Last week I was lucky enough to be able to escape to Bruges for three days with Mrs PM, having left Young PM with his grandmother. As there is nothing sadder than the last day of a holiday, I had some time previously booked an afternoon at the muntjac with Willie-Gunn, as this gave me something to look forward too upon my return. Initially, I’d planned a whole day, but as W_G was flying back from Africa, and I had to first restart London life, especially YPM’s, we agreed to shorten the trip.
I shot my first muntjac, a young doe, with Willie-Gunn a year ago and had thoroughly enjoyed that form of slow, quiet creeping through woodland, trying to spot the little deer hiding behind individual leaves. But it all started with a scare this time as the train departures board was just a litany of cancellations. Luck smiled on my enterprise though, and I was able to make it there a little late, but still within plenty of time. And this time I didn’t alight at the wrong station, making the whole thing a lot smoother. W_G met me at the station and after a little scouting, we ended up in the exact same place as a year ago, albeit following a different approach path to the wood due to the wind. The skies did briefly threaten to open up on us, but changed their mind (second lucky break of the day) seeing our light outfits.
As last time, we walked at an extremely stately pace along hedgerows, and almost immediately, I spotted a young roe doe across a large field, standing between two bushes. I pointed her out to W_G who then spotted two bucks, one quite a good one, chasing her around. They came out into the field, and continued their little game until a pair of riders spooked them, upon which they ran across the field and vanished into the hedge to our right. We then headed off in that direction, and spotted them again further up the hill, on the edge of another field, but in the opposite direction from the one we were heading in. At this point, W_G asked whether I wanted to take away any deer that I may shoot, which I always do, and he correctly surmised that I’d probably prefer a muntjac in that case. I bravely muttered that I could probably handle a smallish roe in my roe sack on the train, but that yes, muntjac were very convenient deer for the public transport-bound stalker. And after that, we noticeably changed tactics.
We were back to doing what I’d first experienced the previous year, glassing the undergrowth, hedgerows and trees at almost every other step, from different angles. Finally, we entered the wood, having spotted precisely no muntjac at all sunning themselves where they really should have been if they’d read any books. If it’s possible, we were even slower in the wood, which is along a ridge and contained a pheasant pen. We stopped, glassed, took two steps avoiding any twigs, moved again, glassed, and still nothing. It was perhaps 6pm when we came out from the other side of the wood into a field. On we plodded, but there was nothing to be seen barring the odd hare (again, loads of hares, and no-one’s interested except for the lurcher guys!), and the light was beginning to fall. Finally, we came to the edge of the shallow valley where we’d first spotted the roe right at the start, having worked our way all around it. W_G had told me last year that at last light, muntjac tended to appear in this field, so we stood at the corner and glassed patiently in all directions. As a slight mist started to rise, I went back around the hedge and started a vigil the other way, but I didn’t really believe in it much anymore. In fact, I’d started thinking about return train times. There was a fallen pheasant feeder that looked more and more like the back half of a muntjac every time I spotted it from the corner of my eye in ever falling light.
“Pssst!” came the sound from through the hedge, nudging me out of my reverie. I scurried back around the hedge where W_G and Fallow, his black Labrador, were looking down the valley, along the length of the field. “Can you see the muntjac?”. “Erm, honestly, no”. So we headed off as stealthily as we could along the edge of the field to try and approach it. “Can you see him now?”. “Erm, no. On the edge of the wood, right?”. “No no, out in the field!”. Aaaah, right, it was hiding in the open all along, and there I’d been scrutinising brambles. Now I could see it, in the hollow of the valley, but moving fast, and not that distinctly. We tried to move in further, but it just wasn’t coming any closer. “There’s not much light left, and it’s moved into the greenery. Let’s try and cross the field as quick as we can”. Essentially, it was death or glory time. Forget the stealth, the prevailing wind, all of that, now it was just a race against the sunset. So we sped across, came onto the path we’d started on earlier, went down the field behind the hedge, and when we came to a gap in it, there he was, perhaps 150-200m away, clearly aware that something was up.
I brought the rifle up onto my sticks, and had to increase the magnification on my scope to 8x to have a distinct view of the deer. There really wasn’t much light left at all now, but you can see better through the optics. The deer was head on, and W_G gave a squeak on his call. Lo and behold, it started trotting towards us, stopping once in a while to try and gauge what was going on, always head on. I had the crosshairs on the front of its’ chest, with that black triangle and beady eyes above. It’s a strange thing with muntjac that you seem to have to look them in the eye before shooting them. It does make you think about whether you really want to do so, which is no bad thing. Eventually, it was perhaps 70m away, and I’d wound down the scope to 6x, but it was still head on. And then, a black speck moved into the peripheral vision of my left eye. “There’s a doe coming in to your left. I think he’ll turn towards her”. This was the third and final lucky break of the day. Because if that doe hadn’t turned up at 7pm, the buck would not have then let curiosity have the better of him, turned broadside on and stopped for just a second. Just long enough for W_G to say whisper “Now!”, for me to find the shoulder, squeeze, and see our surroundings illuminated by the flame that lit up the dark around us for a fraction of a second!
It wasn’t over though, as to my dismay the buck sped off, making me scared that I’d hit it badly (I didn’t think I’d missed completely). But fifteen metres later, he lay down, only to spring up again when Fallow bore down on him, but he didn’t go far. I reloaded just in case, but when we walked up to the buck it was stone dead. A pretty large buck, perhaps three years old, with a powerful, muscular neck, pretty decent antlers, but both canines broken and healed over. It had been another exciting stalk with W_G, with a fantastic ending enhanced by the fact that we’d almost given up. I’d witnessed a muntjac respond to a call for the first time, but even then, it was the final random appearance of the doe that made the difference. The buck was actually hit cleanly through both lungs. After a little masterclass in gralloching (everyone does it slightly differently, and I’m developing a hybrid style…) in the headlamps, I loaded the buck into the sack, W_G took me back to the station, and on the way even charged my iPhone enough for me to be able to avoid domestic strife through lateness and being unreachable.
So Willie_Gunn, thanks again for a fantastic time, for your patience and willingness to transmit your knowledge and experience to an occasional stalker. My freezer now contains two muntjac and a CWD, which is all it can hold, so I am now giving it a rest until July. In the meantime, we shall be eating a lot of venison. Which is after all why I can look the muntjac in the eye and still squeeze the trigger.