The green mile

CHRIS DALTON

You will probably have gathered by now that quite a number of my articles follow discussions over dinner at Garryloop after a stalking outing.

Conversation usually flows after a full day in the forest, a nice meal and a glass or two of wine. I work on the principle that if my guests are interested in these topics then other folk will be as well.

The subject that generated a long debate last week concerned reaction to shot and subsequent follow up, and how many of these deer were not actually recovered. This brought to mind a doe I shot in January this year.

It is unusual these days for me to be out with the rifle. Most of the time I am talking other people out or witnessing for DSC Level 2, so for me to be stalking alone is out of the ordinary.

One of the areas we look after has recently been clear felled and a large area replanted during the last few months, so the deer required close control.

I had stalked there with clients several times over previous weeks, mainly with guests who were doing an introduction to stalking course, and had seen four or five family groups of roe in the area.

For various reasons we had accounted for only two roe followers on these outings, mainly because of my guests’ inexperience. Roe in winter coat on a restock site are difficult to see even for the experienced hunter.

Add that to unfamiliarity with handling a rifle, and how long it takes to get ready before taking a shot. None of this is their fault and we all have to learn.

I was acutely aware that, with a cold snap forecast, a few more of these roe needed to be removed from the area. As a free evening coincided with a lull in the rain, I went out.

The ground has a steep hillside on which conifers and a few areas of hardwood have been planted across a total plot of around 1,300 acres.

03 1059687_420073592This was bounded on one side by a track and some conifers planted seven years ago, while on the other side there was a belt of mature conifers close to felling.

The hill caught the afternoon sun and was always a good place to try in the evenings. Deer would often lie out in the trees on a warm day, and if not you could catch them coming out to feed in the evening from the trees at either side.

On this evening there was a brisk and cold wind blowing across the slope to the mature conifers at the top of the hill. It was coming from a quarter that would allow me to stalk in between the mature trees and the replanted site at the top of the slope.

I stalked carefully along this edge and glassed the slope every few paces as a new vista came into view. It’s a tactic I have used before often with good success but not on this occasion. The dog indicated once and had obviously winded deer but I could not see anything.

At the end of the plantation the ground dropped away into a sheltered valley that was tucked out of the wind. In front of me was a quiet glen and mossy bank that just felt right.

I recall thinking to myself, ‘If I were a roe, this is where I would be tonight,’ so I found a tree stump and settled down to wait. I had been there for 30 minutes and put the glasses up for the umpteenth time, scanning across the bank.

Browsing quite contentedly was a doe 250 yards away. How many times has that happened?

She was 25 yards from cover in full view. How long had she been there? Roe are commonly called the elves of the forest and the more I stalk the more I realise why.

I glassed her for a while and established that she was an old doe with no follower, meaning she was in the plan and could go. I walked forward slowly along the tree line, moving only when she did or was busy feeding, then freezing when her head came up to look round.

The wind concerned me a bit, as it was drifting a little too close to her direction for comfort. I had reached an upturned tree root at about 140 yards and that’s as close I dared go. Any further forward and I would have been in plain view.

The view from the firing point – but all was not as clear as it seemed

The view from the firing point – but all was not as clear as it seemed

I set up the rifle on the sticks from a kneeling position and waited for the broadside. For a long time she continued to work down the bank but would not present the shot.

I felt a gust of wind on my neck and her head went up – she had winded me, nose testing the air and looking intently in my direction. Stiff-legged, she began to turn.

Fortunately, she was still curious and paused for a look back. This gave me a safe broadside shot, and I heard the satisfying crack of the strike.

I caught sight of her dashing right and then she was gone down the bank.

The dog was looking at me expectantly, but as always we waited, allowing things to settle down and any other deer to move off – you gain nothing by rushing.

After 10 minutes we moved forward and I was expecting to see the doe lying dead around the corner. However, after an initial search I could find nothing.

No paint or pins, and I couldn’t see the deer. Puzzled, I sent Oscar, my Weimaraner, to find her.

Oscar did not need asking twice. Head down, he moved forward and finally, after about 45 yards, we had a nice blood trail and a little further on a large piece of lung.

Relieved, I fully expected the dog to come on to the deer in a few yards. But no, he continued on his determined hunt, nose down through the trees in a long loop, out the other side, over a stream and towards some trees almost 200 yards away.

I called him back, a little miffed that he was messing about. Taking him back to the bit of lung, I cast him off again with the instructions ‘where is it’ and ‘steady’, his command to seek a deer in cover.

Canine insurance: A deer dog turned out to be essential in this situation

Canine insurance: A deer dog turned out to be essential in this situation

He gave me one of those looks and followed exactly the same line he did before. I still couldn’t believe the deer had run all that way, but I trusted him and set off in pursuit. I really should know better by now, but 45 yards further on from where I called him back, there was the doe lying dead under some thick young conifers.

When I measured the distance, the doe had made 247 yards from a perfect heart and lung shot.

In so doing it had crossed a small stream twice, run a loop through some conifers, gone across a valley and ended up in a thick block of trees.

Without a dog, I would never have recovered her. After searching in completely the wrong place, I would still be puzzling about it now.

I have recovered thousands of shot deer over the years and I often find myself watching deer as a client shoots them and see first-hand their reaction to the shot.

While I knew she had winded me and was ready to run, I would never have imagined she could have got so far.

Chris Dalton

■ For stalking opportunities with South Ayrshire, contact Chris on 01465 871393 or 07710 871190.

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