David Barrington Barnes looks back at some stalking experiences that have shaped both his way of thinking and the ways in which he approaches the pursuit of roe
The bluebells of Bullwood have flowered many times since that late spring morning when I first encountered its great roebuck. In the half light of dawn, he stepped out of the wood in the company of a doe and follower. His rack was clean and tall, but as the light improved, the great symmetrical sweep of antler became much more apparent. However, on this first meeting it was hard to confirm how many points he had.
More impressive than his head was his body mass. He looked like a bullock in comparison with the others of his ilk. I studied him through my glasses and admired both his awesome dimensions and his masterful demeanour. I absolutely knew he was a very special roebuck. That evening I mailed the landowner’s son: “Spied the best buck I have ever seen on the estate, am christening him The Bullwood Buck.”
Later that same summer, when the roe rut was hot, I slipped into the back of Bullwood one sunny afternoon and concealed myself in a drift of stinging nettles. I began to call and, after a short interval, spotted the Bullwood Buck running towards me. He stopped just short and gave me the opportunity for a close-up inspection. He was a magnificent six-pointer, every bit as big in the body as I had thought on first seeing him despite the present rigours of the rut. He was obviously in the prime of his life and not for shooting.
Here I had the perfect stud buck, a veritable king among roebucks. In the hope that he would spread his genes and improve the quality of the estate’s roe deer, I guarded him jealously. For several seasons, I annually called him up during the rut for close inspection. Every time I saw him I gasped – he was the absolute master of Bullwood.
Then came the sad spring when I found him desultory and displaced, now occupying a lesser territory nearby – a mere spinney with roads on every side. His back was no longer straight and his rack less regular. All this led to me calling up the owner’s son and asking him to cull the Bullwood buck. He came and did what had to be done, and still has the trophy in his home. Even now, I never stalk that wood and its environs without remembering those years long gone when the Bullwood Buck was the master of its leafy dominions.
Another place and another time, I took a good friend for a summer evening stalk. “You can shoot any buck except the German’s buck,” I was briefed before we set off, having in mind a very fine beast I was saving for the Rhinelander. I didn’t need to say anymore, thinking my experienced friend would readily recognise the reserved roebuck. During our stalk, I indicated that he should pass me, and crawl over a steep bank. As he achieved the top, I saw him tense, aim, and fire very quickly. I joined him just in time to hear him say in a chastened voice: “Oh dear; I’ve shot the German’s buck.” Swallowing the initial flush of frustration, I sighed. Oh well – it was another lesson learned.
On another occasion, this time in Argyll, a hill stalker told me of a roebuck, which had, as she said, “a funny heed”. She thought this buck occupied a brackened area that was interspersed by short grass cropped by rabbits. We stalked into this bracken and took up a position overlooking the grazed turf. In response to my call, the roebuck with the funny head appeared almost at my knee before bouncing back and standing surprised long enough for me to drop him.
Looking at that trophy, as I do sometimes, I am reminded that securing a malformed roebuck trophy can be much more memorable than doing the same to a fine symmetrical roebuck. He was a young buck, perhaps only two or three years of age and so culled long before he would have been had he carried a regular head. I never ascertained the reason for the malformation, but it might have been that he became entangled in a stock fence during the growth stage. He was otherwise healthy enough.
There is one roebuck trophy that I treasure above all others, which acquired his name after he was shot. The Lie-in-Bed Buck had lived on a grouse moor in the north-east of Scotland. That May morning, he should have been safe as winter had temporarily returned with a vengeance. Sleet and rain, driven by a strong wind, made for dreadful, hopeless stalking conditions.
My son decided to stay in bed, so I set out alone. No doubt he thought I had taken leave of my senses but I like to take every advantage I have to stalk when opportunity knocks. Heading out alone, I turned away from our comfortable abode to stalk into the teeth of the elements at a little after 3.30am.
Using what shelter I could, I stalked up the main burn that winds its way through the ground. Either side of it are rough greens that give a good bite and are greatly fancied by the resident roe deer. Expecting to see nothing, and not infrequently wondering why I had gone out, I was amazed to spy a decent buck and a doe on one of these green oases. I began to worm my way close enough for a better look, and perhaps a shot, and found the conditions now favoured me as not only was any noise from my approach masked by the wind and rain but my quarry had their heads down and were feeding hard.
For the final approach, I took to the spate-filled burn, which was little hardship as I was already very wet. My heart and lung shot taken, from a convenient bump on the bank, was fit for purpose on such a rough morning, and the satisfaction I derived as I walked across the green to inspect that beast banished the wet and the cold. Now, if ever I feel like bunking off the horribly early start hour of a summer roebuck stalk, or deferring to inclement conditions, my recollection of how The Lie-in-Bed Buck met his end draws me into the woods and fields brimming with renewed anticipation. I set forth, as the saying goes, to chance a buck.