Heat Wave Buck
- Monday, 19 August 2013
Iain Watson CIC Senior International Trophy Judge goes in search of a Roe buck in the Oxfordshire countryside.
After the cancellations of 2012, the 2013 CLA Game Fair at Ragley Hall spun into life with all manner of exposed flesh, sweating contractors, and complaints that it was too warm, which indeed for many it was. The Game Fair certainly provides a myriad of opportunities to not only catch up with old friends, but also to check out changing fashions and new products, allowing us to glimpse where our sport may be heading, as well as a chance to reflect on where it, and we have been.
(Above: The Buck in question, first sighting and still in velvet)
As well as the fair, my time in the south offered the chance of a stalk or two for a roe buck amongst the hardwoods of Oxfordshire, at the time of maximum growth, and as it happened the highest temperatures I have stalked in for many years. To add to the challenge, I was after an individual buck, who had become quite well known to me over the past two seasons.
Its often said that the good deer manager not only knows his individual animals but ensures that they are given the space and time to develop and make their mark. My friend Nick who manages the deer on a three thousand acre property, certainly devotes a lot of time, technology and effort to knowing his deer and their individual place within the hierarchy of the woods and arable farmland. However even with the energy and hours he devotes to the task we were to learn that appearances and observation can at times be deceptive and interpretation difficult.
The buck we were after first showed up on our collective radars in the spring of 2012. Big of frame and long of antlers he had taken up residence in one of the prime areas of closed canopy woodland which the estate boasts. He was easy to recognise because of an extra tine on his right antler.
(Right: The same buck, caught on camera)
After a successful rut, the buck settled into his seasonal routine staying close to the centre of his territory and the security it clearly offered him. As winter drew to its close, he was regularly seen sporting his new growing antlers, still with the familiar extra tine. "I think you should try for him this summer" Nick had offered when we were culling Muntjac in March, so we agreed to leave him well alone at the start of the new season.
Stalking an individual buck in his territory, over a small number of outings certainly sharpens the senses. I opted to wait until the game fair was over, which gave me a maximum of 4 outings to try for him. Having stalked in the wood for more than a decade and a half I have become familiar with its layout and wind eddies, and so reasonably confident I headed out for an evening session. What I had not anticipated was the oppressive heat which greeted me, and how it seemed to impact on the deer. I suppose as we get long in the tooth we get over confident in our own abilities and forget the mantra that with deer you learn something new every day!
As I cautiously made my way through the wood there were no signs of roe, the cover was providing maximum protection and the tinder dry conditions were akin to stalking over frosted ground. Rather than alert the buck if he was in the area, I chose to find a suitable observation point and wait it out. As the light faded under the canopy, Muntjac began to show on the rides, but there was no sign of my intended quarry.
The following morning offered some respite from the overnight heat, and a choice of vantage points to check for activity in the wood. As time was short, Nick offered to check out a glade he thought was favoured by the buck while I elected to go to an area close to the high point in the wood. It turned out that I had made the wrong move for no sooner had Nick settled himself in the buck momentarily appeared before returning to the deep cover. As the day progressed it became clear that thunder was on the menu, and neither of us held out any great hope for the evening.
(Below: Cut and Drying, the trophy clearly shows the additional tine)
However nothing ventured, I headed out again, only to find myself the middle of a torrential downpour preceded by rolling thunder and long streaks of lightning. As it passed the air temperature and pressure changed noticeably, and I moved cautiously taking advantage of this, and the improved underfoot conditions it brought. As dusk began to settle I found myself looking into a patch of mature thinned conifer, with an under-tow of bramble. Although Nick had seen no signs of rutting behaviour I thought the call worth a try, and keeping it in my pocket, I squeezed the bulb three times. The movement that caught my eye was where the conifers merged into rank cover. Focusing, I saw it was our buck, right side on to me his 4 point antler clearly visible, he began to trot through the timber testing the air. As he passed behind a tree I set the rifle on my shooting sticks, and gave another two squeaks with the call. The buck checked turning to his right and coming broadside to me, a final single squeeze stopped him, and with no drama he collapsed dead at the shot.
Now the plan to shoot this buck, observed, photographed, and known was based on the theory that he was mature and more than seven years of age. Indeed he had been seen to be getting slow in walking and one observer said he looked very stiff. The reality was that he was nearer to five and weighted 45lbs clean and was closer to his peak than past it.
The moral for me is that when it comes to deer we do learn every day, and that we sometimes see what we want to, rather than observe what is actually there. Still it was a good stalk and conclusion to a full weekend, here's to the next time.
To read more from Iain about the CIC Trophy measurement system click on the following link: http://www.countydeerstalking.co.uk/Blog/the-cic-and-it-s-trophy-measurement-system.html