Editor-in-chief Pete Carr cites three occasions when a wrong wind worked in his favour on a stalk, and says all’s not as it first seems when it comes to wind
The first rule of stalking is “work the wind”. In other words, the wind mustn’t be blowing from you to the targeted quarry. “You don’t say,” would be the answer that most would give, and in most cases, their sarcasm would be justified. However,as in many things hunting, the rules are not (and please forgive the cliché) set in stone.
I can remember three occasions when success was won, and won well, by breaking all the rules, and much can be learned from these three experiences. In the very least, reading these may give you hope on those days when the wind is the wrong quarter and the odds stacked well and truly again you.
The first occasion was also my debut roebuck, and the experience is as clear now as it was on the day. I can even smell the fresh late spring morning when I sit back and reminisce. I’d carefully stalked through the 12-acre wood named Brindleys. Working the rides, I slowly sidled along the various deer paths, carefully scanning for any brown-grey patch of hair or a flicking ear that would give my quarry away. This was all to no avail as I exited the wood on the windward end. Walking back down the north side of the poplar plantation at a fair rate – as I wasn’t stalking now, with the wind behind me – I was surprised to see a buck jump the woodland fence and into the cow pasture I was now in, 200 yards away. The buck eyed me cautiously for a few moments and I expected him to return whence he’d come. However, staying still, I stared him out, and the buck’s interest soon waned, and he began browsing on the freshly unfolding hawthorn leaves that were clearly welcome fodder after a bleak winter foraging.
Moving cautiously, I ghosted to the prone position and gently worked the rifle off my shoulder and into a shooting position. Staying limp and relaxed, I let the buck work his way closer along the woodland border to me, expecting him to scent me at any second and flee to safety. He came in to 80 yards and I fitted to the rifle. It was just then that a slight gust of wind tickled my neck and my heart sank – but with it I smelt the unmistakable ‘eau de toilette’ of slurry from the grass-banked lagoon a good 500 yards behind me. Despite my close proximity and the gust that clearly would have carried my man-odour to the buck, the slurry was clearly masking my scent. The buck was harvested, and what a fine animal he proved to be – a real old stager not far off medal quality and certain to have once carried such a head in previous seasons.
The second occasion was when stalking hill roe – my favourite pursuit still. There aren’t too many slurry lagoons on the open hill, but the rut was on and the buck I was stalking along a burn to engage was very much revved up and looking to expand the species. There was a doe my side of the water (which was by now filling my boots and soaking through my breeks), and her kid on the other side trying to cross and at risk of getting in the way of the lovelorn buck at its peril. The doe was clearly agitated at this, and despite my wind blowing directly to her, she stood guard over her kid, with frantic glances and stressed nodding towards my personage.
It was then I witnessed something I’ve never seen before or since. The doe pressed her head forward and issued a sound like a quiet version of a horse blowing its lips in a relaxed way. This encouraged the kid to run along the waterway and away from me and the buck. The buck was now well within my wind and he completely ignored me, which was his undoing, and he ended up in the larder.
I have no doubt that the doe’s concern for her kid was stronger than her desire to run from the clear and present danger that was me. Furthermore, the buck was so intent on procreation his sex drive blanked out the same clear and present danger, which ultimately led to his demise. Another very old buck with two long spikes, a classic murder buck, his trophy now resides next to my first buck on the lounge wall. Barely a trophy at all, this head has drawn many a derisory comment over the years, but on the occasions I glance at it, the memories come flooding back of a fantastic hunt and a unique experience in the Angus glens.
The final occasion that really highlights both experiences above and is probably the best jewel of wisdom of all three bucks was a buck taken right at the end of last year’s roe rut.
I’d made my mind to go to Church Wood and wait for an old buck I’d been saving for a guest but had proved an elusive adversary. It was quite a walk into to the chosen seat, and by the time I was stalking along the actual woodland edge towards the high seat, the wind had come about and was blowing directly into the wood. The buck caught the wind from his safe haven and began barking his displeasure. My heart sank but I was committed now and had to be back in the office for 9am – leaving little time to pull out. So I chose a more favourable seat. Against my better judgement (forgetting the two experiences above), I increased my pace, turned right at the end of the wood and walked on to the stile that enabled me access to the wood and the old oak that my high seat was welded to.
Climbing up, I had more or less resigned myself to some nature watching before heading off to work. Unbelievably, soon after, the buck appeared to my right in the trees, pursuing his doe as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He disappeared and then moments later the doe shot across the ride, no doubt to escape the buck’s attentions. She crossed into the trees, followed by the buck in Polaris mode. I made ready and they both exited the trees together to my extreme left, and I took my opportunity to grass the buck. What a morning – literally from zero to hero as the keeper turned up to feed his pheasants. The lesson learned from this anecdote was that the original side of the wood I had come along was parallel to a regularly used public footpath, so the deer had been accustomed to human scent and disturbance. Coupled with the buck’s intentions to mate, this firmly put the advantage in my court – without me realising it at the time.
The moral of these three stories is simple: Wind isn’t everything. If it is against you, it doesn’t always mean disaster. Weigh up all the elements and options before dismissing the stalk. ‘Never push a bad position’ doesn’t always mean you have considered every option.