Some roe do not live up to our common conception of them, as David Barrington Barnes found one wet evening during the buck season
I think it’s fair to say that the consensus of opinion among expert roe stalkers is that roe do not like the rain. The thrust of what they say is: “Rain stops play” and roe go into cover and hide during rainstorms. Rain, they maintain, makes for difficult, if not impossible, roe deerstalking.
Now, I’m no expert – far from it. I am a clumsy old chap, more likely to see the white behind of a roe making off than the beast itself grazing or browsing undisturbed. However, on this narrow subject, I do have a view of my own. It is that roe stalking in the rain can be worthwhile and productive. My anecdotal evidence for this must start with the trophy in our home labelled “The Lie-In-Bed Buck”. I will one day tell the tale of the grassing of this buck. Suffice to say here that, on the morning I stalked him, the rain was hammering on the windowpanes of our cottage to the extent that my son elected for a lie-in instead of battling the wind-driven rain on the exposed expanses of the heather hill.
On another summer evening in Norfolk, I was caught in the open in a torrential summer thunderstorm. Selecting a rounded thorn bush, I found what shelter I could from the rain while overlooking a couple of acres of rough grass and wild flowers. At the height of the storm, a roebuck and doe came out of the adjoining woodland and, after considerable chasing and similar carry on, mated. I don’t exaggerate when I say I could see the raindrops splashing on the roebuck’s back as he did so.
There was a buck for the shooting, if that was what I wanted to do, in the middle of a torrential downpour that had water running down the farm tracks as if in a stream.
On a summer afternoon last year, I drove through persistent, heavy rain with the intention of stalking two plantations on Clay Farm. Arriving at the farm, the rain showed no sign of letting up and so I sat in my truck for a time until the worst of the storm had passed through. Then I set off uphill through a half-cut grass margin with a hedge and ditch at my right shoulder. I would like you to understand the scene. The hedge and grass strip ran straight uphill for 400 yards. Neither the hedge nor the margin nearest to it were cut, although a swathe had been topped off the margin grass nearest to the adjoining rape field to the left. That large field was in crop of a height and density that would have readily concealed big deer, let alone relatively diminutive roe.
As I made my way uphill, the wet vegetation soon soaked my trousers and even my boots were squelching. It’s uncomfortable periods such as these that tend to remind one of the advice of experts and how they advise the best way to stalk in the rain is to stay at home and fettle one’s kit. With these thoughts gaining precedence, it was unsurprising that I did not immediately spot the roebuck walking down the hill towards me. That he was a big buck, and that he did not like getting wet any more than I did, were evident from the way he chose to walk on the mown strip. I was very lucky he did not see me at that point. As it was, he kept on coming and I, fearful of imminent detection, endeavoured to melt into the cover provided by the hedge.
I had already deduced that this buck was the top man around these parts. I had learned this from the well marked hazel whips in the edge of the hedge, the couching places and the topped cow parsley and other choice herbs. I thought this was his regular patrol route from the top plantation to the lagoon. The way things were looking, this buck would stroll down my throat. I set up my stalking sticks with the bipod on its maximum-length setting and metaphorically licked my lips in anticipation of an easy and unexpected shot.
It was not to be. Suddenly, the heavens opened once more and down came the rain.
The buck immediately stepped off the mown strip and disappeared under a convenient, rounded hedgerow tree, leaving me out in the rain. As I stood there absorbing a soaking, it crossed my mind to put in a stalk. With the buck on the hill above me, I knew that plan would not work. I resigned myself to waiting and stood there like a sponge in the rainstorm, which lasted at least half an hour. During the rain, I did not see one hair of the buck and came close to convincing myself he had slipped back to the top plantation.
When the rain ceased, the big buck stepped out again and surveyed the scene from his mown grass margin. Satisfied with what he saw, he resumed his patrol and, coming on quite quickly now, presented for a straightforward shot just a few minutes later. Job done.
He was a fine, big buck and, apart from the satisfaction derived from my successful stalk and making the correct call in the rain shower, I was sorry that I had shot him. However, the landowner for whom I was stalking has a low tolerance towards roe deer. In consequence, this fellow was on the cull plan. (My erstwhile advice to him had been to the effect that a master buck like him would be better left to exclude youngsters that would damage the plantings while scrapping for territories.)
This is how, two years on, I have in the rain buck a fine, handsome trophy on my wall. However, I never stalk Clay Farm at roebuck time without wishing I could once more spy its head man in fine, fox-red summer pelage, a senior denizen of spring woods and summer hedgerow margins.