Hard­man’s Hunt­ing

Phil’s a man with­out a plan, en­joy­ing a tran­quil walk in the woods with his ri­fle

Airgun World - - Contents -

Iwant to start this month’s piece by say­ing a big thank you to ev­ery­one who wrote in, or con­tacted me of­fer­ing words of sup­port af­ter I an­nounced the dev­as­tat­ing loss of two pieces of my hunt­ing per­mis­sion, which made up the vast ma­jor­ity of the land over which I shoot. The sup­port of read­ers re­ally helped to lift my spir­its, and the words of en­cour­age­ment helped me to get back up from the knock, get out there, and see if there was any way I could hang on to at least the smaller, ten­ant farm part of the land.

The good news is, I man­aged to se­cure that land, and once again have per­mis­sion to shoot on it, which is a huge re­lief. This was pos­si­ble sim­ply be­cause I had al­ways kept up good re­la­tions with the farmer, de­spite hav­ing my per­mis­sion from the shoot­ing es­tate that owned the sport­ing rights on the land. When those rights were re­turned to the farmer, he was more than happy for me to con­tinue, which just goes to show, be po­lite and cour­te­ous to ev­ery­one you meet when out shoot­ing be­cause you never know when you might one day need their help or sup­port.

SMALL BUT PER­FECTLY FORMED

Com­pared to what I have lost, this piece of land is rel­a­tively small, and the wood­land part of it, which is what I am re­ally in­ter­ested in, is smaller still, but de­spite that, more bags of quarry have been filled from this piece of 22-acre wood­land, than from the other 250 acres com­bined. When it came to where to go, and what to write about for this month’s piece, there was re­ally only one choice. I had to go to the place I thought I might never get to hunt over again, of course I did. So that’s where this month be­gins, with a jour­ney through the smaller wood­land, the same place I have hunted pretty reg­u­larly for the past seven or eight years, but this time, I was look­ing at it so very dif­fer­ently.

QUI­ETLY CON­FI­DENT

The weather this past week has been a bit of a scorcher. In fact, I be­lieve it’s been a record-break­ing heat-wave for this time of year, so I avoided the worst of the sun’s in­tense rays, and stalked the woods later in the day, once things had cooled off a lit­tle. Af­ter a spring that had seen huge amounts of snow still fall­ing un­til a month or so ago, na­ture has been slightly late in get­ting into the swing of the breed­ing sea­son for most an­i­mals round here, so they have now had to catch up, and are even more dis­tracted by courtship than usual. I hoped to use this to my ad­van­tage and bag some wood­pi­geons that might be us­ing the wood as a breed­ing ground, to pair up, mate and nest. I was qui­etly con­fi­dent of my chances be­cause a dis­tracted an­i­mal, makes for a far eas­ier prey.

BRING­ING OUT THE BEAUTY

I had for­got­ten just how great it can be when hunt­ing in nice weather, and the sun only served to bring out the beauty of the place even more as I stepped out of my car and walked into the wood, ready­ing the Weihrauch HW110 for ac­tion as I went. It was late in the af­ter­noon and the sun was sit­ting low in the sky on its way to its nightly meet­ing with the hori­zon. I could hear pigeons some­where up ahead in the wood, ‘coo­ing’ and flut­ter­ing around, but de­spite there still be­ing a rel­a­tive lack of leaves on the trees, I couldn’t see them yet. They were pretty close, though, so I made my way for­ward very care­fully, thread­ing my way through the ivy-cov­ered tree trunks, paus­ing and scan­ning ev­ery limb, try­ing to get the drop on them first.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

I paused un­der an over­hang­ing holly bush, lis­tened and watched, hop­ing they would re­veal them­selves, and was just about to con­tinue for­ward when move­ment caught my eye in a bush on the edge of the tree­line. I was sure I had just wit­nessed a squir­rel jump­ing from one branch to an­other, caus­ing the branch to shake, but I needed to get a bit closer be­cause there were trees ob­struct­ing any shot I might get. I stepped for­ward out of the shade of my cov­ered po­si­tion, and sud­denly be­came aware of some­thing to my right, 10 yards away.

It ac­tu­ally trig­gered my fight or flight re­sponse, and for a split sec­ond my heart skipped a beat. Ten yards away stood a roe deer, just star­ing at me. Frozen to the spot, I stared back, not even dar­ing to turn my head. I’m sure it was a mat­ter of sec­onds, but at the time, it felt like for­ever. The jour­nal­ist in me took over and I went for my phone, slowly. If I could get a photo of this … I didn’t even get my hand to my pocket. In fact, I might have only moved a sin­gle finger when the deer turned and bounded away, dis­ap­pear­ing in a few short leaps as it made its way back deeper into the wood.

My ini­tial re­ac­tion was some­thing along the lines of, ‘I love this place! swiftly fol­lowed by me kick­ing my­self for not see­ing it first, and be­ing able to sit tight and take a pic­ture. I won­dered how it is that I can spot a wood­pi­geon in a group of trees, or a grey squir­rel, from hun­dreds of yards away, but a deer can be within 10 or 15 yards, as big as it is, and I’d have no idea it’s there.

