Storm Stalking with Chris Dalton

March is supposed to bring better weather, but when Storm Emma hit in March 2018, Chris Dalton was forced to come up with new stalking plans in a hurry…

Last March I had intended to have four days in one of the estate cottages at Kinnaird with Anne, Jen and Kenna
plus new granddaughter of six weeks, Mia. The intention was to take Jen and Kenna out onto the estate I manage and do some stalking while I was doing some deer counts in preparation for the coming buck season.

March is a good time to see how the deer have fared over the winter – retention rates, sizes of the calves and the like. However, storm Emma had different ideas and virtually closed the country down for a week. Travel anywhere was impossible with all the routes north of us closed. It felt bizarre to us as we had no snow at all where we were, but to watch the TV you thought the world was ending!

So plans changed and Jen and Kenna came to us. They made it with no problems – it seemed that everyone had heeded the advice not to travel so they actually made good time from home in the Northampton area.

Stalking plans were rapidly rearranged, with two morning outings sorted with grandma volunteering to look after her new granddaughter while mum and dad came stalking – a welcome change from nappies.

There would be snow up in the hill forests I wanted to stalk, and one in particular needed my attention as we hadn’t quite finished the cull. I intended to head into some of the sheltered glens in the forest and stream gullies where I thought I would be able to find a young roe or two for Kenna; he was on the rifle first morning, Jen on camera.

All went well and according to plan. We had stalked for around an hour when I dropped into a well-sheltered glade with a south-facing slope, and sure enough, just as I poked around the corner of the trees I could see a roe feeding under the tree line.

It browsed slowly and was clearly a mature doe, which I would rather not take at this time in the season – but I was hopeful there would be a follower close by, so we worked slowly around the corner. The gush of the stream on the rocks hid any noise we made on the crusty snow, and we managed to get around the bend to look further into the glen without disturbing the doe, which was now above us on the right.

Perfectly positioned and feeding contently no more than 80 yards away was a buck follower. From here it was easy – we could slip down the bank, set the quad sticks and wait for the deer to move fully broadside, which it obligingly did a few moments later, and dropped to the shot.

Success on day one in difficult conditions – a good start. We were out again on Monday morning, stalking a local farm which again was a little down on where I wanted to be cull-wise, primarily because of the exceptionally wet weather we seemed to have had since August.

We headed for a cut stubble field, part of which the farm staff had been unable to harvest as it was on a steep slope that could only be harvested by bringing the combine down in a straight line from the top of the slope – but it had never been dry enough to do so. The roe had not missed this fact and could be regularly seen browsing there at first and last light.

We negotiated via the field margins, around the wind into a position where I could see the slope and the unharvested
barley from the back of the hedge next to a road. Sure enough, there were two roe around 250 yards away. The wind was good but we needed somehow to cross the country lane, avoiding any cars, and get underneath the hedge on the other side where it might be possible to crawl a bit closer and get into shooting range.

It was a thick hawthorn hedge, some of which would be in full view of the browsing deer. Would we even be able to get the three of us, plus a by now highly excited young German short-haired pointer, under it?

Kenna, on camera duties for the day, glanced down to our right and spotted another roe downwind of us and pointed it out to Jen and me. At that moment six roe appeared from a basin in the middle of the field and ran towards the edge of the wood that formed the boundary of the stubble.

They had, I suspect, got a hint of our wind. Now we were stuck with deer all around us and no way to approach any of them.

I always counsel clients that when you are not quite sure what to do it’s best to do nothing, and that’s what we did. We waited. After around 10 minutes the deer that had spooked all settled. One lay down and the others began browsing.

I hatched a new plan: We would work down this side of the road, then cross it, shimmy under the hedge and get into the basin the deer had run from. Most of this manoeuvre should have us out of sight of the roe, and if we could make the field margin we might be able to use that as cover to get into range for a shot.

It was tricky and we had to crawl in places, but we made the trees and then used the wood line to make up some
ground. We got to a corner, but here our cover stopped as the hedgerow went down into a dip. I ranged the three roe – they were feeding happily at 200 yards.

Jen is an excellent shot and she won’t pull the trigger unless she is 100 per cent confident, so I got the rifle set on the bipod and crawled to the left, allowing Jen to get into position behind it. While she was settling and getting the rifle stable (it was an awkward position as we were laid in a patch of old nettles and I was trying to contain a very excited GSP), I glassed the roe. We had a mature doe, a decent buck in velvet, and a yearling doe, in good nick but skinny.

Now we were stuck with deer all around us and no way to approach any of them

This was the one we would take. It was a long wait for it to turn and it seemed ages before it gave the perfect broadside. I said nothing – I did not need to. I just glassed the deer. Jen would know if the shot was on.
When it came, I jumped, as did the dog – but the roe dropped on the spot with hardly a twitch.

Inspection of the shot placement while I gralloched revealed that the bottom of heart had been taken out by a perfect shot. So the tour of Kinnaird estate for the visiting family would have to wait until later in the year, but we nevertheless made excellent use of our time.

For stalking opportunities, Chris can be contacted on 07710 871190 or www.ayrstalk.co.uk

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