28th March 2011
One Monday evening, I headed off over to my mate Stuart’s place to go roe stalking with him on one of his permissions. From his house we still have to travel for another half hour or so, so it gives me an excellent opportunity to catch up on the stalking gossip as we drive. He is recognised as one of the most accomplished roe stalkers in the country, so is a mine of useful information and experience. I feel myself very fortunate to be privy to his hard-won knowledge.
After he’s dropped me at our chosen spot, Stuart heads off up whichever bit of the valley he feels will be most productive. I’ve been to the place loads of times before, but as the bit I cover only consists of three fields and a bit of scrub, one can never tell whether any deer will actually be present. A lot depends on where the local farmers have put their livestock, or where they’ve been doing things like muck-spreading. For some reason, roe deer don’t like sharing grazing ground with sheep or cattle.
On this occasion, the wind was in the east-south-east direction, and as the entrance to the ground is into the easternmost of the three fields, it meant that the other two would not be worth bothering with (as I’d be upwind of them). This wasn’t a significant problem though, as the wind was blowing from the only bit I was interested in – the hedgeline at the right hand end which borders a large woods.
The sun was already well down, so I didn’t have any time to waste. In order to get to the best vantage point without being seen by any animals in the woods, I skirted around the opposite hedge as this was hidden by a rise in the middle of the field. The last few yards were taken very slowly – each step I moved forward exposed large areas of ground, every one of which had to be scrutinised with the binos for feeding deer. Eventually, I got close to my chosen spot, and then belly crawled into position, my Sauer .308 alongside me. The rise in the field continued to help me – any deer that looked in my direction would only be able to see my form from the nose upwards. As I was halfway into a hedge, wearing a face veil, and the light was going fast, I thought that unlikely.
I’d not been in place long before a hare came running up through the sparse sprinkling of newly-sprouted barley. It got to within about 20 yards before it noticed me – or more probably, my rifle, as this was somewhat more prominent, sitting openly on its bipod. The inquisitive chap kept sitting up and looking over with a quizzical expression, before settling back and nibbling away at the young shoots. He was there for at least five minutes, but the next time I brought my binos up he decided that perhaps it would be better to eat somewhere else, and he lolloped off.
Somewhere up the valley there was a large house with a resident population of peacocks. Their series of last-light tropical squawks sounded somewhat incongruous as they echoed through the middle of rural Devon, although their cacophony was soon joined by several cock pheasants. It’s funny how these birds come from a similar part of the world, and yet we’ve got used to having them around.
As the time passed I tried to count the number of different sounds that were floating in on the air, but gave up. There were blackbirds everywhere, and it seemed that every one of them was chinking away at full volume, trying to inform the world as to their presence. Likewise, I could hear several tiny lambs in the near distance calling to their mums. Up in the sky, the crows were shouting in their insistent and aggressive manner at anything that annoyed them. Luckily, they didn’t spot me, as the last thing I wanted was to be exposed as a nasty predator.
A small flock of blue tits landed in the bushes above me, and like the hare, they were clearly puzzled by the strange shape lying below them, all the while communicating with each other with a series of small cheeps. I was hoping that some magpies or jays would kick off – that way I’d know where the deer were, but for once they were quiet. Whilst pondering such things, I spotted some movement in the shadows near the lower hedge – this runs alongside some hazel scrub that grows above a small stream. It was now too dark to be certain what I was seeing, but after slowly edging my binos to my eyes, I realised that it was another two hares chasing each other in small circles.
A full scan around the area showed that there were still no deer to be seen. I wasn’t worried though – as the place is regularly shot over, the deer are very wary, and generally only come out in the last couple of minutes of light. As if heralding the coming of night, a couple of tawny owls started hooting deep in the woods. Time to be ready, I thought to myself, and double checked everything. I wound the Swarovski scope down from x15 to x10 to increase the amount of light I’d see, and rechecked the focus.
A couple of minutes later, there was a dark shape by the gap leading into the woods. Seconds later, two more appeared and together the three roe does ran a few yards up the hedgeline, right into my field of fire. I settled the Sauer into my shoulder and waited until I had a nice sideways on shot. A gentle squeeze of the trigger smacked my chosen quarry down on the spot – by the time the rifle had settled again the other two had legged it back into cover.
As I inspected the fruits of my labours, Stuart drove up the lane and parked at our usual meeting point. I quickly ran up to higher ground and signalled to him with my new adjustable focus torch. Thankfully, he responded by driving up the track, which saved me a long walk. Together we dragged the carcass off the barley and gralloched it – we were amazed to see that the doe was only a couple of weeks off giving birth. This is nearly a month early when compared to other deer in the area. In all other respects she had been a healthy animal – I guess it was the result of the early snow and the warm weather we’d experienced.