Seasonís first stalk
So finally the Thursday before Easter saw me drive the 80 mile round trip and pick up my pre loved Tikka .243 after three weeks of waiting, with the delay frustrations now in the past, final planning of my first stalk for 20 years was afoot.
The Bank holiday saw work commitments take up Good Friday and the best part of Saturday. Packing up early doors on Saturday I returned home to fortuitously find the family otherwise engaged in some birthday party outing. I spent an hour meticulously checking and packing the zeroing gear. I put the Tikka into its new slip and put 40 rounds of Sako 90g game head ammunition into the side pocket. Into the van went a set of 4 freshly made target boards, the 22LR and the faithful spaniel. I had been needing to do some further work with the .22 LR as I had been unhappy recently with the field performance and had changed the ammunition brand. The weather looked spot on with plenty of sun to warm the hill I was headed to, there was only a slight breeze to move the last odd daffodils still clinging on in the Lawn border. There was with no shortage of enthusiasm as I jumped in the van for the short drive to my permission for the zeroing works.
Pulling out both rifles and the target boards from the van I trekked the half mile to the safe area I had identified the last time I visited. The dog bounded along with excitement diving from one piece of cover to the next. When I arrived at the selected area I found a nice soft, and relatively dry patch of grass, arranged the gear, and set the dog spike in the ground. Walking downrange I set out the field target boards at 50, 75,100 and 150 yards and retreated back to base.
Although the .243 had been bore sighted at the RFD, I checked it as best I could once again and all seemed in order. I squeezed off the first round at the 50 yard A4 target and was surprised to find the bullet did not appear to have struck the paper. I walked up and checked it carefully, I walked back a little bemused wondering whether I should reduce the range to 25yrds. I resolved to check the bore against the sight once more before I moved the target.
I had reached the rifle and turned to face the target zone only to see some 20 young bullocks from a neighbouring field had decided to crash the party by pushing down a poorly set timber gate. Intent on finding out what was going on they proceeded with great haste to make a mess of the 150yrd target before I could make a decision on what I should do next. They were eyeing me up with curios interest and now had decided a closer inspection was the order of the day. Now starting to get a mild flap on I decided to pick up the guns and sleeve them before releasing the dog as I would be able to retain at least some control of the situation. By the time I had the two guns on my back the 50 yard target was receiving the saliva treatment and the dog was now not in a good place, pulling and jumping against the corkscrew in the ground.
By the time I got the dog released all the targets were down in god know what state, and the dog and I were surround by the curious cattle, a full retreat was now underway, led of course by the liver and white coward who was a full 50 yards ahead now and an hour was lost as the only suitable area was another half a mile away.
Fast forward two hours and I am banging in 3 shot groups to 30mm at 100 yards and 40mm at 150 yards with the .243 and 20mm groups with the .22LR. Feeling very happy and confident and very pleased with my choice of both rifle and ammunition, I packed up and pushed off home to clean the rifles and plan my next move.
Easter Sunday saw me working until 4.00pm so an evening stalk was on the cards. Top result as I had spent the whole day planning and imagining a selection of medal winners quietly grazing all all my favoured spots when I arrived!
Arriving at the permission at around 7pm I knew I had well over an hour before sunset, given my previous experience in this location under similar weather conditions I knew I would have shootable light until just after 8.30pm. On recent visits I had struggled to find any deer in the evenings whereas the mornings had shown up much better results with at least one beast presenting itself at all of the visits over the last three weeks. With this in mind my confidence was not particularly high. On leaving the vehicle I checked the wind direction and judged it northwest, blowing a steady 8-10mph. The sky was mostly clear with just a few large white clouds scudding across the hill. This wind direction is the favoured direction for me to access the deer holding areas on the permission, a southerly or easterly gives rise to the need for a 2 mile detour to get on the right side of the wind.
I set off, proceeding to my first observation point, when I arrived there I was disappointed, but not surprised to find the area devoid of anything more interesting than a solitary rabbit. Doubling back a few hundred yards, I pushed west to observation point 2, again finding nothing of interest. I had identified this area as a veritable spaghetti junction of furry creature roads and tracks. Due to the early hour, I resolved to retreat to the top of a stone wall which gave me some additional elevation and a 180 degree field of vision. I was pleased to discover the top of the wall offered some comfort in the form of soft long grass and I was sure this would prove an excellent shooting platform, I was slightly miffed that in my preparations and earlier visits I had not identified the wall as having such potential, the downside, of course, was over the course of the next thirty minutes not a single creature was seen from my new vantage point. Reluctantly, due to the imminent dusk, I realised that observation point 3 was not going to be an option this evening, so my only other option was to return to observation point 1 where I had previously seen deer in the late evening. Climbing into position, again atop a stone wall, the field of view looked very quiet. Time for a scan with the binoculars, glassing the hedge line out at 180 yards distance I spotted something white disappearing into the hedge. With the binoculars trained on the spot for a full 5 minutes, I was rewarded with the emergence of a large and what I thought looked like possibly pregnant doe. Being both out of season and out of range, I could only hope that there would be some male interest elsewhere else along the hedge line. Alas the closing 15 minutes of shootable light presented no such opportunities and I dismounted the hedge a little deflated but pleased to have found a deer at evening time.
