On Thursday and Friday 19-20 November I went stalking again with Malcolm on his West Sussex ground. Owing to a combination of family responsibilities and poverty I had booked only two half days (PM followed by AM). Arriving early, I was prepared to eat my lunch in the car when Malc's truck rolled past on his way to the bothy. Clocking me, he pointed out that I was early, and preceded to make us both a cup of tea and offer me some carrotcake.
This was going to be quite an important one for me,as my wife and I had planned on giving venison joints to various friends and family as Christmas presents. Failure would therefore have necessitated replanting,expense, or both (usually both).
I needed to re-zero, as the last range session I'd had was highly unsatisfactory and I'd had to completely remove, reposition and re-mount my scope.
This was also the first chance I'd have to use thequad-sticks I won in September's Supporters Club draw.
So, shooting from my new sticks from 25, 50, 75 and100 yds, zero was found for the cost of 12 rounds. Pleasingly, I was putting some bullets through the same holes at 100yds; testament more to the stability of Limulus' sticks than to any great marksmanship on my part.
Having both secured a happy zero (Malc's rifle needed re-checking too), we went back to the bothy for more tea and a discussion about where we'd be stalking. The weather was fine for stalking: dry, cool ratherthan cold, and broadly overcast with breaks in the cloud. Decisions made, we took Tod (Malc's sexually frustrated BMH) and ourselves to view one of the areas discussed. From the roadside Malc glassed a big-ish Fallow buck. In thesun he appeared white to me. He was grazing the fence line close to the bottom of a long sloping field bordered to the right by woodland; we must have been facing broadly to the west as the early evening sun, which had broken through the clouds, was shining straight back at us, slightly compromising visibility.
So we got out of the truck and I loaded my riflewhilst Malc got Tod out and harnessed. Then we got straight into the woods,stalking down a path running parallel to the fence line and a little under100yds into the woods. After a few minutes we came to a path running roughly at 90 degrees to the one we were on, which led right up to the fence line. Lookingalong the path, there was the buck tight into the fence line, looking darkerhere than we first saw him, but still quite pale. Within a dozen or so yards ofhim, but into the field, was a roe doe, quietly munching whatever the crop was.Malc led me along the path, moving slowly and keeping me tight into his back.
60 yards away my buck was chewing thoughtfully.Sticks unfolded, and scope covers flipped up. Bugger me! He heard the noise ofthe scope cover popping open. ****. His head comes up and he looks abouthimself, takes a couple of paces forward and stops. We watch and wait, barelybreathing. "Can you see him?" I could; in fact, I could see a neat rectangle of fallow flank between a fence post and a tree trunk. It was mildly unnatural, shooting at something alive that presented itself to me as a wholly regular shape, but having spooked him once, and being close, well, I wasn't going to wait for him to look in our direction. Malcolm was obviously happy,and the rifle was solid on the sticks. So, safety off and trigger squeezed. It was I suppose only seconds from his hearing my scope cover open, but it felt like a long time. He was facing up the hedge line back towards the road, but jumped through 180 degrees and bolted down towards the bottom of the field. My second deer; I knew I hadn't missed, I heard the bullet strike (how would you describe that sound? I can't think of what I'd compare it to, except that it'snot quite like splitting a log...). I couldn't see his legs through the scope,but guessed part of his bolt was caused by him kicking out, as a I am told a lung-shot deer should. Malc confirmed this. My buck made, perhaps, 20 yards before collapsing. Malc got to him first. He was dead, and we were perhaps 25 minutes into the stalk. Had we seen him fall, I could have shot the roe doe too, but she cleared off pretty quickly, clever girl, and the path along which I had shot created a bit of a tunnel so that we couldn't see up or down the field.
We dragged him through the hedge into proper tree cover, and Malcolm showed me again how to bleed from the neck, and what to look for amongst the lower parts of the digestive system. Tod was thoroughly exited and worried at the buck's legs a bit, proving that he knew what his job was and simply refusing to acknowledge that on this occasion the humans didn't need his specialist skill set. Now that we had the buck on his back, we could see that was a scruffy sort of chap, one broken antler, a bleeding foot and healed over puncture wound that Malcolm told me was evidence of his having been spiked during the rut. Nevertheless he was solidly built and appeared to have been leading a successful if unspectacular life for a fallow buck.
