29th March 2011
Having had all sorts of tedious business matters to attend to, I was desperate to escape into the countryside where I could properly relax. I didn’t have much daylight left, so got changed into my combats, grabbed my gear, and headed off to a recently-acquired permission.
When I arrived, the farmer wanted to chat about whether I’d also be interested in attending to some foxes on some further land he owns, so I lost even more of the rapidly diminishing light. Although there’s a track which runs up to the edge of the woodland I was intending to shoot over, I decided to minimise any possible disturbance by leaving the Land Rover Disco in the farmyard and legging it up on foot.
I did my best to move quietly up the narrow stony lane, which is only used as a farm track these days. I’m told, however, that it was once – many hundreds of years ago, a major communications route across Devon.
Indeed, as evidence of the location’s antiquity, the farmhouse was built in the year 875 AD, and still has a series of wonderful plank and muntin screens (ancient wooden walls to the uninitiated) in place. One of these has the faint outline of a medieval painting on it – at some stage I intend to cobble together an ultra violet light to see if we can highlight more of the original detail.
Anyway – back to the lane: as I still didn’t know the area very well, I also had to watch out for unexpected breaks in the hedge that might expose me to any deer that might be grazing on the rich grass growing in the meadows than run alongside the woods. On rounding one bend I discovered a ewe with two lambs standing in my way. I didn’t want to spook them, as I feared they might start bleating out alarm calls. Luckily, they turned tail and disappeared back into the field from which they’d escaped.
My plan was to start at the end of the woods and work my way along the edge – this would put the gentle breeze directly into my face – perfect! The first field was easy going, but there were no deer to be seen, and no slots (footprints) anywhere. There were, however, large clumps of red deer hairs on all the fences and other crossing points, so they were clearly using the area in the recent past. Still – my mission tonight was roe deer, so I pressed on. It was nice to see that here and there the violets were in flower on the banks, and a general air of spring being on us was evident.
Getting into the next field meant crawling through a small gap in a blackthorn hedge – not easy, when you’re wearing a face veil that snags on everything and your moderator seems to twang on every twig in sight… The second field was also devoid of anything except a couple of startled bunnies, and by now I only had about ten minutes of light left.
To make matters worse, a light mist was developing. Gaining access to the third field was a similar story, but at least there were some gorse bushes to hide behind whilst scrutinising the ground over the rise in front of me. A careful examination with the binos revealed a roe doe grazing just inside the far hedge – and another behind her. They were too far away for a shot, so I snuck along the edge of the field, dodging in and out of the trees and any other cover I could find.
Eventually, I got to a place where there was a small gap leading into the woods. An ash tree was leaning out into the field, and this had a branch conveniently situated at just the right height for a rifle, so I laid my sticks down and slid up the side of the tree. The barbed wire fence was rasping my back as I did so, making it a hazardous exercise.
I managed to get upright without being spotted by the deer – of which there were now five – all of them does. Fortunately, I’d managed to close the distance to within about 100 yards, so the range was perfect. I manoeuvred the Sauer into position and choosing the nearest animal as my target I waited until she turned sideways on. The moment she did so, a .308 BT round was sent on its way – it hit her right in the engine room, and she dropped on the spot.
With the sound of the shot, something happened that I will never forget – one of the deer ran straight into the woods, but the other three ran straight towards me, aiming for the gap I was standing over. One after the other, they ran through within an inch of my right leg, jumping over my sticks as they did so. The first one took me by surprise, the second one was moments behind it, but as the third one went through I swatted it on the flank with my open hand – just like I do when playing with my dog! Within seconds they were gone, hidden deep in the woods.
I didn’t want to gralloch the deer and then drag it across three fields as this would risk the meat getting contaminated, so the carcass was heavier than it really needed to be. I was all hot and sweaty by the time I’d got it to a position where I could reach it with the Land Rover, so I was pleased to leave it for a few minutes while I walked down to the farmyard.
By then it was very dark, so once I’d driven back to the spot where I’d left the deer I had to use the headlights in order to see what I was doing whilst performing the necessary butchery operations. A few minutes later all was done – whilst doing so I made a point of checking the state of foetal development – much like the previous night’s kill, the doe was very close to giving birth. I still think it was the early snow we’d had that winter which had brought their clocks forward. It makes one wonder about whether the dates specified for the official seasons will have to be amended if things get warmer any earlier in future years.
I was intending to go foxing once I’d sorted the carcass out, however, with the sun’s going down the light mist had turned into a moderate fog. As NV equipment hates fog, I called it a day and set off home to hang the roe in the walk-in chiller I’d recently installed. Still – I was pleased that my roe session had gone exactly to plan; as far as I was concerned, after a dull start the day had ended well!