Paul Childerley emphasises the virtue of selflessness as he makes the snap decision to turn down a trophy buck in favour of a cull candidate on a May stalk
At long last I had my hands on my new Sako Carbonlight rifle in .243 calibre topped with a quality ZEISS optic. It would only be polite to give it a go in the field as soon as possible – so, after getting all set up on the range, I headed to my friend’s ground in Oxfordshire to try for a roebuck.
The month of May is my favourite time of the year to hunt, and I save all my spare stalking time for this month. It’s a great time of year for the roebucks as the antlers are clean of velvet and have good colour, but the bucks are still active and have a wider roaming territory. The woods are alive, but the cover is not too high so you can still stalk and have a good field of view.
As I arrived in Oxfordshire, it was a glorious early summer morning and I was heading out on an estate known for producing some excellent trophy bucks. I had no restrictions on what quality of buck I could take – I was instructed I could take a trophy one if I liked.
On the drive out to the far side of this estate, I noticed a six-pointer buck about 100 metres down a hedgerow, thrashing some cow parsley with his antlers. There was a doe with him stood back in the wheat field. Parking at the far end of the field, my only option was to walk back along the track I had driven along – the wind direction made any other approach impossible. After a 15-minute quick-pace walk to the top of the rise, I slowly peered down to where I had previously seen the deer, but they had moved further down to the bottom corner, heading towards the neighbouring rape field, which was in full yellow bloom.
I stood and studied them for a while. The buck was clearly a nice six-pointer but had very narrow and short tines. After a few minutes I decided to head down across the wheat field to try and cut them off before they hit cover in the rape. It was a seriously heavy dew – the wheat was absolutely soaking, and so was I after a few paces.
As I approached a suitable shooting distance on the buck, they both popped through the hedge to the rape field, but were still in sight, heading up hill between the hedge and the rape. Giving them a few minutes to move away from the hole they had gone through, I made a plan to head down and follow them through as there was enough gap to get through silently. Just before heading through the gap, I got prepared for a shot with the sticks in my left hand and my rifle off my shoulder.
Slowly peering between the rape and the hedge as I made my way through, I could see both animals browsing the hedgerow away from me. There was far too much cover for a clear shot. But just a little further on there was a slight opening where the rape had been eaten by rabbits or game birds, which would give the perfect opportunity for a shot.
All of a sudden their heads were up and they were alert and bounded to the top of the grazed area. In a flash I was on the sticks and ready to take advantage of any small opportunity I was afforded. In the next second, the doe bounded straight into the tall rape, and the buck stopped and turned to present a perfect heart shot – but unfortunately all there was behind him was daylight, so it was a no-go.
I was soaked to the bone with nothing to show for it so far. But I wasn’t about to get despondent – there was still plenty of stalking time left. The wind was in the right direction for me to head to the grass paddocks, which is always a good spot as it’s the first point of call for the deer going in to and coming out from the woods. Approaching the top of the first paddock, I glassed down and immediately saw a single roe in the far paddock, about 300 metres away. It had massive antlers. So without a moment’s hesitation, I set off.
The best plan of attack would be to put myself between him and the woods, which he would surely be heading back to. The grass was too long for a shot from the bipod so the sticks were the only option, meaning I would have to get in to a sensible distance to take a comfortable shot. Gaining distance quickly was easy – the ground was quiet because of the dew, and the buck was settled in the middle of the paddock grazing and enjoying the morning sun. Every time the buck dropped his head to graze, I gained a good 30 metres, so it didn’t take long before I was 100 metres away and ready to set up on the sticks.
As I was about to set up, movement to my left caught my eye. I could see another roe deer about 150 metres away grazing along the bottom hedgerow. Checking with my Conquest HD 15×56 binos, I could see that it was a small, swept-back four-point buck.
Which to take? I glassed back the other way to check the master buck one final time – he would definitely make a good medal, maybe even a gold depending on the weight. Lowering my binoculars, I fixed my view on the four-pointer as it manoeuvred itself in a peculiar way then tried a type of trot. It became apparent, even without the aid of binos, that there was something wrong. After further study, I could see that his front leg was mangled and twisted back underneath itself.
The decision had been made. I manoeuvred the shooting sticks around to the four-pointer, knowing that the big buck had sensed my presence and I didn’t want to spook the injured buck as he needed to be culled. It was now or never, and he was broadside enough for a shot.
I was on to the sticks before the injured buck was spooked from the big buck’s rumbles. The red dot gave me quick, precise accuracy. The buck leapt forward and kicked out, so I knew the shot was good. He proceeded to run 10 yards into the hedge where he dropped. A quick glance back to the big buck – he was disappearing into the woodland at speed, barking all the way.
Wandering down to collect and gralloch the buck, I could still hear the medal buck barking in the depths of the wood. Inspection of the shot buck revealed he had either been hit by a car or caught in a fence – the leg had been badly broken and amazingly re-healed itself in a position such that it was permanently tucked under the body.
Professional deer management is a key factor in choices made to manage and preserve a healthy, quality population. You can always try for your trophy buck another day.