David Barrington Barnes rescues a blank outing with an opportunistic shot on a muntjac buck that provides a welcome reminder of the benefits of good practice
I felt my way into the high seat at the back of Park Wood before it was light. This seat leans against an oak tree and overlooks the central ride. I made it into the seat without disturbing any animals as far as I was aware. I then settled in by securing my stalking bag and slipping a polystyrene pad under my backside. I usually carry one to reduce damp and discomfort, and to restrict my fidgeting to a minimum.
The next two hours passed pleasantly enough. Early on, before it was light, I heard a barn owl hooting. Nothing unusual in that as there are several in the vicinity. Then a pair of crows called before appearing to fly off elsewhere. There were a few pheasants flying down from their perches – survivors of the recent game shooting season. Most of these flew down onto the ride where, for a while, they would stay still before going about their morning business. Only one cock bird walked past below me, but he stopped several times as if aware something was suspicious. I kept perfectly still and bested him as he scuttled past, making his way out of the wood and into the new plantation behind it. This encounter gave me confidence in the effectiveness of my ambush location.
On past form I was hoping to see and shoot a fallow deer. Their usual crossing point was 80 yards down the ride – a routine shot so long as the selected doe would stop for a moment and give me a fair chance. I made a mental review of the fallow I had shot from this seat and where they had been standing when shot. While sitting up and thinking about this, I was making regular sweeps of the ride and the woodland on either side. To my left there was a predominantly coniferous compartment, while on the right there was a deal of regeneration underneath some varieties of hardwood.
After making the umpteenth sweep without seeing the hair of a single deer, I began convincing myself that the wood was thin and lacking in cover – notwithstanding I knew perfectly well there was plenty of bramble, reed and thorn bushes in places. My thoughts about the understorey, the rain in the night and the absence of any deer all preyed on my mind. I began to think more on what might be going on outside the wood and in other woods and plantations on the farm. Before long I was beginning to imagine the farmer driving up to the front of Park Wood and viewing a herd of fallow deer grazing on his drilled corn.
By then it was, I knew anyway, too late to move to a new ambush or start walking and stalking. Already the dog walkers and joggers would be out and about, and I had nearly resigned myself to a blank outing. I say nearly advisedly, because there was still a chance that I could rescue my blank scorecard by calling a muntjac. I felt for the call in my right-hand jacket pocket. For a moment or two I couldn’t find it, and as I felt for it, I looked across the ride to the left-hand compartment. Thirty yards away, at the foot of an oak tree there, was a greyish stump that I was surprised not to have noticed previously.
On checking this with my binoculars, it was, at first glance, still a stump. Then, as in a jigsaw, I saw legs underneath the stump but no head. Piecing all the parts together – except of course the head, which was out of sight – I concluded I was looking at a roe or muntjac, and that the position of this animal was just off set but it was generally facing in my direction.
Its next move would likely be to cross the ride in front of me – too close for a shot. While its head was masked by the tree trunk, I gently pointed the rifle at him, which involved me turning in the seat. By the time I had done this I could see he was a mature muntjac buck. Such a beast featured on my cull plan, so before he could move, I took the neck shot, and he dropped where he was standing.
On inspection, he proved to be mature but not old. His general condition and body weight were good. His teeth were not greatly worn, while his racks were worn at the tips. Both canine teeth were formidable and exceptionally sharp. As they sometimes say in Scotland, he was a good beast to take.
The head of this buck is now labelled and in my freezer with other potential muntjac trophies. I build up a stock during the year’s deerstalking and review them from time to time. I thin out the discards so I am left with two or three really interesting trophies. Sometimes I am biased in favour of the head as a result of the incidents that occurred in the stalk.
This morning’s trophy was secured by a combination of good luck and sensible decisions on my part. Had I not investigated the ‘tree stump’ and raised the rifle when I did, my morning would likely have ended with my muntjac exiting stage right or left while waving his white tail at me. In this case the trophy, should I retain it, will be an aide-memoire of good high seat procedure and practice – not to mention an illustration of the need to get out and hunt even on foul, wet mornings. These incidents incline me to retain the head, which I would say is a fair representative example.
I already have better ones in my collection – some bigger, others prettier – and there are only so many a man can reasonably have. I rather like the wear on the racks, which suggests this buck may be a bit of an old dagga boy of the muntjac world, but worn racks are simply not as aesthetically pleasing as pointed, perfect ones. But even if I discard the head, I shall retain the canine teeth for future comparison.