Editor Pete Carr chances his luck in pursuit of a miscreant fallow buck in Bedfordshire but is nearly thwarted by a trespasser and her hound
The new day had dawned damp and misty; it was an effort to leave the warm vehicle for the questionable pleasure of the foggy gloom. Swinging the rifle over my shoulder, I turned into the gateway and strode towards the woods. Wind direction wasn’t really a worry at present as the wisps of fog actually swirled towards me, but it would be different in the trees.
I entered the wood and leaned on a nearby beech to take stock of the situation. As I suspected, the slight breeze was eddying within the trees, meaning it could be favourable one minute and totally betray my presence the next. One thing you don’t want when out stalking is ‘Eddy’, I thought to myself. I smirked at the wisecrack.
Overhead, a growing raucous clamour forewarned of an approaching parliament of rooks that soon landed in the trees above me. Unable to move as the sociable corvids would give me away, I settled into the tree trunk and took the opportunity to observe the antics of this flock-living crow. I decided that whoever had chosen the collective noun for the rook was a wise person, as this particular bunch of birds had been arguing before their arrival and continued to do so now. After a few minutes, the black flock took to their wings once more and melted back into the mist.
Taking a gamble, I carefully stalked forward and worked what wind there was to my advantage. Fortunately, my initial fears were proved unfounded as the breeze freshened ever so lightly, which helped on two counts. Firstly, the wind now stayed reasonably true to its present direction, meaning ‘Eddy’ would no longer pose a problem, and secondly it was just strong enough to disperse the lingering fog, giving me a much better field of view.
The woodland immediately came to life as the mist dispersed, with the fauna seeming to emerge as one. An amorous robin warbled its joy at the new day, closely followed by a song thrush that took up the dawn chorus and tried its best to drown out the red breast’s version of the verse. There was no doubt about it: what had started as a dismal prospect had turned into a fine morning to be out stalking.
Fallow trade was everywhere; the regular runs used by the deer looked like motorways chewing up the ground between and around the pheasant feeders. They had been trying to get to the wheat therein. A number of the hoppers had been pushed over – much to the keeper’s annoyance, I expect. This is no mean feat for a fallow deer, as the sturdy 45-gallon drums are kept full until nesting time in the late spring, and as such they are an extremely heavy object to move.
Leaning against another convenient beech, I glassed towards the next pheasant hopper and spied a fantastic-looking white fallow buck pushing the upset feeder around and licking up the spilt wheat in the process. This was some buck – he was obviously a big beast, carrying two superb paddles for antlers that were obviously of medal standard. Furthermore, this animal was clearly the delinquent who had developed the habit of pushing over the feeders for an easy meal. He had to be stopped before the habit was passed on to others of his kind.
I marvelled at the majestic white buck. I had seen white fallow before, but never had I seen a beast as big as this with such a huge hat rack. However, getting to him was certainly not going to be a doddle. Between us lay a wide, muddy ride that led into a large grass field called Great Pasture. I would have to cross that before I could even attempt to stalk into him for a shot. To do so would certainly mean him spotting me, and to make matters worse a herd of 20 fallow does also trotted on to the scene and stopped in between the buck and my present position. That was just great – I now had 21 pairs of eyes, ears and nostrils to worry about spoiling my chances of a once-in-a-lifetime buck.
Deciding to sit out the stand-off, I once more settled down to observe nature at its best. The female fallow were as much at ease as any neurotic deer can be. I soon picked out the lead doe and considered taking her as the shot was safe, after which I could in all probability take out a number of her brethren in the confusion caused by the loss of their leader. Tempted as I was, I nevertheless let them be and watched them graciously move away. The buck had to be the priority, as his bad habits needed to be addressed.
Time wore on, and I watched and waited – until a distant baying dog startled the buck into movement. He turned his huge head towards the sound of the barking and trotted off towards the rapidly receding does. I cursed the trespassing dog walker, whom I had by now picked up in the binoculars. The errant handler was letting her senseless charge run amok within a private game preserve – it made my blood boil. There was little I could do, and keen to avoid a confrontation I turned to head back the way I had come. My movement must have caught the fast-approaching dog walker’s eye, as she started to shout: “Chardonnay,” (I kid you not), “Chardonnay, come to mummy darling.” No doubt the sight of me was cause for some concern, given that her little Chardonnay was now in full cry and flushing pheasants as if its life depended on it.
I didn’t even look back, and moved off to cut a corner across the aforementioned grass pasture. Walking over a slight rise, I walked straight into the white fallow buck, which was currently rooting for sustenance below an ancient solitary oak tree. Backing away, I slowly reversed out of sight and ghosted to the ground. Crawling cautiously forward once more, I crested the rise to fortunately find the buck still in attendance but obviously now very much alert. Deploying the bipod, I fitted to the rifle and waited for the buck to turn and offer me his flank. He looked ready to bolt – I guessed that ‘Eddy’ had entered the equation once again. But as he turned to flee, I had a safe shot for the buck’s heart. Taking up the trigger pressure, I released the round. A satisfying ‘thrump’ instantly followed the report; the buck sped off in a mortal run and collapsed 40 yards or so further on, already dead on his hooves.
The trophy buck turned out to be a real topper, and later measured out as a CIC silver medal head. I am a big believer in creating your own luck, but I do concede to bad luck too – ‘Murphy’s law’ certainly applies to stalking. However, between Eddy, Murphy and Lady Luck, I had persevered, and eventually managed to grass a real buck of a lifetime.