Chris Dalton waits all of July for the roe rut to start – and with DSC2 clients visiting, will he get the chance to bring in a buck before the month is out?
That magic period is approaching when, if you are lucky, the roebuck become almost oblivious to the presence of the stalker, intent only on deterring any other buck from wooing his lady while constantly trying his luck with her.
And not only his lady – any in the vicinity will do. Many stalkers will be out far too early in the month, peeping and calling in the hope of a response; some will inevitably get this but most will end up simply educating the deer not to respond.
Last year the rut was incredibly late starting. After long, hot days for weeks, towards the end of July the weather finally changed and we saw cooler, fresher conditions with much needed rain. That would normally be the start of it – but nothing. I was getting texts and emails from up and down Scotland, all with the same sentiment: “Has it started yet?”
I was up at Kinnaird Estate right at the end of the month, travelling with Shaz to meet father-and-son team Adam and Ian from West Yorkshire who, having completed their DSC1 with me some months previously, were now on the DSC2 training route.
Neither had stalked on the open hill so I had put a package together to let them experience hill stalking on early cull stags as training towards the level 2 qualification.
The added bonus was that if the rut was on, we could try calling a buck or two as well; neither of them had experienced the thrill of roebucks in the rut.
First morning, we draw a blank, but the weather had changed and it was warmer, very still, midgey and balmy – rutting conditions. My plan for the evening was to go out earlier and spend time glassing the valley and see what, if anything, was happening. Shaz had headed off earlier with Ian into a similar part of the estate, leaving me with Adam.
I headed off with Adam and Zosia on the ATV up one of the access tracks to the hill and had only got halfway to my planned first glassing point when we passed two roe to our left in some tussock grass, totally oblivious.
I pulled up behind a conveniently located native juniper; Adam jumped off the bike, deployed the bipod, and a cull buck was very soon the subject of an in-depth gralloching demonstration and subsequent larder briefing. Not exactly a challenging stalk, but occasionally you have to take your chance, however it comes, to get the job done.
On the following morning, I took Adam to the edge of the hill where there were willows and stream gullies much loved by the roe. They seem to migrate out here, especially in the summer months, and I knew where there was a particularly good buck to be found. Off we set.
Our first issue was an encounter with a family group of three reds wandering the track in front of us after moving no more than 400 yards from the vehicle: a hind, her calf and yearling hind. We managed to move them off without causing too much disturbance, though there was the odd deep bark as the hind moved off, clearly not charmed.
Adam’s brief was that we now treat this as much as possible as a witnessed outing – he could get out in front and make the decisions, with me following along, hopefully not getting too involved.
As we reached a high point, I could glass down on to my buck’s patch. I did not intend for him to shoot the good buck, but felt certain that he would have roe does around and there would inevitably be a young buck or two hanging around. It was one of these I wanted.
As soon as I started to glass, a doe stood out about 450 yards away, very visible in fox-red coat in the young heather. Adam signalled that he could see the doe but no buck. I advised that he would be there – rest assured.
We used the cover to gain ground and got to around 200 yards away in the still, low light, then checked again. Yes, he was in tow now, and they were chasing round.
She was not standing for him but l could see from the way they were acting that they had been rutting for most of the night – he was half-heartedly following her when she moved, and when she stopped to browse, he lay down a few yards away. Both deer then lay down in a clump of bracken.
As Adam was trying to get comfortable and control his excitement at the scene in front of him – he had never seen proper rutting activity – movement to our left draw our attention. A young four-point buck had come flying in, just as a second doe appeared around 75 yards away from our two dozing lovers. Now there would be trouble.
The young buck presented a nice chance as he stood broadside about 80 yards away. My hissed instruction to Adam, who was set on the quad sticks nicely, was to take it. But Adam had clearly forgotten we were stalking – he was totally mesmerised by the events unfolding in front of us.
I distinctly heard heavy breathing, and it wasn’t coming from either of the exhausted deer – plus the quad sticks were visibly shaking. Buck fever had set in, big style. I can’t blame him – we have all been there, and it was amusing relating the tale at breakfast.
In an explosion of activity, the big buck shot out from cover and the little buck exited stage left at a great rate of knots. The chase went for maybe 200 yards and with interloper seen off, the stand buck returned to his lady.
With Adam finally calming down, I blasted out a call. The response from our buck was again electric. This time he came in at us like a train, straight at us full tilt, only turning to run back at the last minute, still clearly not sure what we were. He stopped 50 yards away for another check.
Buck number two reappeared, rushed at us from the track we were on and at 40 yards turned broadside. Adam stayed composed, repositioned the quad sticks and took a perfectly executed heart-lung shot to drop our cull buck on the spot.
To say that was a memorable morning would be an understatement, made all the more special by taking someone out and being present at the spectacle of roe responding to a call. Magic.
It got better. Shaz had accounted for a young stag that morning with Ian and a knobber the night before, so we had achieved the training goals required and accomplished some firsts.
But what really made it was at breakfast later that morning, when Shaz arrived all excited with Ian, relating how they had passed a buck rutting by the junipers the evening before and they were going to go out later that morning to try and call it.
“Sorry pal,” I said, “it’s in the larder!”