At last, finally a successful stalk, the first since my first solo stalk in April. It was all the more special as my 6yr old lad was with me and has been desperate to witness the whole process. We've completed ~8-stalks at my main ground nearby. Sadly, all without success, as the deer hide in the large areas of Miscanthus. I'm going to have to box clever and follow through on some helpful advice to seek the farmer's permission to put in a salt lick of two, to entice them out.
Anyhow, after a shaky start, everything at my second permission some distance away today, was absolute textbook. An 04:30 alarm call and hour and a half drive put us on the ground well after first light. My heart was sinking as it was fully light as we made our way across the fields to the main area the deer frequent. We made the long straight that runs through three large fields running parallel to the railway embankment and almost immediately glassed a pair of Roe feeding in the far field. We steadily made our way to within 400m before they dropped from view, just as a fox started trotting along the hedge line towards us. Getting to 100m or so away, he clearly clocked us, turned tail and made his way back the way he’d come, directly back towards where the deer had been. Another day and the farmer would have been a happy man, but today was a day for deer.
As planned, the wind was coming across us at 90 degrees, So, I figured we’d head them off as they moved across the fields away from the railway embankment. We quietly crossed a hedged ditch and several more hedges into the field where I’d shot the three bucks in April. From here we could clearly see the field where the deer would have entered from where they dropped from view, but they weren’t anywhere to be seen. Faced with the option of struggling through a dense copse to get to the field where we’d originally spotted the deer, we chose instead to back-track to where we’d first crossed the hedged ditch. The deer were back in view and it was now clear that the only option was to stealthily close the distance to a shootable range. Moving very slowly and glassing every 10-metres or so, each of the pair would take it in turns to have a god look around. Becoming quite a pattern, I was satisfied it wasn’t because they had clocked us. Once again, they dropped from view, behind a small section of hedge that jutted out into the field before the gap that led to the field the Roe were grazing. Counting our blessings, we took the opportunity to close the gap and I could see the pair just over 100m away grazing on the edge of the field.
Initially setting up on the sticks looking through the hedge, the pair stopped grazing on the field and began browsing along the hedgeline. Realising they really weren’t going anywhere in a hurry, I quietly took the rifle off the sticks, dropped to a crawl and moved into a prone position at the end of the piece of hedge, setting the bipod. The pair were still browsing. There clearly still being time to spare and wanting my lad to get as much out of the experience as possible, I had him crawl around to my side and we spent a lovely 5-mins or so watching the pair. Finally, they stopped browsing and the buck presented a shot. Judging the distance at just over 100m (later lazed to 114m), I lined up a textbook shot. The breathing now completely normal, although pulse rather racing, the crisp Sako A7 shot release took me nicely by surprise. The mild .243 recoil combined with a puff of smoke from a tad of residual oil in the barrel obscured the shot and for some strange reason, I didn’t catch the expected “thud” of a solid strike. I just saw the back-end of the buck disappearing into the hedge and my lad saying “did you get it Dad?” Trusting my marksmanship, I had my lad lie still as we watched the doe forlornly make a semi-circle 200m or so out from us, pausing regularly to look back for her mate. This really was quite moving and led to a brief tinge of regret that I imagine many stalkers feel at times.
Waiting until the Doe was out of sight, we moved to the shot location, as I briefed my lad to look for blood and hair. I was rather impressed that he found the shot location and called me over to find (to my relief) a good volume of bright red blood splatters and clumps of hair. Most obviously a solid strike, although we searched the hedge line for a minute or two without success. Forcing my way into the middle, I waded through the ditch running and finally found the buck hung up in the thorn branches just on the other side. Deciding extraction would be easier from the other side, we worked our way back round and after struggling with the hedge for a few minutes (including three nasty thorn splinters that still really don't want to come back out) got the buck out into the field.
The Buck was a cracking condition animal, well recovered following the rut and sporting a nice 5-point rack. Although malformed, it was still my largest to date. Following a rusty (as only my sixth and being six months since the last) but clean gralloch, he proved a big boy, only just fitting into the roe sack and giving a challenging walk back to the car, especially with several padlocked gates to mount. I don’t have scales so don’t know his actual weight, but it was a real struggle to get him onto the hooks in the garage. The skinning and butchery however went smoothly, my mentor having taught me well and one of the haunches is now in the freezer with the rest in the fridge ready to finish off and make sausages tomorrow.
In summary, another most memorable day and so special to have spent with the lad, hanging off every step of the process and even delighted to have a guided go at elements of gralloch, skinning and butchery. Although having seen me deal with feather and fur since he was four and witness elements of dealing with previous deer, I was fearful how he would find seeing the whole process. However, he took it all in his stride and is already asking when we can go again. How special it is learning alongside your lad and knowing that he has a whole lifetime of stalking to look forward to. Roll on his 14th