Rushed back from working in London on Friday and stuffed rifle, sticks, boots and a whole load of kit into the car. At 4pm I dropped by 2teal's (Anthony's) house and we loaded all his kit in as well, then headed down to Herefordshire for a weekend stalking with 243varmint (Jon) and Bandit Country (Chris). Managing to miss the worst of the traffic we arrived at around 6:30pm, just after the village Christmas lights had been turned on. Time for a quick G&T (or two) before Chris dropped by to pick up Anthony, then it was a delicious supper courtesy of Mrs varmint (Helen) whilst we discussed plans for the Saturday morning.
The alarm went off at 5:30am and, after a quick slurp of coffee, we headed off to the stalking ground. The RV was at 06:30 in a nearby car park where we sorted out our kit. I went with Jon and a quick spy showed several fallow just below a large area of woodland about 250m across a gently rising field. We carefully made our way to a small rise about 50m in from our side of the field and, with the ground covered by a sharp frost, we laid out our roe sacks to provide some insulation whilst we laid in wait. The light gradually improved and we could now make out a group of four fallow, grazing their way from right to left, with a further single fallow off to our right.
We bided our time until around 07:20 when the light was sufficiently good for a shot to be taken. With the rifle up on the bipod, and the heel of the stock rested on my left fist, I lined the crosshairs about halfway up the body and squeezed the trigger. At the sound of the shot all four fallow ran, but after 25m the chosen doe collapsed, halfway between where she had been standing and the woodland edge. We watched the other fallow disappear into the wood and, after a well-deserved handshake, we picked up our kit and made our way to the doe.
The bullet had entered just behind the front shoulder, but there was no visible exit wound, though the .243 had clearly done it's job.
Looking back from the shot site you can make out the rise from where we laid in wait in the middle of this picture:
You can also see how the hedge would have been directly behind us, effectively preventing the deer from seeing us in an otherwise uniform expanse of green field.
We dragged the doe to the edge of the field to prevent the gralloch disturbing the deer, as we'd be returning to the same ground that evening. It's been a long time since I've gralloched a fallow, but it gave me a chance to try out a new knife I've acquired from Stuart Mitchell, which was more than up to the job. As we finished the gralloch we heard a shot from the valley below us. Sure enough, a text message arrived soon afterwards saying that Anthony had shot a roe doe. Collecting up the two beasts we took them to a chiller that Jon and Chris have access to, then heading off to a nearby café for a Big Breakfast which more than lived up to its name!
Now feeling somewhat more than comfortably full we made our way back to the stalking ground. For the evening we changed tack, starting from the car park to stalk the fields in the valley and then heading up the hill to sit in wait on the edge of the woodland at last light, hopeful to intercept the deer as they came out into the fields to graze overnight. We made our way from field to field, and from spinney to spinney, but although there were large areas of set-aside that proved a magnet to pheasants, we didn't spy any deer. So with about an hour of light left we proceeded up the hillside to the edge of the wood, the exercise raising a sweat. We settled down with our backs to a wire fence with a service road beyond, and started our wait.
Unfortunately we hadn't factored in two things. First the wind had increased considerably, quickly outweighing the heat generated from the yomp up the hill. Second, we hadn't expected the engineer from Welsh Water who drove up the service road behind us to inspect the nearby water treatment plant. After 30 minutes he was done and headed away, but with the light rapidly failing it became obvious that the deer weren't going to show. Not to worry, though, as a barn own was giving a great hunting display about 100 meters below us. Time stalking is never wasted.
Meeting up with Anthony and Chris, who had also had a fruitless evening, we headed back home to sort out our kit and then meet up at a nearby pub for another delicious meal. Whilst we may not have intercepted deer, we'd certainly intercepted a lot of calories!!
The alarm woke me again at 05:30 and by 06:10 we were in the car and heading back to the stalking ground. We'd decided to start where we'd left off, heading up the hill to see if we could catch the deer in the open. The wind strength had increased but the topography of the land meant that there were several areas where the deer could feed in calm. Unfortunately the deer still didn't oblige! With a weather front moving in we now had to contend with not just cold wind but also rain. No self-respecting deer would surely come out in this.
At 08:00 we spied movement down in the valley where we could see a group of four fallow crossing one of the fields we'd stalked the previous evening. Heading down the hill, it soon became apparent that the deer were indeed in the valley, as we then spied a group of roe disappearing into a small spinney. Stalking along the hedgerow I caught movement out in one of the fields of set-aside - it was a fallow buck making his way towards the same spinney with another buck behind. We decided to move along the hedge to our right, hoping to catch the buck still in the field where he'd possibly present a shot. As with most deer, though, this one wasn't playing by the rules, and next time we glassed the field both bucks had gone, disappearing into a field of set aside made up of wild bird mix that had grown above head height. Jon and I spent the best part of 20 minutes trying to spot the buck, until eventually I caught sight of him as he moved through the set aside. We stalked down the hedge line but, with the reduction in elevation as we descended into the valley, it became impossible to keep track of the buck. Despite carefully stalking around the field and trying to find a good vantage point, the buck couldn't be found - very frustrating. We knew he was there but we had no way of working out exactly where. With the clock ticking we had to give him best, heading back to the RV with Chris and Anthony. Although both parties had been unsuccessful, Jon and I had at least seen plenty of deer, whilst Chris and Anthony had seen nothing during their wait on the hillside.
We drove back to Jon's, the car heater helping us to thaw out from what had been a cold and wet morning. Arriving back we feasted on another superb breakfast, this time courtesy of Helen. Then it was time to pack everything back in the car and head back to Oxfordshire, the journey enlivened by discussion of the weekend's stalking escapades. We'd had a fantastic time, not just in terms of stalking but also the excellent company, superb food, wonderful hospitality and all-round great craic. Surely what deer stalking, and the Stalking Directory, is all about.