The short walk from the truck seemed a LOT longer onthe way back. I also noticed that November was feeling positively warm! We stopped a couple of times to take some pictures, and take a breather. I can't tell you why I thought it was important, but his tongue was hanging out, and I just had to tuck it back in. I guess I just thought he ought to look smart.Anyway, to cut the boring part of the story short, we got him into the truck.Main lesson from this is that I must remember to bring my small water flask next time!
Since we were less than half way through the available time, Malc took me to a high-seat that had been productive lately.Leaving me to it he went and got the buck into the larder and onto a gimble. Meanwhile, I watched evening descend. I saw a big fox, but he didn't sit still,or even slow down long enough for me to draw a bead on him. I also saw a fewpheasants, some twitching bracken (a rabbit I think) and a couple of bats. Nomore deer, but I really didn't mind. I was still more than pleased to have shot my second deer, and second species too for that matter.
The best thing, as the sun went down, was the knowledge that I had done what I set out to do, done it well, and that I had a whole session again tomorrow. I didn't see any more deer, so I unloaded the rifle, climbed down and walked back to the road gate where Malc said he'd pick me up. We went back to the bothy, Malcolm talked me through the rest of the gralloch and we got the buck into the chiller. I took the heart and liver on the spot. My wife loves heart, and I like liver so they're an easy win. I then went home to a normal evening of childcare and familial comfort.
Friday morning and again I arrived a little early.Malcolm and I had some tea and waited for Andy, his other client of the morning, to arrive. The plan this day was that I'd make my own way to a high-seat within walking distance of the bothy. Since I'd seen several fallow on the driveway of the estate on my way in, this did not seem a bad idea. Malc's plan was to guide the other chap for a stalk, and trust me not to shoot any roe bucks.
So not long after Andy arrived, I finished my tea, pulled on my boots took my rifle and a head torch from Malcolm (must get a new one of my own) and made my way to the seat. Fortunately it was where I remembered it. Malc had told me the day before that a golden rule of stalking was to "always be ready" therefore I'd loaded my rifle before heading down to the seat. When I got to it therefore the first thing I did was to unload the rifle. The more I do this, the more I envy those with a detachable magazine...
I climbed the high seat, and once up struggled with reloading with gloves on. Definitely putting a DM kit on my letter to Santa... I was sat in the seat for about an hour, watched the world turn from black to gloomy grey, and held an argument with myself over whether or not to climb down for a pee. Nature prevailed, I cleared the rifle chamber, and climbed down to find some comfort. I wasn't too disappointed in not seeing anything, after all, I had an option on a large buck in the chiller, and I can't say I greatly love high-seat hunting. Don't get me wrong, I can see its benefits, and I would think that there are a lot of cull targets that simply couldn't be met without their use, but I'd not previously had any luck with them (the whole three times I've used them up to this point!). So, I wasn't feeling under any great pressure to shoot anything, which does rather leave me without an excuse for what happened next.
Not long after I had re-climbed the high-seat, I thought I saw a little twitch in the bracken bellow me. I looked again. Nothing. I heard something rustling behind me, I turned, trying to remember to keep my movements slow and gradual. Couldn't see anything, probably a little bird, or maybe a rat or squirrel. I turned to my front again, and occupied myself for a while by picking little targets such as pale leaves or deformations in the tree trunks, and seeing how long I could hold them stably in the reticule... Then, at the edge of my sight picture, close to where I'd thought I'd seen movement in the bracken, there was movement, and the gorgeous brown black tones of the head of a roe. Better still, a roe with no antlers and no obvious signs of having had antlers: so a doe right? She was so close that I wound my scope down to 3x, the lowest it could go. She was walking, and passed from cover to cover in front of me. Malcolm had been telling me the day before to look for the anal tush as the definitive proof of being a female, and as she moved I thought I saw it. Great! I rolled my wrists inwards as I'd been taught,into the rifle stock, I couldn't quite lean on the high-seat rail but she was so close I couldn't miss. I didn't miss, and she folded up on the spot. I reloaded and waited a moment. There was no movement so I cleared the rife and climbed down to have a closer look. She'd flopped out of sight into thebracken, but was so close I just walked in the right direction and there she was. On her LHS with the entry wound uppermost.
