Keen to get on with the hind cull, Chris Dalton heads out onto new shooting ground with the help of his step-daughter, Jen.
This month, we are really working hard on the female cull. I like to get straight onto the hinds and does as soon as the season opens. It is a great time to stalk, and I can’t think of many nicer things than being out on the hill, or in the wood, on a crisp November morning with the rifle and Zosia.
During the first two weeks of last season, I was mostly up on the open hill with clients. We have regular guests who like to come for the start of the hind season, and a couple of regulars who book the last few days on stags and the first couple of days on hinds. So it was early November before I got back round to Garryloop, and I was keen to get out into some of my ground at home.
As the hind cull is a relatively short season, weather can play a major role. If the weather turns really hard early on higher grounds then the calves can suffer. Hinds lose condition, and both welfare issues and economic factors in terms of venison revenue play a part.
That said, I don’t want to be complacent about my roe cull either, but I have more assistance at home with regular guys who have been coming for years on a syndicate basis, and they will take the bulk of the load in a lot of the forests that we manage.
A few months previously, I took on the management of a small local estate close to home through one of my neighbouring farmers. So far – apart from a brief look around, mainly to orientate myself, sort out boundaries and check on any hazards – I have not been out with the rifle.
I was therefore very eager to get out and have a detailed look at the lie of the land here and start to get a feel for the deer situation on the ground, which lies close to a local town and has a good mix of arable field – previously used for pasture – a river and broadleaf woodland.
In short, this was ground that roe should love! The river was well interspersed with willow trees, and there was a lot of rough pasture with hawthorn and blackthorn – ideal deer habitat.
Location-wise, it would almost certainly be entirely roe, with the odd red deer showing up from time to time. To my knowledge, the ground had not been short of shooting or stalking taking place in recent years – legally, that is! So for my first foray with the rifle, it would be just me and my GPS, Zosia – you can’t take clients out on a recce.
However, Jen, my step-daughter, along with granddaughter Mia, were due at Garryloop for four or five days, and I knew Jen would not need asking twice if she wanted a stalk. Jen is now quite an accomplished shot, and has been out with me many times.
Mia, at the tender age of almost two, was not quite ready for her first outing with grandad. She had, however, developed a keen liking for venison – in particular grandad’s venison sausages.
At this time of year, getting out a first light is not exactly an early start, so Jen and I planned to have a cuppa at a very civilised 6am, leaving Mia in grandma’s capable hands. I always like to get to the ground early. I would rather have to wait for the light to come up than be rushing around. We pulled in the gateway and got kitted up – Jen had the Haenel Jaeger 10 in .243 fitted with GoPro – something I have been experimenting with to give us some different footage when filming for The Shooting Show.
It was maybe 10 or 15 minutes before we had shooting light, but I could see well enough with the Meopta binoculars to spot any roe on the track edge. My plan was to follow the farm track down to an open area, which was bounded by a bank of scrubby willow on one side and a broadleaf wood on the other, with rough grass forming a sort of basin.
I have been doing this a long time, and I just felt sure there would be deer browsing around there in the early morning. We were about to test that theory.
We had a good breeze in our favour and, as I approached the edge of the bank with the target area below us, Zosia was telling me that my instincts were right. We edged slowly down onto the bank, which had us overlooking some of the basin though gaps on the willow.
I glassed for maybe five minutes, and then picked up a doe feeding on the banking in some thick clumps of bog myrtle about 100 yards from us. At that stage I could only see one roe, and there was no shot anyway, as it was on the other side of the shrubs. I also wanted to confirm that there were no kids in tow.
I pointed the deer out to Jen, we got the rifle on the sticks, and I told her to wait. The deer moved away from us, but was also quartering down the bank, at which point a doe follower appeared. Jen did not spot them at first, as she was looking over them into the rough grass, but soon picked up the movement and repositioned the sticks a few yards left to cover the doe.
I whispered to wait and watch for the kid – as soon as the doe had moved maybe 30 yards further, the doe kid stepped into the spot she had just vacated. There was the briefest pause, and then the shot. The kid jumped, flipped half circle and disappeared back from whence it came, all in a fraction of a second.
The doe ran straight up the bank at us, stopped five feet from Zosia, who was now, to understate the case, on high alert. There was a brief Mexican stand-off before the doe shot off to cover. Zosia never moved, but was quivering like a jelly – and, it’s fair to say, keen to follow up the roe!
After this flurry of activity, which took a few seconds, neither of us knew for sure where the kid had gone, and while the reaction to the shot indicated a sound heart/lung shot, I had not heard the tell-tale crack, nor had I been able to see the deer after the shot, as it was immediately in cover, but I was sure we would find the deer not far into the trees.
Jen was concerned. Her biggest fear is wounding a deer – completely the correct attitude to have – but she is an accomplished shot, and won’t pull the trigger unless she feels 100 per cent. I was certain the deer would be dead.
After the obligatory pause of ten minutes to let everything settle, we worked down the bank. I cast Zosia out and she was off like a missile, very quickly pointing out the kid, which was 40 yards in front of us, where it had rolled down the bank and into the stream. Job done, and the first roe from this new patch, which looks as though it will live up to my stalking expectations.
Rifle: Haenel Jagersport 10 in .243
Scope: Meopta 3x12x56 R1R
Binoculars: Meopta range 10x 42 HD
Knife: Emberleaf Garron (Custom)
Boots: Ariat Catalyst Defender
Kit: Merkel UK Ltd
Roe sack: Apex Predator Napier