PER­FECT SHOT

Luck­ily, as the deer ran, I hadn’t no­ticed any move­ment from the bush where I had seen the sus­pected squir­rel move­ment, so I still had the chance of a shot. I moved to the next tree, scanned through the scope, and there it was – not a squir­rel, but a woodie, sit­ting tucked up nicely in the up­per part of the bush, fac­ing away from me, giv­ing me the per­fect shot at its back. I rested on the trunk of the tree, put the scope’s ret­i­cle be­tween its shoul­der blades and fired. I saw the feathers on its back part per­fectly as the pel­let hit home, and the bird flopped for­ward with­out so much as open­ing its wings and it crashed into the wood­land floor.

PER­PLEXED

I walked over to make the re­trieve and just as I picked up the shot bird and stepped out from un­der the bush it had been in, I spot­ted an­other pi­geon sit­ting in a tree about 25 yards from me – just sit­ting there, re­laxed, not a care in the world. I’ll ad­mit I was slightly per­plexed as to why it would just sit there, when I was

“My ini­tial re­ac­tion was some­thing along the lines of, ‘I love this place!”

not only mov­ing around, but I had also just fired the ri­fle so close to where it was perched. I didn’t think too long about this, maybe a tenth of a sec­ond as I raised the gun and sent the pel­let zip­ping through the branches to­wards the world’s most docile wood­pi­geon.

As it fell, bounc­ing off a cou­ple of branches on its way down to the ground, I won­dered, did it think I was a deer? Had it seen the roe from my en­counter a few min­utes ear­lier and dropped its guard, as­sum­ing that any move­ment I made was just an­other harm­less deer mov­ing through the wood? That is all I can come up with to ex­plain this par­tic­u­lar bird’s un­usual be­hav­iour, but what­ever the rea­son for its mis­take, it paid with its life. On any other day, I’d have ex­pected it to burst out of the tree when I shot the first one, and be long gone be­fore I even re­alised it was there.

SIT­TING AND LIS­TEN­ING

Af­ter col­lect­ing kill num­ber two, I de­cided to take a break for a minute, to sit qui­etly and lis­ten and watch, just in case there was any­thing else in the vicin­ity, be­fore mov­ing deeper into the wood. I worked my way down to the small stream that cuts through the cen­tre and fol­lowed it, the softer, damper ground less crunchy un­der­foot and help­ing to mask my ap­proach. Maybe be­cause it was late in the day, or per­haps it was the deer run­ning through the wood at full belt, but for what­ever rea­son, I didn’t see an­other thing in the wood for the next hour, and with the day draw­ing to a close, I was forced to ac­cept that two was all I was go­ing to be bag­ging on this par­tic­u­lar trip. Not that I was com­plain­ing; a month ago I thought I had taken my very last shots in this wood, and here I was with not only two in the bag, but end­less chances to come back and do it all over again, as many times as I wanted.

NEW AP­PRE­CI­A­TION

The two pigeons were a sweet­ener – don’t get me wrong – but the deer, the song­birds, the stream, the ivy-cov­ered trees, all of it … I was ap­pre­ci­at­ing this place in a way I hadn’t since I first got the shoot seven years ago. This hunt­ing trip was never sup­posed to be a full-on ses­sion. It was in­tended to be a nice, re­lax­ing walk out with the ri­fle. I hadn’t even both­ered to wear my full hunt­ing gear. I was in a ca­sual hoodie and a cap I usu­ally wear when I’m try­ing my best to look trendy, not out in the hunt­ing field. It had been so long since I did that – just me and the gun, wan­der­ing, not tied to a plan, not bound by pres­sure, try­ing to be a pro’, or get­ting some amaz­ing fea­ture for the mag’, just do­ing what I wanted, en­joy­ing my­self. For me, it was re­ally amaz­ing!

JUST AN EV­ERY­DAY HUNTER

On the walk back to the car I was think­ing about all of this, and a let­ter printed last month came to mind, ask­ing why the mag­a­zine doesn’t fea­ture ar­ti­cles by ‘nor­mal ev­ery­day air­gun­ners’. Truth­fully it does, I’m just some bloke with a ri­fle, no bet­ter nor worse than any­one else who en­joys be­ing out in the coun­try­side with a gun, who has learned some stuff over the years that could help some peo­ple. I‘m still amazed when a deer sneaks up on me, still happy with a brace of wood­ies, and still aware of just how lucky I am to be able to do it all in some beau­ti­ful parts of the coun­try­side, just like ev­ery­one else who has a per­mis­sion they love. I still buy my own pel­lets from my lo­cal gun­shop; I still miss shots, and I STILL for­get to bring my hunt­ing boots with me some­times. Oh, and this month, I even man­aged to for­get my cam­era, so had to use my phone, so I’m sure I‘m go­ing get it in the ear from ed­i­tor. *He did! – Ed*

Yeah, trust me, I’m just like ev­ery­one else. I make the same mis­takes, too, and as of­ten. Un­til next month, then, happy hunt­ing! I

No spe­cial gear or plans, just a saunter with my ri­fle. Won­der­ful.

It’s eas­ier to shoot well when your mind is quiet and your body re­laxed.

Feel­ing the sun on my face has helped recharge me, no doubt about it.

Two pigeons - plus all the great things that went with them.

I don’t need cammo gear with nat­u­ral hides like this one.

I hope I’ll be creep­ing along that path for years to come.

You don’t need much land, pro­vided it’s the right land.

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