Beginners Luck - Stalking Fallow in Oxfordshire
- Saturday, 04 January 2014
Stalking Fallow Deer in Oxfordshire. Peter Jones sets out with a beginner in search of Fallow deer.
When stalking deer with regular clients, there is an understanding between guide and guest that with wild animals there is no ‘sure thing’, and no guarantee against a ‘No show’.
(Above: Keen shot Sam with his first ever deer)
Thankfully due to the quality of our grounds I would estimate that ‘No shows’ at ‘County Deer Stalking’ account for less than 5% of our visits. So when stalking with a regular client, if by chance it is one of ‘those days’, then we both usually shrug our shoulders, role our eyes, and resign ourselves to our fate and the general statistics.
When taking out beginners however, one has to manage expectations, and the best way I find of doing this, is to be honest and open about our success rate. I have spoken before about what you should look for when booking deer stalking in the article: how-to-book-deer-stalking and amongst the suggestions that I made, is being prepared to ask your outfitter their success rate.
None the less, despite informing people of our strike rate, the worst thing for me about being a professional hunter and stalking guide, are those occasions when it just ain’t happening. This is made worse when you are out with someone who’s expectations are running high.
And so it was that I met Sam, a nineteen year old student and keen shot. Sam had kindly been afforded a beginners stalk by his father, who was keen to allow him a break from his studies. After the initial tuition and discussions around safety, shot placement, deer species etc, etc, we were off.
Now having explained what shy and flighty animals Fallow deer can be, and how hard it is to stalk them, it is irritating in the extreme when you round the first corner to see a group of them staring nonchalantly straight at you! None the less it afforded us a good opportunity to practice at getting Sam set up on the shooting sticks, before the deer felt unprepared to watch us any longer, and made off into the woods.
With expectations well and truly raised, (no thanks to this little band of deer) two long hours past with not a jot. Reluctantly we took to a high seat.
I always like to keep guests on foot if possible, however some days the ‘high seat’ is the only option and thank God we did. Spying the length of two rides from a two man seat, within 30 minutes, and in response to a distant walker, a herd of about 20 Fallow deer crossed the ride in front of us at a run. From then on things really livened up. Another 10 -15 animals could be seen crossing further up. Too far and too hasty for a shot, but reassurance at least that they were about. Personally I could relax, safe in the knowledge that there could be no doubt about the number of animals frequenting the ground.
As for Sam, no relaxation, instead quite the opposite, expectation and apprehension were again now etched on his face, were we going to see more deer? Would he get a shot? 45 minutes to go before dark, time would tell.
Then just minutes later two fallow Does, a mother and Fawn skirted along the edge of the ride just a few yards into the wood. This is the joy of stalking at this time of year, with the trees completely bare, you can see them coming.
We watched intently as the two deer moved down the length of the ride, just inside the edge of the wood and away from us, still failing to break cover. Then with all the luck of a beginner, and at around 120 yards, the two deer began to nervously cross the ride, Mother first then fawn. Half way across they paused broadside and there was our chance. Sam had the estate rifle a Sako 85 in .308 calibre trained on the animals.
“Ok” I whispered “there’s your shot”, seconds passed...too many seconds. “Arghhh! The safety!” Sam’s initial pull of the trigger was in vain. The two deer moved on, now only yards before they were across the ride and again safely into cover....with the mother now safely across, the fawn paused one last time. “Ok” I whispered again. This time no mistake, ‘Boom’....Sam’s shot rang out and was instantly met with the “Thwack’ of a solid strike. A short death run and Sam had his first ever deer.
Despite making all the right moves, sometimes those new to hunting deer can go a few outings without success, others are lucky enough to bowl one over on their first attempt. Lucky for Sam he fell into this category, as for me a great start to 2014.