I was contacted via email by Stevie Richardson, who explained that an IED incident while he was serving in the Gulf War had left him with no legs. Essentially, he really wanted to try stalking, but was not sure if he could, and if so would I be prepared to take him out. Of course, I was delighted to do so. We had a brief conversation and arrangements were swiftly made for him to come to Garryloop for a few days one January, and we would see what we could do. I had previous experience of this – we took another guy in a similar situation stalking with good success a few years ago. There is always a way to get folk out with different physical challenges, even if that means getting into a ground box via ATV or Argo – I would always make every attempt to help. I said that initially we would go out onto the range and get him sorted on the rifle, then see what our options were in terms of his mobility.
Stevie is a great lesson for us all. We moan about the little things that seem so important to us, and then he puts it all into perspective. He arrived and we spent a few hours on the range; the shooting was no issue to him, as you would expect from an ex-army man. We had to adapt the sticks a bit for the standing shooting, but no major drama. Physically he had lost most of both of his legs from mid-thigh down, and had different prosthetics for specific situation dependent upon what he was doing. His hands had also been damaged in the blast, but he could get around. Slopes made it a bit more difficult, as did uneven ground, and neither of us were sure what would happen in soft ground or mud. We were going to find out. He had his ‘short legs’ for stalking, reducing his overall height by a couple of feet, but making it easier for him to traverse ‘off-piste’.
The following morning we were off at first light, which in January is very civilised – it is still dark at 8am. I did push off earlier than normal though, as I wanted to allow plenty of time to see how we got on. I had given thought to the best options to get him into deer and had recced a few areas the previous week just to see if I could reduce the odds into our favour of finding a deer somewhere close to an even track or forest road. There was no way he could tackle stalking any distance over undulating heather rides, for example. I settled on a small block of forest close to stream valley with a decent gravel track and that took us to some open areas where deer could often be found in the morning. All went reasonably well – Oscar in front, me with the rifle, and we worked half a mile up the track until we got to an area where I could glass some opening in the forest and into hardwoods above us. Steve followed behind, managing okay using ski poles to help him. Oscar was interested as we got to the edge of the larger conifers that thus far had covered our approach. I knew there were deer somewhere in front, but where? I was actually surprisingly nervous – you always do your best for your clients, but I was particularly keen to get this particular guest into his first deer.
I picked up a doe in the centre of the ride above us. She was browsing happily, and the range was confirmed at 150 yards. After repositioning a couple of times I got Stevie settled and prone off the bipod on a nice mound. We had moved back 15 yards, but the shot was on. All we needed to do was wait for her to turn. She did not feel so inclined, and for 20 minutes we watched her browsing ‘arse-on’ away from us, eventually disappearing over the top of the ride and out of sight on dead ground above us. She was briefly followed by a second roe, which again managed to negotiate the ride without offering a broadside shot.
We regained the track again, and I slowly pushed on, cursing our luck. We had gone another 200 yards, and I glassed back and above us. As we were now higher up I could see under the trees, and from here spotted the same doe this time with a kid. She was briefly visible as she slowly fed away under the trees. Decision time; it’s always better to try for a deer you can see than find another. No issue for an able-bodied stalker, but I was not sure if Stevie would be able to manage the furrows ploughed across the then sheep pasture to allow the young trees to be planted, and if so he then had the sticky bog we would need to get through. I whispered my thoughts, and he replied “go for it.” It was difficult enough for me trying to go up and down the furrows silently and avoiding snapping the small tree branches, and then to traverse sticky mud without making that loud sucking sound as you pull your boots out of mud. But we managed it, Stevie mostly on his hands and prosthetic feet.
While he was slowly making his way to me, I sat and glassed to the top of the ride. From here I couldn’t see the doe, and was trying to work out the best route to get higher and hopefully into a position to get Stevie into a shot. But the doe broke cover and walked slowly across the ride about 140 yards in front of us, only for us to lose her again as she made the tree line this time on our side of the ride. I was certain the kid would follow, so with no time to delay I told Stevie to lie out in the ride, which also meant in the wettest and muddiest puddle there was. With no hesitation, he crawled out and laid full-on in the crap. I set the bipod and manoeuvred the rifle roughly into the position it needed to be, and slithered back under the tree and cover. He got set up behind the rifle and waited. While he was in full view in the centre of the ride still there would be little chance of the deer spotting him; aided by some excellent camouflage as he was covered head to toe in mud.
We had to wait for a few minutes, but sure enough out popped said kid, and this time did offer the shot as she stopped a few feet out of the trees and stood perfectly looking forward presumably trying to locate the doe. I heard the safety click off followed by the satisfying thwack of a round hitting home in the correct spot. Finally, the plan had come together. We certainly had to work for it, but for me it was a rewarding morning, and for Stevie the achievement of something he thought might not be possible.
Stevie has since been back and achieved his DSC1, stalked with us three further times, and shot three roe in total. We are now preparing for him to try for his DSC2 – watch this space.