Paul Childerley sets out on 1 August with the twin aims of controlling a group of errant fallow bucks and filling the freezer with meat for a barbecue
One question I get asked time after time is, ‘What deer tastes the best?’ It’s a simple answer: all of them! Of course there are many other factors to take into consideration, is it the right age, has it been shot correctly, gralloched, hung and prepared properly… The time of year for each species is also crucial to have first-class venison.
It was the first of August – the opening day of the fallow buck season – and I was determined to try to find a pricket as I had a barbecue planned and knew it would be first class and number-one choice for my guests. The bucks this time of year are generally in perfect condition with minimal testosterone after a summer of grazing and gaining weight for their rutting season in the autumn.
Planning the early morning stalk required organisation and calling in a few favours. As this time of year, the pheasant pens are full and demand attention. Knowing the pheasants were in good hands, I could set off after a fallow pricket with a clear mind.
Heading over to an estate that has a good number of fallow on, I had some reports that there was a group of bucks trampling and feeding on an oat field that the farmer had planted as a trial to see if it would be a successful crop for him. Arriving at the ground and parking in my usual spot, I knew that the deer would be at the far end of the second field next to the woods and that I wouldn’t disturb them. Setting off with all my kit, I was using my .243 Sako 85, which would be more than enough for the job. Walking up one of the tram lines, I could see a couple of heads bobbing in the first field. It was a pair of roe deer, a young buck and doe. Luckily they headed straight back into the wood behind me and didn’t make a sound. Continuing along the tram line, I had to get to the top end of the field to get the wind in the correct direction so I could approach the oat field from the adjacent tree belt which would also give me a safe shot back in to the centre of the field. When I arrived at the top corner, I slowly made my way through the belt and glassed over the oats but there was no sign of a single deer. I pushed through the hedge and tucked in next to an overhanging branch and thought I would wait it out for half an hour to see if they would appear.
On this particular area, there is a small syndicate shoot which put down a few pheasants for their winter sport. I was under strict instruction to shoot a fox if I saw one as they were having a few problems with a fox killing outside their main pen, which was directly to my right. Yes, you guessed it – what should appear but a fox. Not only one, in fact, but two! They both were running together and looked like a pair of this year’s cubs with mischief on their mind. Slowly I raised the rifle as the pair were about to head back in to the oat field. They were only 30 metres away so I couldn’t make too much movement or noise but also had to try to get one before they disappeared. They both stopped motionless, looking directly into the crop as if they weren’t sure about something, which gave me the window of opportunity to shoot one. The other darted back towards the pheasant pen and then disappeared. As soon as I shot the fox, the oats in front of me, about 20 metres away, erupted with three fallow bucks. They had obviously been laid up and because the oats are a tall crop, I could not see any movement from heads, ears or antlers, which is what I normally look for in a standing crop. The trio of bucks headed over the horizon but were slowing and were angling towards where I had parked earlier.
While heading over to pick up the fox, I kept my eye on the fallow, just in case they double backed to the woods. I picked up the fox and took it across to the pheasant pen and laid it by the pen gate to give the keeper a nice surprise for when he returned to feed the birds later.
Heading at full pace after the three fallow, knowing that if I didn’t cut them off before they got to the big wood, I’d miss out for the day. Luckily with the crop still being uncut, the bucks had settled in the middle of the field, where I started first thing. The bucks looked like they were going to set up camp in the middle of the field, like they had previously been in the oats. So I got on to the edge of the field they were in and found a good tram line which made the pursuit towards them a lot easier. After creeping in slowly, in a hunched over position, for 200+ metres, I kept having to rest and also I could also only move when the bucks were looking down or away as they were still alert from earlier.
All of a sudden, all three bucks disappeared – they had obviously decided this was their hideout for the day and trying to spot where they were would have been quite difficult, apart from there was a patch of wild oats growing next to where they stood, which gave me a great marker to work to. Once lined up level with where I assumed they were, I started walking through the crop with the stick in one hand and my rifle in the other, prepared just in case they popped up. Once I got 80 metres from where they could be, I put the rifle on the sticks and got ready for a shot. The three bucks consisted of a pricket, a sorrel and a younger buck with no palms. Ideally I was on for the pricket, as this would be the best food choice out of the three beasts. After waiting another 10 minutes, I decided to try a few noises to encourage one to stand or at least move. Firstly a few whistles, then a cough, then a bark, and then the Buttolo but nothing was working.
Knowing that I’d given the game away that I was there, my last chance would be to walk in to try to move them and possibly get a shot if they stopped to see what I was. I had a sneaky plan that as soon as I saw movement, I would duck out of sight, in the standing crop then possibly they may well stop to try to spot the danger. As I approached the final 30 metres, all three leapt and bolted left-handed, back towards my truck. I ducked down and they kept running. No shot was on but I stayed down low and watched them. As they approached my truck, they must have noticed the truck in front of them which turned them back up the field towards me.
I swung round and got prepared on the sticks, but kept below the eye level of the crop. As they were passing, it was a simple operation of stand up, pick the pricket from the pack and deliver a clean shot. Down he went and the other two bounded over the crop and away. I was elated but then had the thought of carrying a pricket out of the standing crop without flattening half the field and doing more damage than he would have done. Packing him up into the roe sack, I set off back towards the truck where I could deal with him and gralloch properly. It was in top condition with hardly any ticks and a perfectly clean gralloch.
After a few days in the larder, I skinned and dressed it fully out, making some unbelievably good venison for the coming barbecue and also having some extra to sell.