Fallow Buck Hunting
Matthew Rogers relays the amusing but fruitful story of his first Fallow Buck.
Having recently had a fairly shaky couple of stalks owing to my own performance (although not for the want of available opportunities against those elusive Fallow), I had asked Peter for a few shots on his makeshift range to get my eye back in.
Pulling up to the regular spot, I hopped over the gate and made a cursory survey of the area with my binoculars - nothing in front. As I moved forwards, to my immediate left in the tree line was a Fallow - not less than two minutes having stepped out of the car! I bought the rifle to my shoulder, but given it was a freehand shot I wanted to make absolutely sure it would be effective and on target (the very reason for wanting to punch some paper on the range in the first place). That was all the opportunity it needed, and, guided by its accompanying four or so friends, made off in to the trees towards the nearby National Trust property. Fiddlesticks! But then, in stalking it seems 'being effective' is the key - a non-effective shot is worse than no shot at all.
The following events will be familiar to most, so I'll be brief - we punched the paper, checked the zero, and strolled down to put out another target for the second rifle, chatting openly as we walked, against the backdrop of a distant shotgun being fired at vermin.
At the point where the small alley like run alongside the woods opens out in to a wide, broad field, we examined the target. At that point I was sure I spotted movement against the tree line - a gust of wind, or a jay flitting from branch to branch, no doubt. Wait - antlers!? I instinctively clutched Peters arm, whispering excitement at the same time. He glassed them, and confirmed it was an excellent melanistic Fallow Buck, walking the other side of the hedgerow across the stream. It appeared shootable. What luck! First a group of small fallow, of which I didn't target, and now this! Truly exciting.
Then the realisation hit - no rifle!
Of course, it was back at the 100m shooting stand, empty! Passing my Eden binoculars back to Peter to monitor its progress, I sprinted back to the stand, grabbed the rifle and loaded a few in to the magazine. Racing back, I alighted with Peter on the corner of the woods by the stream, where he had already deployed a pair of Southwick quad sticks up and ready in the direction of where he anticipated the animal would re appear. Now I must confess I haven't immediately taken to these new sticks, worrying about their ability to pivot. But they certainly do serve as a solid rest, as I found as the rifle sat on them absolutely rock solid, more so than the more agile ones I normally favour. I put my eye to the scope and looked at nothing much in particular into the woods.
My eye had only been at the glass for a second or two, when, like a film, the fauna parted and there was the Buck, appearing in exactly the spot that we had hoped it would re emerge! Not only had it not heard us, or been bothered by our shooting, but had actually turned towards the sunny corner where the stream cut to the left. It looked straight at me, some 40 meters away, not entirely sure what to make of us.
At this point I should explain some of the comedy that ensued. Peter, stood by my side as ever to ensure I had the best possible chance of success, could not see the animal owing to the different perspectives and fields of vision. I cleared my lungs, took a larger breath, half exhaled, and began to pressure the trigger... CLICK. No shot. No recoil. The deer remained. Startled (and half expecting the deer to bound away), I realised there was no round in the chamber!! I had been so flushed in running the 200m to collect the weapon I had made the schoolboy error of not chambering a round! Peter helped me work the bolt without my need to stand fully upright, while still, the deer remained. Now, having not seen the deer, Peter carefully thumbed the safety catch on - just as I was fitting myself to the rifle for a second time! We have looked back at this and laughed, for it was testimony to the difficulties you can run in to when spotting camouflaged targets in dense woodland. But the confidence with which I thumbed the safety off, and the position I had adopted, meant Peter could see a shot was about to be taken; for somehow, against all odds, the beast was still standing.
The single shot was placed to the lungs, resulting in a clean and effective kill at about 40m (with the animal managing an adrenalin fuelled spring of about 50m before dropping). Weighing in at around 100lbs of larder weight, this is easily the biggest animal I have taken. Much shoulder slapping and stifled laughter ensued after the shot, before the quiet and professional track to verify the kill. I would normally hesitate at saying "cor, it was this big", or "it took two of us to lift" but the latter was actually the case, and thanks to the pictures we snapped, can happily evidence it!
On the walk across the field to the shallow point in the stream, just as the sun was hitting the treetops with golden hues, I was able to confirm this was definitely the best shooting experience I've had, bar none.