Roebuck fever

Not everything goes to plan, even when you’re Chris Dalton. Here Chris relates a story of a May roebuck hunt in which nerves got the better of his client…

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As I have said many times before, I enjoy all the months throughout the stalking year. Each brings its own challenges and rewards. As for May, it is really the start of the long days for the stalker. We are up very early and out late – you find yourself setting the alarm, and seemingly before you’ve even put it down it goes off in your hand, signalling it’s time to get up again. But, once out on a late May morning, well before the world has woken up, you soon forget your lack of sleep. While most of humankind will be in bed for a good few hours yet, the rest of nature is going about its business, largely undisturbed. This is the time when you can encounter those trophy bucks – they are often out at this early hour, patrolling the patch and sussing out any rivals. They are generally not expecting to bump into any humans and so are usually fairly relaxed.

That is why I was out on this morning a few years ago now, with Kristian, a regular guest of mine from Norway. We were after a decent buck. I had come down to a river valley that runs alongside a quiet country lane where over the last few years I had seen a nice buck, which I thought had a chance of making a medal – not exceptional by any means but a nice colour and size, and I did not think he would get any bigger. The proximity to the road also concerned me, so I had decided we would try to take him.

Dog day: Burt was soon called into action

Dog day: Burt was soon called into action

It was a lovely May morning, warm and bright with a nice breeze blowing down the river from the south-west – perfect conditions. I parked the vehicle at the far end of the valley, we crossed the gate and a small ford in the stream, and made our way along the treeline edge. This way we had a bit of height and could look down into the valley where the stream had cut away the banking over many years during winter spates. We progressed slowly, and as each new vista appeared I stood for several minutes just waiting and watching. You never know where a buck may appear from, and I knew it was likely that my buck would wander down through this valley at some stage within the next few hours. But this morning it was not to be, and apart from a doe with very young kid in tow, we had a no-show from anything of the roe-deer variety, so we decided to call it a morning and head back for breakfast.

The shot would be downhill from no more than 80 yards. This should have been easy

The shot would be downhill from no more than 80 yards. This should have been easy

We walked back to the car, reversing the route we had taken in, chatting quietly. As we walked, I turned every now and again to check behind us. On one such check, when we were about halfway back, there he was – a lovely roebuck, sniffing and giving the odd prod to a willow as he wandered parallel to us along the other side of the stream. We were slightly in front of and above him, so it was easy to drop down and crawl to the edge of the bank and simply wait for him to come to us.

The shot would be downhill from no more than 80 yards. This should have been easy, but I think that fact started to work against Kristian. It was just too perfect – he was in full view and Kristian could clearly see him, and his brain started working, causing him to over-think. I sensed a quickening of breath and the rifle, although very stable and on a nice grass sod, was definitely beginning to tremble. I tried to calm him down: “Take deep breaths and stay relaxed. There is plenty of time.” Unfortunately this advice didn’t seem to help, so I tried again in as soothing a voice as I could muster to calm him down.

Chris glasses the ground ahead. This should be a perfect opportunity...

Chris glasses the ground ahead. This should be a perfect opportunity…

On the buck came and I felt Kristian had calmed a little, when the buck stood in a safe position, I whispered to him, “Ok, in your own time when he turns broadside, take the shot if you are happy.” After what seemed like an age the buck turned perfectly. I watched expectantly through the binos but sensed Kristain’s buck fever had returned, I was about to stand him down but the bullet was away.

I saw the strike, which was clearly forward and low and had hit the fleshy part of the top of the leg – fortunately not bone I was confident of that. The buck ran at full tilt towards us and I could clearly see the red wound in the fleshy part of the right foreleg. He then turned, ran back across the valley, jumped the fence and crossed the road into the conifer wood on the opposite side, pausing briefly before he disappeared from view. Throughout this time I was able to see him and was as certain as I could be that the shot had gone through tissue alone. He never presented for a follow-up shot, which the road would have made unsafe anyway. I now had an apologetic and dejected stalker who thus far had proved to be an excellent shot – but it’s amazing what nerves or ‘buck fever’ can do to any of us.

new end pic6

I tried to calm him down: “Take deep breaths and stay relaxed. There is plenty of time.” This did not help

At that time I was working Burt, my Bavarian Mountain Hound, but unusually that morning he was not with me. I had not brought him because of the numbers of barbed wire fences we had to negotiate – but it was only a short ride back to collect him and then return for a follow-up, so that’s what we did as best practice demands.

This was one occasion when I felt sure we would not recover the deer – but I always make certain, so around 30 minutes after the shot, I had the tracking harness on the hound and cast him off with the instruction, “Show me” at the strike area. He did not need asking twice, and was off and away with me hanging on the harness. He picked up the line immediately and entered cover exactly where I had last seen the buck.

Morning glory: Kristian soon atones with a buck the next morning

Morning glory: Kristian soon atones with a buck the next morning

Very shortly thereafter we came to a seat with a as spot of fresh blood, you could hardly call it a wound bed. The buck had clearly been laid up here and I would have pushed him on as I entered the wood – no wonder the dog was keen. We continued for a long way – I knew we were on the right line as we came across flesh slots and one more drop of blood, but it wasn’t enough to get me excited. There was no way this buck would be found, and while you never know, I was very sure he would survive. So I returned for breakfast with a silent and very disappointed Norwegian. There’s nothing much you can say in these circumstances, but if you stalk for long enough, you are going to experience something similar at some point, a wounded deer must be ethically despatched as soon as practically possible. However on this occasion I was sure the buck had only received a light flesh wound and would live. Months later I was proved correct.

We did a check on the rifle that afternoon before the evening stalk – it was spot on. Indeed Kristian managed to shoot a nice buck the following morning without any ado, so he returned home slightly happier.

The end of the story comes months later – the following year in fact – when I was out with a regular stalker of mine, Shaz, who brought a pal with him, Andy. I had put Andy into a seat in the bucks area, and taken Shaz to stalk a different part of the forest block. On our return, we were met by a beaming Andy, proudly dragging a lovely six-point roe. After skinning him, there was a neat, fully healed bullet wound through the fleshy area at the top of the right foreleg. It was a good ending all said and done, and the old buck also measured out as a bronze medal, yes a very happy ending all round.

For stalking opportunities Chris can be contacted on 07710 871190, 01465 871393 or chris@ayrstalk.co.uk.

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