David Barrington Barnes recalls some of his finest fallow shots at stunning Iken in Sussex.
The quarter century that has come and gone since I first enjoyed
Iken stalking in September 1995 has passed in a flash. One outing has merged into another, leaving me with a rucksack full of happy memories and incidents that occurred in that special place.
As I knock on the door of the 25th anniversary of Iken stalking, I can refer to my diary to highlight a few of those pleasurable forays.
I see from this that on 16 September 1995, I arrived at Iken just after first light, and saw fallow out on the stubble by the owner’s house.
These were not approachable, so I went on and stalked into Ashpoles wood, spooking a beast on my way into the high seat, which was situated overlooking an attractive open vista. From this I saw fallow deer on the right-hand side.
This parcel were all does, and included one attractively dappled animal. While watching them, more fallow came in behind me. Two of these made a ‘clackety clack’ noise as they moved round me, and I suspected that they were prickets engaging in a little sparring.
I never saw either of these, although they were in the wood only a few yards behind me. I stayed absolutely still in the high seat, hoping they would work round to my left and emerge from behind the leafy screen, but they never showed, and must have drifted away within the wood, which mainly consisted of mature sweet chestnut trees.
I stayed on watch over the open vista, and saw a fox show on the right-hand side of it. I couldn’t be sure whether it was a vixen or well-grown cub, but whatever it was, it amazed me by sitting down and barking for five minutes.
It did this very loudly, and although I was watching it carefully through the binoculars, its throat hardly seemed to move. I watched and listened, enthralled by this performance, the likes of which I had never seen or heard before, and have not experienced since.
Two muntjac bucks then came out in front, and I shot one of them. The other – a much bigger one – ran back into cover. I waited for half an hour more, but nothing showed, so I got down and gralloched the muntjac I had shot.
While having a coffee by the truck prior to departing, I saw fallow deer (all does) coming out of further woodland in search of the acorns on the track. That was the end of an eventful and exciting morning.
On another early morning visit, I took my friend and stalking partner, the late Ernie Holland. As an aside here, I will say that sadly Ernie has just left us. At 90 he was a great age, but still the complete rifleman. I will write a separate tribute to this remarkable man to who so many stalkers owe so much from his advice and training.
On this particular morning my objective was to intercept the fallow deer leaving the agricultural fields of the farm for the safety of the adjoining forestry. To this end I dropped Ernie by the side of the river and walked on a couple of hundred yards before settling down behind a screen of reeds. Before long, a party of fallow appeared.
These included one or two prickets, and the beasts were strolling off the farm along the track opposite our positions. One of these presented well for me, and I shot it without seeing it down.
There followed consequences which I recall quite clearly. Briefly, the party took off, except for one beast that ran a few yards towards me and then swung round at full speed and made for woodland in the opposite direction all on its own. When Ernie and I went to the place, we found my pricket dead.
As I had not seen it fall until that moment, I suspected the single beast that had left the herd had been hit but not killed by my shot. Having found the pricket dead where it had stood, we were both perplexed by the behaviour of the single beast.
Ernie had his teckel in the truck, so he (Max) was called in to check out the scene. After sniffing round, he did not pick up any scent. Nor did examination of the single running beast’s slots show any sign of injury or any blood or hair.
Nonetheless, we checked out the wood into which the animal had gone, and drew a blank there too. It was mid-morning by the time this extended search was called off!
Having recalled this incident, I am satisfied the single beast was not injured at all; it probably ran in the opposite directions to its group as a result of hearing the bullet strike in a different way, or had been nearest to the pricket I had dropped, or for some other reason unknown to me.
On another September evening, I drove down to Iken after work. Fresh fallow deer slots were visible on the track that I took into my Ashpoles high seat. I saw deer in the gloaming – fallow deer within the woodland edge – before reaching the seat.
After a few minutes’ wait, a big pricket stepped out into the open 90 yards to my left. He was dark and fat after a summer of fine feeding. I gave him to the keeper.
On yet another September morning, I chanced on a muntjac buck with racks as good as I have ever seen. I remember coming on him as I hurried out of Ashpoles wood on my way to my son’s position, where he wanted a dog to search for a fallow in head-high bracken. My dog found him a few yards into cover.
Those happy outings came to their end, as all good things do. The generous owner fell ill and died, so my permission lapsed. A shooting tenant took over the shoot, and I believe sold days.
I have no idea how he treated the deer and the stalking. It is invariably unwise to bathe in the same stream twice, and I have never returned.
More from David Barrington Barnes
- The off-season with David Barrington Barnes
- Stalking Century: David Barrington Barnes hits a three-digit target number on a deer cull
- David Barrington Barnes on the Macnab
- Roe rut advice: Why turning bucks down is more important than shooting them
- Hunting high seats – what to do and what not to do