Mud, sweat and deer

01 Mego roe doe1Battling swamps and heavy rain, Tony Megson is on the hunt for an injured roe doe, but the deer have other ideas…

The disappearance of the summer usually means the times of plenty are over and we prepare ourselves for the brunt of the leaner times of winter. But the colder weather brings forth its own fruits as we delve deeper into wintry days. On the game front the birds are fully plumed, providing quality sport and testing targets for both driven and walked up shooters, while the rifleman’s quarry is now a little easier to see thanks to the interventions of nature’s icy grip.

Deer appear in greater numbers and tend to be much more visible with the vegetation flattened. Groups can be seen moving around in search of food and because of this their numbers can often appear to be more abundant than they actually are. It isn’t unusual for groups of five to eight to be seen grazing, often in the middle of the day, as they roam far and wide in their never-ending quest for nourishment and shelter.

Deer can take a fair toll on hedgerows and trees with the tree bark and hawthorn roots a testament to their interest in the wooded areas. As the season moves on the fraying antics of the bucks can be the death knell for trees if they successfully manage to strip away the bark completely. Nearby, the hearts of the young trees are nibbled away and the stunted growth of many bears testament to previous years’ damage. It produces a situation that is detrimental to the habitat, expensive for the farmer and ultimately counterproductive for the deer. In my area it was obvious there needed to be a reduction in deer numbers. An outing or two should soon rectify this burgeoning problem, and so it was that I took to the field in an endeavour to reduce their numbers.

For many people it’s easy to envisage the annual postcard image of winter with acres of virginal, newly lain snow. The odd robin sits on a gate while a brace of beautifully plumed pheasants struts majestically in the background alongside woodland shrouded in a glossy white panorama.

What I invariably seem to get is mud – glutinous, cloyingly adhesive mud – and rain, let’s not forget the driving, horizontal, interminable and icy cold sleety stuff that manages to find even the most minutely microscopic little chink in your carefully constructed weatherproof clothing. And so it was that, after an evening of torrential precipitation, I ventured out in the somewhat vain hope of successfully pursuing one of the barren does I had spotted earlier. I was utilising the .243 Tikka Lite with a Burris scope from GMK. It had recently proven to be effective against one of our foxy interlopers, and this coupled with the Sako ammunition was the equipment of choice.

The land was awash with water. Not just the odd large puddle but acres of rainfall that couldn’t drain away from the earth’s saturated surface. The crops submerged beneath the liquid coating had begun to rot and the farmers’ vain attempts to relieve their land of nature’s watery grip were proving, for the most part, to be futile. Channels that had been cut into the soil in an attempt to drain the water into the nearby dykes were ineffectual as the dykes themselves were full. The rainfall had no recourse but to sit atop the crops and deprive them of oxygen, and what little water had drained away was quickly replenished by further downpours.

It was close to one of these channels that I first saw the tracks. Initially it appeared just like any other deer track, but the difference with this one was the slight trail of one hoof and the marginally shallower indentation. This looked like a deer with an injured leg.02 IMG_7592.tiff2

It could have had an unsuccessful tilt at a fence, it could have been bumped by a car or chased and injured by poachers’ dogs. Either way, it was a creature that would probably not survive the winter’s deprivations and it would be a blessing to relieve it of its suffering – if I could find it.

I don’t know if it’s just me or if fellow stalkers are victims of it as well, but whenever I go in search of a particular species it’s uncannily spooky that I always come across the sex that isn’t in season. If the bucks are in, I’ll find the does, and vice versa. On this trip, everywhere I expected to find an animal, I found one – but, of course, it was invariably the wrong sex.

After trudging for miles with 10kg of exceedingly friendly Yorkshire clay attached to each boot and thigh muscles that had become similar to Rambo’s, I decided to call it a day in the hope that the next outing would be more successful.

It was a couple of days before I was able to venture forth with the .243, but I had managed to find some time and a break in the weather. How long it would last was anybody’s guess as it had rained every day for the thick end of the month, but I remained optimistic.

I returned to the area I had first seen sign of the injured deer but, despite avidly searching for it, the animal was nowhere to be seen. I was disappointed to think of its unnecessary suffering, but it was not to be. Though it certainly wasn’t in the original area, I decided to try another locality nearby. There was a possibility it could have got that far, but it proved to be devoid of the injured animal.

Somewhat gloomy, I was walking back towards the wood when I saw movement. Dropping to one knee, I brought the Tikka up to my shoulder and the Burris sight quickly brought the deer into focus. I could see it was a doe but it appeared to be walking without any difficulty. It wasn’t the injured animal but was one of the barren does I had spotted a couple of days previously. It was awkward, the backdrop wasn’t safe and the doe was rear end on. I began to crawl, trying to get around it to allow a safe shot. Every time I moved it seemed to sense it and took a step or two, effectively preventing a shot. I decided to wait and see if it would move to a position that was viable. The longer I waited, the more unlikely it seemed, but I was in a position now that meant the wind was against me and any movement would surely spook it. Just as I thought it was going to turn, it slipped through the hedge and disappeared.

Calling its parentage into question, I stood up and headed back to the vehicle. I had a couple of hours of daylight left and I wasn’t going to be beaten again if I could help it. It was during this trudge back that a doe sauntered out of the hedgerow 80 yards ahead of me and calmly wandered out into the field. I couldn’t drop to one knee for fear of spooking it, so as gently as I could I eased the sticks apart. Again, it was end-on, but this gave me the opportunity to glass the rest of the area with the Nikon binoculars, allowing me to confirm that there were no followers – this was another of the barren does.

With the rifle safely in the sticks, I brought the Burris to bear and placed the crosshairs on the animal. The clarity of the sight confirmed it was a doe and I knew the backdrop was safe. I needed it to move enough for a clear shot, but didn’t have long to wait. A gentle squeeze on the Tikka’s light trigger sent the bullet on its way. It found its mark and the deer dropped instantly to the ground. Pacing out the distance to the carcase proved it to be 93 paces. The entry wound gave testament to the accuracy of the equipment as it had struck exactly where it was placed.

Strange, isn’t it, how things sometimes fall into place after everything else seems to be intent on giving you the finger?

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