Lost Deer

Photo: Andy Lee

Stalking guide Chris Dalton considers the perils of missed shots and lost deer

Having been called out with my Weimaraner Oscar to recover a shot deer one of my syndicate stalkers couldn’t find, I was reminded of a few days one February when I had both missed and lost deer on successive outings – which is unusual to say the least! The missed deer occurred during some DSC 2 witnessed stalks for an experienced hunter for the Netherlands. He had what appeared to be two relatively easy shots on successive mornings, and completely missed both times. The next day I was required to go out twice with Oscar to search for two roe that were hit hard and ran into conifers.

Tracking a deer in thick cover is not easy. You need to know the ground well

Now, I have said many times before that we all miss, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. If you are missing on any other than the rarest occasions, then you are doing something wrong. So to have a situation with four incidents in a week is most unusual, and I can’t remember it happening before or since. My visitor from Holland was a very experienced hunter and proved an excellent shot on the range. So the only explanation I could offer for his misses was the fact that he was keen to complete his DSC 2 and, having the opportunity to get off to a good start with two deer in two outings, and possibly having someone watching from behind, put just enough pressure on him to miss shots at roe that he would usually have taken without thinking. The furthest could only have been around 80 yards from a stable position. These were clear misses; full searches with trained dogs revealed nothing, and the deer were observed running off for some distance, clearly none the worse for wear.

The ‘misses’ that Oscar subsequently located and I recovered, however, are an entirely different matter – and one I think makes a good teaching point for us all. Derek, one of my regular stalking guests from Yorkshire, had arrived the day before and, unusually for me, I had decided to go along with him to a large area of Forestry Commission ground for a morning stalk. I don’t get much chance to do this these days as I am usually taking other folk out, so the prospect of being chauffeured to the forest and having an outing with my rifle for a change was too good to miss.

I let Derek pick his area and I went the other way, agreeing a time to meet back at the vehicle. My morning was spent carefully stalking down some spectacular open gullies on the edge of the Galloway Forest Park, and while I always enjoy being out in these remote and quiet places early on, it was nevertheless a frustrating morning. One of those days when the wind is always wrong, or the deer not in season, and the one roe follower I could have taken just would not move from an unsafe position where she was skylined. Her mother, on the other hand, spent 20 minutes fully broadside to me and then lay down.

While I stood considering my options, the sound of a distant shot rang out and, as it was approaching time to return to the vehicle, I set off back, expecting to meet Derek there with his dinner for the next week in tow. Wrong! When I got to the Land Rover Derek was waiting, and explained that he had missed a follower but he couldn’t understand how. We discussed it, and I was debating going back with the dog, but he was convinced he had missed as there was no evidence of a strike, no reaction to the shot, no telltale sound, and his search under the trees revealed nothing. We concluded that, as the shot was downhill, he might have pulled it and probably missed over the top of the roe.

Oscar and Chris work as a partnership to bring the deer back

Back at Garryloop, while eating breakfast I just had a nagging feeling that something was wrong. I decided to go back with Oscar to have a look. What bothered me was that Derek was initially happy with the shot. Usually I find that when you have been stalking a while you know if the shot was good or not, and if there is any chance of a deer being hit I would rather check than just assume. I would take the rifle and sit for the last hour anyway, as we still needed a few roe followers to finish the cull. Following Derek’s route from earlier that morning, Oscar stiffened and his nose went into the air, pointing right towards a cross ride in front of me. I recognised that sign, and knew he had smelled deer, so I sat him and stalked slowly forward. Sure enough, a doe and two followers were browsing across in front of me. I took the doe follower, gralloched her and left her hanging in a small broadleaf to collect on my way back up the Glen. I much prefer the suspended gralloch, and this is the method we teach all of our DSC 2 candidates. It’s so much easier than the gralloch on the floor.

From here, it was not far to the point where Derek had missed his roe. About 15 minute later I gave Oscar the instruction to search, and he worked his way under the trees. He was immediately interested and snuffled slowly forward. I followed him and after about 150 yards we came to the doe – so not a miss after all. The strike was slightly forward and low, but in the low lung area, and the deer had made around 30 yards from the strike point to where it now lay dead. I am slightly puzzled as to why Derek had not found her, but it was a good result and I returned to where my own roe hung. I had a long carry back up the glen with two roe. I am very glad of the Apex predator roe sack I use, and I can confirm that yes, you can fit two roe in it – just!

Back at Garryloop I found a very dejected Derek, who explained that he had shot at but lost another doe that evening – one he was sure he had hit. Again much discussion ensued, and after Derek had taken me through the deer’s reaction to the shot, I was almost sure the shot was good. The deer should not be far from the strike point. By now Derek was unusually quiet and, while slightly bolstered by my finding the first deer, seemed troubled by the events of the evening. A wee dram marginally helped, but his refusal of a second helping of my wife Anne’s excellent herb and parmesan crusted rainbow trout told me the situation was serious.

We were off again at first light the next morning, and again Oscar earned his wages. Initially, as we were searching in the wrong place, he showed little interest, but after I cast him off to where Derek had marked the strike, he immediately got his nose down. I noted blood and some small sections of lung: the doe was about 30 yards further on under the trees. Examination revealed a perfect heart-lung shot.

So remember, the follow-up of a shot deer must be thorough and systematic, and you need to search a large area. Even well-hit deer can cover quite some ground, and this can be extended further if you wrongly mark the deer’s position. And never assume a miss, even if you see no obvious sign or reaction to the shot. I have watched deer through the binos on a number of occasions when a client has shot them and have seen no reaction, but recovered a dead deer shortly after.

Derek left that week with a lesson learned, and I got to thinking: was this all a clever ploy on his part? Shoot two roe a long carry away from the car, pretend you can’t find them, and send your stalking guide out with his dog to fetch them for you? Now I wonder! Having said that, the two bottles of Scotland’s finest and two full Wensleydale cheeses that arrived a few weeks later made it worthwhile.

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