The rolling hills of Wiltshire provide fertile ground for Paul Childerley to stalk an opportune roebuck.
During a Shooter King photo shoot, Mark Bellamy, my fellow ambassador (and model) for the brand, invited me to hunt at one of his areas near Salisbury Plain to try my luck for a roebuck in the spring. Mark advised me to bring my rangefinder and be prepared to shoot out at distance because the fields in the area are extensive and there would be no way of getting in for a close shot.
We planned an early morning, which meant I had to leave by 3am to get down to the area in good time before daybreak. As the sun rose, we passed a couple of the Wiltshire white horses and we were soon on Mark’s ground, which is a beautiful part of the country with vast open spaces. I didn’t quite realise the ground would be as undulating as it was and the fields would be as big as they were, which instantly made me think about shooting at distance and what distance we would be pushing out to.
We parked at the farm buildings and sat and had a cup of tea, which I thought was very civilised, because normally it’s ‘kit on and let’s go’. The reason for this was that we could sit there in comfort and spy one of the immense bowls in the face of one of the hills. Mark explained this was one of the favourite spots for the roebucks to bask in the sunshine. After glassing the bank for a good 10 minutes, we could not see a single deer – but this was quite obvious because surrounding the bowl was acres and acres of oilseed rape in full bloom, which we all know can make the roebucks disappear.
We agreed that it would be a great plan to stalk the neighbouring fields as the roe normally stick to the parsley edges. Approaching the bowl, there were plenty of signs of roe eating the parsley and a buck or two had been scraping the scrubby trees and bushes dividing the rape crops and the grassy, unfarmed ground.
There were several does out grazing, but the bucks were scarce in this part of the farm, so we decided to head to the top where it was a solid wheat crop – at least this would let us get away from the pungent smell of rape, as it was starting to give me a headache!
As we approached the horizon, we could see the vast wheat fields with their endless tram lines going into the distance. It was spectacular walking through the yellow glare, overlooking the rich green wheat fields with white splodges of cow parsley sporadically scattered.
We scanned the tram lines but the first thing that caught my eye were two round clumps of unfarmed land right on top of one of the fields, which I instantly knew would be a favourable spot. We stalked for a good 10 minutes and took our attention off the two round clumps, thinking that the bucks would be on the field margins. But looking to our right, the silhouette of a six-pointer was on the crest between the two clumps about 500 metres away. He soon disappeared out of sight and I planned a quick route march to the top before he left the area.
As I gained ground and reached the crest, I could see several different deer in different parts of the open space, but they were all females. Not even a young buck in sight. I searched for the buck that had been on top of the hill but he had disappeared.
How could a buck just disappear up here in the middle of nowhere? I headed back down to Mark, and we had a short break and another cup of tea.
After a discussion, Mark suggested that we head down to one of the next-door fields where he had seen a couple of roe while I was occupied chasing the Houdini buck. We set off at quite a pace – the only way to cover the ground – but stopping every now and again for another glass with the binoculars, just in case the buck had stood up out of the crop, as this time of the day they would be more likely to be lying down.
We were so busy looking into the distance, we didn’t notice a buck 200 metres in front of us having an argument with the fence post because there were no other trees or scrub to scrape his antlers on. With the excitement of seeing a buck at this close distance and with my passion for roebucks, this was too good an opportunity to mess up.
Luckily the buck was so intent on scrapping with the post, it gave me an opportunity to try to approach using the fence line as a view blocker. The buck was changing from side to side so I had to keep my eyes on him, as any strange object or movement on this landscape becomes extremely obvious.
I brushed against the fencing to try and keep out of sight but accidentally caught my rifle strap on the barbed wire, which gave an almighty twang. Expecting the buck to be on his toes and away, I was shocked to see that he was still intent on what he was doing. Fortunately the buck must have been used to this noise from striking the fencing – it didn’t seem to notice.
After a couple of minutes the buck started to trot up the hedgerow towards us and jumped across to the blind side. I know some would wonder why I didn’t shoot the buck at the first instance when he was 200 metres away, but for me it’s about the hunt, and this type of experience gives me buck fever.
The buck was now only 100 metres in front of me but he was on the blindside of the fencing and all I could see was strands of wire between us. The buck was now slightly at ease and started grazing. He was meandering out from the edge and my only possibility would be to lean against the fence and prop my sticks up against the post to give me a stable rest.
The buck put his head down to graze, was nicely broadside, and with a calculated movement into position, I took the shot. Once the decision was made, there was no time for hesitation or over-thinking. The buck was down and I turned to Mark and said, “I thought it was going to be a long shot today!”
I leapt the fence in excitement and we headed down to the buck. I could see that the buck had slightly unusual antlers from the binoculars, but once I got to him I could see that the antlers were almost joined at the base. It would be a great set to keep to remind me of my time in Wiltshire.
We carried the buck back across the endless green fields and Mark told me that there was a bigger one that he had been saving for me – but I was extremely pleased with my day on the Salisbury plains, though it wouldn’t take much for me to return.