Winter roe doe stalking is an underrated pastime. So many stalkers want to chase the antlers of summer that they often neglect the most important part of population control. Buck selection and weeding out the weak or lesser animals obviously helps to improve the quality of your stock, but does little for overall population management in terms of total numbers. That is done by managing the females. I see it often when individuals take vast tracts of stalking to guide clients for the lucrative bucks during the spring and summer months, and will barely set foot on the ground hunting does.
This tends to be less true for the amateur stalker, who is glad of any opportunity to get out with the rifle and test their skills. It is an important time of year, and you can learn a lot about the animals on your ground, with the deer forming larger groups. It also makes for easy side-by-side comparison when trying to select suitable cull animals.
The year in question has a big influence on the cull plan. If, like this year, the previous winter was mild, roe numbers will likely be good, with high survival rates, encouraging an increase in the number of twins and triplets come summer. More than the last 10 years, this season I have noted a marked increase in the amount of roe present, and this is despite careful monitoring every year. They have simply bred well, and as a result I will be taking more does than normal.
Knowing the land is important and helps to make best use of the time available. Select the ground that will provide the best opportunities given the prevailing weather conditions. I have one farm in particular where half the land is all but useless when a west wind is blowing because of the location of the access to the permission. On such an occasion it is far better to concentrate my time elsewhere.
Of course, one frustrating aspect of some smaller permissions is that the deer aren’t always resident on your ground all the time. All too often the deer you want to shoot are merrily going about their business on the other side of the fence. There is nothing you can do about this, but time spent observing is never wasted. Trying to work out their routine and where they cross back over can make the next stalk a clinical affair.
It is often surprising just how predictable roe can be if they are left undisturbed. That is why it’s important to vacate an area you have been monitoring without spooking the deer. The same is true when a shot is taken. Beyond waiting the default five or 10 minutes for the shot roe to bleed out, I always make sure that the rest of the beasts have moved off in their own time without being pushed. This will make your life easier next time you stalk the same group.
This year I started early on the does, beginning just after the season opened. Normally I like to wait for the kids to come on a bit first, only shooting the odd yearling without kids. They were much further on than in previous seasons, and I was keen to get my visiting South African friend a good chance to stalk into some roe before he left.
It was the perfect chance for him to enjoy some sport and for me to get a jump on the daunting numbers I had to take out. Being away with work for a half a month at a time, it doesn’t take a lot of bad weather to push the culling efforts well into the new year, and I always endeavour to be wrapped up by the end of February if possible.
Devan and I had enjoyed some excellent mixed sport already, shooting geese and grouse with David Virtue, and taking stags in Skye with Scott Mackenzie. It had been a productive few days with the two of us working different areas of my permissions to tally seven roe, with two already processed from the week before. It had been good going, and would certainly help to lift some of the pressure for me as the season wore on.
Last year I joined David with clients from over the border, hunting with him for the second year in a row. Does represent great value for the hunter unconcerned with taking home a trophy so it is a great way to introduce people to stalking. Paul Foggin had joined friend Carl Redhead for the first time, hoping to claim his first roe. When I met them one cool February morning, the conditions were ideal. Despite this, it was only at the very end of the morning that a real opportunity presented itself.
Passing an area close to a recently felled forest, a handful of roe stood boldly at the top edge of a shallow rift in the land, running from the road where we drove by, 400 yards along to the clear fell. Parking out of sight further along the field, we were conveniently already on the right side of the wind. With a bit of patience and a careful stalk, it wasn’t going to be too difficult to get into position.
In our favour, a beech hedge ran down within reasonable shooting distance, but it had seen better days, standing bare along a few stretches. Working steadily along, keeping one eye on the group to make sure nothing had drawn their attention to our advance, we were soon nestled up with a good, clear view. Deploying the bipod of David’s Tikka T3, Paul took his time to get comfortable, honing in on the selected doe under David’s direction.
Poised in the still before the rifle’s bark, we watched on, binos fixed firmly on the roe in question. In moments the calm was broken by the doe dropping to the shot. The rest quickly moved off, but they could be tackled another day. It was a good animal to take with new planting beginning next year, but this was just the start for David. He had a lot of stalking ahead of him before he could take some time out
David runs DV Sporting, and can be contacted on 07866 901019, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dvsporting.co.uk