A dinner party leads to an unexpected invite to try for a fallow buck for Deano Harrison
My host and I were chatting about shooting, as you do, and I mentioned about stalking a sika stag the previous autumn. “Yes,” replied my new pal, “our keeper is very busy at the moment with guests over on the fallow bucks.”
I have shot lots of fallow over the years, but never really experienced a true rut. Admittedly, the ground in Dorset I looked after for all those years had rutting bucks on it, but there were no real rutting stands that they used year after year. It was right on the edge of the fallow ground, so you would just get a buck here or there grunting with his does. I often used to think that I had discovered a proper stand, but the following year they would be somewhere else.
“I will ask him if he can take you out, as we have hundreds of them,” he offered, to which I replied: “I would love to!” That’s just the type of stalking that still appeals to me.
Two days later, I received the call: “This Sunday afternoon at 3.30pm if you can make it”.
“I’ll be there,” was my reply. Again, I remembered just how much I enjoyed stalking those sika last year, so I was really looking forward to it.
Sunday morning came and my mind was on getting myself ready for the afternoon. I wanted to just check my .308 was shooting OK, which it was. And, of course, my trigger sticks, which editor Rebecca talked me into getting last year!
It was a sunny afternoon, a bit windy but I would say just a perfect day to be going to somewhere I had never hunted before.
I arrived about 3.10 to find the keeper wrestling with a big fallow buck in the larder. I introduced myself to him, and he just about raised a grimace. I could tell he needed
this outing like a hole in the head. “You look knackered,” I remarked to break the ice.
“Yes, it’s been a busy week. I’ve just had to shoot this buck as it had been tangled up in sheep wire.” I pitched in and helped him cut the wire that was wrapped around his throat, so he could remove the head and finish dressing the carcass.
That done, he relaxed and we went through the plan for the evening stalk. He would be taking me to a stand where there had been about 30 big bucks present, and we would be shooting one of the old ones if the chance came our way.
The ground is 3,000 acres close to the New Forest and full of fallow, so my chance of seeing plenty of action was high. We drove through the woodland, spotting groups of fallow on the way. It was only 4pm and time was on our side.
We parked up and the keeper explained that we would make our way to the rutting stand, but that we would have to stay alert as we could bump into a big old buck at any time on the way. Literally, just three minutes into the stalk, I spotted one sat under an oak tree! He looked huge: the biggest buck I had seen in the wild.
The keeper checked him over through his binoculars. “That’s not what we are after: let’s leave him to have a rest… he has been busy sowing his seeds!”
When we got closer to the stand, about 200 yards away, we could hear them grunting and started to spot prickets and nice young bucks. Then, suddenly, a big buck passed in front of us only 80 yards away. “That’s a good one to take,” whispered the keeper. I had my rifle straight up on my sticks only to watch him slip behind some fallen trees never to be seen again. We waited a short time then moved on. Was that to be my only chance? I just did not know.
We moved into a position where we had the area of woodland around the rutting stand in front of us. I can tell you now, this is what I came to see and feel part of! Antlers clattering, grunting deer everywhere… but we could not see them. For some reason, the main area of activity seemed to have shifted down the wood to our left and not in front of the stand as usual.
The trouble with this was all the real action was behind some fallen trees. We sat and waited as it was hard to move with does and young bucks everywhere, then a big one came into view. “Take him if you get the chance,” was the command.
It was a nice old one. He was crossing in front of us as I got him in my scope. Once again, he did not stop in the open and when he did there would be a tree in the way or another deer in front or behind him so I could not shoot. This was going to be harder than I first thought! The keeper explained that when you are only after a suitable big buck to take out during the rut you will go home time and time again not getting a shot.
We must have sat there for 45 minutes, but all we kept seeing were nice young bucks. The keeper whispered that we needed to move forward so we can see around the fallen trees where it was all happening.
Very slowly, we moved forward, stopping every time a deer looked our way, until at last we could
see a lot of movement. Again, there was cover and trees in the way, but the keeper said there was a good buck at the back of the does. “Take him, he’s stopped…” I just couldn’t see him! “Over to your right a bit more… he has stopped again.”
I was starting to get frustrated, but then I spotted him at last. I relaxed and followed him with my scope. He came into view, offering me a neck shot, which I took.
The buck went straight down. “Bloody hell, that was really exciting!” Over to the buck we walked and what a fantastic beast. I was really pleased: he was a long way from being one of the best bucks there and that’s what you want. He had a bit of a fish tail on each antler, but a cracking trophy to take home and convince my wife Shell to find a spot in the house for somewhere.
Luckily, the track was not too far away, so we dragged it over together ready to recover it with the truck.
“We still have time to maybe get a pricket or two,” said the keeper. A gallant offer! I replied I would be happy to go back and have a cuppa, and I could tell he liked my suggestion. I didn’t need to shoot anything else, so we walked slowly back spotting deer all the way, enjoying the atmosphere walking through this old woodland as it slowly returned to its natural state after I had taken the shot.
The buck was dressed out back at the larder and with that done, we sat and chatted over a cup of tea. Two fellow countrymen sharing years of stories was a nice way to end the day.
This is something I want to do every year now – stalk to one of these big rutting stands and take the time to sit and watch.
‘This is what I came to see: antlers clattering, grunting deer, but, for some reason, the activity seemed to have shifted down the wood’
The rut is in full swing as Deano makes his way to the New Forest stand
A successful stalk!
This buck had to be culled after getting tangled in stock fencing