Chris Dalton juggles the jobs of guide and cameraman while on a group stalk on Paul Childerley’s patch in Bedfordshire
During each winter I tend to heading south with a regular team for a week’s culling down at Childerley HQ, also known as Beckerings Park near Woburn. It’s mostly the same faces who go, so they know the score, but we usually have one or two new guys who have not shot Chinese water deer (CWD) or muntjac before. Primarily we are assisting with the cull towards the end of the season; additionally, with game shooting under way it takes some pressure off the much-overworked keeper, as long as you pick the right times and places to stalk, of course. In fact, it’s best to get as much as possible done at once when it isn’t a shoot day.
Hence the ‘team’ can comprise as many as 12 of my stalkers. We tyically plan a number of outings along a familiar schedule. The guys all assemble on the Sunday evening when we have a meeting – as good an excuse for a pint as any – and are ready to go by first light on the Monday morning. We stalk Monday morning through to Wednesday morning on a large swathe of private land near Luton Airport, moving up to Paul’s for CWD on the Wednesday afternoon onwards. In the past, we have shot 100 deer on this trip. This may sound a lot, but bear in mind little deer control can take place in the thick of the game season, so as I said we have to get a lot done in a short period of time.
Most of the guys have been several times so they are dropped off to high seats around the estate. Others who maybe want to try for a medal or are not as experienced will be guided. All of the team were covered, which left me to look after Brian and Elmer (real name Paul, but his nickname based on his Elmer Fudd-like gait has well and truly stuck). I alternated these two between seat and stalk. On the first morning I took Brian out after dropping Elmer into a seat. I also had the camera and wanted to try to film some of the action for The Shooting Show, but Monday morning was misty and damp with a fine drizzle – hardly good filming conditions – so the camera remained wrapped up back in the car.
This was Brian’s first trip. He was booked to come last year but work got in the way, and he had not shot either muntjac or CWD yet, so a decent representative or medal of either species was on the cards if the chance arose. Our brief this year was to concentrate on fallow, where possible, as recent counts had shown that numbers were increasing significantly. However, as Brian had not shot a munty, we left the others to the fallow, and I headed into a mature oak wood with lots of brambles as ground cover interspaced with feed rides – perfect muntjac territory.
We only saw a few for the first half hour, and most of those burst from cover where they were laid up sheltering from the rain. You can’t see them when they are in the middle of a thick blackberry bush. But once we got well into the wood, movement had us both glassing a buck that was ambling along a feed ride totally unaware of us. The distance was only 120 yards, so Brian set the quad sticks. Once set, I barked to stop the muntjac as it got into a clearing, and the Tikka 6.5×55 did the rest. A nice representative buck and one that’s now with the taxidermist for a shoulder mount for the wall. I will collect that next year on the way down south along with any other decent bucks taken this trip.
The following morning with the weather improved, it was Brian to a seat and Elmer with me and camera. No pressure on him then – any mistakes he made would be recorded for posterity and quite possibly broadcast to the world. We were after fallow – he already had a good silver CWD and decent muntjac buck on his wall.
We headed off down the side of a game crop and thin hardwood copse, which brought us alongside a couple of large bean fields. Both were sheltered from the wind and I had glassed fallow laid up in here while I was stalking last evening. I figured they probably had not been disturbed overnight and so might still be in the same area. I also knew that they liked to lie up during the day in a sheltered basin in the middle of the wood, so there was a good chance if there was nothing out in the field that we may well get deer moving back to the woods. The chances of this increase as we have a collaborative cull taking place, with stalkers in several areas, so they will inadvertently move deer about. So I was hopeful of a good outcome one way or the other.
We got to a point in the top corner of the fields that afforded a view of most of these two large fields, but there were no deer evident. We spent 15 minutes standing glassing, but nothing. Elmer moved off following the thin strip of trees, making our way to the main wood.
Movement in the middle of the field caught my eye. A young fallow buck on his own had appeared from nowhere and looked to be making his way directly towards us as he fed. The problem now was that we had no backstop as the field was slowly rising away from us. All was not lost though – there was a high seat not far in front on a large oak tree that looked out into the field. I told Elmer to get up the seat sharpish, and if the buck came in he might have a safe shot from the seat. There was no chance from ground level. I got settled in the hedge, from where I could hopefully film the action.
Sometimes the best laid plans work but more often they don’t. Fate could intervene at any time. The wind could change and the deer smell us, the pricket could alter its route or decide to lie up in the middle of the field instead. A walker could emerge from nowhere and spook it, or it could simply clock us and make itself scarce.
However, the gods were with us today and the pricket came in quickly, actually walking almost straight at me. In fact it got so close it became aware something was wrong. It did not know what and started to spook. He looked intently at where I was filming him, then ‘pronked’ off to my left in the characteristic gait that fallow have when they are wary or spooked. But he was still not sure and curious, so stopped to have another look. Big mistake.
The shot actually made me jump. You could clearly see the strike, and the fallow dashed left – out of my view, but I knew it was fatally wounded and would not be far. The distinctive crack of an engine room strike could clearly be heard.
Paul came back with a big grin on his face. “You have done this before – I would never have thought to get up into the seat!” “Yes, I may have done this once or twice.” From our initial position on the edge of the field and from where I was filming, it would have been a frustrating watch, as the fallow at its closest was 40 feet away and at no time would we have had a safe shot, being merely spectators. As it was, we had a fallow on the ground to join the earlier muntjac. A great morning out and we captured it on film too.