Editor Pete Carr forgot some sage advice, but a recent experience brought back a colleague’s knowledge, resulting in the successful stalk of an unusual but wary roebuck
We are all continually learning at this stalking game. Indeed, when we think we know it all, one of two things happens: we fail by our own inadequacies or the wisdom well dries up. No one likes a ‘know it all’, and it is better to have an open mind that will soak up new knowledge. “Better a listener than a teller be” is what my grandfather used to say. It was good advice, and living by the old sergeant major’s ethic has kept me in good stead through the years.
Another old stalwart who taught me a lot about roe is legendary Bavarian forester Heinz Dick. A hunting guide of some renown, Heinz has guided the rich and famous from the post-war years to this day, including the famous Luftwaffe fighter ace Adolf Galland. Years ago, Heinz told me that a territorial roebuck holding ground would to some extent tolerate inferior, submissive bucks. I inwardly dismissed this as fallacy, but politely acknowledged Heinz’s advice. Just recently, however, the old sage’s words were proven correct.
I have become a firm convert to the use of trail cameras. They make trophy assessment and cull planning so much easier, and often tell me who’s about and up to no good. I had a particular buck holding territory that covered a small, young plantation, a sizeable rape crop, a couple of wheat fields and myriad hedgerows and overgrown ditches. He was a good middle-aged buck that showed some promise, so I left him be. Interestingly, though, the camera also showed not one, but two other bucks living in the same area. I had seen the big buck chase off another male of similar stature, and he was clearly territorial by his behaviour. But he tolerated the two underlings, who the cameras showed lived apart, right through May and into June.
It wasn’t only the cameras that showed their behaviour – I had observed them through the binos too. The youngsters were obviously submissive towards the master buck, but they clearly all lived very close together. Maybe one of them was his progeny, but I doubted it. A mature doe’s territory overlapped that of the bucks, but she was much less tolerant of the younger males. I was keen to see how this little set-up would work out during the rut, but the cull plan said otherwise. The two underlings were shot before June’s end – but at least Heinz’s advice had been proved correct.
Strangely enough, after I had taken out these underlings, the remaining buck became even more territorial and began marking and fraying much more aggressively. This proved to be his downfall. When the farmer saw him make short work of a thistle stand, I got the hard word: “The buck goes or you do.” I protested that the thistles were valueless. The landowner retorted, “Take a look at the damn trees.” To save face, I did just that, and, though I wanted to spare this buck for a year or two, the damage being done meant the buck would have to become past tense in short order.
This proved more difficult than I had anticipated. I could have shot him on a number of occasions in the past, but now it was almost as if he had been given an advance warning. The trail cameras showed he was still resident, as did his scraping and fraying. Then one night, accompanied by the doe, he actually presented me a shot. Just as I was deploying the sticks, a heron rose noisily out of the drain below me and frightened boththe deer and me. Cursing the feathered pterodactyl, I couldn’t do anything more as I watched my quarry skip away to the safety of the rape crop.
Another week passed and I tried for him again. It was a fine morning with heavy dew. So fine, in fact, I was paying more attention to the other wildlife than the buck: I actually stumbled onto him. He had been couched down close by in the hedge bottom. I startled him, and he burst into flight across a wheat field and was away. Watching his flight through the Swarovskis, I saw him reach the main drain and lost him in the hawthorns.
Hoping he would stay this side of the drain, I headed into the wind with my motivation somewhat dampened. Stopping to spy some minutes later, I was rewarded with the distant sight of the buck feeding away from me on my side of the drain. This was good news. Taking the range on these superb binoculars, I saw he was 530 metres away.
I stalked in as close as I dared, and slipped out of sight down the drain bank, cautiously making my final approach. Every 50 metres I peeped over the bank to confirm his position, but at 100 metres I thought I’d lost him until I caught the gleam of his antlers. He had couched down once more. Steadily, I sneaked on to the field margin, and I was just about to deploy the stalking sticks when he stood up and looked in my direction.
I swiftly mounted the Tikka, guided the Leupold reticle up to the buck’s shoulder and flicked off the safety, all in one fluid movement. One pause of breath later, the buck took the bullet in his vitals and quickly expired.
I was sad that he had had to go. I knew another would take his place, and probably do as much damage initially as this one had recently been doing. He had been a worthy adversary, and looking at his trophy in future would bring back a collection of memories about old Heinz’s advice, the buck’s strange behaviour, and the public relations exercise his demise had demanded. That’s the thing with roe trophies – each and every one is different, and all have much greater value than a mere measurement of one’s success. It’s the associated memories that really matter.