At the back end of the rut, Chris Dalton gets an opportune chance to deal with a buck that presents a danger to fruit trees and other bucks alike
After the rut, things generally go very quiet very quickly. Bucks can be difficult to find – you can’t blame them, as they have eaten little and spent the best part of three weeks fighting, chasing and generally running themselves to a frazzle.
Many of them will have some battle scars – if you see them go at each other, sometimes it’s a wonder there are not more fatalities. All the more reason to get out as much as possible before the rut ends.
Here, the rut will continue in an average season to around the second week in August, depending on the weather. Then they disappear into the trees and generally rest up and feed to get themselves back in condition for the approaching winter months.
Food is abundant, so really there is little pressure on them; I am convinced that most of the feeding activity at this time of year is under the cover of darkness when they are least disturbed, and they lie in the warmth of the daylight hours to recuperate.
The midges come into play as well – they are much less active and troublesome in the cool of the night. So from mid-August, we begin to concentrate on the cull red stags as they start to think about breaking out in anticipation of the red rut.
However, last August I was on a bit of a mission to find and shoot a young roebuck with a nasty set of antlers I was convinced had caused serious damage to at least one other buck.
I have planted some trees on the smallholding at Garryloop, and have mentioned before that Anne and I like to see deer about the place – it’s nice for guests as they walk up to the summer house and can see roe in the mornings and evenings, and increasingly frequently reds around the top paddock and pond.
It’s here where I planted some native and fruit trees, and at various times of year they do take some stick from the deer; when serious damage starts to occur, the culprit has to go.
I expect a bit of fraying from April onwards, but last year someone was really taking the mick, with young saplings severely thrashed to the extent where two of my fruit trees had been killed. Usually this will be a young buck, as they tend to be far more vicious with marking than the older, mature boys.
I had seen a young buck about, but on each occasion I went with the rifle to look for him, he had avoided me. As the weeks went on and other priorities emerged, I left him alone to concentrate on other things, as we all do. But during the early part of the rut, I had shot with a client a buck that had sustained a particularly nasty injury to his flank, which bore all the hallmarks of an altercation that he had lost.
We wondered what particular beast had caused the injury, but I did not give it that much additional thought until a week or so later, when I saw a young buck with a nasty set of spikes tearing around after a bigger buck.
While I could not be sure, it seemed to me to be the very same buck who had been engaging in anti-social behaviour with my fruit trees. This was now a step too far, so I devised a plan to stalk him.
Garryloop is essentially a smallholding, and we have subdivided a large top field into three paddocks, the bottom two of which we use for the hens, polytunnels, bees and veg garden and two donkeys, and the top paddock for a summerhouse and a mix of native and broadleaf trees.
We don’t let the donkeys up here, but deer wander in and out, usually at first and last light. I have a range set up here as well, so a tactic I have used before is to simply go and sit in the range hut and wait on an evening. I tried that now, but my buck had luck on his side.
On the first evening he came out of the wood right at the side of me – an encounter of maybe 10 feet. I’m not sure who was the most surprised, but he was quickly off barking into the wood, so that was that.
On the second night, he came a different way, and this time walked out 75 yards below me and fed on the other side of the fence, moving away from me.
He had no idea I was there, but there was no possible shot. I sat waiting, and felt sure he would jump over on to my side of the fence, but he never did, ultimately wandering over into the next field and heading into some scrubby margins.
I had decided to try the same tactic again the next evening, but while going out early that morning with a client, I met my buck again, this time a few fields away from home, making his way back on the reverse route to lie up in the wood behind the paddock.
He walked no more than 20 yards from us along the field margin of a barley crop. Time for a change of plan: the following day I would get up early before first light and intercept him coming home.
All worked perfectly. I knew he was coming before I saw him, as Zosia, my GSP, started to get interested. Her nose was twitching, and she quivered with excitement. All dogs react differently, and when you spend time with them, you start to read the signs. For Zosia, this was deer. We had been laid up for only 15 minutes, the light was nicely up so I could see, and the rifle and bipod were deployed. I had a backstop, so we just needed to wait.
I saw a willow move as the buck made his way under it. He emerged for the docks into a nice clear area. It could not have gone better – his luck was about to run out.
Initially he was front-on and walking towards me, and I thought I might have to chance barking at him to stop and turn him, but he stopped to nibble on some unseen delicacy in the grass and turned to his left – the first mistake he had made in front of me, and his last.
The 6.5×55 rifle dropped him on the spot; he barely flinched. A pretty buck in summer coat, but with a small, murderous set of antlers, he would do no more damage – this was a ‘cull’ buck in every sense of the word.
Nevertheless, I did feel quite sad that our encounter had ended in such a way, and I could never prove that it was he who inflicted the damage to the injured buck – but I reckon it was!
For stalking opportunities Chris can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org 07710 871190 – or visit www.ayrstalk.co.uk