Assuming Malcolm would have heard the shot, I sent him a message and picture announcing my success. Then I looked a bit more closely. You'll have guessed from the tone of this post that something was not quite right. And, I guess the experienced roe stalkers amongst you don't even need the photo to see that it wasn't a doe after all, but a very immature buck. I was totally crushed. The one thing I'd not to do, and I'd done it. Close to, there was no getting away from what I'd done. I pulled off my glove and ran my hand over his scalp, and sure enough I could feel the ridges where antlers would presumably have formed in the future, and I could see his tackle properly as well. Only one course of action; phone Malc and confess.
I was very apprehensive. I like stalking with Malcolm a lot, and I really didn't want him to decide I was untrustworthy and that hedidn't want to take me out again. I was seriously expecting a proper bollocking, and felt that I deserved it too. I really felt that I'd let Malcolm down: he'd trusted me to be unaccompanied on his ground, and now I'd bloody well gone and shot the wrong animal. I dialled his number and he answered, I asked if he'd seen my message, it being now obvious to me that if he had, he'd have quickly deduced what I'd done. I apologised, and he did the best thing he could have done for my piece of mind, he chuckled down the phone at me. He also suggested I should take it up to the larder. In fact, I should have realised that he wasn't about to banish me forever, because he said I could go back up in the high seat, but I was done. He told me the code for the bothy and I went back to put the buck in the larder, make a cup of tea, and wait for the other two to get back. At least the little buck was easy to carry.
Malcolm turned up shortly thereafter, having put Andy in the high seat I'd been in the night before. The first thing he said on seeing the buck was "he looked like he would have made a gold medal head too". Then nearly wet himself with laughter as he saw what remained of colour drain from my face... So I wasn't in total disgrace then (although I still felt gutted, ironically). We went through the gralloch, and Malc made me feel a little better by expression the opinion that he looked like he might almost have been a hermaphrodite, but no.
Still, I could tell myself that the shot placement had been good, he hadn't suffered. I'd tried to find the bullet, but I guess it was buried some depth in moss, mud and mulch. I noticed later that his front left leg was broken, and I would guess that this was caused by the bullet exiting his rib cage in-line with the leg. If so this may have helped in collapsing him on the spot. Malc was kind enough to tell me that more experienced stalkers than myself, even pro's, have made the same mistake. That said, I now know what I should look for, and won't make the same mistake again in a hurry.
Malc went and fetched Andy, and I cleaned my rifle and made another cup of tea. At least meat-wise there wasn't going to be a problem sourcing Christmas venison. The next dilemma was which carcass to buy. The fallow was special because he was my first fallow, but the roe was just under half the price, and also somehow, my shame. In the end, Andy helped me as, being a chef and restaurateur, he was keen to take any and as much venison as was going whilst I'd need an extra freezer to cope with the fallow, whereas, butchered, I could just about squeeze the roe in. Further underlining his top-good-chap status Andy generously gave me one of the fillets from the sorrel. Pan fried in butter with garlic, black pepper and a small splash of wine, that was Sunday dinner, and it was superb.
Still, shooting that roe buck was a mistake, easily the biggest one I have made so far in stalking. I know, as with my previous hobbies, like motorcycling, you do it enough, you will fall off, so with stalking; if you shoot enough, there will be times when it goes wrong. I just hadn't taken enough time to make sure that the animal which had (literally) walked into my sights, was legitimate quarry. Malc was very decent to me about it, but I have given myself a warning!
So far, I have stalked with Malcolm on 5 occasions, 4 half days and 1 full day. And in that time I've shot 3 deer. If that is a total of 6 half days, that works out at 1 deer for each full days worth of stalking. By any measure, that is a rate of success that highly recommends stalking with him! It's worth saying, I think, that I am stalking at just about the lowest prices that you can stalk in the UK, unless of course you are blessed with free access to land with deer. Malcolm has always given me first class treatment, although I can't imagine that he makes much, if any, profit out of me.
I'll be back!