Armed with the new Zeiss Conquest V6 riflescope, Paul Childerley sets himself the ultimate stalking task: Four species, three estates, one day
The challenge I’d set myself was clear. Hunt at three of my top estates, in different counties across the south of England, after four of the UK’s six deer species, to test the capabilities of the new Zeiss Conquest V6 2-12×50. Oh, and I had to do it all in one day. Better get cracking…
Estate number one
Arriving at the first destination in Gloucestershire, it was a perfect morning, reasonably still with a beautiful sunrise. After a brief chat with my friend Stuart, who is gamekeeper on the ground, we set off in separate directions to finish his roe doe cull for the season. I headed to the west of the wood where I knew there would be several roe deer grazing on the field grass margins as the main field was ploughed ready for spring drilling. As I approached the first rise on the edge of the field, I could see a buck 40 yards in front, in the skyline. He was in velvet and a good six-pointer. I gave it a few minutes as I assumed there would be a few does with him.
He walked away, out of sight, over the ridge. I slowly followed in his tracks. I got to the top of the ridge and was greeted with poor visibility against the backdrop of the dark wood. I could see movement of several deer about 100 yards away, but I would have to wait for a few minutes for the light to break more. I got set up on the sticks and clicked the red dot on. I had it turned down so it wouldn’t impair my vision, and had the scope set on 10x power as I knew I would be shooting off sticks in poor light conditions.
Minutes passed and there were several roe milling around. Suddenly the opportunity came. A doe popped out of the wood slightly closer than the group, but in the taller grass, only giving an opportunity for a neck shot. I made the decision and the doe was on the deck.
The rest of the group spread out across the ploughing, heading for the main block. I retrieved and field-gralloched the doe, anxious to try for another. Once finished, I headed to a thick plantation with a central ride about five metres across – perfect for stalking between the two blocks of young trees. Now it was light, I changed the settings on the scope to a brighter red dot and 8x power. It was an awkward block to stalk, but starting at the top of the ride and heading in to a quartering breeze was the perfect way to do it.
I hadn’t got 20 yards down the ride when a group of roe trotted in front with a buck behind. They circled round me and headed back to the adjacent wood, where I knew Stuart would be waiting in the high seat. It wasn’t long before I heard a shot, then another.
In most stalking situations, you either get everything or nothing, and this was the former. Moments after the second shot, I peered back down the ride to see a muntjac at about 40 yards, facing away. With one swift movement, the rifle was on the sticks and I was poised waiting for the buck to present himself for a shot. He looked back over his shoulder and saw me, which made him turn broadside, where I could execute a clean neck shot and drop him on the spot.
I reloaded and waited on the ride for a further 10 minutes as I thought I may get a roe doe crossing the ride with all the commotion in the area, but no such luck, so I headed to collect the muntjac. He was an older buck with short pedicles, and the antlers had started to form into a blade rather than a circle, which tends to happen as they age. This buck was an extremely good example and great condition – ideal for my taxidermist, as he wanted one for a full body mount for the European championships this year.
Estate number two
I headed back to Stuart, who had collected his couple of roe does. After a quick chat over a flask of tea, I was on the road back to sunny Bedfordshire where I was planning to try for a Chinese water deer. Arriving back around midday, I made a plan centred on one of my boundary fields, which is in full view of one of the main roads and where the deer had been attracting unwanted attention.
Before setting out, changes had to be made to the V6: red dot off and wound up to full magnification, which on this particular model is 12x. There are three models in this new Conquest range: 1.1-6×24 (specialist for driven hunts with a great field of view), 2-12×50 (all-round riflescope, compact and versatile), and 2.5-15×56 (a great all-round scope with a specialism in longer-range shooting).
As the road is next to the field with a small valley separating the field from the wood, I had to head up to the crest of the valley so I could glass the sunny bank where the Chinese water deer would be laying out for the day. Once on top, I had to crawl the final 30 yards to get into the prone position as I would be taking a slightly longer shot from the bipod.
I could see several animals, one a belter of a trophy buck, which was still holding its territory and chasing the youngsters about. This would work in my favour as the animals were trying to doze in the sun but the buck kept pushing them around, which would give a window for a shot. After assessing several cull animals, I waited for the buck to do another charge and flush a pair of young culls, which bolted then stood together about 200 yards away from me at the base of the valley. I dialled a few clicks on the ASV and took both animals with quick, consecutive shots. One young buck and one young doe – the buck was a perfect cull animal as his tusks were undersized for his age and he was small in body size. Placing both animals in the roe sack, I headed to the larder to process them and have a quick sandwich before the next location.
Estate number three
Arriving in Hertfordshire, I was still on a high from my successes earlier in the day. But I couldn’t get complacent. There was still a key stage left in the test of the riflescope: hunting at dusk, when I would be losing light by the second.
This particular estate has a large population of fallow deer and muntjac, which cause havoc in the owner’s ornamental gardens, arboretum and the 3,000 acres of mixed farmland. On the way in to the main house, I spotted a group of 20 strong fallow basking in the late afternoon sun on a set-aside field. Thinking this would be a great test for the V6, I headed out along one of the plantation belts, which would allow me to get closer as they would not be able to see my silhouette against the trees. Huddling against a privet hedge, I lay down, got settled on the bipod and planned to shoot one of the outer fallow does on the side of the herd, about 200 yards.
As soon as the doe turned sideways, I took a heart shot without hesitation. I hoped the herd would scatter and stay in the field for a second or even third shot, but they headed for cover immediately.
It wasn’t until I walked up to collect the doe that I remembered this was the fourth species of the day – I had completed what I had set out to achieve. But I didn’t have time to bask in any glory – my phone was buzzing red hot in my pocket. Thinking there must be a problem, I quickly answered to the landowner insisting that I come to his gardens and control some of the problem deer in that area.
Once I had gralloched the fallow doe and hung it in the chiller, I headed to the gardens. It is a pleasure to spend time wandering here, looking at the trees and shrubs from all over the world, but I could see clear deer damage too. The gardens are set out with grass paths between 10-foot beech hedgerows. It is essential to be on high alert as deer cross the paths and appear silently out of the hedges. I had the scope wound down to 8x power, once again with the red dot on.
The light was fading and I was on the third grass ride when two fallow deer appeared in front of me. Taking the rifle from my shoulder slowly and placing it on the sticks, I decided to take the further one as it was in the right position for a shot. The animal dropped on the spot and the other one fled into the beech hedge – but seconds later it bounced back through and stood almost exactly where it had been before.
The second shot made a total of seven animals in the day. But there was still light and I was under more pressure to cull another from the gardens.
Heading back towards the big house, I approached a large grass ride, which is a favourite for muntjac to graze on. I was prepared just in case they were already out – but no sign. I set up on the sticks, ready, and pushed my body half into the beech hedge so I would not give the game away if a muntjac did appear. I don’t normally call at this time of the day but I thought I would give it a try as I had nothing to lose in this area. I gave three loud blasts on the Buttolo, repeated three times, and waited. After a few minutes, a young muntjac buck put his head out of the beech hedge, about 100 yards away, and looked up and down the ride. I gave two more peeps; he decided he would like to come out to see what was going on. This was an easy decision for me to make. All muntjac were in the cull for this area as the owner has a no-muntjac policy.
The shot made it eight for the day on one of the most complex challenges I have ever set myself to do. Three estates in three different counties, four of the six UK deer species, and a total of eight animals for the day, from 4am to dusk. What a challenge – but I and the Zeiss optics were equal to it.