Early season stalking with Chris Dalton

The summer scorcher of 2019 meant a frantic roe rut – Chris Dalton recalls his most memorable early season stalk.

The roe rut: for someone like me who spends most of his time either hunting or monitoring this magical deer, it’s an eagerly awaited time of year. It can be frustrating – in that little happens that we see, the weather seems to stop the rut in its tracks, or it’s too hot during the day and most of the activity takes place under cover of darkness when it’s cooler.

I think this is the fascination and you never know if you are going to get a response to the call or indeed what that response may be. Will they come in hard and fast, slow and sneaky or not all?

What I can say is, that when you get the hard and fast response, you will never forget the thrill or the excitement of that mad dash in at speed as a buck charges out of cover at you! Invariably you will want to go out again and again to repeat the experience.

These days I get more pleasure taking out clients and being with them when they see this for the first time than actually calling roe for myself. When I’m on my own I rarely take the shot.

The pleasure is the response to the call; to shoot the buck as it comes in would almost detract from the experience and feel almost underhanded. I know I am not alone in this as I had similar conversations with many other outfitters and stalkers. I don’t like to call too much either, as this can be counterproductive on many occasions.

With clients, particularly less experienced guys, they are either so shocked or excited by a roe buck coming in at full speed that, when I bark to stop it at a few yards, they can’t get the shot off anyway.

The experience can turn a the inexperienced into a quivering jelly cube rather than a controlled marksman with their breathing under control, as is required. Then they don’t shut up about the experience for hours afterwards, which is great. Of course, there will be some inevitable mickey taking too!

You wait ages for a roe buck and then three or four come all at the same time

In 2018, I wrote about calling roe in for Adam while he was out with me. He was someone who had not seen or experienced the rut, so had no idea what to expect other than what he had read.

What happened was an electric response to the call and we had three or four roe bucks running in and around us in what was one of the most memorable responses I’ve ever had to the call. Last year I had an identical situation, again with a novice, where deer came in hard and fast and we had four roe charging around us.

I was at home in South Ayrshire, the weather had been very hot and humid early and rutting activity was also early – I had reports from around Scotland that folk were calling roe and seeing chasing far earlier than usual – within the first three weeks of July!

I was up at Kinnaird on the estate at the end of July and saw several deer full-on rutting. At home though, despite high temperatures, I did not see much early activity until the final days before the end of the month – and then they kicked off big time.

Response to the call suddenly started. Steve and Jill, guests over from America, had come to experience hunting in Scotland; they had no idea they were hitting the rut.

So I had Steve, an experienced bow hunter, out with me the following morning. I stalked that morning along a restock site a short drive from the house and very early on we sat and watched a red hind and calf feeding at close quarters.

Steve was fascinated, so we had a good start and could have gone back in then and he would have been happy. What followed was bizarrely almost an exact replica of the response I had with Adam two years ago.

We watched the reds for 20 minutes and as they had worked out away from us, I led up carefully through the dead ground of a stream gully. It’s an attractive place and even during the day, outside of the rut, you can usually find deer by using the stream valley as it bounds the restock site and a mature block of conifers; it’s quiet and deer will lie in here.

Because of this, it is particularly good for a witnessed outing as you can brief the candidate on the lie of the land and they can then lead the stalk.

Whichever way you’re pointing will probably be the wrong one when bucks charge

Even if they don’t stalk, by slowly using good field craft and glassing every few steps they will see roe soon enough – but as a white arse running off and barking as it goes. It’s a great way to learn and it’s how I learnt my craft; by getting fed up because the only deer I ever saw were the ones running away from me.

This morning however was not an approved witness (AW) outing, but my plan was to get to a vantage point at the top of the valley where I would sit and call, backs against the mature trees and looking out with a good field of view from our spot. There was a good buck who held court here, along with a number of younger bucks in the general locale, so we were in with a decent chance of a response.

But, as I always say, you never can tell! Steve was briefed to set up the sticks and get comfortable but to be ready to take a shot in quick order and be able to move the quad sticks into a different direction at short notice.

I let things settle for a while. We watched and waited and then I called the contact ‘peep’ three times, only just getting the third ‘peep’ out when there was an explosion all around us. A roe buck of around a couple of years came charging past us from behind and made a beeline for a doe that had stood up 60 yards to our right.

The response was instant and rapid. A decent buck charged at a younger buck who responded with a rapid U-turn away from the large angry buck trying his best to stick him in the backside with a grand set of antlers.

They ran right past us and out of sight. The doe however just stood watching the action and looking in the general direction the two had bucks had dashed off in.

I looked at Steve who I am sure was hyperventilating, looked totally bemused and grinning like a Cheshire cat at the same time. I calmed him down and told him to get ready as I was going to call again but repositioned him so that he was broadly pointing towards the doe. I would expect any buck re-entering the area to head in her direction at some stage.

All set and at the second contact squeak our dominant buck charged right at us hard, only stopping a few feet away, barking at us and realising we did not resemble a male deer or threat.

He trotted back from where had come from. This was followed immediately by our younger buck returning from behind us and rushing towards the doe who was still watching the event unfold, alert, but showing no sign of running.

There are deer in all that grass somewhere, surely

Steve was rapidly trying to settle himself and re-deploy the quad sticks – and failing spectacularly! The younger buck stood perfectly still for a short period and then started to press the doe who ran across in front of us and disappeared into the treeline, the buck tight in behind her. They were gone. Steve blew out a huge breath, and collapsed into a big heap as the sticks he was leaning on gave way on the moss.

We had a chat and a laugh and were about to pack up and head in for breakfast when movement again drew my attention as a lovely six-point buck was moving across the ride with his nose fixed to a line on the ground.

Clearly he was smelling a female in season and his attention was somewhat diverted. I was able to deploy the bipod and get Steve prone as the buck thrashed at a small willow tree, before moving out again with his nose to the floor.

“Are you set to Steve?” I whispered. He confirmed he was, so I gave a loud bark at which the buck stopped, fully broadside and scant seconds later the rifle did the job. What a morning! We’d certainly earned our breakfast and a lie down – and Steve will be able to retell the tale of his first roe rut many times over I am sure. 

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