Returning home, to a somewhat saintly wife, she suggested that I have another crack in the morning, I must admit that I was absolutely shattered having worked the last 9 days straight but, in the knowledge that the working week ahead, along with family commitments, would mean at least 6 days before I would have another morning stalking opportunity I decided on an early night and a 5am start the following day.
Leaving home at a tardy 5.20am the first chinks of sunlight were just starting to show on the horizon with a lightening sky showing through the early morning cloud. On arrival at the permission the wind was of a similar strength to the previous evening but had veered to a slightly more northerly direction. Following a similar pattern to the evening before, I went directly to observation point 1 where, I must admit, I was pretty disappointed to see nothing but rabbits. On then to observation point 2 which had proved very productive in previous morning recces, this was also devoid of life. After twenty minutes of careful observation over some seductive looking rough ground, I moved atop a stone wall to look at the far north west edge of the permission. Standing up and now some 10 feet above the level of the field, finally, some life, with the binoculars I watched as two deer were making their way at some pace across the very last two fields within the permissions acreage, some 600 yards distant. My assumption was it was a doe being chased by a buck. I knew there was no real cover in the area where the deer were and that due to this there was a limited number of options for them to make it back to their day time areas, so I decided to try and head them off intercepting their route back.
The route was all downhill and for most of it I was able to take advantage of the natural cover and stone hedges that separate the land into enclosed fields. At one point however I was forced to crouch and crawl in full view of the deer position. At this point both beasts were clearly visible at around 300 yards. Now I am recalling this, Itís interesting that at this point I could not take my eyes of the deer, I could have been crawling over anything such was my attention and intent The deer were so intent on their interaction that the full minute that I was fully exposed made no difference, they had not noticed me. On reaching a field gate with the deer at some 200 yards in an adjacent field, I could feel the adrenaline rise and my breath quicken, I have been shooting for many years and itís a long time since I had felt the excitement in this way. With a cover of a four foot stone hedge, I bent down and made the last 50 yards in under 30 seconds or so. Reaching a low point in the wall I found myself very gingerly peering over the stone hedge. The view over the stones revealed two bucks, the older and slightly larger of the two had a single antler and at this point was closer and at a better angle. It didnít take more than a few seconds for me to decide this was the better of the two beasts to take. Squaring the crosshairs just behind the foreleg I focused and forced myself to take a deep breath, as I took that breath the other buck sprang into the field of vision and they were both off, they were heading left into the field in which I was in. The field in was in was devoid of cover, the only cover available was the stone hedge which I was now on the wrong side of. My only option was to hit the deck, so down I went, into some very soggy dairy grass which just a minute earlier had seemed inconsequential. Both bucks were now in full view at what I had judged to be 120 yards, the dairy grasses length was such that I had to extend the bipod legs to get the rifle clear. This, as Iím sure others will attest, is not an easy task with two flighty deer comfortably in shooting range. Having singled out the larger buck, I checked the backdrop, first a slightly rising horizon topped by the stone wall boundary. Safe. I placed the cross hairs on him again for a second time. The deep breath was once again inhaled, this time followed by the crack of the rifle. Despite the breeze I heard the bullet strike home and watched as the big buck jumped as he was struck, he staggered on all fours for six or seven seconds appearing intoxicated before disappearing from view. My face dropped toward the grass, no elation but a strange relief, then some guarded satisfaction, perhaps a hint of guilt, I cannot quite describe how I felt directly after the beast fell to the ground but a cannot ever recall such a mixture of strange emotions. Iím still thinking about it now 3 days later.
The other buck made no attempt to flee and interestingly, spent the next ten minutes browsing and grazing, seemingly unconcerned as to the fate of his companion. I managed to take some photos of it with my phone and then decided to walk up to where the shot deer was lying. I manged to walk to within 35yards of the live buck, in an open field, before he decided enough was enough and he took flight. The old buck lay stone dead on the floor, on turning the carcass over the shot placement looked very good, if a little on the high side. The missing antler turned out to be a deformed one.
The next pressing issue would be the gralloch, this particular permission is very light on trees, the ground is extremely exposed and there are very few trees that are large enough from which to suspend a deer. I dragged the carcass the 60 yards to the nearest stumpy looking tree which in all honesty was not much more than a stout bush. It was at this point whilst in the act of patting my pockets that in my meticulous planning I realised Iíd left my rope at home. A quick scout around the area revealed no rope but there was some old electric fence nylon wire available. Ten minutes of tree trimming later and with much more effort than I ever believed possible, I had managed to suspend the beast in the tree. It was all I could do to lift the thing just above my head. My first gralloch went really well, and the hours of video watching and forum surfing had made an enormous difference, I was full of confidence and it was all over in seven or eight minutes. Now all done I was ready to consider transporting the carcass the mile back to the van. With only the electric fence wire available to me, I tied the front legs to the back legs and put my forearm between the legs, swapping arms every hundred yards, the journey back took forty five minutes, whereby the deer was loaded and off for hanging in the garage.
The carcass prep is going to have to wait for another day.
Lessons learned that morning:
Make sure knife is as sharp as it can be
Go buy a folding gambrel
Go buy a roe sack or a land rover!
A packet of wet wipes would have been worth a tenner at the end of the gralloch!
Thanks to all forum contributors that helped me achieve my first solo buck.