Fallow doe stalking w/ David Barrington Barnes

David Barrington Barnes is left frustrated following the difficulties he faced on his latest fallow doe stalking effort

Credit: nickodoherty / Flickr

Just three outings into the doe season I witnessed it happen. From my high seat I saw the does running. My position, on the face of the big wood, allowed me an unobstructed view over several fields.

Based on observations prior to 1 November, I expected to see does and calves trekking to and from the woodland via their usual tracks, at least two of which were in comfortable rifle range of my hide.

I had done all the usual things: checked the wind, walked in while it was still properly dark and deployed the thermal at intervals. Nothing! The most used deer path was deserted.

The field in front of me, in late stubble, had nothing more interesting feeding out on it than half a dozen hares. As the light improved, so did my view. Alert and optimistic in the high seat, my eyes swept the foreground again and again.

Alternating from binoculars to my thermal monocular, I never stopped anticipating the sight of fallow does. They would come, I said to myself, because they had been using this track and feeding on this field for weeks during the late part of the close season.

Time ticked away throughout my morning vigil without my quarry showing up. My spirits slumped. I knew that, all too soon, the dog walker with the wild red setter would be on the footpath. The rush hour of dog walkers, joggers, mountain bikers and others would follow bringing my stakeout to an end.

Fallow doe stalking: fallow the leader

Then, as I observed the fields with increasing despondency I heard a rifle shot away to the west, likely at the far end of the big wood. Some minutes later a movement to my far right caught my attention. A parcel of fallow does and calves, that had obviously left the wood in a hurry, were going full pelt across the field I was watching.

I was able to track them as they galloped in front of me never nearer than 300 yards. The lead doe was very much in charge and was closely followed by the others in the group. The speed at which they had vacated the wood and the smart route chosen by the “head girl” sharply reminded me that winter was here. This was the difficult season with all its stalker frustrations.

As the skittish parcel of does faded away over a ridge I had the observation reinforced by the appearance of a pricket, 60 yards to my left. He came out of the wood boldly and stood looking across the field in front of us. His careless confidence was in complete contrast to the fear shown by the fleeing does. It would have been easy enough to take a shot off the left hand rail of the high seat as I am a leftie.

Fallow doe stalking: game, setter, match

However, we had already trimmed up our prickets in the autumn and now needed to concentrate on the does, so I let him pass. I hoped there would be a doe or two with him which, undisturbed, would emerge to graze the wheat stubble.

No luck! I sat up for a few more minutes, chilled by the winter wind, and packed up when the red setter ran on to the field. I had had a blank morning at the does but there is nothing unusual about that.

There is an even trickier stalk closer to the village. It has woods on either side of it, a farm yard and dwellings at one end and paddocks (that do not belong) at the other. The larger of the two woods has bedding areas much favoured by the fallow deer.

Dog walkers often scare deer away

The movement of these deer is determined by several things. First and foremost is the disturbance caused by the numerous walkers who often walk off path.

Even if they are on it, many let their dogs run wild and chase the deer. The cropping is also relevant with sugar beet and rape and mustard (green manure) being particularly relevant in the fallow doe season. 

Deer sightings are rare, especially during daylight hours. However, observing the area from the farmyard, experience tells me they’re nearby and ready to emerge as the light goes.

One recent afternoon had me walking on the public footpath; making like a hiker with the intention of reaching a high seat that overlooked a strip of permanent grass.

Much to my amusement this route took me directly towards a small party of fallow does that were grazing the footpath and were reluctant to leave it. Absolutely no chance of a shot. It would have been wholly unsafe to shoot off sticks there.

Walking on – with my young lab, Teal, puzzled why I had passed on the shot – I went all the way round the field, to where my preferred high seat was situated.

From up here I had a good chance of a shot at any fallow emerging from the wood face to my left and also at those that emerged from the woodland. Although nothing was to be seen just at the moment, I settled down to a long wait while keeping an eager eye open for any beasts from either direction.

Fallow doe stalking: no-show does

My account of the events of that evening really beggar belief. First, no fallow came out of the woodland to my left although my associates and I had been seeing them coming and going from one particular corner. Notwithstanding all the precautions I had taken, I did not see a single deer in that woodland edge or in the crop outside.

Secondly, in the thickening late afternoon light, fallow does began to emerge from the face of the trees. Some were visible to the naked eye but a sweep with the binoculars revealed more on the footpath that I had walked an hour before – and walkers had used a matter of minutes previously!

I was looking across more than 300 metres of sugar beet with a tall green top. The fallow were feeding on this but only close to the wood face from which they had so recently emerged.

Much to my chagrin they simply would not graze towards me but stayed glued to the edge of the wood. I could not get down and stalk as the flat ground and footpaths precluded a shot.

Eventually I had to get down, defeated, and walked back to the farmyard. To add insult to injury, I came on a solitary doe which was standing at the bottom of another high seat.

She was directly in line with the farmyard and initially would not move – I waved her away in the end. By then I feel sure I was talking to myself. “Difficult does!” I said.

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