Sporting shot Mike Yardley advocates the pursuit of roe, looks at a few finer points of the sport, and reveals what works best for him when stalking
I love to stalk roe deer, and I probably stalk more of them than any other species. Roe present special challenges. Like most, I do most of my roe shooting in either woodland or fields, and I would say that my average range is about 100 yards but with considerable variation. The light is often marginal.
I manage with a pretty standard scope – though by choice for roe stalking, I would be using a fairly large objective variable power with an illuminated aiming dot. I could end up shooting at 30 yards or less in dense woodland (when a low power setting can come in handy) – though typically in that situation it’s about 50-75 yards. Most of my field shots would be something between 90 and 150 yards, with the occasional opportunity out beyond 200 or even 250 yards, though this is something that I would generally try to avoid. The rule is if you are not sure of a clean kill, don’t take it.
One may, sensibly, use smaller bore rifles (the .22 centrefires) for roe in Scotland. This is not the case in England and Wales, where the .240 calibre, 1,700ft/lb of energy minimum is still in place (though one may now use the .22 centrefires for muntjac and Chinese water deer).
It does not make much difference to me, however. I am a .308 boy. My friends use .243s and 6.5s for roe, not to mention various odd exotic rounds. I tend to stick to the .308 for everything, with a 150-grain bullet or thereabouts. Fred Ward, one of my great stalking chums and a man who has shot more deer than 100 average stalkers, has cooked up the following load, which we both use: 46.3 grains of Vihtavuori N140 pushing a 150-grain Speer 2022 bullet out of a Lapua case at over 2,800fps (depending on ambient temperature and other factors). It works brilliantly.
I cannot over-emphasise, meanwhile, the importance of getting to know your gun and its cartridge-bullet combination as well as you possibly can. Some people seem just to go out and buy a box of cartridges and not think much more about it beyond a rough zero. I saw someone who fell into this category recently, and their performance in the field was, frankly, shocking. Roe are a mid-sized species and can offer challenging shots at all ranges, especially beyond 100 yards. I do occasionally take a neck shot, but I do not recommend them generally. I never take head shots.
Head shots, though they are effectively or actually encouraged by some game dealers, can be very bad news even for experienced shots. The trouble with head shots is that one can all too easily inflict a terrible, but not immediately fatal wound, for example shooting the lower jaw off. Stick to heart or shoulder shots (my preference is the latter). Only take a neck shot as a last resort when nothing else is available and when you are sure that you are within sensible range in a stable enough position to make the shot.
When shooting roe, I am not the least bit ashamed of taking advantage of every aid I can. It might be a stick or staff in the woods, my favoured cross-sticks with rubberised tie to allow for instant or very rapid changes to height, a tripod (which has the disadvantage of being slow to deploy), the trunk of a tree or a heavy branch. Bipods are good news, but I do not like the short ones – those with longer legs to allow for sitting and kneeling shots are a much better bet. If you use a bipod, you will want a gun with a reasonably rigid forend, preferably in laminate or a reinforced synthetic material. Otherwise, you may get shifts in impact.
Consulting my ‘brain’s trust’, I asked Alan McCormack (BASC) and Roland Wild (Holland & Holland) for their comments too. This is what they said, Alan first:
“When taking up roe stalking, it is a good strategy to learn how to use sticks effectively, as you will be spending much time glassing cover and they provide a very stable support for the protracted use of binoculars. In the winter, concentrate on viewing the rump of roe deer to more easily identify the females from their downward-protruding tuft of white hair [when roe have cast their antlers in the winter, the female is of course distinguished by the white anal tuft].
“When it comes to taking the shot, ensure you have practised from all positions using your sticks for support as you may not be able to move, there may not be any other support available and a shooting opportunity may be lost. If possible, train a dog to follow up deer that cannot be initially located. The dog will bring much more pleasure to your stalking outings and will in many cases indicate the presence of deer long before you become aware of them. If you are using a dog to follow up a deer and doubt starts to creep into your mind, always follow the dog – they are rarely wrong.”
Roland Wild of H&H, who I regard as a master of the sporting rifle, was equally pragmatic: “The roe deer or woodland stalker may tend to take shorter shots than the red deer or hill stalker but may have to face more challenging problems when taking the shot. When I zero my rifle – a Tikka T3 in .243 Win – I use a 50-75 yard point of aim shot.
“The difference between a strike at this range and 100 yards is, to all intents and purposes, negligible. Why the short range? Because it tends to be the distance from which most of my woodland shots are taken. I honestly cannot remember the last time I last took a shot in the woods beyond 125 yards. Zeroing a rifle for the hill is a different matter.” For the record, Roland favours 1.5in high at 100 when stalking on the hill.
Once you know where your rifle shoots, Roland advocates getting off a rest or table and practising your positional shooting, using sticks, standing, sitting and kneeling, and, trying to master offhand marksmanship too. There will be occasions when you will need to shoot without an aid.
I might add that I have learnt to shoot off the wrong shoulder, which has come in handy a couple of times when I have been using a tree trunk for cover. You may also want to use a .22 for training purposes on range because the ammunition is cheap; nevertheless, it requires all the same handling discipline.
As for bullet placement, Roland, like me, errs on the side of caution. He favours heart shots. “I put the crosshairs on the top of the heart, relax my breathing and concentrate on making a good trigger squeeze,” he notes, “always ensuring the finger pressure travels straight back down the longitudinal axis of the rifle and with no sideways movement. Follow-through after the shot is important. Keep the cheek on the stock and don’t lift the face.” Amen to that.
Never take ‘low percentage’ or chancy shots. In the wise words of Mr Wild: “It is 100 per cent or no shot at all. Anyone who says or thinks a head shot is either a clean kill or a clean miss is sadly deluding themselves. A deer with a jaw shot off will just run without giving the stalker a chance for a quick follow-up shot. the stalker might even think they have made a complete miss and make no further effort at all to check. All in all it is a bad practice that should be discouraged.” It is the stalker’s absolute duty to do the best by his or her quarry, not just prove what a good shot he is.