I once watched a film in which a pigeon’s breast feather was depicted caught on a whin. Between them, the narrator and the cameraman captured that small image quite beautifully, and I still remember quite clearly both the picture and the words. It was not a major incident – far from it – but it was one of those nuanced moments that makes deer stalking so enthralling. At the time of writing – early October – I am having some successful outings with a roebuck and four muntjac from five attempts and my share of magic moments.
I own up to being results driven: I am keen to succeed in my stalking. I want to grass selected beasts. I am also alert for all the magic moments regardless of whether they involve deer, other creatures or just natural happenings and nature.
My late-season roebuck was unlucky. One evening last week, I was waiting for muntjac in a high seat outside a hillside wood. I had actually seen a muntjac doe, which had suddenly emerged from cover and then, in the restless way of that species, had just as quickly returned to it. Her departure meant I was not required to make any call as to whether I should shoot or spare her. I spent some time watching the young pheasants drawing back towards their release pen. Then, making another sweep with my binoculars, I locked on to a scruffy roebuck, which could only just have come out. A quick scan confirmed this was one to take, and I upped with the rifle and shot him. The report of my moderated rifle caused a muntjac in the wood to start barking, and I left him to get on with it. My shot had ended my evening’s sport, leaving me with larder work.
My first muntjac buck of the four was taken on a morning stalk into a high seat located in a poplar plantation. The area is an acre or thereabouts and, as the poplars have been pruned, it’s possible to sit in my high seat at one end and look and shoot up the rows for 125 yards. This morning’s light came seeping through the canopy, and as it thinned I made out the family of roe deer that hang out in another plantation up the hill. The old matriarch is very bossy with her well-grown twins, and ever alert for danger. At first, with thermal and then with binoculars, I had much amusement in watching them feeding and, now and then, engaging in small spats. At some point a family of crows cawed in the branches above me. They had got me, but couldn’t make a positive identity. The old doe did not like this and, after a few minutes, led her charges through a hedge and into the plantation.
My muntjac buck came from behind me, apparently in a rush and accompanied by a kid muntjac, which at first made me think the big beast was a doe. Not so! And when I saw the racks I nailed him with a shot through the back of his neck at 40 yards.
My next evening’s outing was brief following a session of chores: feeding some windfall apples, taking gralloch to the dead pit, labelling carcases and checking the chiller. I had not long been in my seat in the big wood when I caught a glimpse of a common fallow at the far end of a ride. It did not pause for me to identify the gender or even consider a shot, and no companion followed it. However, it’s always great to see fallow, even if fleetingly. The muntjac buck that appeared to my right soon afterwards looked diminutive in comparison, so I took particular care of the shot. While in the wood, I noticed how still it was compared with the windy conditions outside, and also that my seat was covered in dry moss. A grey squirrel spent some time motionless a few yards distant with his tail in a semi circle. He should not have been there, as the gamekeeper has been carrying out a trapping programme.
This morning, I set off with rifle and sticks in the dark. I don’t like to use thermal for sport stalking, but have a job to do on this farm, which entails shooting all the deer I can. First sweep with the thermal and I thought I had struck lucky with a muntjac, but couldn’t positively identify the animal. I waited several minutes, thinking it was grazing only to identify it in the coming light as a cat. Moving on, one field was full of black cattle, which of course showed white in the thermal. The adjacent field had a 20-plus population of hares. These were amusing to watch in the early light, with some finding it more difficult to wake up than others.
A trek alongside another plantation had me treading carefully over a carpet of leaves. On the ridge of the hill I thought they’d had a nip of frost, as the leaf shed was less lower down. I walked the ridgeline where I often see deer, but had to settle for observing more hares and pheasant poults. The last field on my walk is down to grass, and there was a cabal of cock pheasants, which I watched until I became aware of a muntjac in the hedge – a young one. Borrowing a lean off a fence post, I waited until I could take a neck shot. I gralloched it by the pond where I got a wash, and was home for breakfast by 8.30am.
With my luck in full flow I am sure readers can guess what I am going to do tomorrow morning. Yes – I am going to go out again. A marauding muntjac has turned up on one farm, and another has taken up residence in a conservation area. There is so much to do, so many deer to shoot. But however many there are, I shall always watch out for a feather caught in a whin.