With the roe rut drawing to a close, Mark Brackstone locates a magnificent malformed buck for his shooting companion – but the onset of nerves causes hope to fade fast
Jan put his .243 onto the cross sticks and aimed at the massive buck that was courting a doe. He breathed deeply, getting his nerves under control, then applied pressure to the trigger. The crack from his rifle rang out; the buck spun around, trying to locate the source of the disturbance, and then ran. My heart missed three beats. I was dismayed – after all this, he had missed it.
But it started a long time before that…
In the build-up to the rut, we spent many hours going on recce for old trophy bucks. We knew of about 15, but in June I had seen an absolute monster but from a considerable distance. The antlers looked very thick, possibly in a weird configuration, but he vanished before I could get my Grey & Co draw scope on him for a clearer image.
I returned to the area three or four times during July in an attempt to locate and evaluate his headgear, but never got a further glimpse of him. I put it down to my ‘transient buck theory’, and assumed he had been on walkabout and had since moved on to pastures new.
Three days before Jan and his friend arrived, I decided to visit the area again. Feeling lazy, I opted to crawl around the headlands on the quad bike; every now and then I would stand on the rear rack and glass areas or look over hedges from my elevated position.
I went around each field, carefully spying for half-hidden roe heads in the cereal crops. I saw quite a few bucks, does and kids but nothing to really excite me.
I ended up travelling along the head of a bean field. Conscious that at three to four feet high, the beans would completely hide any deer, I failed to give the crop much attention. I was halfway along one side of the 40-acre field, standing on the footrests to look over the hedge, when a movement in the beans about 50 yards away caught my attention. A large area had been missed by the drill when planting the beans, or maybe pigeons had damaged it; in any case there was about half an acre where the crop was sparse and weeds had grown to a couple of feet.
Stopping the quad and raising the binoculars, I spied a buck’s ears and a pair of thick black antlers with several points. I carefully stood up on the quad seat and focused intently on the buck. My pulse raced and adrenalin flowed through my veins. This was a spectacular buck, carrying a normal but heavily pearled thick antler on the left and a small forest of tines on his right antler. The abnormal antler really was magnificent – to my excited mind it was the thickness of a cake tin at the base. As flies were pestering the buck, he would not keep still long enough for me to count the tines, but I had no doubt this was a very special trophy buck.
Jan arrived with his friend; I told him that we had some good old bucks for him to try for, and would he like to try for a thick, non-typical buck? He asked me what it looked like; I found a biro and paper and did a quick, poor-quality sketch for him. Jan’s response was: “Yes, yes, I must have this buck.”
The following day I took Jan to the vicinity where I had seen the trophy buck. First we stalked the area, and later I drove around the bean field in my Land Rover, stopping at various spots where I could stand on the bull bar and look into the beans. After two hours of searching to no avail, we left the area and went to look for another animal, which luckily we found and harvested.
Over the next two days, events pretty much stayed the same, except that on a couple of occasions we saw a two-year-old buck with a doe in the area where I had originally seen the malformed buck. Both Jan and I knew that this was not a good sign – it looked like the big buck had probably moved on. On the third evening we went around the bean field and saw nothing – an outcome we were getting used to – and we proceeded to stalk around the adjacent wheat field. Just as our hope was all but lost, we rounded the field corner and I saw two deer not more than 80 yards away. I guessed it would be the two-year-old buck and raised my binos slowly, but I gasped as I realised it was the old boy. Once again I paused to appreciate just how good he really was.
After deploying the stalking sticks, I whispered smartly to Jan: “That’s him, take him when you can.” That’s when he missed. In my extensive experience, once a hunter misses he is usually experiencing buck fever – and if he is, it is only going to get worse.
The buck and doe paused at about 100 yards, but due to the moderator he had thankfully still not clocked our location. Jan continued to track him with the reloaded rifle. I sternly whispered to Jan: “Do not shoot unless you are sure.” The last thing I wanted was a wounded deer, especially when we were this close to an extremely thick bean crop. There was an atmosphere of intense anticipation – which was then shattered by a long crack from Jan’s rifle. The buck collapsed. “Reload and cover his position,” I instructed, spying the buck’s still form and looking for any signs of life.
We waited like this for five minutes or so until the doe wandered off. I looked at my hands, and to my surprise they were shaking. Even I had a touch of buck fever.
We approached Jan’s buck and what a superb old trophy buck it turned out to be. He had 10 points, which later weighed at 640g; were he not malformed would easily be of gold medal status on weight alone. Our perseverance had paid off. Jan was absolutely delighted and asked me to cape the buck for taxidermy. I estimated the buck to be seven years old as his teeth were well worn. The bullet had entered the boiler room a little high and shocked the spine, causing him to collapse, but he had quickly succumbed and died almost instantly.
The two-year-old we had seen also showed lots of promise, and would probably benefit from the removal of the old buck. I could not help but wonder if I might be lucky enough to find him again in the future, when he was six or seven years old and hopefully haunting the same area.