Protection mission

Credit: Szczepan Klejbuk

Chris Dalton doesn’t often stalk on summer evenings, but a pair of bucks with their eyes (and antlers) on his fruit trees has him breaking the habit and heading out with the rifle

Summer stalking for an outfitter is challenging to say the least – particularly so for me, as we are up at silly o’clock and out ‘til it’s nearly time to get up again! For the clients it’s great, we get in after the 3am start, have breakfast and a chat, and then they go back to bed during the day. I have never been able to do that as there always seems to be something to do around the place and I can’t settle. I have never minded getting up, but if I have to do both ends of the day it starts to catch up with you very quickly. Now I have my team of stalkers we can spread the load; I prefer mornings and let the guys do the late evenings. I have always been a morning person, up early irrespective of what I have on, but I like to be in bed early by the same token.

As time moves on, the cubs will start hunting on their own while still keeping in close contact with the vixen and their siblings. This would bring sounds similar to mating calls that can be heard at this time of year, the most common being the triple ‘ow, ow, ow’ contact call. As the cubs become active they can be quite destructive, largely down to their small size. In the same way that young rabbits can squeeze into places fully grown adults cannot, so young foxes will gain access to areas closed off to their older mates.

A good opportunity to teach new stalking dog Zosia the art of patience, Chris enjoys the surroundings while knowing the dogs will alert him to the presence of deer

Summer early mornings for me are fantastic; we live in south-west Scotland in a very quiet area. I don’t like to see people when I am out stalking and I rarely do – even in the winter months when stalking times coincide with peak dog-walking activities. This is even less likely at three in the morning!

In late June we had clients in and the guys were looking after them. I had done a few morning stints and had no plans to stalk on one particular evening, but a wander round one of my ponds changed that. I have dug a small flight pond in a paddock in my top field, and some years ago planted fruit trees around the pond margins. This supplies a local restaurant with cherries and plums during the season. That evening I had gone for a wander at last light with the dogs up around the paddocks and ended up by the pond – both dogs got keyed up, noses in the air as I went through the top gate, so I knew there were deer about. Normally I leave the roe alone in my fields – unless they start damaging my trees too much. As I stood at the side of the gate I could see the lower branches of my prime Victoria plum being very vigorously thrashed by a decent roebuck, not only that, a few minutes later a second buck, a corking six-pointer, jumped the fence and came in a-challenging, and then having chased good buck number one off, went back to the same tree and started to finish the job. He was only disturbed when Zosia, my young GSP, decided she wanted to go and chase the deer, but pulled up sharp at some choice language from me. At this, the buck ambled off and jumped the fence, but not before giving me a challenging bark before pushing off into the conifers. One of the boys would have to go.

The next evening saw me heading up the field margin to a point slightly above my pond. From here I could see any deer emerging from the boundary wood, and approach through the field to a point where one of the culprits could be removed. Both were good bucks; one looked to be in his prime and was a medal head of some size, the other looked an older buck, probably past his best, and the fact he had allowed himself to be chased away served to confirm this. I would prefer to take him out and leave the good lad alone – he will be the stand buck and better for me to leave him as master of this particular bit of turf. Her indoors, who loves to see roe about and often will comment that, “It’s a shame to shoot them,” when I return from my hunter-gatherer activities with next week’s tea in tow, has a different agenda when said deer are damaging her garden or fruit trees. “It’s a shame to shoot them” is forgotten: “Go up there and shoot the blasted things, if you don’t I am going to!”

This old boy had been fraying a prime plum tree, and lost out on territory to a younger challenger, so was Chris’s first choice of target

It was also a useful training opportunity, as I could take both dogs and get Zosia used to sitting with me and waiting, starting to instil the patience that is required in a stalking dog. Hopefully she might pick up a tip or two from Oscar, the master stalking hound. There is really something very special about sitting on a summer’s evening watching a sunset, with nature going about its business undisturbed. You really tune in to the sounds and sights, things that most folk miss in their haste to get from A to B. I suppose I was sat for around an hour, listening to the sounds of the wood, watching the pup with an occasional hiss as she starts to fidget. Oscar I need take no notice of – he sits, nose up, head occasionally moving in a 180-degree arc as he tests the wind. I can switch off; I only need to wait for the dog to let me know something of interest is about. That’s exactly what happened, but it was Zosia who started to show interest, with her nose going up, and I could see the tension in her body as her muscles tightened. Now, I am not 100 per cent confident that what she is getting geed up about is deer, but when Oscar starts to go on point I know there are either deer here already, or that they are on their way.

Sure enough, when I glass into the cover there’s a roebuck. I never saw him come in, nor jump the fence, but he may well have been laid up and simply stood up to browse and check his patch. I have the opportunity to glass and see exactly who this is – irrespective of the good lady, the medal buck isn’t getting shot tonight. As it happens it’s buck number one, as I thought an older animal with a broken tine end and grey face – perfect. He is in my field and working up the fence line towards an area where the grass had been flattened by heavy rain. Range is exactly 180 yards, so I need not move other than to slide up the bank to a grassy knoll, set up the bipod, and wait. With the rifle in bench-rest position, and my Browning 6.5×55 shooting an inch high at 100 yards, I needed do nothing other than put the crosshairs where I want to hit. It seemed to take an age for him to appear fully in the open at my selected ambush point, as he slowly worked through the cover heading in the direction of my trees. I did not even have to bark to stop him before he gained cover at the other side of the clearing, he stood fully broadside testing the wind and dropped on the spot with hardly a twitch at the shot.

All was perfect – apart, that is, from the young GSP who decided the shot was her cue to rush in and ‘find’ the dead deer for me! Oscar, on the other hand, just looked at me with a resigned expression.

For stalking opportunities Chris can be contacted on 07710 871190 or via www.ayrstalk.co.uk

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