Stalking guide Chris Dalton leaves his roe comfort zone and gets after a different species on his home turf with an eager client.
Last month I covered calling roebucks and the type of calls I prefer to use: the dos and don’ts along with a tale of how it can work if everything comes together. Most of my stalking background involves roe, so I have a fair degree of experience to fall back on – and by that I mean I have learnt from making a lot of mistakes and doing some daft things.
I have spent a good deal of time with reds lately, so I have a fair degree of knowledge about them as well. And as an awful lot of time is spent in the field around the time of the rut for both species, I feel pretty confident that I can offer guests a good chance while we are out after them. Fallow, however, are a different ball game altogether.
In the area of south-west Scotland where Tony and I do most of our stalking, fallow are present 30 miles away in localised pockets and fair numbers, but we didn’t have them on our ground. I have stalked fallow in Midhurst, West Sussex, on a few occasions – in fact one of my DSC witnessed stalks many years ago involved a fallow doe, but that’s about it. So when we took over the management of a block of forestry ground up the M74 corridor, I was excited to see fallow showing up on the historic cull data along with roe. It was great news and a chance to learn more about a fairly new deer species to us both.
Early forays produced some good roe, but the fallow were very noticeable by their absence, and I began to have doubts about the accuracy of the cull data we had been given. I know that fallow move a fair distance and can congregate in large groups, and they can also be a bit like the woodland reds, out last thing at night and in before first light, so catching and seeing them can be challenging. I also spoke to a number of local residents who looked at me strangely when I mentioned fallow deer – ‘what do they look like, then?’ was the usual response.
Anyway, concentrating on the roe, we had noticed damage on the margins of a restock site and had identified a nice spot for a high seat, overlooking an area bounded on three sides by mature trees and a lot of well-used deer tracks. My next visit to the ground saw me with the trailer, lean-to ladder seat and saw. After an hour or so of sawing branches, and lots of banging and adjusting, I had the high seat where I wanted it and secure.
I climbed into it for a final check to confirm all was well, and was quietly contemplating to myself what a great spot it was when a group of eight fallow does and attendant followers sauntered out not 60 yards away and started to feed, tails swishing around without a care in the world.
Sometimes I give up: I had been trying to find them for weeks and they show up in the middle of the day after all the racket I had been making. Well, I could now confirm we did at least have some fallow on the ground.
This all took place mid-September, and I had a regular guest booked in for early October. Working on the principle ‘where there are ladies there will certainly be a few chaps about,’ I knew my man would be keen to try for a fallow buck in the rut, as he hadn’t yet shot one. The call was duly made, and early one fine October evening we both climbed into a high tower very close to the one I mentioned above.
Bear in mind this is the very first time I had taken a client after fallow and the first time I had tried stalking fallow in the rut. I have to say I was slightly anxious, and definitely out of my comfort zone. This got worse as the evening wore on. I was willing something to happen – stalking guides will know all too well what I mean.
I had all but given up and was about to call time as the light was nearly gone, but something made me hold on a while longer. Had this been roe I would have been at the car already. But then a loud belchlike groan from behind startled the both of us. This was followed very quickly by a second groan from the other side of the ride, and so it went on for several minutes. The heightened atmosphere was electric and the sense of anticipation unbelievable.
I couldn’t see anything, but the bucks were close and getting nearer. The light was almost gone so I decided to give it my best belching imitation of a major fallow buck. It was not that good. I nearly choked as I tried to get the noise to come from deep in my throat, and was forced to stifle an irresistible urge to cough. Remarkably, it worked, and as I was trying to regain my composure (goodness knows what the client thought) one of the bucks appeared in the fading light. That’s where the Swarovskis came in to their own.
There was no need to give my guest a prod – the rifle was up on the side rails and the buck dropped like a stone. It was a relief for me, and a happy chap who climbed down the ladder to look at his first fallow.
That would have been good enough, but just as I was about to gralloch the beast our attention was drawn to the sharp crack of twigs across the ride as a huge buck emerged to see what the fuss was about. He gave us an uninterested stare and turned away in disdain.
It was a night to remember for both client and guide, and I only wish they all ended like that. I can also confirm that I have much improved my fallow grunting impersonations since.
For stalking opportunities Chris and Tony can be contacted on 07710 871190 firstname.lastname@example.org.