Pete Carr takes radical action to achieve his cull in the Angus Glens and explains which deer dogs are best for this type of work
Every estate has, or should have, a cull plan for its deer herd. Normally it is imperative to shoot more females than males within that plan to keep the health and growth of the herd in check. However it is usually easier to take out the males for a variety of reasons. Many a deer manager will relate to this, and just as many again will have felt the pressure of having to attain the required cull figure with the season’s end fast approaching. Even amateur stalkers with their own ground will have a cull plan to adhere to and again the cause for concern will be culling enough females.
Typically, trophy hunters will put the time in during the buck season, for obvious reasons. Unless they are particularly partial to venison they may be unwilling to spend as much time on the does. In the course of my work I have met many stalkers who profess that they are not trophy hunters, but very few who were unwilling to take a trophy animal if a shot was offered and none who did not want to keep the antlers afterwards.
Personally, I like both trophies and venison but prefer stalking in the winter months as this is the time of year when I am unhindered by clients and the associated pressures of finding them a suitable buck. Roe doe stalking is terrific value for money, and letting out a few days is a useful way of attaining your cull in a short space of time while adding a few coins to the kitty.
I used to manage the stalking on a wonderful little roe forest in the Angus Glens on the Glen Trusta estate. It was on the edge of the Highlands and marched with a well-stocked grouse moor that teemed with mountain hares and had some super stag stalking in the rut. Glen Trusta was a real gem of a roe forest and was also known as the windy glen, for good reason.
Commercial letting was the order of the day there as it was a private estate and had to make itself pay. A beautiful trout loch stocked with a variety of game fish and rough shooting were well-established and making money. The stalking was untapped at that time and I was brought in to manage the burgeoning roe population – and what an opportunity it was.
It was obvious from the first buck season that there were too many deer on the ground as their body weights were extremely light compared to the deer that resided on neighbouring estates. Hitting the required cull target was certainly cause for concern and required some serious planning. What I decided to do has stood me in good stead ever since.
Geographically, Glen Trusta was a problem as I was based in Yorkshire. Winter weather considerations were another major problem during the doe season, and this meant I had a relatively small window to achieve my cull numbers. In the first year I had only taken six females and time was running out. I decided to hit them hard towards the season’s close with a group who I could trust to shoot well, as clean carcases were imperative for the game dealer.
It goes without saying that you would need to know your ground well, and I had a number of well-placed high seats dotted around the estate that had proved their worth in the buck season. I was going to work the estate in a number of sections over a long weekend in an attempt to address the situation across the area.
This entailed the use of six rifles, placed in high seats, and one man with dog who would stalk the covered block carefully with the wind before working it back slowly and quietly, keeping the dog close in an attempt to move – and not drive – the deer towards the rifles in ambush. All deer are alerted by the scent of a dog.
Silence is crucial when placing clients in high seats and can make the difference between failure and success. This is even more apparent when several people are involved in a particular operation such as this.
We headed out into the forestry well before dawn, left the vehicles at the estate entrance and split into two teams to keep noise to a minimum. Chris Whyke, who would be the stalker, took two rifles with him and I, who had furthest to go, took one with me. Everybody was eventually in position and, after I left my charge safely ensconced in his seat, the paling eastern sky heralded the approaching sunrise. The temperature dropped a degree or two, as it does in the pre-dawn, and coupled with the damp conditions it caused each niggle and injury to ache like hell. The pre-arranged start couldn’t come soon enough.
A sharp report in the distance announced first blood and that the deer were on the move.
Chris carefully stalked the rides and glades into the wind with the hound at heel. Occasional shots sounded promising; I just hoped that they were not all directed at foxes. I had considered putting a ban on shooting them during the exercise but decided against it as to pass up on shooting Reynard is a tall order on an estate with game shooting concerns.
The 12ft stands of sitka spruce and Douglas fir stood before me. All was quiet apart from an intermittent rifle report and the odd kronk, kronk of the raven as it shied away from me in surprise. Soon afterwards, a mature doe stepped nervously into the open and looked behind her, hinting that she had either been disturbed or had followers still in the trees. I waited, not wanting to orphan any roe kids, and sure enough a young roe followed her into the open. Drawing a bead up the young roe’s front leg I settled the reticle on the heart and lung area and released a 100-grain Norma soft-point. The positive thud of a bullet striking home saw the follower burst into a death sprint. I reworked the bolt and swung on to the old doe that fled across the glade. She stopped before entering the trees and looked back, which proved her undoing. I halted my breath and added another roe to the tally.
Not long afterwards, Chris came onto the ride and waved his hat at me. It had been him who moved the two roe towards me. I acknowledged his wave and he disappeared around the bend with his faithful labrador Fern at heel.
I didn’t have another chance at a shot that morning, but when we stopped after our first session we had an impressive bag of 11 roe. That evening we resumed the offensive in an adjacent block and took six more by the same method. The total for the weekend was 29 roe; it was 85 per cent of my required cull figure taken in just one well-planned weekend.
I must stress that an operation of this kind only works once each season, as the deer seem to become wise to it immediately, but it can be effective and is often the only option if you are well behind on numbers. The objective is to quietly move, not drive, the deer.
On the continent, specific breeds of hound have been developed to move roe to static rifles placed in high seats, and this method is used extensively for both bucks and does.
The difference is this: a short-legged scent hound sticks to the roe’s route and slowly presses it to move forwards until it passes a high seat. A mobile stalker moves around the roe’s territory, and his presence or scent compels the wary roe to use their escape routes and deer paths. Even one operation of this kind per season is enough to show the remaining deer the error of following these routes. The hound, on the other hand, is relentless and gives the deer no let up, forcing them to consider what is coming from behind instead of the danger that may be ahead.
You may ask why we shouldn’t cast off the labrador to achieve the same thing. A labrador, or any dog with much length of leg, would move the deer too fast, forcing them to bolt in a straight line and disappear into the distance. These European purpose-bred breeds, originating from bassets, have very short legs, making them slow plodders and good speakers. Breeds such as the Drever hound and the Basset bleu de Gascogne push the roe just enough for them to make a figure of eight around their territory, and are ideal for this purpose.
Needless to say, safety considerations are paramount in an operation such as this. Static rifles must be briefed about no-shoot areas, the route taken by the stalking rifle and any possible emergence points near their position. Both the stalking rifle and his accompanying dog should wear some blaze orange to make them readily visible. With correct planning this is a very efficient way to catch up on cull numbers and has pulled me out of the mire on a number of occasions in the past.