Sporting Rifle editor Pete Carr does his bit to introduce the next generation as he takes granddaughter Sienna out on her first roebuck stalk.
It’s always a pleasure to introduce youngsters to the sport but it is even more rewarding when it’s one of your own clan. Sienna had accompanied me stalking, shooting and fishing from when she first started walking confidently.
She had been wildfowling on the Humber in the harshest of conditions without complaint – sitting on one water bottle with another stuffed up her jumper.
Her trout catching ability was impressive and she absolutely loved to be out stalking. Her binoculars were used often and she was a keen observer of British flora and fauna in all its guises. What’s more, she was a good shot with the rifle too.
Her training had been a little unorthodox as she had been initially taught the fundamentals with an AK47 assault rifle (R5 derivative) by her father in Swaziland where he was stationed ranger training, but it was me who introduced her to a rifle with a little more finesse: the Merkel RX Helix. Sienna’s rifle handling and stance was shown to be first rate and she had no problem with the .30-06 calibre.
I had always let Sienna progress at her own pace. It had certainly worked out well on the game fishing front – she can now confidently cast a fly and gets almost as much pleasure at placing the fly as she does catching a fish.
Almost, I say, because she is quick to revert to the bubble float method if the fishing is slow, and silences any protestations with “I do like to go home with a dinner.” Which is all very well on a wild Scottish hill loch but may cause a bit of a stir on a club water! But I digress.
It was March last year, I had just finished up the doe cull and Sienna declared she was ready to shoot her first buck and “would like to try for one on opening day please grandad.” I was happy to oblige and looked forward to the fast-approaching 1 April 2019.
If Sienna had a fault, it was her inability to rise in a morning, but she recognised her limitations from an early age and had always gone to bed in most of her shooting clothes on the eve of an early morning shooting or stalking foray.
It had then been a simple task to carry her, half asleep, into the truck and away. By the time she was 14 she’d got used to the bang on the door and had everything ready to slide into, right down to her boots left at the back door. Conversation, however, usually took a while to get going until the slumber had completely dissipated.
On this occasion she was bright and ready and eager to talk through what might happen, and came up with a poignant comment: “If I mess up the shot, you must take the rifle and finish the buck. I don’t think I will mess it up because I won’t shoot unless I’m confident, but I want to be sure of the plan.”
I was impressed and a little proud too – she had clinically thought through every scenario and all her years of accompanying me had clearly made an impression. She was certainly ready to shoot her first buck.
Dawn was in an advanced state as we pulled up on the verge adjacent to the entrance of Paradise Wood. Sienna closed the 4×4 door softly and I set the rifle up on the sticks for her to have a dry fire and make sure she was still familiar with the trigger pull.
She operated the rifle bolt confidently and gave the thumbs up after a second dry fire. With her falling in behind me, we entered the wood and carefully made our way down towards Young Oaks high seat were I had earmarked an old buck for the larder.
Unfortunately, right then the old buck trotted out of the woods to our left and fixed us with a stare, one foreleg raised curiously pawing the air. We had the wind but he was a gnarly old bugger who hadn’t got to a ripe old age by being stupid.
It was like a Mexican standoff for a few moments but he eventually decided we were up to no good and barked at us before skipping back into the woods. Well that was that – Plan A had been blown. We would have to revert to Plan B. Executing an about turn, we headed back to the truck and moved on to Marx’s Wood and the high seat within.
Getting into the high seat at Marx’s was the difficult part. One had to enter from the road side by crawling under a hedge – I’d clipped out a hole to enable access but it was still a tight squeeze under the hawthorn.
Once through and vertical again, there was long winding path through some rhododendrons, and there was always the chance of spooking deer during this manoeuvre if any were close by. Then it was a straight walk across 20 yards of open clearing to the ash tree that supported the high seat.
Being positioned in the middle of the wood made the approach awkward but it was a good seat to occupy if you could access it without disturbing the deer. This we managed to do.
Climbing carefully into the high seat, I was careful to avoid banging the metal with the rifle barrel, which would of course have sent alarm all around the woodland.
Once Sienna was comfortable, I passed her the rifle and let her shoulder it a few times and find her support points on the high seat rail. Confident she was happy with the rifle mount and had a steady comfortable position, I clipped home the magazine, chambered a round, applied the safety and passed over the rifle to the young apprentice. We had done all we could to put in place the conditions for success.
The woodland soon settled down and reverted back to normality. The robins were belting out their song to let rivals know they were lord of this patch, and the rooks clamouring in a wood a field away made it a very English countryside morning.
We didn’t have to wait long for the buck to arrive. First a doe with two followers appeared from nowhere directly to our front, and then the buck pushed his way through a clump of stunted hawthorns and joined the doe and his progeny.
Sienna made ready with the rifle and waited until he stood broadside. She raised the rifle and adopted a good stance with two solid points of contact on the front and side rails of the high seat. Running the reticle up the buck’s nearside foreleg, she settled the illuminated red dot on the heart area, relaxed her breathing, and squeezed off the shot.
The buck reared slightly, surged forward and went head over heels kicking wildly before it expired. Sienna had expertly chambered a round and drawn another bead on the now lifeless roebuck.
She applied the safety catch and swapped rifle for binoculars, passing the rifle to me. Sienna had performed admirably and executed a perfect heart shot.
Giving the buck the required 10 minutes, I then made the rifle safe and we descended to walk over to the buck and assess his age and condition. He was certainly an old stager and a good buck to take out.
Photographs and gralloch quickly completed, we headed to the village pub where Sienna changed into her school uniform and I dropped her off at school. Not a bad morning’s work before breakfast – Sienna had done well and made a great start to her stalking career.
The future of the sport was in good hands.