18th September 2009
For several weeks a mate called Andy had been telling me that some of the Sika prickets in his area had my name on them. This all followed on from my spending an excellent day stalking with him earlier in the year, when he guided me into taking three fine roe. Anyway – things came together, and it was arranged that I would drive over one Friday afternoon, firstly for an evening session, and then for a first light stalk on the Saturday morning. I therefore left my diary clear for the day so I could drive the ninety-odd miles in a relatively relaxed form.
On the Thursday I started getting all my stuff sorted out – no night vision gear would be required, so all that got put to one side. I dug out a blanket and a bedding roll as I was to be sleeping on the floor of an empty flat overnight. First thing Friday, I was up and about nice and early, and everything seemed fine and dandy.
I then found that I had to go to an urgent business meeting, but while I was organising this, another company ‘phoned up wanting to see me too. Cutting a long story short, I arrived in Dorset a few minutes early, but totally frazzled – and still in a suit. Andy kindly waited while I donned my combats, and then drove us over to his chosen highseat location.
We got there about an hour and a half before last light. All the way over, Andy kept telling me that Sika are very secretive, and that if they came, they would only show as darkness fell. We made our way up to the seat as quietly as we could, and as I scaled the ladder, I realised that a nice roe buck was watching me. Andy then passed my rifle up, after which he joined me on the twin-seat.
The buck I’d seen was accompanied by a very nervous doe, and we spent some time watching them. Just above and behind us a squirrel was noisily eating acorns and clumsily dropping half of them on the woodland floor. The doe kept starting each time this happened, and when I moved my rifle a few centimetres it was more than she could bear and the two of them ran off.
Another pair then came out of a maize patch on the other side of the field and browsed for a while before moving into the woods. A few minutes later, we heard the characteristic triple cry of a Sika stag deep in amongst the trees – a very eerie sound that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It was still far too early to expect the shy Sika to make an appearance though.
Something then set one of the squirrels behind us off, and it started making a weird half-cry – not the usual full-on alarm call, but more like a strange bird call. Further down the valley some pheasants started making their pre-roost calls, and a few pigeons winged their way above us. Other than that, it was relatively quiet.
The animal we were after was a Sika pricket that had been nicknamed ‘Limpy’ – for obvious reasons. This was fine by me, as I was there more for the crack than anything else. After all, if I had no expectations, I couldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t after a trophy animal – such things had never really interested me. While I was musing through such things, I simply made the most of it and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Living in mid-Devon, I’m used to verdant grounds, but it’s always good to spend time in other similarly pristine countryside.
As these thoughts floated through my mind, something black caught my eye over on the far side of some dead ground. As it was moving in front of some dark undergrowth, however, I couldn’t get a fix on it, and assumed it was a crow or something similar. A minute or so later though, Andy nudged me and pointed to a large 6-point Sika that had just come out into the field a few yards further on. So there we were – still in good light, a super elusive Sika stag had not only decided to show itself, but then walked straight towards us…
There followed a whispered but frantic discussion as to the cost of the trophy and of mounting the head. Andy is not only an excellent stalker but a very talented taxidermist too. In the few milliseconds I had available, I figured:
a) the head would look superb mounted on the wall in my office (a converted barn).
b) the fact that Andy was with me meant that the carcass preparation could be done exactly in accordance with his taxidermy requirements.
c) the carcass could be kept whole and used spit-roast stylee for my upcoming wedding meal.
d) my Good Lady would like the fact that our wedding meal would be commemorated for posterity by the mounted head.
So – with the winners all-round conclusion, I set the cross hairs on the kill zone and pulled the trigger on my .308 Sauer 202. The range was about 60 yards, and the stag did a brief half circle before falling in front of us.
Andy was incredulous. There was I – never having been anywhere near Sika before in my life, and I drop a 6-point stag first time out. He kept saying that I had no comprehension of how lucky I was. He was wrong – I knew just how jammy I’d been. At least, I would have thought myself so if I didn’t know that Andy had arranged the whole thing. I’m sure he conspired with dark forces to ensure that I had a successful trip!
We waited until it was dark to see if Limpy would show, but nothing else appeared. We therefore got the carcass sorted out and headed back.
My alarm went off the next morning at 4:45, and a few minutes later Andy arrived to whisk me off for a morning stalk. We had a good time, seeing several deer – mostly roe, but in spite of the early hour, the only Sika males – a stag and a pricket were already heading back into the woods. We spent another couple of hours creeping through some undergrowth, but the only thing we saw was a Sika doe that came to within a few feet of us before finding our scent trail. The moment she sussed us, she charged off through the larch plantation barking like mad.
We then made our way back to Andy’s HQ, where we admired a haul of fine stags that had been brought in by other stalkers. My animal was skilfully caped off and then hauled over to the back of my Disco. So – giving Andy and his mate Paul my sincerest thanks for all their efforts I started my journey home.
On the way I reflected that I’d had a great time, learned a little about Sika, and come home with a major contribution to my wedding feast. I was looking forward to the return match, when Andy was due to come to my part of the world to experience some of our Exmoor Red Deer!