area with shelves full of hunting DVDs and books, and a shower/toilet room. Upstairs is an attic style bedroom with wood panelled walls and ceiling and a coupe of single beds. Nice and bright lighting with a coupe of alarm clocks for those early starts! Having sorted out my kit for the following morning I headed over to the main house for dinner.
This was not the first time I experienced Jo’s cooking as I came down in early November. (That visit we spent the time going through rifle basics,safety and practicing field shooting positions using shooting sticks.)
Once again Jo had whistled up a feast, venison and beef, roast spuds, parsnips etc. and gravy followed by a great big meringue. I am not going to say who finished off the meringue with a huge second helping but it wasn’t me or Jo…
Moving to the lounge we chatted about shooting in general, hunting, my aversion to gyms and the plans for the following day. Retiring to bed I woke up every hour thinking – I’m late! I’m not a morning person so God knows why I have taken up a pursuit that involves getting up so early.
All in the wagon at 6:30am we headed off to Dorset, Jo driving and us all keeping a beady eye on the outside temperature gauge moving up and down between -3 and +1. About an hour later as we drove quietly onto the permission a couple of “deer” shapes in a field were just visible in the pre dawn darkness. Quietly we debussed in the trees, Ian and I heading off up a tarmac drive towards the house in the centre of the permission. Jo heading right off the track towards the dark shapes we saw on the way in.
We were heading for a high seat that overlooked a couple of large paddocks surrounded by woodland. As we moved slowly and quietly along the track I was over come by the urge to gag, cough, gargle, throw up a lung as the new “Xmas pressie from the kids” scarf I had wrapped around my face gave off a huge ball of lint that went straight down my throat. If that wasn’t enough noise as we scaled a gate, I banged the shooting sticks on it and my bins swung forward on their straps and clanged it a second time! Ian really had his work cut out with this newbie....
Making our way through the wood we scaled the high seat without me making any further gaffs and settled in for a long wait. Below us in the paddock were a couple of water buffalo, they stood still and stared at us for ages, their hot breath turning to steam and rising around them was the only thing moving.
We watched as the sun slowly rose behind us. A couple of bunnies appeared over to the right bouncing along the fence line and finally setting off the security lights on the main house. We were expecting the Sika to come out of the woodland into the pasture, but nothing appeared.
The buffalos mooched over to the gate in expectation of their morning feed but still nothing else moved. Slowly the cold was creeping from my toes further down my feet. Suddenly a shot rang out in the distance. Followed by a text from Jo saying she had bagged a Sika Hind. Jo was now going to circle the paddocks back in the tree line and see if anything flushed out into our view.
The sun grew higher and cast pools of light onto the paddock and it wasn’t long before Jo appeared having circled through the woods. About two maybe two and a half hours sat still and it was time for a move. To be honest I lost track of the time. We climbed down from the seat and made our way back to the vehicle. A few minutes later we drove past the paddock on the way to pick up Jo’s beast and there, right in front of the high seat was a Sika hind! Would you believe it. If was had just stayed another 5 minutes it would have been right there in front of us.
Ian talked me through a grallock using only a knife (no saws or other kit) and bagged the head, feet etc. for disposal. We headed off into Dorchester for a fried breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee.
Coming back from Dorchester we parked up in the same location as before. All three of us stalked through the wood together using a slightly different route to the high seat we had used in the morning. Leaving Jo in the high seat Ian and I set off to follow a similar route to the one Jo used in the morning.
The leaf strew track we followed through the wood had a high bank on the left hand side, dotted with trees, shrubs and the odd rhododendron bush. Along the track were piles of rhododendron wood cut down as part of a clearance. On the right the wood ranged from 50 to 100 yards before the hedge bordered another paddock. The bottom of the wood was marshy in places with a small stream running through it. Ian led the way, with me close behind, he carried the shooting sticks and I had the rifle slung over my shoulder, muzzle towards the ground.
Gingerly I placed each foot, being ultra careful not to make the noisy gaffs of the morning. Slowly but surely we crept forward pausing every few yards to scan the cover with the bins. We covered about 300 yards in an hour. Then suddenly about 70 yards away a deer moved out of cover, I froze and it slowly walked a few yards to the right back in to cover. Ian put the sticks up and I mounted the rifle with a clear view between the trees of where we expected it to appear. We waited, I strained to spot it’s shape behind the cover, trying to spot any movement that would indicate it was about emerge.
