BUCK­ING THE TREND

Linda Mel­lor en­joys her first roe deer stalk on Aber­cair­ney Es­tate

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS - WORDS LINDA MEL­LOR

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...

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