Deer, a Predictably Unpredictable Species

Chris Dalton recalls some frustratingly unpredictable stalks and is reminded that there are no hard and fast rules when deer stalking.

shazstag

(Above: Shaz with an excellent and well earned Red Stag)

The weather for the last few weeks in our part of South West Scotland has been interesting to say the least! Trying to stalk in it has certainly been a challenge; incredibly mild, often very wet and with some severe gales which have brought down a fair number of trees. More than once I have arrived at a particular part of the forest and then had to rapidly re -think my plan as I have been confronted with a great big old brute of a tree across the track blocking my access. We have also had a big moon with clear nights and this I feel never helps as it hardly gets dark at night, often therefore the deer seem to have had their fill in the wee small hours and are tucked up well before first light. Now talking about the weather and other factors which are supposed to have an effect on deer movement or behaviour is a minefield!  And I have been doing this long enough now to realise that there are no hard and fast rules and I have been made a mug of on more than one occasion by the deer!!

To illustrate the point I will relate two examples:

In the first I was driving back from a stalk with a novice client who was with me for few days doing our popular introduction to stalking course.  We were chatting away and he was asking questions as you would expect and we got round to the subject of sheep and roe deer. He told me that he had read somewhere recently that roe don’t mix well with sheep and did I agree? I did and went on to explain that you will never see roe browsing alongside sheep and that I thought the main reasons for this were two-fold in that sheep eat all the good, tender shoots’ first and as roe are very selective and picky eaters that didn’t suit and also that heavy stocky densities leave sheep smell and crap all over the pasture!  I explained that years of experience have taught me this and as I drove round the corner we were immediately confronted by 2 roe browsing alongside a whole flock of sheep in an adjacent field.  Oops !!

On the second occasion, up early and making the morning quick cuppa before heading out at first light, my client was looking out of the window at driving rain and a howling gale, I definitely detected a reluctance to venture out. Shortly after he asked me what I thought of our chances and I said that  the chance of seeing roe out in this are slim as they ( roe) don’t like standing out in cold, driving rain coupled with a strong wind. So he declined the stalk and we had a cup of tea and let the light come up, he then came out with me to let the dogs have a run before breakfast. Yep you guessed it!  Stood out in the driving rain in one of my fields were 3 roe feeding as if their lives depended on it!! I give up!

Anyhow, I had with a regular guest of mine, Shaz, a paramedic from up North staying with us at Garryloop for a few days stalking. This was a re- arranged trip as I had to cancel his previous booking which was to have been on a different estate further north where he particularly wanted to try for a decent red stag. He had been very understanding about this, and, due to the short notice of the cancellation which was due to some unplanned and urgent tree survey work in the forest, this trip had been hastily organised. It was further complicated as I had other clients in and so my chance to take him out was limited to one outing. He had stalked alone the previous day as he is an experienced stalker and knows our ground; he had a successful stalk and shot a young cull buck and a fox so was quite content. However, I felt somewhat obliged due to the cancellation to get him out for his first decent stag and a nice set of horns for the wall. I had therefore watched the weather and picked the afternoon with a good forecast for my one chance to take him out.

The afternoon came and so did the weather, the met’ man must have got his charts wrong! It was awful! Driving wind and rain but trying to remain cheerful and optimistic off we set and parked up at the side of the forest track, I have to say I did not feel confident. We were wet through within around 10 minutes of getting out of the vehicle. In these conditions I always advise my guys to head into the forest where there is shelter so I slightly changed my intended stalk and we cut into some internal rides and stalked to the edge of a clearing which led out to a fair expanse of open moorland. We had been going about 20 minutes and I suppose were about 500 yards from the moor edge and Oscar, my Weimaraner, indicated strongly in front. Now Shaz has stalked with me a lot and he knows to watch the dog so had already picked up on the sign and I did not need to tell him. We couldn’t see anything but Oscar had his head up and his nose was pointed in front in that particular way so there were deer somewhere close by. We dropped the pace down a cog or two and eased forwards, very carefully placing our feet on the clumps of heather, the one good thing about the rain was the groundcover was soaked and so we made very little noise,  dry heather can be almost impossible to walk quietly on. The closer we got to the edge of the ride and open ground the stronger the dog indicated, by now he was pulling us forward, stopping and looking back as if to say come on, can’t you see them yet! I called him in close and made him wait while I peeped round the tree line edge; sure enough I was confronted by the rump of a big red browsing around 30 yards away. Now it was difficult, I was rather closer than I wanted to be and I could not look further to see if this was a stag or hind and what else, if anything was with it.

Always best in these cases to wait and see what the deer do, so that’s what we did. Fortunately, the red, a hind, worked out into the open followed shortly by a calf but unfortunately, for us, she worked across us and to our left where she immediately picked up our wind which was blowing across from right to left. That was it; nose up, deep bark and a Mexican standoff as she stared us out. Not sure what we were but she was an old girl and had clearly been at this game a while, had she been a yearling hind she might have settled but not her, she was off.  I still hadn’t been able to look round the corner to our right and so I did not know if there had been a stag or other hinds with her but in any event as soon as she ran then they would have gone as well. Oh well press on, at least we had seen deer so that was more than I expected if I am being honest.  But Oscar was not having it, he was stood like a coiled spring, muscles tight and nose locked on point to our right into the trees. I whispered to Shaz there is still something here so we will wait, sure enough within a couple of minutes a big stag with 11 points in a grand head just emerged from the trees about 45 yards away. Shaz was experienced enough to ease the rifle onto the sticks as I slowly deployed them to my left and I just eased right to give him room – my eyes never left the stag which stood and stared at me clearly trying to make out what precisely this interloper in his forest was, the moderated .270 barked and a neck shot stag toppled forward, kicked a few times and that was it – job done.  Apart from the long drag back to the car! And the obligatory photograph to go home with a very happy stalker.

So the moral of the story yet again, get out there, you won’t shoot many deer sat in front of the telly.

Chrisdalton350To read another recent article from Chris follow this link: shot-reaction-and-follow-up-of-deer

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

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