Early September for me is a strange one in terms of accompanied stalking. We are waiting for the red rut – every day from mid-month is booked, usually years in advance – and we still have little roe activity after the rut, though they may start to show again about now. The lack of opportunities is compounded by high vegetation – maybe not in the stubble fields and on the arable ground, but most of my ground still has bracken give feet high on the margins along with rosebay willowherb. Try finding a roebuck in that lot.
So I usually plan a couple of DSC 1 training courses for this time. This coincided perfectly for Jason Doyle, who was on his way down from hill stalking in central Scotland with our illustrious editor-in-chief Pete Carr. Jason had booked in to take his DSC 1 and have a stalk on the roe as Garryloop sits on the route south to the Irish ferry terminal at Cairnryan. Additionally, Pete’s wife, Debs, who had been with them on the hill and had been talking about taking her DSC 1 for some time, decided to come down and take the assessment too. Debs had recently started to get into stalking – she had been out with Pete and, rather impressively, shot her first buck earlier in the year with him in Yorkshire. I said she might as well come out with me and learn how to stalk properly. And Pete agreed – believe that if you will…
I had organised the schedule so we covered a DSC 1 revision session on the Friday, the assessment on the Saturday and left the stalking outing to Sunday morning. As it happened, that also suited the weather forecast for the weekend. Debs passed all five elements of the DSC 1 assessment with a near perfect score and proved competent on the range.
The first part of the weekend successfully negotiated, we enjoyed a celebratory meal in a local hostelry. Pete must have been in a good mood because he paid – a truly uncommon occurrence for a fellow Yorkshireman. All we needed to do now was get Debs her first Scottish roebuck. We met early the following morning, just as a hint of daylight started to lighten the sky. My plan was to stalk close to the house. Debs was using my rifle from the shooting test – she shot with Anne’s Tikka T3 Lite in .243, fitted with a titanium Lawrence Precision moderator and Swarovski scope. So there would be no worries about her hitting the deer – I just needed to find one. We were after a cull buck – this one was on me, so we were not shooting a trophy. Remember what I said about Yorkshiremen?
I glassed the top margins of one of the fields on my ground not long after we had left the house, and could clearly see four roe browsing on the wood boundary. It was too dark to make out what they were, but by the law of averages there ought to a buck with them. My concern was that they looked to be feeding in – roe often do that and browse back in to cover at daylight, and it would take time to work up the wood margin to get into a possible shooting position. I suppose we had around 800 yards to cover to get to them. However, they were reasonably settled, so plan made, we worked into the wood and worked slowly to them, Oscar leading the way as normal. His nose was working – the wind was good and he could smell the deer.
It probably took us around 30 minutes to get the a spot where we were could leave the cover of the wood and sneak up behind some high ground from where I could have a look and see what, if anything, was still there. I did exactly this only to see three white backsides drifting in the wood. They were not spooked or aware of us – they were simply going to bed, having no doubt been feeding most of the night on and off under a big moon. There was a doe still in the field, perfectly positioned at no more than 80 yards from us. It could all have worked like clockwork if she was the other sex. Typical!
I have learnt many times not to immediately rush into plan B – at this stage it’s much better to wait a while and just take stock. The deer can reappear from cover, and there may well be other roe you have missed as your attention was fully focused on the deer you were stalking. So we waited for another 20 minutes, allowing our doe to move off after the others. Nothing else doing so we moved off, slowly working up the fence line to drift across the wood corner and headed towards a gorse and broom covered glen a few fields away.
We had gone 100 yards when Oscar suddenly got interested again. Almost simultaneously I caught movement in front of us in some birch trees across a reed-covered field drain. I could see by the way the deer was moving that this was a young buck taking his chance to have a steady mooch about as the other roe in the field had gone. We lost sight of him in the rushes but I was sure he would work clear and hopefully move down toward our position. I got Debs set on the quad sticks and we waited patiently.
Sure enough, out he came, turned right and started to work down the edge of the drain straight towards us. This can be problematic for two reasons: it’s difficult for the person on the rifle to stay calm when a deer is walking head on towards you, and often they come right in and don’t present a shot. Fair play to Debs – at my whisper, “Just stay on him, track him and if he turns then take the shot,” she remained totally focused. I could see the muzzle was steady as the buck advanced. He came forward at a slow and steady pace and then for whatever reason made the grave error of turning right at 140 yards to sniff at a large dock leaf. I gave the ok and the rifle cracked; he dropped to the shot with no more than a brief twitch and that was it.
Debs had remained calm throughout the whole process. Considering we actually stalked for perhaps three field lengths, it was a cracking morning. At no time were any deer, or other wildlife for that matter, aware of us. We had been out for under two hours, seen six roe deer in total, and selected one beast to cull for sound deer management. Now then Debs… DSC2?