April is probably my favourite month in the stalking year, and while I have stalked all of the six UK deer species, and while they all have their own merits, for me the ultimate sporting quarry is the roe. It’s also a nice month to stalk: the weather is improving, daylight hours are long (but not too long) and the cover is not too high, so you can see things. Mostly during April we’re taking the young cull bucks, but it’s often a good time to find that trophy. This year I have seen some of the big old boys clean in late February, and at this early juncture they don’t seem as wary and are quite active around their patch.
So it was in late April last year I headed off to my ground in the Angus Glens with Des to do some witnessed stalks towards his Deer Stalking Certificate (DSC) Level 2. Des came to me at Garryloop for the first time last year. He is a competent stalker and had a fair grasp of the gralloch, but just needed a bit of fine-tuning and to be brought up to speed on current best practice and the requirements of the DSC 2. We had covered this over his few days’ stalking in Ayrshire and, having discussed the new ground I was managing here, he thought it would be an ideal opportunity to try and get the required three culls done for his DSC 2.
A lot of the game crops had a flush of new growth and were attracting the roe in to browse, so that often roe could be seen some way in the distance and a strategy and stalk worked out to get into them. This was ideal for me when it came to witnessing the stalk and subsequent carcass handling, while allowing me to account for the first of the bucks in this year’s cull. Des was with me for three days, and at this point we had already been out for four stalks; he had achieved his DSC 2 with three cull bucks in the larder. He had done his homework and his examination and handling of the deer was excellent; furthermore, he had adopted and mastered my preferred method of the suspended gralloch and we had three well-prepared carcasses in the chiller.
So with the main objective of the trip achieved and, in many respects, the pressure off, we could now go and look for a clean six-point buck for him. I had two likely suspects in mind. They were not massive, nor were they trophies, but they were good looking roebucks. One was often to be found in a game cover crop fairly close to the farm I use as a base when stalking here, and the other was never far from a grass ride down the side of a release pen. Neither was an easy approach – to use road access to get into their general area put you in full view while alighting from the vehicle. I fancied trying walking in across the fields and getting to them that way – the sneaky approach! So we set off in the dark and crossed a number of fields until we approached the first game crop from behind a high hedge. Our last few hundred metres were to be over a pea field, and so we ensured we made no noise getting to the hedge.
I glassed into the crop, and this is where the Swarovskis justify the price tag: it was still quite black, but I could clearly see the dark shape of two roe in front of us, and range control told me the nearest was 80 yards away. There wasn’t enough light to tell exactly what we had; I suspected probably a doe and last year’s kid, but wasn’t sure, so we waited for more light. The sound of a very noisy group of mallard right behind us dabbling around on the farm flight pond was regularly interspaced with the swoosh of teal wings as they flew off to the day roost – looking good for our first duck flight later in the year.
I like the noise for two reasons; it covers any sound we might make, and the fact that the duck are noisy and not alarmed settles the deer as well. It took an age for the half-light to brighten and allow positive identification, and when it came we did have a doe and button buck, but there was the back of a third deer just to the left of these two. After an age it comes clear of the crop, and it’s the buck we want, but no sooner can we see him than he turns and lies down – bugger!
We had the option to wait until he gets up, but I do not like the four other roe that we could now see beyond our position browsing in the hedgerow, and the wind was veering a little close to the wrong direction. I could see this all going horribly wrong. I elected to check the next area. That was only a short walk across a couple of fields and through a shelter belt of conifers to a point where we could overlook a field adjacent to the grass strip where target number two lives.
We managed to negotiate two horrible, very new barbed wire fences with manhood and trousers almost intact – though Des did have a narrow escape. As we emerged on the other side of the trees, we now had a great vantage point and could look down across the barley field and into an old release pen with the sides down, and next to that the grass ride. But nothing was out apart from the pigeons and pheasants. It was still early though, and I whispered to Des that we would wait; I often drive past here after my morning stalk and there are usually roe out, so I am reasonably confident something will appear.
Before finding a comfortable rest I take the opportunity to have a pee. Mid-flow I glance left and there we have a doe wandering into the field. I managed to conclude matters quickly and get myself out of sight. The doe moved rapidly across the field and then a buck emerged – this was a youngster, with two points in velvet, and not our man – he took the same line as the doe and crossed the field without stopping. We watched and waited. The buck went onto the grass ride but stood looking into the release pen, stiff-legged and clearly wary. I told Des to crawl forward and get onto the bipod on the edge of the field, as I bet there was another buck in cover. We sat and watched and, sure enough, a deer ran out and chased the buck away, but it was a young doe and not our buck. Des was in a perfect position, prone on the edge of the field, and the doe browsed ever nearer without a clue how fortunate she was that the calendar was not showing 21 October.
We sat enjoying the show as she browsed, stood a bit looking round and then put her head down again, feeding. Then her demeanour suddenly changed; she went rigid, head up and ears back, staring intently into the conifers to the side of us. I hissed to Des, “Watch left,” and seconds later out sprang our buck, bouncing around like a spring chicken. He started play fighting with the doe; she was not happy and the attention was clearly unwelcome, as she just stood perfectly still, eyeing the buck intently. This played full into our hands. Des was already set up and simply waited for the buck to stand still, and with the range at just over 80 yards, as soon as he did the moderated .243 barked, the buck dropped instantly with hardly a flinch and I had a very happy client. This was one trip that went exactly to plan, though many don’t! Des has booked already for early May this year, and then we go for one of the Angus big boys – watch this space because they don’t get to be trophy bucks by being daft – so we will see.
For stalking opportunities Chris and Tony can be contacted on 07710 871190, 07584 427527 or www.ayrstalk.co.uk.