Having taken on the deer stalking lease on a large East Yorkshire estate along with our editor Pete Carr, I was intrigued to find out the density of the deer on the ground so we could arrange a sensible cull plan between the two of us.
Although I carried a rifle each time I visited the ground, it was mid-June before I grassed my first animal, a yearling buck. I had used the previous stalks to identify and assess the age and quality of the bucks present. Pete and I had long-term plans to bring back the trophy quality of the roe that were once present on the estate. With these thoughts in mind, we planned only to shoot yearlings or old bucks going back.
During these recon outings, I identified on a number of occasions two bucks that definitely fit the cull criteria. Both of them were clearly old beasts and past their best. The biggest problem was that both their territories were also home to many thousands of early-released pheasant poults. This made the stalking frustrating to say the least, as the legions of growing game birds gave away my presence every time I tried to stalk into the beasts. Not wanting to upset the amiable gamekeeper by pushing his charges away from their release sites, I decided to keep away and switch my attention to quieter areas of the estate. I vowed to return to these bucks in late July or early August once the rut was in full flow. Hopefully then, I would be able to call the bucks out of their safety zone and away from the sensitive pen areas.
Earlier in the year I had the pleasure of guiding Browning rep Andy ‘Nozza’ Norris for a couple of days on another Yorkshire estate where he successfully shot two bucks under the guidance of me and the editor of this fine journal. During this time, Andy, ever the optimist, had expressed a wish to return during the rut if at all possible to see proper roe calling in action. Flattery pretty much got him everywhere, and we made him the offer of an open return.
With this in mind, I called him up a few weeks later to see if he was in my area of North Yorkshire in early August. Naturally, his diary was soon rearranged to enable him to make the date. Andy is a likeable old soul mostly, and as he is constantly ribbing the editor, it would give me as much pleasure enjoying his company and seeing him shoot the two old veteran bucks as it would if I pulled the trigger myself.
Arriving at my house around 5.30pm after a day pushing Browning’s products to the myriad Yorkshire gun shops, Andy was immediately taken by the five Bavarian pups that my bitch Rommel had produced seven weeks earlier. I explained that there was a dog pup still available, but Mr Norris said he had no need for a tracking dog as he was an expert marksman. A tall claim indeed, and with that we loaded up the pick up and made the 20-minute journey to the hunting ground.
Parking up between two woods, we quickly became aware that the wind was not perfect for my initial plan. I made the decision to make off towards a recently placed high seat, which would give us a good chance of calling a buck out from its haven and into the open ground before us. With Andy firmly in the seat, I made Rommel lie down beside me as I leant against the ladder rungs. After waiting a few minutes to let the area settle down, I started a series of ‘fieps’ with the Buttolo caller, varying the pitch in different directions in an attempt to imitate a lost roe kid. Being right-handed, I squeeze the bulb with my thumb and first finger while cupping the business end with my left. This makes for a realistic tone in my opinion, and it is one that certainly works for me.
With Andy six feet higher up in the tree than me, he had a much better view, and after around 30 minutes he whispered that a buck had just come out of a Scots pine plantation and was making its way down from a tree line 400 yards to our left. I continued calling with the Buttolo and he increased his pace, obviously intent on my artificial commentary in the hope a doe would be around looking for her youngster.
Everything was looking right on target until the buck disappeared behind a large earth mound 120 yards or so in front of us. From the look of the beast’s body and antlers, it was definitely one of the older bucks I was searching for – its large sloping coronets with thick bases and an even six points had made it immediately recognisable. I waited eagerly for its reappearance.
However, 15 minutes later my confidence was plummeting. Maybe things weren’t so good after all. We hadn’t had sight of the deer since it had disappeared behind the earth bank, despite continued calling. After unloading his Mauser, Andy carefully climbed down from his perch and we slowly set off to stalk into the buck’s last recorded position before it disappeared from view.
Why it had not continued on its path I don’t know, but it was close to some tall stewardship grasses situated on the other side of the mound before us. I knew we were taking a huge gamble moving in on him, but we were committed now.
We slowly traversed the distance to the mound, treading carefully between the young rows of maize cover crop, spying every few yards for signs of the buck to no avail. Then out of nowhere a loud ‘bouw, bouw’ alarm bark greeted us as the buck appeared from behind two thorn bushes 80 yards away. I instantly deploying the sticks for Andy, and he quickly placed the rifle into the crook they offered and shouldered the rifle in a single fluid movement. I gave out a single ‘doe in distress’ squeak, more by accident than design, with the Buttolo. Thankfully it brought the desired effect as the spooked deer came to an abrupt halt.
Andy, already covering the buck, took aim and touched off the trigger on his 6.5×55 Mauser. The satisfying thump of the 156-grain Geco bullet striking the buck’s chest saw it immediately disappear from our view once again as it slammed into the ground and was hidden by the tall grass. Covering the position for a few minutes for signs of movement, I was confident that all had gone well. Andy turned and smiled. The shot had been spot on, and we both felt sure we had got our buck.
Making off, Andy pointed in the direction he said it had fallen. This was very different to my estimation. Walking over to the thorn bushes, I placed the tracking leash on Rommel to indicate work to her. After I let her pick up the scent of where it had been couched down earlier, she quickly led us to the shot strike and the buck was soon found. Interestingly, it was some 25-30 yards away from where my stalking companion had thought it was. Of course, my estimation had been spot on.
With the gralloch soon done, and Rommel rewarded with a fresh heart, we loaded the carcase into my roesack and made off back towards the vehicle. Darkness was only 20 minutes away, so the other buck would have to wait for another day.
Andy had had a great outing, as had I. I love it when a plan comes together. Furthermore, my guest must have been impressed with the efforts of my bloodhound, because when he returned home the following day he had a seven-week-old co-pilot. This companion goes by the name of Dave, and sat next to him for company on the long drive back down to Wiltshire.