Under the turbines with Chris Dalton

Accompanied by canine charge Zosia, GBSA shortlisted Chris Dalton takes a rare opportunity to stalk solo in a wind farm that’s open to him for just three days.

Chris Dalton has been nominated for Pro Stalker of the Year at the second annual Great British Shooting Awards. For more details, just visit: http://bit.ly/gbsa156

We have a steady winter routine at Garryloop. We have a lot of guests in for the first couple of weeks in December, then pretty much shut up shop from around the 18th until the new year.

It’s a time of year I enjoy, and like a lot of folk we have family up for the festive period, but the stalking work continues amid the family activities – indeed, some of the family will actually come out stalking.

It is one of the few times of the year when briefly some of the sites I manage are shut down, specifically wind farms. Here, owing to the ever-increasing Health and Safety constraints, there are areas where it’s difficult to stalk close to some of the transformer sites and some of the turbines. So the shutdown period at Christmas and the New Year allows me get into these areas for a ‘free run’.

It’s surprising how quickly the roe get settled in these blocks – they are totally unfazed by the regular coming and going of workmen. I had seen some roe around one of the busy turbines, which was undergoing major work and had had an exclusion zone around it for months.

I had spoken to the site manager and confirmed there was no work going on during 24-26 December – so Christmas Eve saw me out early, parking the truck some distance from the turbine I wanted to stalk up to. It was a cold morning with high pressure forecast and a keen frost.

One of those mornings when it lovely to be out, but moving is the ‘cornflake bowl’ scenario – crunch, crunch! I was on my own with Zosia, the hound. 

I already faced a problem – actually two. There is a steep glen at the side of the turbines and this is where the roe were most likely to be. But approaching this from the most direct route was not on – there was little cover and it would involve stalking across frozen heather and bracken.

No way could I do that quietly. The other was the wind – and this is where the turbines come in handy. There was just a hint of breeze, enough for some of the turbine blades to be slowly generating, but that wind direction, northerly, was preventing the other obvious route in.

The sensible thing to do was stalk another area within the block, but I did not want to pass up my limited window to remove a few deer from the operational wind farm site. A long detour following a steep glen and stream valley was the only way I might get close enough for a shot – assuming of course I could find the roe.

This was Chris’s one chance all year to stalk into the roe on the worksite
(Credit: Paul Carpenter / Getty)

The approach would be downwind and I hoped that by following the stream I might be able to approach quietly. If I could negotiate this valley to the ridge line, there is a block of uncut sitka spruce where I might be able to stalk under those trees to get to a point where I was above the bank where I hoped the roe would be feeding.

With mature pines, even after a hard frost it tends not to penetrate deeply into the trees and often you can move through the grass at the base of the spruce quietly.

The sun was starting to make an appearance, warming the banking in front of me. This helped enormously, firstly as any deer looking in my direction would be staring into the sun but, more significantly, likely to get the deer moving after a cold night.

So things were starting to move in my favour a bit. It took around 45 minutes to get to where I wanted to be. I did glass some of the areas in the valley on the way and as the sun came up, I could see a couple of deer out in a block of small conifers over to my left. But we were sticking to plan A.

Zosia worked in front of me slowly – she did indicate deer a few times into the trees, but we moved on, eventually getting to the top of the ridge where I crawled the last 200 yards to a grassy knoll above the turbine site.

I carefully glassed down below. We were now only 150 yards from the thinner self-seedlings that grew around the stone track that accessed the turbine.

The track was sufficiently large for a timber wagon and with a stone verge of maybe another five yards each side of that, leading again on both sides to drainage ditches which have willow/blueberry and heather plants growing on the banks. Roe love these areas and come out of the trees to browse here frequently. But after glassing for 10 minutes I could see nothing.

I questioned my thought process. Should I have gone for one of the roe I did see on the stalk in, or gone to another area altogether? It was too late anyway – we were here now, and I had to be back home in a couple of hours. I set the bipod and settled myself, deciding to give it half an hour and, if nothing moved, go back for breakfast.

One of the benefits of a day like this is the bright winter sun, shining brightly from behind you into thick green conifers, illuminating the white tail of the roe deer, normally so difficult to see. And that is exactly what I had in front of me.

A roe lay in a little hollow at the base of a felled conifer, curled up but its white backside shining back at me. I glassed and could see that this was a yearling doe; I felt sure there would be others but at that point I could not see them.

I re-set the rifle and bipod so I was now covering the roe doe. I could clearly see the head and neck, and in this light I was even able to see her chewing away at some morsel or other. I re-checked the range, which was exactly 140 yards.

Zosia proved her worth, indicating deer often before Chris knew they were there

She never flinched as a 6.5×55 round hit her neck at the mid-point. I do not normally neck-shoot roe but from this benchrest position, ranged and with a clearly visible and static target, it became a reasonable option.

I reloaded quickly and the movement revealed the position of the other roe I thought might be present: a mature doe who stood looking round unsure of events. She clearly wasn’t too concerned as she started to move slowly forward, browsing after a few feet. She moved in and out of the thickly bunched self-seed willows but was not clearly visible until she stepped onto the edge of the track.

Now it was easy, and as she turned broadside, roe number two fell with barely a twitch to the gravel floor. So with two quick suspended grallochs completed, from my track-side position I could easily get the car to where I was – I wish that were always the case – and get back for breakfast in time. Perfect. 

For stalking opportunities For stalking opportunities with Chris, contact chris@ayrstalk.co.uk, call 07710 871190 Or visit www.ayrstalk.co.uk

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