After having had to cancel some stalking I had booked with lwcdart for early this week due to a major cock up at work, I was seriously annoyed and desperate for a break.
I finally caught a bit of luck and managed to get Wednesday and Thursday off - knowing that Lee is busy towards the end of the week I decided to call up another stalker, Tom, who manages the Clinton Devon estate. My second piece of luck - Tom was able to accomodate me and we arranged to meet Wednesday afternoon.
My brother had been out stalking with Tom the week before and although they'd seen plenty of deer, none were in shootable positions, so there was a bit of family competition going on as I was keen to do better than him...
Tom picked a spot that he thought would deliver for us in the changeable wind and cold conditions - somewhere that had plenty of spots where deer could lie up out of the wind and had grazing or browsing close by, so off we set around 4pm.
We started stalking around a set of game pens, on a ridge of woodland leading down into a valley. We spotted a buck in the woodland - he spotted us too and soon he moved off, soon followed by a doe. Continuing through the woodland we bumped a young buck who had been lying up - we must have got within 20ft of him without spotting him! Not sure if he had a doe with him, but he/they were off at a pace anyway.
We stalked down through the wood, past the game pens and out across a field with a great view of the coastline. We headed towards another line of woodland and then up through another valley, watching both sides of the slope.
As we stalked almost to the top line, Tom spotted a buck lying up under a tree. We both stopped and scanned quietly, looking for an accompanying doe. The buck stayed absolutely still, and we realised he was sleeping! He was a four pointer, still in full velvet, and it was great to just stand there and watch him while he snoozed... Eventually he heard us whispering and woke up - he looked at us for a full 30 seconds, then jumped up and disappeared over the ridge. No doe followed him, so either she was well tucked up, or he was on his own.
We carried on and moved into another field where we could stalk around a plantation of young trees. Moving round, we caught a glimpse of a doe's head, just as a pair of walkers with a troupe of greyhounds moved off on the bridleway below us - one of the dogs barked and the doe was off.
We kept on round and found a spot to sit down and watch a field of cauli's that had seen some hitting by the deer in the past. It was bordered on two sides by woodland and the rides were clearly visible, so we set up for a bit of a wait, hoping that one or two would come out as the sun went down.
Almost at last light a buck moved out onto the field - he kept looking back and we were sure he'd have a doe with him, so we moved around to get a good backstop. Sadly, no doe appeared and as the light faded we called it a night and headed home. According to my GPS, that was just over 3miles stalked in about 2.5hours...
Later that evening Tom and I looked at the maps and talked about where we would try in the morning. My brother had stalked a group of 5 roe in a small set of fields, but had not been able to get a backstop despite stalking around them twice. We decided to try there first, and then move on to a woodland plantation if we had no luck.
6am was bitterly cold and we got to the first stop early, so sat in the truck for a few minutes to stay warm. Soon enough the light came up and we set off, stalking the edge of the field. We hadn't gone far when we bumped a solitary doe - we hadn't spotted her at all, lying up under the hedge.
Around the other side of the field, we started to move through a gateway which was very boggy. As Tom straddled the gate he scanned the field we were moving into and spotted a buck feeding along the hedgeline, with a doe about 20yards to his right. I quietly got over the gate and we squatted in the gateway assessing the situation. The field had a valley with a brook running through the centre, was quite flattish on the right of the brook and rose up towards the left, where the deer were. The deer were up over a small brow - to get to a shootable position we'd have to crawl along the bottom of the valley, trying to use the browline as cover. We dumped excess gear (sticks & roe sack) and started the crawl.
As I said, it was a bitterly cold morning, and the ground was boggy and muddy. The first time putting hands and knees into cold wet mud was definitely not the sort of experience you really want to repeat, but 'needs must when the devil drives' so they say, and our devil was the doe on the hedgeline... Cold mud gave way to freezing brook as we moved into the water to make the most of the cover - we had to move back up the rise a little way as the brook was partially frozen and it would make too much noise to continue that way, so it was back to the frosty mud.
We made it up onto the browline and settled into position, watching the buck and ensuring that we had a good backstop. The two moved around each other for a while and then settled down to feed. When the doe turned to give a good broadside, I took the shot and she fell over without a sound. The buck lifted his head for a moment and then kept on feeding. Checking the hedgeline, we could see a second doe, and we were pretty sure by now that this must be the group that my brother had stalked the week before. The second doe was feeding to the right of the buck, and we couldn't see a good backstop so just watched them for a while, waiting to see if they would move off.
My hands were frozen solid by this point - thankfully I was wearing Deerhunter gear that had waterproof linings so hadn't really been too uncomfortable in the brook, but neoprene gloves just don't keep the cold out! I kept trying to push my fingers into my sleeves to get some warmth back while we watched the buck and doe feed. She kept moving back and forth, never quite getting far left enough to be shootable, and we agreed that unless she passed a certain point (a yellow electric fence post), we'd leave her for another day.
Back and forth she went, moving right up to the post, and then turning back again, sniffing the air. We figured she'd smell the blood from the dead doe, and be off, but no, she kept going back and forth, occasionally stopping and sniffing in between feeding. The buck continued to feed, totally oblivious.
Eventually she moved past our trigger point, and when she stopped broadside I took the shot. My fingers must still have been frozen as the bullet hit a little far back and she staggered, hit through the liver. The shock soon took hold and she went down fairly quickly, never having taken more than about six steps, but it was a dodgy moment and I was really annoyed at myself for snatching the trigger.
The buck was still oblivious despite being less than ten feet from two dead does and eventually we stood up to make him move off. He was a beauty - sadly the pictures I took of him were not good enough to show any detail, but he was a lovely six pointer in full velvet and should make a good buck this year.
We walked over to the does and discussed the extraction - we couldn't drive the truck up as the field was too boggy, so it was going to have to be a drag. I carried all the kit and Tom manfully dragged both does back to the gateway, and then carried each one over the mud to the main gate where we could get the truck in.
With both does loaded up we headed off to the larder and did the gralloch - I kept the feet for my terriers to chew on, and took the usable offal home for later breakfasts for me...
Tom cooked up a grand breakfast including (of course) venison sausages, and some very tasty 'white pudding'.
I'm back there again in 3 weeks - I'm ahead of my brother again and I want to keep it that way...
Many thanks to Tom once again for putting up with me at short notice - I had a great time and am looking forward to the next one!