Byron Pace recounts what a magical thing the roe rut is, and takes some advice from roe stalker David Virtue on this crucial time of year.
There are a number of highlights in my sporting year. The glorious 12th is undoubtedly one, and so too is the start of the pheasant season, and the first roars of a red stag in October. However, of the entire year, there is one that holds greater anticipation than the rest: the spectacle that is the roe deer rut.
It is partly due to the unpredictable nature of it that it such a thrill. We have an idea when it will begin, but there is no definitive date, and even when the first signs show, the story can change considerably from one day to the next. It is the time of year when you see bucks you never knew you had, and get the brief to catch up with those elusive ghosts that are nowhere to be seen for the rest of the year. In the warm muggy days of early August, when the foliage is at its thickest, the roe deer hunting season reaches its climax.
In the two months preceding the rut, roebuck stalking can be a hard slog. The roe may have transformed into their bright, gingery summer colours, but fields, trees, bushes and weeds are at the full extent of their coverage, and locating your quarry can become increasingly difficult. The bucks will have their territories pretty well set long before the rut begins, and the best chance of getting into a buck with any certainty is to concentrate on the areas where there is evidence of marking. The buck dominant in that area will be sure to keep the perimeter of his little kingdom well signed and scented, and you are likely to come across plenty of fraying and scrapes. Of course, this also gives you a good indication of places to concentrate your calling efforts during the rut.
You will be surprised where some roe will hold a territory at this time of year, as the big boys early in the season soon carve out their domain, kicking out any young pretenders to find lesser areas. Late April and May you will often see this in action, with larger bucks giving chase to a rapidly departing younger male in considerable haste. It was on one such occasion that I had accompanied David Virtue on a rather unusual outing, where for a change he was guiding only himself.
David had a particular buck in mind, having encountered the roe in question while guiding a German client earlier in the week. Coming out just beyond comfortable shooting range, they had to watch the buck walk on with no way to cover the open ground. David knew that, being on the boundary of his permission, it was unlikely he would get a chance at him later in the year, so as a rare treat he was going to try a stalk for it himself. Already pushing it for time when we departed his house, I joined David on his quest.
There wasn’t really any area in which we could stalk this buck. We were at the extremity of David’s ground, with a large grass field and surrounding mature woodland stretching through the neighbour’s land. This was undoubtedly where the buck would be residing, and with any luck he would come out on the right side of the fence once more. We walked along the forest edge with a stiff breeze firmly in our favour, before selecting a suitable vantage point along the contour of the field edge. Hopefully the buck would pop out in front of us before it got dark.
We could have only been in position for ten minutes when the crunching of leaves and breaking of twigs dragged our attention into the treeline. Then, crashing over the fence, a young buck dashed across in front of us no more than 15 metres away. This was promptly followed by a bark, with a mature buck in hot pursuit. This was the one! Lying frozen in startled surprise, we both watched to see how this was going to unfold. It didn’t take long. The old buck very quickly realised something was up, slamming on the breaks less than 30yds from us. He staring us down for a moment – all the time David needed to send his .243 Win round on its way.
Behind, the exiting bullet struck the dry field, kicking up a cloud of dust. The buck turned and made his final death gallop back towards the woods, disappearing through an old gate way and out of sight. It was unlikely to go far as the shot was good, but with the buck’s adrenaline undoubtedly pumping for more reasons than one, we expected him to run on a little.
After a short wait we followed up. Sure enough, there the old gentleman lay, his life already passed as he came to rest a few metres on the other side of the gate.
This, of course, was well before the rut, but the fast pace and sudden thrill of a buck arriving unannounced very much reminded me of it. I couldn’t wait for August to come now.
Having hunted with David quite a lot during filming for The Shooting Show, I was getting a feel for how he operated, but we were yet to pass through an entire season together. I asked him what advice he would give to those hunters who are unsure how to tackle this most exciting time of year.
Depending on what the weather is like in the preceding weeks, David starts to call in to his area of the borders around 15 July, just to see how the roe are reacting. Rutting activity can drag on for quite some time once it starts, but the hub of activity will occur in a couple of weeks. Usually by the end of the second week in August the magical moment has passed.
In terms of the actual calling, David mainly uses the Buttalo and Nordic roe call. But it’s not just a case of wondering and calling – you need to pay close attention to what’s going on around you. Look for signs of roebuck activity. Not just bucks chasing, but also evidence of rutting taking place. Roe rings are the most obvious, and normally seen as circular runways around a tree or bush, showing where a buck had been in pursuit of a doe.
Talking success rates, the Buttalo has had the edge to date, but David reckoned with practice the Nordik call would be better. With a bit of time spent getting used the call it is possible to achieve quite a variety of sounds, with the ability to vary the tone up and down. It is definitely worth getting some calling time in before the rut, but be sure not to do this around your hunting area, as this only serves to educate your roe for later on. Calling is always a learning experience, and David stressed the importance of observing the reactions of bucks to gain a greater understanding. He suggests taking your time if you spot a buck you want to call in, watching carefully though your binoculars and monitoring its reaction to various calls. It may be the case that he is just not interested, and here it is better to move on. A lot can be learnt this way.
If you are calling blind, the area you choose is quite important. You need to pick a location that gives enough cover for a buck to come in with confidence, but not be so thick that you only see the buck when you are eyeball to eyeball. Having your back to a more open area will usually encourage any approaching buck to come in from the area you are focused on, instead of surprising you in your blind spot. If everything goes right, and the weather conditions are conducive to good rutting activity, you may be able to call half a dozen bucks in a single morning. Last year was a poor rut in some places, although David was quite successful in the borders, with rutting activity stretching late into August. Every year is different, and that’s what makes it so exciting. There is nothing quite like watching a buck slowly making his way through the long grass, disappearing from time to time only to suddenly re-appear closer than before. It is heart thumping, adrenaline rushing stuff, and it is the pinnacle of the roe stalking season. Get out there and give it a go.