Respected stalker Mark Brackstone finally comes up trumps and secures himself a once-in-a-lifetime platinum medal muntjac trophy after trying fruitlessly for many years
Ever since I first got involved in hunting deer and various other game species, I have always had a fascination for muntjac. I liken the species to liquorice or marmite – you either love them or hate them. Generally speaking, Wiltshire has not had much of a muntjac population until the last 10 years or so, though since then it has climbed steadily.
That said, we have a small cluster of four estates that have had a healthy population of muntjac for 30-40 years. This was during a period when the land to the east of the county had no muntjac for maybe 50 miles or more. We believe these populations are the result of a release on one of the estates, although we can find no evidence to corroborate this theory.
We have always been hard with our culling regime with respect to the muntjac, as it is well documented that if their numbers increase unchecked then it has a negative impact on the roe in the same area, which are our main quarry species. We do not actually hunt muntjac with clients, but if we see one and our roebuck hunter wants one for a little variety, we let them take the occasional shot.
In the late 1980s I took on the stalking on one of the four estates, and decided that at the first opportunity I would take a decent muntjac for my wall. I make no excuse for enjoying the trophies I have collected over the years as each one holds a memory. A couple of my pals had a decent munty, but the big ones always seemed to elude me.
In February 1990 I was thrilled to bits to shoot a muntjac buck that just scraped gold, and I gave it pride of place over the kitchen door where it spent many happy years. But in 1997 the CIC decided to alter the muntjac measuring methods, as presumably muntjac were more plentiful, and consequently it was getting easier to get a gold medal. A quick bit of maths and I realised my previously gold medal munty now might just scrape a bronze. Well, the gold medal would continue to hang on it as far as I was concerned.
Being a semi-pro stalker, you talk to many people over the course of a year, and with muntjac on the increase, the subject of trophies comes up periodically. As the years crept by, my hankering to secure a really big one increased, and I have kept my eyes open for a real whopper. Then three years ago I found an exceptional one. Over a period of a week I saw it twice. Once it was not a safe shot and the second time it got spooked by a low flying helicopter – very frustrating.
Next I made a massive error of judgement: I told my partner in crime Robert about this huge muntjac and its location. For the next few days I could not stalk owing to other commitments. I had planned another excursion for the weekend, and would put in some serious effort then.
On Friday evening, just after tea, the dogs started barking as a truck drove down my track. It was my stalking partner Robert. I opened the door but he walked to the back of his truck and said in his broad Wiltshire accent: “Eh, ‘ave a look at this.” Just as I approached, he said: “Was that big munty you saw like this?” with a huge grin on his stubbly mush. He was holding my muntjac buck, my whopper. I replied rather colourfully, and he responded: “Well, you said you couldn’t get ‘im, so I thought I’d show you ‘ow it’s done,” and roared with laughter.
I tried to keep up the angry look but broke into a grin and congratulated him. I guess it served me right and was payback for all the times I stitched him up through the years. It was huge, each antler being about 14cm long and way into gold medal status.
Since then I have spent the last four years sneaking admiring glances at it – it’s hanging over his fireplace at home. Rob knew he had hooked my competitive edge and has mentioned his big muntjac perhaps every 6-8 weeks without fail for the last four years.
Last January, towards the end of the shooting season, my old friend Laurie called me and said that he had a good look at a muntjac on the estate that he manages, which was bigger than any he had ever seen. Laurie had seen quite a few so I knew his judgement would be good. I searched the area where he had spotted it on numerous occasions but to no avail.
I tried calling, sitting in seats, walking and stalking but it was nowhere to be seen. By early May I gave it up for a bad job. Laurie and I decided that the beast had probably met with a disaster or died of old age.
Then on Tuesday 1 May 2012 at 5.15pm my phone went. The caller was Laurie. I pressed the answer button, and before I could speak a breathless Laurie said: “If you want that massive munty, get yourself to my place quick. I have just seen him leave the pheasant feeder under the water tower.” I dropped what I was doing and flew home, charging around the house like a raging bull, grabbing a jacket and boots, hopping through the hall on one leg with the other tangled in the green trousers I was attempting to leap into.
My long-suffering wife just stood with her hands on her hips, gently shaking her head. “Explain later!” I shouted as I fell out of the door in a tangled heap of rifle, jacket, sticks, binos, one wellie on and the other half on and partly usable.
It was 22 minutes later when I arrived at the water tower where Laurie was sitting on the ground looking at his watch. “What kept you? He’s probably in Berkshire by now!” Laurie explained that he had spotted the big muntjac 150 yards away on a ride.
I stalked the first 50 yards fairly swiftly, then went into the predator mode that all hunters and stalkers will relate to. You move slowly with all of your senses almost pinging as your ears and eyes strain for the slightest movement: one pace, stop, stand, listen, then slowly scan further into the woodland, take another pace. I covered another 50 yards but nothing. I stopped, looked and listened and then got that familiar premonition that I was being watched.
Somehow I had walked right past the muntjac, who was broadside standing in bracken, giving him phenomenal camouflage. No time for the sticks or binos – I slowly lifted the .243 while releasing the safety catch, and in one fluid movement I brought the crosshairs into the muntjac’s shoulder and squeezed. At the crack of the rifle he bolted 50 yards flat out and thankfully tumbled to a halt.
I stood there for a minute enjoying the elated feeling and looking at my quivering hand. The silence was broken by Laurie crunching through bracken behind me. I just pointed; we strolled down the slope to the muntjac simultaneously. I had shot an ancient buck. He was huge in the antler department, but both of his tusks were snapped off and rotten at the gum. His teeth were level with his gums and his body was lean.
After thanking Laurie I drove to Rob’s house and knocked on his door. “Get your muntjac trophy off the wall and I will introduce him to his dad,” I said. Rob laughed and came out with his muntjac. We held them together and there was very little in it, but mine had longer brow tines and longer beams. “Nothing much in it,” said Rob, and I agree, but we both knew the unspoken truth: I had pipped him.
Rob asked where I had found it – now I had my opportunity and decided a little white lie would do the trick. “In that conifer wood you always stalk,” I replied. “Surprised you haven’t seen it before.”
I was on my way home when the phone rang. “Did you really shoot that munty in the conifers?” asked Rob. “I can’t believe I’ve never seen it!” It will not do him any harm to stew until he reads this article and discovers the truth.
The antler length on my muntjac was an average of 15.5cm, or six inches in old money. Dominic Griffith has measured it at 75.9 BASC points – a platinum medal and truly a muntjac of a lifetime.