With granddaughter in tow, editor Pete Carr has one of the best roe stalking experiences in a long time while on his home turf in Yorkshire
In the 2013 buck season season I shot one of my best ever roebucks – certainly the biggest trophy I have shot close to home. It was in June, which historically has been a poor month to tackle roe (though as I’ve already related, I’ve got something of a fondness for it). The cover is up, and the territorial instinct isn’t as strong as it was in the spring. If you’re unlucky, patrolling bucks almost seem half-hearted by the middle of the month. I guess as territories are established it’s more a case of reinforcement against displaced roamers rather than holding and defending ground.
June or not, I take every opportunity to be out with the rifle, and on 16 June 2013 I was so glad I did. It was a hot, sunny afternoon and the cover was high – despite the late spring, by mid-June the undergrowth had caught up. At this time of year foot stalking is a slow affair if you are not to repeatedly bump bucks. They have the advantage and they know it. A buck could as easily be 20 yards away as 200, and tempting as it may be to rush on, you are better off considering the immediate ground with a careful eye. On this occasion I did just that – moving slowly, working the wind and spying every patch of briar, hemlock and under the canopy of a young plantation by dropping to one knee every 20 yards or so.
This is extremely slow work and it is so easy to become disenchanted, or become distracted and quicken the pace – I’m as guilty as anyone of that, but it is best not to let the mind wander and concentrate on what may be there. Any little patch of russet colour must be investigated with the binoculars, every little shape that resembles an antler tip or point must be scrutinised. Often as not it will turn out to be foliage or an old tree branch, but occasionally the flick of an ear or the movement of a head will give away a resting buck.
And so it was as the afternoon wore on. I was slowly eating up yardage and working a substantial plantation through with my granddaughter in tow. Two people trying to work like this has its obvious disadvantages as there is twice the opportunity to be discovered. But Sienna is showing lots of promise – she is a natural stalker. Seeking out twigs and obstacles with her feet before applying full weight is second nature to her. Furthermore, she knows to stay directly behind me to avoid making two silhouettes – indeed, she is better at this than most clients I have guided.
Every so often it pays to sit comfortably and wait on the chance that a buck will move into the open. It is tempting to cover ground but at this time of the year it is better to work an area where you know a buck is present, keep the wind and seek him out, or let him come to you by taking five and setting up an ambush at a cross ride, gateway or the edge of a plantation. That’s what we did on this occasion, and what came to pass was one of the most exhilarating stalking experiences for me and Sienna – one that will stay in our memories for a long time.
We took a break at the edge of a young Scots pine plantation, sat semi-hidden between the roots of an ancient oak and waited for events to unfold. Not long after, a heavily pregnant doe came by not 10 feet from us, browsing away on succulent delicacies hidden among the grass sward of the ride. Keeping still, we went unnoticed. If we had been discovered it would have been a disaster and put an end to our outing. A frightened doe bursting into flight and barking her alarm call to all and sundry would put the buck down and ruin any chance of him coming out. Thankfully she soon melted back into the trees, and I was about to move off again in the opposite direction when a distant buck barked out a challenge. There is quite a difference between an alarm bark and a challenge, and I decided to stay put.
The buck barked on a while; then he was answered by another, almost directly behind our position. It was obvious that the nearer buck was the resident – he sounded as mad as hell, grumbling between barks. The interloper, still unseen, barked on teasingly but with an air of caution. We had the wind but I knew the nearer buck would soon have us. Making the decision to move and cover a cross ride he would surely have to pass was a gamble, but one I felt was worth taking.
We moved to a good position but I felt sure the buck had at the very least sensed our presence. Thankfully the interloper still taunted him and this kept his blood up. Barking back in anger, he came on. The atmosphere was electric and I could see the amazement on young Sienna’s face. Seconds went by, then I got my first sight of him. Coming on slowly with an exaggerated high-stepping movement, he moved towards us, looking for his antagonist.
I instantly assessed him as an old animal with a thick head carrying a thick, heavy rack, and raised the rifle. Running up his front leg, I touched off the trigger as the crosshairs came to bear just behind his shoulder. On report he dashed forward, but I had seen him lift and the strike sounded like a good one.
What followed was nerve-racking. He had disappeared into the undergrowth, and despite a detailed search the blood ran out. I was considering calling in a tracking dog when I almost stepped on the beast. The relief was tremendous – the shot had been good. I had secured a superb medal-class buck after what had been the most exciting engagements with a roebuck I have ever experienced. This really is what the pursuit of roe deer is all about – it doesn’t get better than that.