Sporting Rifle’s Byron Pace offers up his observations during the doe cull, and reflects on hunting with friends and family
For a lot of stalkers, the end of the roebucks brings with it an immediate longing for the following season to commence. I am equally excited by the prospect of getting around to my does. As I have said before, there is a great satisfaction in the process of managing a population, and often I find myself spending as much time observing as hunting during the winter months.
For the amateur hunter, controlling a population successfully on your own permission is about knowing the land and land users, minimising conflict while sustaining a healthy population. By-and-large, the knowledge of how many animals to cull, and in what areas, comes with experience, and will also depend on environmental factors. In hard winters, reducing the burden on does with twins and triplets by culling one or two can make a tremendous difference. Anyone who has taken the time to weigh and record carcases will know that a single kid with a doe will have a noticeably heavier body weight.
Obviously we can begin stalking does from October, but I tend to wait until we are in late November before I begin in earnest. The reason for this is primarily to allow the kids to put on a bit more weight before I convert them to tasty cuts in my freezer. Of course, it very much depends on how much ground you have, and how many beasts you expect to take. Leaving it that late may mean pushing the cull late to the end of the season, which is also undesirable. If possible, I try to be done with the bulk of my culling by the middle of February, only taking barren animals thereafter. Normally by this time, does carrying young should be visible with careful inspection. This may not be the case for younger animals or those covered later in the season, so shooting should be undertaken with discretion.
This year was a busy one for me in more than one respect. I had my usual ground to cover, which would account for about 20 beasts, along with helping two shooting friends of mine with the doe culls on their farms. Fitting this in, along with filming, work and processing all of the meat, was going to keep me busy. I love it though, and like arriving on a pheasant shoot with the crispness of winter underfoot, stalking does among the pockets of frost embodies this time of year.
My first outing was not as a hunter, but as cameraman, following David Virtue in the Scottish Borders. It was one of those mornings where nothing quite went our way. First, a pair of runners scuppered any chance we had in the first prime location. Then, much to our frustration, a farmer trundled down the track towards a group of roe we had been watching, rendering location two void of roe. Fortunately, David is anything but short of areas to shoot, and soon we located another group only a short distance away. With a new plantation due in the following year, it was important to reduce numbers in this area and successfully bagging one with his client was a good start. You can see the hunt on The Shooting Show.
Back on home ground, I was slowly making my way through the known pockets of roe, taking ones and twos, keeping farmers happy with reports, and, of course, some meat in return for the permission. I always try and get my dad out after a few deer during the season, although not as often as I would like. The end of this doe season, however, I will be out of the country, leaving behind a hunting task list to encourage him to venture to the hills himself.
Our first stalk together saw us heading for a nearby farm. I had shot a few does on the far side a few days earlier and had spotted a rather sickly looking doe kid among a group, in a field close to the farmhouse. With the light all but gone I couldn’t get a shot off myself, so was keen to catch up with it as soon as possible.
It didn’t take long to spot a few roe, but in areas where we had already taken enough for the time being. We sat and observed, surveying the hills beyond for activity on the neighbouring ground. All had fallen quiet, despite the calm, mild evening. With only half an hour of light to play with, we decided to make tracks back to the Landy and head for home. As is so often the case, a final spy across the last field revealed a lone roe, grazing slowly towards the bottom corner. I couldn’t be sure in the failing light, but this looked very much like the ill-looking animal I had spotted previously.
We discussed whether it was too dark to attempt this, but with plenty of open ground around the targeted animal, we decided it was possible. If it hadn’t been a roe that was clearly struggling, I probably would have left it, but didn’t know when I would get the opportunity again. After a short, careful stalk, my dad got into position against a tree, the solitary roe still unaware of our presence. We had closed the distance in to under 70 yards to make sure of the shot, but there was a problem. Making out the centre of the crosshair was now all but impossible when placed on the animal. This was one of only a handful of occasions where I have really needed an illuminated dot. As luck would have it, we were shooting with a test Swarovski Z4i. Pulling up the elevation turret turned on the centre dot, and moments later the shot sounded. After a positive thud, we lost sight of the doe as it dashed forward, but my dad was confident in the shot. Sure enough, the kid lay motionless in the grass just 20 yards away.
Holding on to the momentum, the following morning I joined good friend and foxing enthusiast Stuart Mackie to tackle some of the roe on his farm. Knowing his ground well, it was an easy task locating the roe. We had taken two apiece before breakfast.
In the next four weeks I would be done with the does, and my thoughts would once again turn to bucks. It must not be forgotten that the doe culling season offers valuable information on the quality of bucks coming through, and it is worth taking note of where animals have been spotted in order to revisit these locations once they begin cleaning velvet.