As March is to the salmon angler, so September is to the deer stalker. The spring month sees the early runs of salmon making their way up stream, the slight warming of the water and the first rays of sunshine. September for the stalker heralds the start of a new season, the cutting of the crops and early indications of the red deer rut.
With our various deer species this month provides more prospect than retrospect except in the case of roe deer. Between mid-July and mid-August the lucky and persistent stalker will have watched roe in their rut. The word “privilege” comes to mind while watching buck and doe chasing in rings. The doe has the consummate skills of a seductress while the buck is ever the love-stricken swain. Observed in the open, while being called, his behaviour is, well, louche. If with a doe, he makes to sidle off in a shady way with the mien of a faithless man. The excitement of calling and shooting a roe buck in the rut is not to be denied. It is thrilling.
However there is no need to shoot every buck encountered or called. A promising youngster can be carefully inspected at close range and properly spared.
A mature six-pointer – ‘the father of my herd’ – can also be allowed to go about his business. One day he will grow old and his time will come.
With roe being so tight in their territory there is a real opportunity to manage the species to maintain a decent population that the public can enjoy as an amenity while satisfying somewhat the relentless demands for culling by the nature lobby (shame on them) and the foresters. A combination of heavy culling and, perhaps, a burgeoning muntjac population are bringing about a serious drop in roe deer numbers in some localities and the disappearance of this most charming of species from its usual haunts would be a retrograde outcome given the work and legislation on behalf of the species since 1963.
I am lucky enough to be able to recollect some great moments in the roebuck rut. On the morning of 29 July I was hosting a young friend for an indifferent six-point buck. It was dark when I took him to the track behind the high seat. I explained to him where the high seat was and that his biggest problem would be to get into it undetected. Telling him to take his time in the approach I watched while he disappeared into the pre dawn dark before going off to stalk elsewhere. On my return the scrappy buck was hanging in an ash tree behind the high seat and my thrilled young friend was able to recount the story of his cull. Suffice for me to say how pleased I was that my plan had actually worked for us.
The following day was a Sunday morning and so ideal for a visit to my intensively farmed stalking in the fens. The problems of stalking this farm are legion not least the lack of backstop on the very flat ground. However this morning I was in luck. I was able to walk into a stack of giant bales and secrete myself in these. Calling, once the light came, had two roe bucks taking an interest – one in front and the other behind. Eventually the front buck came into range and presented for a shot. A beast from this farm is always welcome and as he was a poor four pointer I had no qualms about taking him in this instance.
These were month-old memories when I shot my first pricket of the season on 4 September from Squeaky. This is a high seat that was christened with that name by a friend after it squeaked loudly between his first and what would have been his second shot from a parcel of fallow on the field. The offending high seat has long since been replaced by a non squeaking successor but the name has stuck. On this evening the shadows were lengthening and the last jogger had gone before a small parcel of does emerged from the adjacent woodland. They kept looking back into the wood and I thought I knew why. Sure enough a pricket popped out and I waited for him to get well clear of the wood edge before getting into action. I wanted a beast down and dead on the stubble and this was achieved. The does of course fled as if all the wolves in Europe were chasing them. My pricket was a superb young fallow, fat and heavy from a summer’s feeding.
Most of my prickets shot in August and September are tailing parcels of fallow does. The does definitely lead these groups and I have seen them standing motionless inside the woodland edge observing the field on which they intend to emerge and graze. When I shoot a pricket from their number I am of course reminding those does that their observation is an important part of their defensive strategy. I am also educating them that the safest time to come out of the woodland is in the dark. With this downside in mind, it’s best to limit “sport” with the prickets to avoid making the ever wary does even more fly than they usually are.
It’s tempting at times to take on a muntjac while waiting for fallow, an opportunity that becomes more frequent as the combinable crops are harvested. For a little while, before the cultivator and plough come in the muntjac are easily seen and shot. My stalking guests vary in their approach to these small deer. Unless otherwise instructed most of them take them on and, sitting on afterwards, sometimes get a shot at a fallow. One of my guests once shot six from the same high seat and another, quite recently, grassed three without moving.
As this month moves on the urge to hunt in the Highlands of Scotland becomes overwhelming. The happiness engendered by a week “at the stags” cannot be gainsaid as this year’s experiences out on the hill merge with those already in the memory bank. As Robert Burns famously put it: “My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here / My heart’s in the Highlands a- chasing the deer.”