Up at dawn a few days ago with the beginning of a nasty cold. Head full of porridgy mucous, sore throat, headache. Temptation to stay in bed was extreme.
Dragged self out onto moor. Not a breath of wind. Humid and warm. Midges descending in relentless waves. Herd of 15 or so large fallow bucks about 1km off, over almost completely open ground. Over the next hour and a half, very slowly picked away through scraps of dead ground, frequently slithering on belly through the heather. Sweating profusely and desperately trying not to cough. Throughout, bucks gently drifting nearer boundary wall.
Eventually within 300 yards, behind small lip of ground. Too far. Flat on belly, head down, inched forward, first through heather, then onto grazed sward with almost no cover at all. Heads start to come up and peer, each time a little longer. A few bucks start to move with more urgency. Minutes spent lying dead still, face into turf, 'hiding' behind thistle clumps. Make it to about 220 yards. Enough - any more and they will bolt.
Agonisingly slowly, set rifle out on bipod. Bucks all moving now. Search one out that is still stationary, but for a second. No time to think anymore - take the shot.
Hear the comforting thock as shot strikes, and bucks break in all directions. View obscured for a second. Don't see one go down. Heart sinks. Herd gathers and bolts. Frantically track looking for a limper or a straggler. No sign. They vanish.
Turn back to where herd had been. Strain through eyepiece for a sign of a corpse - anything. Nothing. Leaden feeling of dejection. Stand and stretch, resigning self for long follow up. A flicker out of the corner of my eye - a leg, shivering in the heather, and then still. Stare at the spot, not taking eyes of it. Walk forward, stumbling through unseen snags.
And there he was - dead where he had stood. My first adult fallow buck.
The brutal drag back and the endless midges are another story all together...