A week ago I jumped onto a plane and headed to Edinburgh, an hour drive away in Fife is my destination, my first deer stalking experience. With a bit of apprehension three friends and I started a five day “introduction to stalking course”, little did we know how hooked we would all become by the end of the week. Throughout the week we did quite a few stalking related but not actual stalking activities, such as anatomy study, breeding seasons, identification, skinning and butchering. All quite fascinating, but let’s focus on the actual stalking.
Two of us were typically paired off with a stalker, although on occasions we had a one on one. This resulted in maybe less opportunities than otherwise, but there was so much to learn and appreciate it wasn’t a practical hindrance. Over the five days we did three stalks for red hinds and five for Roe does. Of all the stalks I was the designated shot on three of them, it is these I will recount.
Wednesday morning, I have woken up at five which came as a bit of a shock I can tell you, a quick breakfast and we’re on the road for the drive to the Borders. We arrive in a farmland just after seven and the day is thinking about making an appearance and then we see her, up off in the distance, the first deer I am allocated to shoot. Quite a nervy experience, whilst I was not at all worried about any guilt issues having fully justified the experience earlier, I still was not entirely sure how it would actually feel. We crept behind various stone walls for about 1 – 1.5km, peeking over or through on regular intervals to try and confirm the exact location of my deer. About half way through this experience, we looked through a hole in the wall to see a fox belting towards the hole only 5 yards away, I am still not entirely sure who was more shocked!!! 15 minutes later, finally a peek over reveals my deer with her mother, about 80 meters away, I was told she was probably born around last July, a beautiful little creature. Leaning over the wall rather precariously I line her up, full of apprehension and excitement, mostly the fear that I don’t want to cock this up!! I was having a hard time holding the rifle steady, but I shot when I thought I had the right point of aim. She went down instantly, no bolt for freedom. To my novice mind this was a good thing but my stalker was concerned as he was expecting more of a reaction. We wait a few minutes, I am not really sure how long and then we go over to her. It turns out I did indeed go high, and shot her straight through the spine. It was an instant kill for which I was grateful, however I was also feeling like a total idiot for taking a shot I knew I was wobbling on. I guess the pressure of your first deer can do strange things to you.
Later that same day I have spent the previous hours mentally beating myself up over the earlier shot and resolving not to ever do that again. I am now lying in a field awaiting my next deer. A pair further down are stalking and we are expecting that their shot will drive them towards me. I am feeling much more confident being prone and with a bipod, this is just what the doctor ordered. Alas whilst I see the deer after the first shot, they remain at least 300 meters away from me and jump a wall into a woods to my left. We wait about 10 minutes to see if they will emerge again, alas they don’t. We decide to retreat back into my wood and make our way towards where the deer were last seen. Having made about 200 meters progress we spot the deer emerge into the field I was covering earlier, about 70-80 meters off. They are very alert and jumpy and my stalker decides the best shot given the circumstances is resting over the wall. Oh darn (or quite possibly somewhat stronger!!) there goes my reassuring prone/bipod position and I now have to face the same shot I did this morning!!! I get into position, this time however I wriggled, sighted and wriggled again until I was happy, absolutely determined to only pull the trigger if I was 110% happy. I fired, the deer jumped up and then to my horror bolted over the wall!!! I have done it again I thought!! The other deer are crashing through the woods and bolting over the fields and we wait probably about 20 minutes with my stalker reassuring me that he thought it was a good shot. My mind couldn’t stop thinking, “but it ran away!!” So after the wait, a further stalker turns up with his pointer, just in case we need to follow the trail and off we go to have a look. It transpires she made it 5 yards the other side of the wall with a nice heart shot. The sense of relief was immediate, but it did take me probably another half an hour to truly calm down again.
My final stalk on Friday morning was again at dawn in some coastal farm land in eastern Fife. Ironically I didn’t fire a shot on this stalk, it was however my most enjoyable I feel. We were stalking across a field with 2, 2.5 foot high game cover in it. Our quarry had been spotted eating in the middle of it, but by the time we got within 100 meters of them they had started the steady procession towards the woods as the sun came up. On three occasions I got within 70 meters of them but didn’t fire. My reasons were one of, or on occasions many of: didn’t like her orientation to me, there were further deer behind her, precarious shooting position (high kneeling off sticks), she was head down grazing or the most common, I could not see her underside (due to the game cover) and therefore not confident on my shot placement. Eventually they made it to the woods, we then decided to try for a further group 400 meters away in a nice green field. It however soon became apparent we would not catch up with them. I then decided to call this stalk over and give my mate a go as the holiday was rapidly coming to an end.
Why was that stalk the most enjoyable? Many things really, was it the ability to see the beautiful creatures up close and for such a long time, having more confidence in myself to not force a shot or having to freeze for 2 minutes with a leg up in the air clambering over a barbed wire fence? Probably all of them, but the key one... I spotted the deer first (which was a first!!) and it was the last group we left that my friend got his first roe doe from
I hope I didn’t bore you too much. This sport has a new (well actually 4) convert, I only hope the bank manager understands the re-mortgage