First-time roebuck hunting

First time’s the charm. Chris Dalton reports on the East Lothian couple bagging an impressive roebuck.

Credit: Alexander Zackrisson / FOAP / Getty Images

May is a month where I often get a number of very good heads to measure as part of the Sporting Rifle/BASC/BDS trophy measuring team. Most of these come to the various county shows and game fairs, where we have a team in place on either the BASC or BDS stands. I am normally at the Midland in September but do some of the others when I’m called upon.

The folks who can’t get to the shows will look up the nearest member of the trophy team and either bring or ship heads to them to be assessed. Jamie, for example, had been put on to me by BASC as he had a couple of roe heads he wanted measuring.

Jamie had not had any heads measured before and, like a lot of people, he wasn’t sure if they would score – or indeed the process for getting that done.

I briefed him on the basics and from his description he had one head which sounded very large. The other didn’t sound heavy enough, but you never know.

Due to commitments for both of us, he was not able to get over when I was at home and so the heads were duly shipped across courtesy of Royal Mail. Our telephone conversation revealed the he farmed land in East Lothian; that is certainly an area which produces some exceptionally high-end roebuck.

I have included a letter from Jamie relating the story of the roe buck his girlfriend Rosie shot – her first roe deer on her first attempt! This was the large roebuck we discussed. Although he still wasn’t sure it would make a medal, when the head was delivered to me a few days later it went Platinum!

Jamie writes; “In the last few years we’ve had some issues with the amount of deer on our farm in East Lothian, especially as we have had to re-plant trees due to butt rot. The combination of deer and young trees is not a good one, and they have to be managed.

My girlfriend Rosie and I went for a stalk one evening at home. I had foolishly told her that there was no doubt we would bump into something, given the numbers of deer I had seen of late. Embarrassingly for me, we saw nothing. Not even in the ‘banker’ alley. As this was her first stalk, I was desperate for her to have a look through the scope at one, pulling the trigger being a different matter altogether.

After a blank two hours, we finally spied a deer munching on a young tree branch in one of our new woods. On all fours, we crawled towards the fence line to get a better look. It was a young buck and didn’t show the most impressive head. All the same, a first is a first, and whatever the size, it’s still incredibly exciting whether playing ghillie or being behind the rifle.

We watched it for a while, as it raised its head to branches, joyfully chewing away, and eventually I told Rosie that this would be a good buck to shoot. She was thrilled, but as she was mentally preparing herself for the shot, another buck approached the wood and on further inspection he had a noticeably bigger head than the one immediately in front of us.

He was calm and measured and trotted in like a king. Then he saw the antagonist who was dining seemingly in his territory and in a flash he charged at the young impostor, who just managed to evade his larger antlers and bolted away. This was a fascinating bit of drama to watch, and it was humbling to have witnessed such a scene.

With the imposter gone, the ‘king’ of the wood stopped for breath by some slightly taller trees and went in behind them. It didn’t take very long for him to reappear, and wow, he was an absolute beauty. We now saw his enormous, stunning head, Rosie looking through the scope and I through a pair of binoculars.

Rosie said she had a clear shot, and although a bush hid his back end, I had confidence in her ability as she had pinned a target from the same distance earlier in the day (100 yards).

‘BANG”. I saw him drop through my binoculars and we frantically hopped over the fence and a trickling burn to arrive at the buck. Rosie was in disbelief having never shot a deer before and I simply could not believe how big it was (certainly bigger than any seen at home before).

Rosie’s smile was infectious and from ear to ear. There is nothing quite like witnessing someone achieve his or her ‘first’ of anything. It brings a wonderful sense of triumph.

I sent the head to Chris Dalton, who runs ‘South Ayrshire Stalking’ to see how big it really was. When he rang back he said it wasn’t gold but a platinum head! Platinum?! Wow. We’re still in shock.

What a special occasion to have witnessed. The entirety of the evening showed the true beauty and temperament of such animals and other wildlife surrounding us.

Having the ability to watch deer through binoculars or a scope is a luxury and appreciating what you kill is an important factor of the countryside. As magical as it can be spying these deer from afar, numbers do still have to be controlled in order to maintain the upkeep of the land.

This sense of triumph has been a perfect reminder of why we love the countryside and must do all we can in order to keep our passions alive so we can enjoy such unique occasions.’’

There has been much debate in recent years of the merits of ‘Trophy Hunting’ and it has got bad press, sometimes with good reason but more often for disjointed or plain mischievous reporting or simply folks jumping to conclusions with no comprehension or understanding of the circumstances.

I have said many times that you will not produce many, if any, medal class or good representative bucks if you do not have good deer management in place.

Having too many deer or too many does on the ground will not result in mature or good quality bucks in general. We take the odd medal class buck each year at home and I have seen a tangible improvement in the quality of the ground I have managed over the last 15 years or so.

Chris was able to confirm that the head was platinum-rated

On the ground here we have vulnerable re-stock and therefore have to maintain a low deer population due to commercial implications. Even here we have some good bucks appearing from time to time – you don’t get to be a prime buck by being daft.

They develop a survival instinct and won’t be seen often. This is particularly so in commercial forestry; for arable land, admittedly different dynamics come in to play.

Equally, I have many guys who stalk with me and they have been trying for years to get that one buck for a nice shoulder mount at home or a medal just to say they have shot one.

For a variety of reasons they’ll struggle to achieve that; bad luck, wrong place wrong time, buck fever or simply a miss. Then on other occasions a complete novice or someone out for a stalk with a friend will get lucky. As I said, you never know!

For stalking opportunities with Chris contact chris@ayrstalk.co.uk, call 07710 871190 or visit www.ayrstalk.co.uk.


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