STALKING FAL­LOW

A din­ner party leads to an un­ex­pected in­vite to try for a fal­low buck for Deano Har­ri­son

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - WITH DEAN 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

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