Annually we get a number of enquiries from stalkers looking for Chinese water deer trophies.
A large proportion of these come from visiting Europeans or Americans who will stalk several species in one trip. Our English clients, on the other hand, are typically looking to close out their UK six with a nice medal head.
The fact that visiting well-heeled hunters are willing to pay top money for quality heads has meant the price for trophies has risen sharply in recent years. The demand is high and the population limited.
When compared with other species, these must currently be the most valuable deer pound for pound. This could well be why many English stalkers will leave the CWD to last on their list of desired trophies. When looking for a decent medal head with a top outfit, be prepared to spend close to, if not well into, four figures.
As with any deer, the stalker must remain alert as an opportunity can arise at any time. However, most shots are carefully considered after a thorough glassing and trophy estimation, and are taken either prone or from a high seat. When stalking on foot, the going will be fairly easy, but you will walk the miles as the fields are bigger than average in water deer territory.
When choosing your equipment for a stalk on these interesting little deer, any deer-legal, flat-shooting calibre will be sufficient to get the job done. Far more important are your binoculars, and preferably a good spotting scope as well. Accurately judging trophy quality at a distance is tough and easy to get wrong. This is where an experienced guide becomes invaluable to the client. He will have all the kit, know where to locate a good buck and help you identify it clearly prior to taking the shot.
I always like to view a piece of ground with the resident stalker before placing any bookings. After all, how can anyone sell what they’ve never seen and experienced? Therefore, with a view to this species a colleague and I recently went to Bedfordshire to check out a new area and operator. After the usual introductions and a quick chat we got straight down to business.
This was a large arable farm with huge open wheat and rape fields broken up by copses and rushy dykes. Within minutes of leaving the vehicles, we were seeing slots and trade along the field margins. Rounding a headland corner, our guide stopped suddenly and, after a quick check with his binoculars, placed his sticks ready for a shot. Unfortunately the sighted buck had fled at the presence of human forms, but we were buoyed up by the early opportunity.
It quickly became apparent that the farm also hosted a sizeable commercial pheasant shoot, and the deer had been pushed from pillar to post every week since the season began. As our stalk continued we saw more and more sign that this piece of land was heavily populated with deer. On several occasions we were able to glass large bucks at distance but making an approach proved tricky.
Stalking the hedges and dykes, we saw better than 50 deer during the morning, but no shot was presented. Most were bumped at close range and failed to stop or even look back. Sometimes just a short bark heralded the imminent flush, and all we saw clearly were bouncing rumps disappearing at speed over several fields and away into the distance. Our guide was obviously feeling as concerned as we were at the lack of tolerance the animals were showing us.
A combination of the pressure from regular drives for the driven shoot and an abundance of coursers in the area had made this farm almost un-stalkable on foot. The decision was taken to resort to high seats for the evening – not my favourite way to shoot deer, but in cases like this, needs must. We were placed in the most likely spots – my friend was overlooking a rush bed from a free standing continental style tower while I was in position beside a large copse abutted by a maize and sorghum cover strip interspersed with spring feeders.
Thirty minutes passed before the report of an unmoderated .243 rang out across the flat expanse of wheat separating my companion and I. Turning my full attention back to the ground in front of me I squinted through the binos and tried to identify any deer within the 200 yards or so visibility: Movement. Binos up, I focused beneath a feeder 100 yards to my right. It was a CWD buck all right, but how big?
As the cold crept through me, the light faded quickly and I lost touch with my fingers. I made the decision that this was enough – we all have limits. I took aim on the chest of the tiny beast, which was steadily working its way along the cover crop. At this range I should be sure of a neck shot, but the cold had sapped my body and a chest shot it had to be.
As he stopped I squeezed the trigger, which felt incredibly light through a frozen finger. I watched the buck lurch and fall a few feet from the shot site. I could bear the cold no more so climbed immediately down from my seat and took refuge behind a stunted blackthorn while keeping the buck in sight.
After a few minutes I approached, and it became apparent that my buck was no huge trophy. I collected him and made my way toward the agreed meeting point. My friend had also dispatched the first animal to show, a doe with no follower.
After quick pictures we thanked our host and departed with the venison and memories of a truly testing day on all counts.
Stalking for all species, including Chinese water deer, is available with the Shavesgreen team throughout the season. Contact: www.shavesgreen.com & 07706 395979 or 02380 282941