New Forest Roe Buck
- Tuesday, 03 June 2014
John Barton sets out in search of Roe Buck in the New Forest and also stumbles across the consequences of a Deer Vehicle Collision.
(Above: Deer can pose a serious threat to motorists who frequent country roads)
Spring is my favourite time to be out in the woods, and mornings are particularly special. With dawn still at a fairly reasonable hour it's also possible to get some sleep before waking, convincing myself that it's worth the early start, going through a final kit check, and leaving the house. Not being a natural morning person, the ever present fear of leaving my bolt at home results in several 'idiot checks' before setting off.
The night before my latest deer stalking outing a look at the forecast revealed that the morning would start dry, fairly still and clear, with rain expected at around 10am. Knowing I would be long gone before the heavens descended, I decided that the morning would be perfect for my fair weather buck gun, a .243 Heym SR21 in wood and blue.
I am lucky enough to be responsible for the deer management over part of an estate in the New Forest in Hampshire. From May onward the close season for all but Roe Buck and Muntjac brings with it a certain focus. Although they are nearby, I have yet to spot a Munti on this ground, resulting in even clearer expectation. My previous two outings, sited in a high seat I erected in late January, resulted in several doe sightings but no bucks, leading to my decision to try my luck at a promising copse to the north, bordered by arable land.
(Left: John Bartons rifle of choice for fair weather stalking, the Heym SR21. Click on the following link for his review of this rifle: heym-sr21-rifle-review)
After a bleary-eyed drive to the forest I arrived feeling excited about stalking an area I had only really explored without a rifle before. A fairly small copse with a pond and pheasant pen, it's intersected well with rides. More importantly to me the margins of the surrounding crop were where I expected to find my quarry, a promising dip in a corner with a well used rack accessing the field. One problem. As I readied myself by my vehicle I noticed that, unusually, the breeze was coming in from the west which was less than ideal.
After trying to make the best of the situation (and attempting not to spread my scent far and wide) I arrived in a position overlooking the hotspot. Hares appeared in numbers, loping around, oblivious to my presence. I caught the first hare from the corner of my eye and my brain screamed 'Muntjac!'. Not for the first time. I settled in, propped up against a sturdy old beech. The recent mild, yet wet weather had awoken the woodland from its winter slumber in a burst of pea-green splendour. My first Cuckoo of the year called from somewhere behind me. No deer though.
As the minutes ticked by, the breeze picked up; it was now blowing my scent into the woodland behind, narrowing my options. Fieldcraft for me is as much about gut instinct as it is about knowledge and technique, and my gut was telling me it wasn't going to happen here.
I considered the options; If I continued along the margin and over the rise I could drop down through the field, cross the track, enter the wood on the other side and stalk up the ride to the high seat. Alternatively.... decision made. I was up and moving, the lure of more familiar ground and a high seat in a prime position that had yet to produce, was just too strong.
By the time I made it around a bog that was once a path from the field to the track, I was worried that time was against me, it was 6:15 and the wood was in full swing. It was reassuring to note that the breeze was now SSW, right in my face, the norm for this area and I can only assume it has something to do with the topography and the proximity to the Beaulieu River and the sea. I decided that rather than stalk down to the high seat I would walk to it. As I made my way down the main ride I noticed that since my last visit a massive section of oak had fallen onto a ride I often use, a thought provoking sight.
Arriving at the seat, I unloaded and climbed into position. After carefully reloading, safety on, I prepared for the wait ahead. A Treecreeper made its way up the tree next to mine and I noticed that the Nuthatches were still busily attending a hole in a nearby trunk. I wondered if they'd had a brood since my last visit. Just as I remembered that I wasn't here to watch birds and made a conscious decision to switch on, I noticed movement down the ride. This time it wasn't a hare.
