David Barrington Barnes on the arrival of does

Roe and fallow does present different challenges, but David Barrington Barnes always relishes his first sightings of the deer.

Credit: Simon Roy

Many years have elapsed since my best and most memorable encounter with deer. I was roe stalking in the high summer rut in a location greatly favoured by this species.

I had walked in before first light and climbed a low oak tree in which was a natural seat. From this perch I could observe the field in front of me and the woodland edge on its far side. The field had been in wheat, most of which had been harvested, and to my left a strip had been left in standing corn.

On this particular morning a thin mist restricted my view and I awaited the coming of the light and, I hoped, the lifting of the mist. At that time there were no thermal aids available and I looked out over a field devoid of deer.

I was far from bored as there were other birds and animals to observe in the still of the very early morning. And it was whilst I was scanning this scene, making sweep after sweep with my binoculars, that I first saw the doe.

I spotted her as she emerged with infinite caution from the standing wheat, caution that was immediately explained by the twin kids that followed her, tight to her heels.

I must exhort my readers to visualise both the spectacle and my excitement as, completely undetected, I watched the doe and kids came out on the stubble through tendrils of mist.

The mother roe never relaxed for a moment and it was plain that instructions were being given and lessons learned by the youngsters. Straying from heel was not tolerated. Wariness and suspicion were the orders of the morning.

After a few minutes in the open, the doe became uncomfortable, uneasy at first and then agitated. If any instruction was given by voice I could not hear it but instruction there was as the doe took her twins back into the standing crop and disappeared from sight.

Brief encounters

Ever since then I have referenced that brief encounter to explain my love of roe stalking to folk who don’t stalk. I deploy the incident to point out to them the beauty of early mornings in high summer harvest time.

I recall for them the anticipation of overlooking the empty fields whilst awaiting for beasts to put in an appearance. And I describe the excitement when they arrive, when quite suddenly they are on the field. I do not evade the shooting aspect of it.

Emphasising there is more watching than shooting, I deal honestly with the reasons for culling roe deer and reckon to disarm the hostility of most people towards it even from those who are unenthusiastic about the pursuit.

The characteristic spots of the common fallow deer make it easy to identify

The moment the stalker first sees them, the moment they are, as if arrived from nowhere, on the field or on a ride in the wood is the key to the stalker’s passionate involvement with the pursuit that is stalking. There is no better moment in field sports than the arrival of the deer.

Whilst stalking fallow, the hunter may suddenly have a whole herd of animals in front of him. When in numbers and with some in light coloured coats there is more chance of advance warning.

So it was, only recently, pre-dawn, I spotted nine fallow with my thermal, coming from the neighbouring ground, crossing my ground at a distance and disappearing whilst on the estate of a third party.

I thought that the lure of grazing in front of my high seat might tempt these beasts out of their woodland sanctuary, and moved the rifle round to be ready.

Come out they did, 50 yards to my left. I took a big pricket and the rest of the group fled at speed. I have shot one and educated eight, I thought ruefully. It’s field-wise does like these that I spot through the imager as they check out the fields from just inside the wood face.

One such doe, on reaching a wood corner overlooked by me (unknown to her) checked out both the south and west sides before emerging in near darkness and presenting for a shot in the last seconds of shooting light.

The next generation

I believe the Germans refer to fallow deer as the cows of the forest. Their fallow must be a different strain to those I hunt. Mine are extremely fly and, if their ancestors mainly came from deer parks, the present generations have long since discarded their tame background and any trace of domestication.

And so it was with the most recent fallow I shot. I made my way into the selected high seat in mid afternoon, well before I expected to see any beasts. There was a chill winter wind and I had to sit it out whilst the occupants of the wood behind me went about their business.

If I was to see any fallow they would not arrive until 1615 hours. I knew that from previous recent visits. I waited and waited, shivering by now in the cold of the dying day. At 1630 hours, in the last of the shooting light, five fallow emerged to my right to graze on the growing rape.

One doe stood right and I took the shot and the rest ran for it. From the moment they had emerged to the time I took my shot, was no more than a couple of minutes. A small reward for a long cold wait. My shot disturbed the tranquil evening and I took no pleasure in the departure of the survivors.

Then again, many high seat sessions end without seeing a deer at all. Such outings lack that wonderful stalker’s moment – the moment when, at last, the deer are on the field.

For all the damage they do to crops and trees, fallow are fine animals. Whilst it’s satisfying to grass one, nothing in the shooting of them comes close to their busy, bustling arrival on the field and their hungry winter grazing.

The old does are always alert, as are their offspring. They are a joy to behold. And the true hunter should find it easy enough to feast his eyes on these sights until the moment comes for him to do what he has to do between the arrival and departure of the deer he hunts. 

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