Dawn came late, with a grey sky suggestive of rain later. Beneath the trees visibility remained poor until well after daybreak, and even the birds seemed subdued. A hare hopped, skipped and jumped his way down the ride, totally oblivious to our presence, and, as the light strengthened, a couple of squirrels came down to forage through the leaf litter at the woodland edge. A cock pheasant called from behind us somewhere, and we heard the laughing cry of a green woodpecker – another foreteller of rain. Other than that the woods remained silent, although our attention was briefly drawn by the babbling of a skein of geese passing high overhead…
So how did I, a farmer from Wales, come to be sitting halfway up a tree in a Suffolk woodland, alongside a friend of a friend of a friend, a man I’d first been introduced to over a beer just a few short hours before? It’s a long story, and the culmination of five unsuccessful (though nonetheless rewarding) forays in pursuit of wild deer, in the company of some very generous people I’ve been lucky enough to meet through the Stalking Directory. I’d made tentative arrangements for a sixth outing, courtesy of another SD member, during one of my infrequent journeys to East Anglia delivering sheep to a friend, but unfortunately his diary was incompatible with my own.
Ahh well, there’s always next time…
All changed at – quite literally – the 11th hour. I’d already gone to bed, in anticipation of an early start and long drive in the morning, when my wife picked up a message from my East Anglian friend. It stated, quite simply: Bring rifle.
…Time passed, and the hum of traffic from the nearby A14 grew steadily stronger as the world outside woke up and went to work. We conversed softly in undertones as we shared a snack, and I was just beginning to think I’d have to write this off as another blank outing when a deer appeared around a bend in the ride, some 120 metres in front of our seat. A quick glance through the binoculars showed this to be a male, and therefore a shootable beast. As I raised my rifle and wriggled down into a more comfortable position, I was conscious of the fact that not only would this be my first shot at a live deer, it would be my first shot without the added stability of my bipod or sticks. I tracked the animal’s progress through my ‘scope as he headed straight towards us with small mincing steps. At about 100 metres distance he turned slightly and made to head off into the woods to the left of the ride. He wasn’t broadside on, but quartering towards me, and in another few seconds he’d have gained the sanctuary of the trees and be gone for good. Suddenly my companion whistled, which stopped him in his tracks, and I squeezed the trigger. With a graceful bound my deer leapt into the undergrowth, and was lost to sight.
“Was it a good shot?” he asked, after a moment of silence.
I didn’t for a moment consider the possibility that I might have missed, so I replied that yes, it was a good shot.
He spoke again: “Are you happy to wait 20 minutes before we follow him up?”
Happy? Of course I was happy, secure in the knowledge that not more than 100 metres in front of me lay my first deer. As he glanced at his watch I chambered another round. The sharp report of my moderated .243 had been effectively swallowed up by the landscape, and there was always the chance of another deer following the first.
It seemed only a few moments before he consulted his watch again, and suggested we unload and climb down. Once on the ground I reloaded my rifle and took the lead, just in case.
On reaching the shot site we found…nothing. No blood, no hair, and, most importantly, no deer. A few nasty doubts flashed through my mind… Had I failed to make sufficient allowance for the angle at which the deer had been standing, resulting in a gut-shot animal crawling away to die a lingering death in some far corner of the forest? On the other hand, perhaps I’d over compensated, and my shot had passed harmlessly in front of him? Or maybe the projectile had been deflected by vegetation, unseen by me through the ‘scope? But no, I dismissed these fears, remaining utterly convinced that my shot was indeed a good one, and that lying somewhere, very close to where we were now standing should be… no must be… my deer.
We made a fruitless search of the nearest bramble clumps, and then my companion began walking in ever widening circles, drawing gradually further away. Although I knew that this was the right approach, some sixth sense took me in the opposite direction, in a straight line through the wood, angled back slightly towards the highseat. I walked 30 paces before I found him, a two-year-old fallow buck in excellent condition, stone dead at the foot of a beech tree. He lay on his left side, so I expected to see an exit wound, but his body appeared undamaged and there wasn’t a drop of blood anywhere.
I whistled to signal my find to the other searcher, and as I rose from my kneeling position beside the animal he came over and we shook hands. “Congratulations” he said. “Your first?” Yes, I replied, my first. He smiled. “The first of many”. We chatted briefly, puzzling over the apparent lack of evidence that the deer had been hit, before heading back to the lodge to fetch the quad for extraction.
A few minutes later, when lifting the body onto the back of the quad, we saw our first sign of blood – lots of blood – as it came pouring from the small entrance wound. I’d hit him on the leading edge of the left shoulder blade, as expected for a shot at that angle, although perhaps a little higher than I’d have liked. However, in the absence of an exit wound, the route my bullet had taken after that remained a mystery.
Back at the lodge we hoisted the carcass for a suspended gralloch, and I carefully picked out the liver and set it aside – the landowner had told me the night before that if I was lucky enough to shoot a deer I was welcome to keep the carcass, provided that I brought him the liver for his breakfast! With the body cavity empty we could see further indications of the route taken by my bullet. Once inside the animal it had apparently been deflected slightly by its contact with the shoulder blade, and subsequently smashed two ribs at precisely the point you’d find damage following a classic heart and lung shot. Strangely though – and despite the prodigious quantity of blood that had gushed forth – all of the internal organs remained intact, and we still have no idea where my bullet ended up after smashing those ribs. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt in my mind that it was a well placed shot, and one that I’ll always remember.
After a cup of tea and a bite to eat we transferred the carcass to my vehicle, and I headed for the Welsh hills. Having travelled down the previous day with forty animals in my trailer I was now on my way home with just one – my first deer.