It’s no secret that my favourite rifle quarry is the roebuck.
In second place is the African leopard – that should give you a yardstick as to how highly I value this sporting species.
The roebuck is the bread and butter of most UK stalkers, Highlanders excepted. The southern counties England of course hold the premier trophies, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Scotland’s Fife and Perthshire regularly produce outstanding trophies, too, as do other counties.
In my area of East Yorkshire there are good bucks to be taken each year. and as stalking is one of our fastest growing fieldsports I expect more and more counties of England not so well known for big bucks to start to produce.
The first of April is more than just a day to play practical jokes on friends and colleagues. For roe stalkers it is the start of a new season, and its approach always excites me. What will the season bring, I always wonder.
Will the bucks produce good heads, and will this year be the one that I can fill a slot on my bucket list for a once-in-anyone’s-lifetime freaky head. Not a spark has diminished in my pursuit of roe since I crawled down that slurry ditch some 30 years ago to secure my first buck.
Last year was no exception. I had watched and spied an ageing buck with a poor head living close to a busy junction. The morning of the opening day arrived, and saw me silently waiting beneath a budding hawthorn hedge with the busy commuter traffic whizzing by behind me. The shadows had receded and I was carefully checking the hedgerows through the Swarovski binos.
Cramp seems to affect me much more now since I passed the big four-zero, and I was twiddling my toes to aid the circulation. I knew my best course of action was to stay put, but my backside had gone to sleep and I was fast becoming sick of the cramps, so in a less than graceful manner I rose to my feet.
I had the wind, of course, and I proceeded to walk and stalk at as slow a pace as I possibly could, stopping and spying as I went on. Imagine my consternation when moments later the buck pushed its way through the hedge 50 yards away to my left and looked directly at me. If I had just stayed in my sitting position a few moments longer, he would have been in my sight glass, but now I was made. Keeping still was my only option, but I stood out like a turd on a billiard table.
The buck licked his nose, searching for any hint of scent. He craned his neck from side to side, trying to make out what this apparition was before him. I’m sure the Mossy Oak camo helped me blend in well with the adjacent hawthorn hedge, but I was still a suspicious object, and the buck decided that flight was the better part of valour and disappeared across the field and onto the neighbouring estate.
That, as they say, was that. I stalked down the boundary and waited in a suitable spot for his return but gave up the ghost at 9am. Returning home for breakfast, I found I’d left my brand new Rivers West ball cap at my last position, and thought nothing more of it. Returning in the late afternoon, I was just getting my kit out of the Land Rover when a trio of mountain bikers sped by the lay-by – with one of them wearing my new cap. Despite me demanding them to halt, they carried on in what could be best described as good humour, ignoring my calls questioning their parentage. Fortunately I usually carry a spare, and I donned an SCI cap given to me by an American client.
Grabbing the sticks, I set off in dark mood to my previous position to await the buck’s return. The buck proved to be a will-o-the-wisp as no sooner had I reached my destination than he reappeared out of the dyke beside me and skipped away down the hedge – but alas, over the boundary. I felt sure he hadn’t been disturbed despite his closeness, as he didn’t appear particularly alarmed. But boundaries are boundaries, and I elected to stay and wait for what if anything would transpire.
Minutes ticked by, and as always, nature’s soap opera kept me entertained as a love triangle of wrens battled it out in the hedgerow beside me. The piping of a blackbird put me on the alert, and sure enough a fox came towards me on a reciprocal course to the one taken by the buck. I knew the keeper next door would be pleased with this result, so I flicked on the illuminated dot on the Swarovski and mounted the Sauer.
Through the scope the buck then came into view from nowhere and blocked out the fox. My intended quarry slipped into the dyke once more, and I lowered the rifle like a fool. This movement was instantly picked up by the fox, who turned away and took the buck’s lead into the dyke.
Mood rapidly blackening, I was just about to give up when the buck came into view at my side of the hedge and stood weighing me up. It was another Mexican standoff. The Sauer 202 rifle came instantly to the shoulder, and I flicked off the safety and squeezed away the round as the reticle came up to the beast’s shoulder. The buck had begun to turn away, but the Geco .30-06 bullet flew true and knocked the beast to the ground dead in an instant.
It had been a testing day, but what a start to the season.
The Sauer-Swarovski combination had proved itself, and some sharp thinking and tricky shooting had secured a fine start to the new season.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – you cannot beat the excitement of roe stalking, culling or trophy hunting.
This species is the one that does it for me.