I don’t know how long we waited but it seemed like ages. Nothing came out. So we moved slowly forward along the track. The cover was away to our right at about 2 O’clock, between us and it was a small pond with a little island in the middle. The track continued to the left of the pond. As we moved forward the deer appeared again – nowhere near the cover! It was further away and not in the direction it was heading when it went into cover. It presented a broadside facing left, a clear shot straight across the pond. Ian whispered take the shot if you’re ready. The sticks were up and I had the rile mounted again. I brought the sights to bear and I chose the spot I wanted to hit. Bloody hell I can’t keep this thing still! I wanted to move and adjust my position to get comfortable, but the beast was looking right at me. I relaxed and brought the wobble under control and then the deer turned directly towards us. No shot available now. We waited for a few seconds not moving, hoping it would turn again, when for no reason at all a bird in the hedgerow behind the deer took of with a loud alarm call. The hind spun around and ran, showing its caudal patch bobbing away.
Wow. Ian looked and me and grinned “How’s the heart rate?” I didn’t notice my heart rate but there was a knot of tension in my gut. Phew. Ian asked “How steady did I feel?” and I replied “I was wobbling too much”. We took a couple of minutes breather as we watched the Sika head further out into the paddock and head for some woods on the other side.
We moved further along the track, with no other deer in sight until we came to a high seat. The high seat was sat at the base of the bank on our left. Climbing into it we had the bank and rhododendrons behind us, in front was stream/boggy bit, track, boggy clearing, a thin spindly hedge/fence line and then paddock. The trees became thicker to our left and this Ian explained is where he expected the Sika to break cover into the paddock.
Within about 20 minutes the first Sika broke cover, they were away to our right and heading out into the paddock and moving diagonally away from us. Seven or Eight headed across the field, not in any great hurry and went into cover on the far side.
A few minutes later another group came out, but this time stayed near the tree line. We had a choice of wait and see if they came down the fence line or try and stalk closer. We elected to get down and get closer. Climbing down from the seat I squelched across the stream/bog, desperate not to slip or lose a boot. Having got down to the track again and moved a little further along we got down in the dirt and began to crawl. The deer had move away from the fence line and were slowly making their way further out into the paddock, nibbling along the way. Good call not to stay in the high seat!
We crawled at right angles away from the track using a large tree trunk as cover. Behind the tree Ian set up the sticks for a kneeling shot and stuck them out to the left of the trunk. I crawled up and got into position. Ian had ranged the selected hind at ~100 meters. I got in to position and tried to get comfortable. I moved forward a bit and got my right shoulder/arm up against the tree for more stability. The deer moved slightly to a quartering shot. Whilst waiting for it to go broadside my foot started to ache. In my haste creeping forward and try not to move too much I hadn’t really got myself comfortable. Ian asked if I was comfortable and steady. No, my upper body was fine against the tree but my feet and legs were all over the place. I brought my left foot forward from underneath me and released the strain. Much better.
Now wait. How many seconds? I have no idea. The deer turned. The cross hairs were on target. Nothing else left now. Squeeze the trigger. The rifle recoiled and I lost the sight picture. Deer were running in all directions. B**ger B**ger I’ve wounded it and it’s running! “Good Shot!” said Ian. “But it’s is still running” I said.
“No it ran about 30 yards and dropped dead”. Wow in the panic of the deer running I lost track of the one that dropped. Not sure what to think for a moment. All the effort and time for this moment. What do I feel? Relief.
Out to the field we go and bring the carcase back to the wood for the grallock. It’s getting late now and the light is starting to fade so in the interest of speed Ian does the dirty work. However he makes it look remarkable easy again, even by torch light.
Jo comes down and meets us and we pack out with Ian carrying the Sika in his Roe sack.
Back at base the beasts get weighed and hung up in the larder. Sorry can’t remember the weights.
So how does it feel now? At the time not so much excitement, but relief. Relief that I didn’t cock up, relief that it was a clean shot.
Now the excitement has set in. Thinking about it and retracing each step. Looking forward to the next time and looking forward to doing it with the “Parker Knoll”.
A few newbie lessons learnt:
1: The warne weaver style mounts Sportmans Gun Centre Exeter had fitted to the PH dovetails were never going to play well together. I should have known better when the guy fitting them said he only shot air rifles. So some weaver style bases required.
2: Glasses are a pain in the backside. Either steamed up or getting in the way of the bins. Must get some contacts lens.
3: Get some decent warm boots.
4: Make less noise.
5: Make sure your camera battery is not flat…
Once again, a big thanks to Ian and Jo.
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