A young buck, ragged looking in the remnants of his winter coat, had confidently stepped onto the ride 130 yards away, where I had passed by not more than five minutes before. I've heard it said that walking normally along a ride to a seat spooks deer less than stalking in. In an area frequented by keepers, with public footpaths nearby and walkers aplenty, deer associate people walking with zero threat and wait for them to pass, rather than crashing through the wood upon sight of the slow and deliberate movements of a predator (aka stalker). I was surprised that after only a few minutes nothing remained of my scent however.
That's the wonderful thing about stalking. You never stop learning.
Upon glassing the animal I noted that he was almost a four pointer, still with a little velvet. He was showing intent to hop back into the wood, so I called him. He turned to look back but the angle wasn't right. I called again, making a popping noise with my tongue against the roof of my mouth (my rationale being that it's a sound that's alien, and as such will provoke a response, but not associated with humans). The buck turned broadside and I took the shot. I heard the thud of impact and reloaded as the animal hit the floor.
Coincidentally (or not?!), just as the report issued from my muzzle, another oak bough fell from a tree opposite me. It's was all happening.
After a few minutes I climbed from the seat and carefully approached. An eyeball reflex check confirmed that the buck was dead. I unloaded again and took a close look at the animal. I'm not a spiritual person but I always take time to contemplate things when a deer has been culled. Realising that I had forgotten to pace the shot from the seat, I decided to do this now before I forgot.
As I approached the high seat, the ride on the low ground beyond it became visible. I was greeted by the vision of another buck at about 160 yards. Two cull bucks, on the same ride, within 300 yards of each other in eight minutes. It really was my morning.
I crept the last few yards to the base of the high seat and reloaded. The buck was a nice four pointer, older than the first and in full summer coat and hard antler. Should I? He made his way to the edge of the ride, looking into cover. Not much time. It was within the cull plan. Decision made. I steadied myself against the ladder and took aim. Safety off, I took the shot. The buck reacted to the shot, then crashed forward into cover.
I now had one culled animal 130 yards in one direction and one possibly wounded animal 160 yards in the opposite direction. I decided that welfare was the key issue and committed to finding the second buck.
At the site of impact I noticed pink frothy blood, a good sign of a heart and lung shot. Feeling reassured that the animal would be dead, and not too far away, I crouched, scanning for the start of a blood trail. After some searching and a little worry that I couldn't find the start of a trail, I noticed a crimson dot on some foliage on the other side of the ride, then another. Thankfully my eye was now in. Worryingly the trail soon lead to a drain, but I was relived to note that the trail continued on the other side and the buck wasn't slumped in a pool of filthy water. Such a waste of a carcass would be heartbreaking. I continued into the wood, following the trail, coming to a break and picking it up once more. After about 80 yards I spotted the animal slumped at the base of a tree. I carefully approached and confirmed that it had expired. The heart and lung shot had done its job.
After gathering both beasts I took a short cut to get my truck, drove back along the ride and gralloched them ready for the journey back to the larder.
On the journey to the larder I was considering what an eventful morning I'd had. Not far from the farm and chiller I noticed a Volvo facing me on the roadside ahead. Airbags deployed, and with substantial front-end damage, it had clearly just been involved in an accident. As I got closer I noticed the driver at the roadside and the remains of a fallow deer a little further down the road on the opposite verge. The driver confirmed he was unhurt and awaiting recovery. The unfortunate fellow had collided with the beast at fifty miles per hour, but he had the composure to keep it in a straight line and not crash into the bordering woodland or an oncoming vehicle. The animal had unsurprisingly suffered massive injuries and was clearly dead. A colleague kindly removed the fallow some minutes later.
After a beautiful Spring morning's stalk, with a brace of bucks in the larder and a graphic reminder of one of the many reasons deer control is required, I set off home for a few hours sleep and dreams of dodging falling oak...
For more on Deer Vehicle Collisions follow this link: confessions-of-a-deer-warden
For more about Stalking Roe Buck follow this link: roe-buck-stalking