Guiding a friend in the early part of the buck season, Byron Pace takes a look at how to select the right animals and when
The early part of the roebuck season is something special. It not only marks a switch in the hunting calendar, but usually brings a shift in weather, with the distinct feeling that everything is beginning to warm up. It is a magical time of year, with the early signs of life beginning to appear after a long winter hibernation. At this point most Scottish roebucks will still be in velvet, with only a small number of older animals clean. It is a good way of getting a feel for your population, using coat change and early cleaning as a rough guide to age classes. What’s more, roe will often still be holding their loose family groups at this point.
This, of course, makes them far easier to locate, as even mature bucks are still tolerant of the young pretenders from the previous years. It is a very harmonious time to study roe deer, and I have spent many hours just watching and learning about the roe on my ground. Probably more than any other time of year, you can gain a lot of knowledge by simply resisting the urge to grass a buck quickly. Often, hunters are far too quick to pull the trigger, and this is a shame. By this time of year I already have a fair idea of which animals I want to take out, having followed them from the previous season and through the winter months while culling does. Of course, there will be new animals, and some others have disappeared for whatever reason, but the population tends to be fairly static without too much cross-boundary movement. I always like to get a jump-start to the buck cull before they disperse and disappear from sight. It allows for a good side-by-side comparison, when you can view a handful of bucks in the same location at the same time. This creates an area of slight contention with regards to culling, with some hunters insisting that no buck should be taken until in hard antler. I would say that it depends on the circumstance. If you have an area where numbers need to be brought down for whatever reason, or you simply have a large number of bucks across the age classes, and need to thin some out, then I can’t see why waiting for the buck to be in hard antler is important. Indeed, it only really matters if you intend the buck for the wall. There is merit in the argument that trophies cannot be correctly judged when the buck is in full velvet, and I would agree with this. However, you do gain a fair idea. If you are culling at the extremes of old and young showing little potential, then I would venture to suggest that the convenience of culling at this time of year outweighs any negatives.
Last year saw my early part of the buck season starting with Sporting Rifle writer Nick Latus travelling up to Scotland to join me. With snow still on the ground, it was an unusual backdrop to be hunting roebucks in. The buck was captured in its entirety for The Shooting Show.
About a week later I ventured out with another friend of mine. Travelling to a nearby farm, Martin Hodge had returned from a stint abroad, eager to sink his teeth into the start of the season. He hadn’t had much chance to get out after does during the winter, and was keen to make up for it now. This season, he was also after his first trophy buck, so we would be putting the wheels in motion to make that happen. For the moment, we would just have to see what we came across and make a call as to whether it was one to be culled or not.
The farm we would be hunting at had a fairly new area of hard wood-regeneration planting, which had been deer-fenced some years before. Over the winter months, flooding had broken the fence at both ends and, as you would expect, the roe had filed in there like bees to honey. This had caused a bit of a headache for me, as I didn’t want to shoot the roe in there just because they had to go. There could very well be some of my good bucks among them, so this was a good opportunity to evaluate a plan before the fence was fixed.
Closing the gate behind us, we had already scanned a good section of the tree-covered valley to no avail. Running about 2km, it was another 700 metres across, planted sparsely, with the trees now standing between 5 and 12ft tall. Some patches of bracken, broom and gorse provide ample cover to prevent an easy spot, with the valley floor carpeted with tall, dead grasses. I didn’t want to bump anything by being too hasty, so we took it very slow, scanning every few steps.
By the time we got half way down, I was beginning to wonder if the deer I had previously seen had made their own way out. In a way it would have been the most ideal situation, but I was also hoping to at least get Martin into a buck that evening. With only three days to play with before travelling again, he wasn’t going to have many opportunities.
I caught the distinctive dark chestnut brown of the roe’s back below us
Pushing on a little further, our patience was soon rewarded when I caught the distinctive dark chestnut brown of the roe’s back below us, grazing in the long grass. At this point it could have been anything, as its head was buried out of sight. With the wind in our favour, we slowly crept forward, making use of a thick bank of broom to crawl into a suitable position for observation. Within a minute, we were nicely placed above and behind the animal. All going well, we could also take a shot from this position.
It was clear by this point that we were looking at a buck, and he didn’t seem to have any company. Clearly very content to be grazing away, it had only revealed a glimpse of its head. This was indeed clean and didn’t seem anything special. I had some nice bucks on this farm, and one very big animal I was hoping to catch up with later in the season. This buck, however, appeared to be a taker.
Not being in a rush, and with the buck easily within range, we waited a little to get a better view. Eventually, when it turned broadside, I could look at the antlers properly. A fairly poor animal, he certainly wasn’t a youngster. I gave Martin the nudge to shoot when ready. Moments later, with a boom and a thud, it was all over. Not 20 metres from where he stood, the buck now lay motionless. A job well done and one satisfied stalker, though next time he would be chasing something bigger.