Stalking debutant

Paul Childerley meets Imogen – who has never stalked before and doesn’t even eat meat – and gives her a sporting introduction on his favoured species, the Chinese water deer

I’ve always been one for promoting and bringing in new faces to the sport, especially people who have never experienced rifle or shotgun shooting. It gives a real sense of achievement bringing somebody from never holding a rifle to being a confident, competent shot on the range and in the field.

Having to cull a number of Chinese water deer myself, I very often give the opportunity to a beginner or to someone who has never experienced this method of hunting before. I find it’s a great way of teaching somebody the best ethical way of hunting.

Working closely with several companies, I very often request a newer member of their staff to come along to experience the sport they are involved in.

After having conversations with Karl from GMK, he mentioned that he had recently taken on a new employee to look after the PR and social media for the business. He also mentioned that Imogen was a pescatarian and was keen on learning more about hunting and its values.

Imogen arrived enthusiastically and ready for her introduction into the rifle sport world. After a brief chat to ascertain her knowledge and what she had experienced before – only a few shots with an air gun previously – we discussed how the day was going to pan out. Imogen insisted she would only go hunting if she was 100 per cent confident. Thankfully, I was 100 per cent confident she would be.

We headed down to the range where we did a full safety talk, descriptions of the rifles and what calibre she would be shooting. We started off with a .17 HMR to gain her confidence and to improve her grouping skills.

This didn’t take long and we soon moved on to the .22-250. After shooting three different distances, Imogen was clover-leafing every time, like a professional. Her confidence was increasing and we finished with a few different hunting and stalking scenarios.

We gave it a rest for a while and then returned for the final test: three bullets at the deer target at 200 metres. I think any person would be happy with the grouping she achieved.

During a short interval of tea and discussions, I was able to explain the scenarios that would be expected: walking, crawling, which animal we would shoot, impact reactions and all the other small things that when you’ve been doing it for years, you take for granted.

The tension was building but Imogen was as cool as a cucumber, so we set off after a cull Chinese water deer. It has been a fantastic breeding year for the species with the great summer weather and the perfect crop rotation, it has made the species, in the areas I manage, thrive.

Imogen’s group on the practice target – pretty good for a beginner!

Most females had managed to rear twins, if not triplets, and also the previous year early fawns, had managed to produce as well. Heading down to the horse chippings area is always a favourite of mine when out with a novice. They can see plenty of animals and you can explain males, females, fawns and also watch their habits and how they live.

We headed up a field line hedgerow with several old oaks sporadically along it; unfortunately the hedgerow is not as good as it once was and the cover is minimal.

As we approached the crest of the bank, we could see several animals to our right, grazing, fighting and chasing across the undulating wheat fields.

Setting up on the base of one of the oak trees, looking at the habits of my favourite deer, Imogen was fascinated and asking all the correct questions – why, what and how.

I talked her through the different animals that were in front of us and explained we would be looking for a young male or female but one that was smaller than the other fawns from that season – this would indicate one of the latest born.

Having over 20 years’ experience with this species, I have learned that culling the smaller, later fawns makes a healthier stock. If we had colder winters, these would not see it through and the natural process would take effect.

Imogen was soon up to speed with what animals were in front of us, recognising the young from the old and even picking out a mature buck with spotting his tusks – though this one definitely wasn’t on the cull list!

The animals were slowly grazing away from us but unfortunately one of the does had spotted us and decided to trot through the middle of the field, which made the other deer more aware, temporarily. But they soon returned to their relaxed state.

By this time they were all too far away for our position so we had to crawl along the hedgerow, which was going to be an interesting manoeuvre, firstly for the distance but also the patches of stinging nettles we were going to have to combat. 

There were 11 animals in front of us: several old does, a couple of mature bucks and the rest youngsters. Instantly we could see a young buck that was smaller than his fellow offspring. He also had a couple of clumps of hair missing so was distinguishable.

Unfortunately he was at the far side of the group so we would have to continue our combat crawl for a further 50 metres. We ended up in a great viewpoint – unfortunately it was on a patch of stinging nettles, but the only area that had a clear view for the shot. 

Getting Imogen set up on the bipod and comfortable wasn’t a problem… apart from the stingers, but I think her mind was on the job in hand rather than the pain. We watched the young buck graze and move through the rest of the deer until he was on his toes as a mature buck gave chase and drove him to the far side of the group.

He was now about 150 metres away. The young buck settled again and headed down the field, so now the pressure was on to take the shot before he got out of Imogen’s confident range. Going over the areas of the bullet placement again with Imogen, I made sure she was 100 per cent happy.

Telling her to get ready, I was going to the stop the buck when he was broadside to give her the optimum shot. The buck turned side-on; I gave out a sharp bark and he stood and looked back. My words to Imogen were, “Take your time, no rush.”

Imogen placed the bullet exactly where I said and the buck dropped where he was stood. She was ecstatic with her achievement and also a little bit relieved. After the shot was taken, Imogen followed all the correct process of reloading the rifle and placing on safe, just in case.

Imogen was a perfect example of the women I have had the pleasure of instructing into the sport – without exception, they follow instructions, always remember safety and always shoot bloody amazingly. 

After getting up and then feeling the pain of the stinging nettles, we headed over to the buck. Imogen was so chuffed with herself that she had managed to go through the whole process. We knelt down next to the buck and I had the chance to explain all the different things about this fantastic creature. 

We examined the buck; the shot placement was exactly where I had instructed. The carcase was going to make fantastic venison and Imogen insisted that she was going to take some home to share with her family. 

Paul was tasked with bringing a new recruit into the sport – no pressure…

To hunt with Childerley Sporting, contact Paul on 07715 638934 or visit www.childerleysporting.co.uk or email paul@childerleysporting.co.uk

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