Looking at the forecast I was in two minds whether to head out this morning or not, but decided in the end to give it a try.
Getting up at 04:00 was a bit of a struggle, and letting the dogs outside I could see that the rain had already started. I walked out the front door at 04:30 with Fallow, my stalking dog. Forty minutes later we arrived at the ground having driven through constant rain all the way.
I was stalking in woodland this morning, basically a valley with woods either side. On each valley side is a pheasant pen, so I started off by heading down through the pen nearest to the car. After barely a dozen yards I looked out beyond the wire of the pen and could make out the back end of a roe doe down one of the plantation rides and then, three or four rows later, I spotted a buck bedded down. Because of the trees and the pen wire I couldn't get a clear shot, so I made my way to the end of the pen and started to stalk along the outside towards where the buck was still in sight. I had to call a halt as a couple of muntjac appeared on my right. As if that wasn't enough, two more roe then walked into view from the right. Both were youngsters, a buck and a doe, but by the time I'd set up the sticks they were hidden by brambles. I could still see the buck that was bedded down, but at the arrival of the two new roe he got up and moved away out of view. The two youngsters must have either been spooked by the buck or caught my scent, as the next thing I saw was two rear ends disappearing fast. The muntjac were still bimbling around but I really wanted to take the first buck of the season today, so I left them to carry on undisturbed.
Retracing my steps I then dropped down into the valley that sits between the two pens. Turning to walk up through the valley I had the wind in my face. Once again I had barely gone a dozen yards when I spotted some movement further up the valley. A roe doe appeared, shortly followed by a four point buck, still in velvet. They were about 120 yards away, so I got the sticks up and had the buck in the sight. He was quartering away and slowly walking away from me towards the end of the valley. Seeing that the doe was grazing away from me as well, I grabbed the opportunity to move forwards another 10 yards. By the time I had the rifle back on the sticks the doe was heading off to the right and back into the woods. Sensing that the buck would follow her I shifted the sticks slightly to the right, got the rifle back up and turned the scope up to 10 power. Sure enough the buck started to turn broadside on. Taking another couple of steps his head went down and he started grazing. Head back up he took another step and then stood still, dropping in his tracks a second later as I squeezed the trigger. The doe ran back and then, unsure, headed away into the woods.
Making my way to the buck I sent Fallow on ahead. She was soon there and sat looking expectantly at me. Dragging the buck into the trees I completed the gralloch and then paused to take a photo before carrying the buck up the side of the valley to leave it on the track so I could pick it up later.
With one eye on the grey sky I picked up the rifle and headed further up the valley, now turning off to the left to do a circuit and try to find a second beast. Apart from a fleeting glimpse of a muntjac nothing was showing, though I took the opportunity to stop for 10 minutes with my back to a tree and the rifle on the sticks in case another muntjac might be grazing on the bluebells that carpeted the woods.
Turning left again I made my way to the top of the hill before heading back down into the valley where I'd shot the roebuck. As I came over the rise of the valley I glimpsed movement ahead of me. Through the binoculars I could make out another roe buck, again a youngster accompanied by two does. I got the rifle ready but something in my actions must have caught the eye of one of the does, as a second later all three ran away across the valley. Cursing my clumsiness I took a couple of steps forward and then froze - there was another buck still there, what looked like a clean six pointer though with small back tines. He seemed unconcerned by the others departing, and grazed his way towards me. Through the scope I could make out his antlers as he nibbled from the bushes. Although a nice-enough head the rear tines were definitely on the small side, and I decided to leave him.
As the roebuck disappeared into a little hollow a small muntjac appeared from my left. It made its way daintily through the plantation, taking a bite here and there and then darting forward to the next tasty-looking bramble. With one roe already in the bag I was happy to add a muntjac. Finding a clear shot was proving elusive, however, and several times I had to take steps to one side or the other to try to clear the various treeguards in the way. Finally there was a suitable window and, as the muntjac reached forward to grab another bite from a bramble, I squeezed the trigger. At the sound of the shot the roe buck finally re-appeared from the hollow and raced away in pursuit of his companions. I slung the rifle over my shoulder and Fallow ran ahead of me to find the quarry. It is surprising how disorientating things can be when you take a few steps through thick woodland, and after 30 seconds I started having doubts that I'd hit the muntjac, even though I'd seen it fall at the shot. Finally doing what I should have done to begin with - identifying the markers between where I'd been standing for the shot and where I knew the muntjac to have been - I quickly found the little beast.
Fallow took one look at the muntjac and it was obvious from the look on her face that she felt I should have concentrated on the bigger roe buck instead!
As I finished the gralloch the rain started to come down more heavily again. It was now 08:15 and I was ready to call it a day. Carrying the muntjac back to where I'd left the roe buck, I quickly retrieved the car, gathered up both beasts, and made my way home. Although wet enough that I'd have to spend the rest of the morning cleaning and drying my kit, it had certainly been worthwhile braving the elements.