A Family Affair

Chris Dalton takes some of his family members stalking for Roe deer in Ayrshire.

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(Above: 'At this time of year it is my policy to take only one follower regardless of sex')

Had my eldest daughter and family staying at ‘Garryloop’ this last weekend along with the grandchildren who are rapidly growing up. Due to their work commitments, our advance bookings and hence lack of available bed space! Along with the logistics’ of bringing three children and assorted baggage up from Yorkshire, we don’t get to see them that often, so we try and pack as much in to the few days as we can.

 Last trip we had a fun range session for them with the .22 and 177 HMR, and all proved capable shots and I had promised to take Richard, my eldest grandson ,now 12 ,and his step father Dan stalking this time round. Now one thing about kids is that they never forget and so Richard had not got out of the car before I was asked “when are we going stalking granddad!”

So after a further hour on the range on Saturday, we again got everyone shooting, including Leah now aged 7. I had not let her shoot last time out, she was smaller than the rifle, but again had promised that this year she could also have a shot and believe me there was no way she was not having a go and again she shot very well – clearly its hereditary!!!  I also moved Dan up from the 177 to the .243 and he put together a very nice and tight group from both a prone position and off- the sticks, so we were all set and just needed the deer and weather to be kind to us for the planned stalk early the following morning. It was pretty poor that afternoon and well into the night, with heavy rain which actually caused some local flooding but fortunately this stopped around 5 am and the dawn was fine and dry. So far so good! 

Stalking after a fairly prolonged period of bad weather is one of the best times to be out and usually productive as the deer are keen to move out from the shelter of the trees and feed.

We had almost finished the female cull for this season but I needed to stalk a small plantation of mixed conifer and hardwoods on which there was a large open banking that caught the morning sun; I had limited opportunity to stalk here thus far due to game shooting interests. We had seen a few family group’s of roe here feeding and in particular there was a doe with two followers usually to be found not far from a block of hardwoods in the centre of this hill side. I had thought that we would be able to park on the track edge and drop down the front face of this hill, stalking the boundary edge and glassing back up the slope to see if any likely suspects were feeding. The forecast wind direction should have been ideal for this, but as is often the case I got out of the vehicle and felt the wind on my neck! Change of plan required. I briefed my team to stay close, not to make any sudden movements and to do exactly what I did. Fortunately, there were small rides in the conifers which would allow us to go quickly and quietly around to the far side boundary and work back in the opposite direction to the one intended which would effectively work my planned stalk in reverse.

All went well with plan ‘B’ and after a slow stalk around, never assume that just because of a tail wind you won’t come onto deer in the rides! If you go charging off and bump roe that then go crashing off through the trees, barking, you won’t help you cause at all, so be patient and stalk carefully.

 Anyhow, apart for a few noisy teal and mallard, which lifted off one of our flight ponds, we made the far boundary without spooking anything and as far as I knew undetected. So we could start to work back and very carefully stalked down the left hand boundary fence each few yards forward opened up a new vista to glass and we made slow, but quiet, progress to the valley bottom. The key member of the team now is ‘Oscar’, my Weimaraner his nose is going and I am constantly watching him for that tell tale sign, but so far he is not pulling forward and his nose is just swivelling from side to side testing the air currents, as yet no indication so we move on along the bottom boundary fence: this runs parallel to the Ayr/Girvan railway line so its flat in the bottom and easy going although a bit wet. We had reached about the mid-point along this fence edge and Oscar started to pull slowly forward and angle up the hill to our right, he moved to about 15 yards in front of me and his nose is up, moving slowly from side to side and then went still pointing about 45 degrees up the slope with his right leg up on point. I whispered to Richard and Dan to slowly crouch down and stay still as we had deer somewhere fairly close. The dog only does this when I am within around 200 yards of deer, I carefully glass the slope but initially could not see any movement and then yes, there was that distinctive white anal tush of a roe, arse to us and feeding in the centre of a small ash and alder plantation, I could clearly see her through the tree tubes, she was around 140 yards in front and above us. I signalled for Dan and Richard to slowly move closer to me and pointed the deer out to them; initially neither could see the roe but after a while as it moved, both noted the movement and enjoyed watching a wild roe for the first time at close quarters.  Shortly thereafter a further 2 Roe came into the picture, and we had the doe and 2 followers in view.

In front of me and perhaps 30 yards forward of us was a single hawthorn tree which would give us cover and also a clear shot to the deer, so we very slowly edged forward and I set the sticks low to allow a kneeling shot for Dan; this is probably the most stable shot to take off sticks as you have more points of the body in contact with the ground and a lower centre of gravity. All good so far and we got Dan set up, he looked comfortable and at my whispered –“you ok to shoot’?” an affirmative reply came back, but at this point the roe were all sky lined, no safe shot. I told Dan to stay in the aim, but relax and pointed out to him the deer I wanted him to take, the smallest of the two which was a buck follower, but only on my command and  only then  if it moved into a safe position.

 I should clarify that at this late stage in the season my policy with regard to female deer  is that we take one of the followers, irrespective of sex , I do not want mature, heavily pregnant  does shot and then have dependant kids trying to fend for themselves. Additionally, this was a very small buck kid who in a few short weeks time would be getting into a whole heap of trouble with the older boys in here.

We probably had to wait around 10 minutes with the deer totally oblivious to us but eventually the smallest kid moved down the slope and then turned nicely broadside and paused. I wisped ‘OK’ I then heard an attempt at controlling some rapid breathing, shortly followed by the shot and a resulting, satisfying thump; the deer dropped instantly. Strike point slightly high, I find this is very common with uphill shooting from a bi- pod or sticks, but the deer would not have felt a thing.

A great morning and I always enjoy  taking folk out after their first deer but this was particularly nice as it was family and, hopefully, we have introduced some new young stalkers to the hunting fraternity, Richard made me  promise to take him stalking next year as it’s’ his turn’, so watch this space. He was however not overly charmed while watching the removal of a certain key part of the male anatomy as a pre cursor to the suspended gralloch and he did wince and grab his tackle. I warned him to make sure that he did exactly as he was told from now on and mind his manners as granddad is handy with a knife!

Chrisdalton350Chris Dalton is a highly respected Deer Manager in Scotland and runs Ayrshire Stalking, to contact Chris Tel: 07710 871190

For more on Deer Stalking in Scotland follow this link: outings-scotland

Alternatively to read more about introducing young blood to the sport follow this link: young-blood

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