BUCKING THE TREND
Linda Mellor enjoys her first roe deer stalk on Abercairney Estate
Ihave loved deer since my mum took me to the cinema to see Bambi. I was only five years old and blubbed like a baby when Bambi’s mother was shot by hunters, but that moment kick-started a fascination with deer in general and roe deer in particular.
For years, I have photographed roe deer and written about their behaviour and their habitat; I’ve explored the reasons behind the explosion in the size of the roe population and worked alongside the police on the wildlife crime that has accompanied their move into urban areas.
I have also accompanied hundreds of stalkers with my camera. Roe are my favourite deer; I admire their beauty, and their ability to adapt in areas where other species have been hunted or pushed out.
But I am not naive, and know that their numbers need to be controlled somehow, so when Kenneth Larsen, a cheery Norwegian who set up Perth-based deerstalking company Venator Pro in 2014, invited me to go stalking, I accepted in an instant.
Kenneth has deer management plans in place on several estates and is keen for more people, especially women, to experience deerstalking. My introduction to deerstalking started with an informative briefing by
‘ Browsing in the cover crop were two bucks. We stalked in closer, crouching down and using the tall
grass for cover’
Kenneth about rifle safety, shot placement and stalking techniques. For years, I have enjoyed shooting game and clays with my Beretta shotgun, but have never used a rifle.
Out at the range near Crieff, Kenneth set up the rifle and talked about shooting and the significance of calm, steady breathing. With the target in place, I got myself into the prone position on a mat in the long grass with Kenneth’s Tikka T3 .243 rifle with Zeiss Diavari 3-12x56 scope. The rifle was fitted with a GRS stock, an adjustable stock that can be altered to fit. I understand the importance of gun fit from my lessons with Iain MacGregor, the professional shotgun coach.
The GRS stock was adjusted to fit me, its comfortable position boosting my confidence. I settled myself in, took my time, and remained calm as I slowed my breathing down with deep breaths. As I focused, I emptied the air from my lungs and squeezed my first shot. It was a nine at 80 metres followed by a great three-shot grouping. I shot off sticks at 103 metres, and, then again, in the prone position. It’s a more intense process than shotgun shooting, but I enjoyed getting myself into a quiet and focused state, then following it through by shooting well. It was an empowering feeling, that provided an incredible sense of achievement. Kenneth was a great coach, his advice calm and well-timed, which makes a huge difference to your ability to take on new information and understand it.
We packed our stuff back into the Land Rover and, as we drove up the farm track, we saw an old buck chasing a young buck out of the woodland and across the open fields. Kenneth said: ‘We need to set a date for your live stalk.’
Two weeks later, it was 3:30am when Kenneth and I travelled to the Abercairny Estate, 16 miles west of Perth. The beautiful estate, with a mixture of arable and mature woodland, provides a prime habitat for roe deer. The light from the morning sky was good as we drove into the estate; we passed through thick forests before parking up close to a large potato field. We quietly left the vehicle, taking the rifle, shooting sticks, my camera; even though I was focused on deerstalking I find it impossible to go anywhere without it.
We stalked silently down a track. The trees and hedgerow provided us with cover as we looked through our binoculars over the fields and woodland edges for signs of deer. The birds were singing, and three hares sat in the field but no sign of deer. After a while, we backtracked and headed west towards a large open area of old game cover crop. And there, browsing in the cover crop, were two bucks. We stalked in closer, crouching down and using the tall grass for cover. We selected the bigger of the two. Quickly and quietly, I set up the rifle on the sticks. We were less than 100 metres from
the deer; I steadied myself by taking slow, deep breaths and telling myself, ‘focus, this is it!’
While keeping my focus, I recalled thinking, all my years of practising meditation had helped me tune-in, and control my breathing. It felt as though time had stopped as I looked through the scope, patiently watching and waiting for the buck to move. Slowly, the buck turned full broadside. Kenneth was standing over my left shoulder, and whispered, ‘take the shot’. I calmly exhaled, held my breath and squeezed the trigger. The buck jumped up, ran a few metres then dropped down. I reloaded, watched and waited. Ten minutes passed.
We walked over to the buck, Kenneth touching the eyeball with his stick (the most effective method of checking that a deer is dead) before pulling the beast out from the tall nettles. In the traditional mark of respect, I picked some nearby leaves and placed them in the buck’s mouth. We took our hats off and shook hands.
It was a perfect cull buck as the antlers were deformed and pointy, which would have caused severe damage to another buck in a fight. It had been a healthy beast but not as big as some I have seen. As Kenneth gralloched the deer, the midges started to bite and it began to rain. Our timing had been perfect.
Kenneth cleaned and mounted the head for me, and the venison that we have not already eaten is now stored in my freezer. It was an honour to stalk my first buck. I’ve pushed my own boundaries, started to build up a new skill, and played a part in the process of managing our roe deer population. I will be back out stalking with Kenneth next week.
Above: Linda zeroes her rifle atop its tripod. Top centre: Linda Mellor with Venator MD Kenneth Larsen. Top right: Target practice. Right: Kenneth looks for roe deer through his binoculars.
Top left: Linda used a Tikka T3 .243 rifle on the sticks. Top right: The buck shot by Linda had pointy and deformed antlers, which would have badly injured others in a fight. Above left: Linda inspects the buck. Above right: Kenneth with Duke, his...