Practicing what we preach!

We have always put integrity at the top of our list when it comes to giving customer satisfaction. This last Tuesday saw me out again working hard for a clients first deer.

Jim came to me a little over a month ago with a shiny new Firearms certificate with permission to acquire several new rifles in different calibres with the intention of progressing to deerstalking as soon as possible, after a few searching questions regarding budget, personal preference and quarry species I advised him to look at a Sako 85 in 308, his personal preference of rifle and my preference of calibre for his needs and a Swarovski scope to complete the outfit, his and my preference! A week later thanks to a fast turn around by a local Sako/Swarovski dealer he came to the range to start his training. Up to this point Jim had only used a couple of my rifles as a preliminary introduction to centrefires and was eager to try his new outfit. We gently conditioned the barrel and after a while had it shooting 1cm groups with factory Sako 123Gn ammunition, Jim was delighted. As a fanatical home loader I sometimes lose touch with factory ammo but have recently been doing a few tests of my own with it and have to say that at the moment for performance in every respect as well as price I have yet to find anything comparable to Sako.

Unfortunately for Jim his FAC is heavily restricted until he gains a recognised deer management qualification so all his stalking would have to be accompanied using an estate rifle – the new Sako would have to wait until July when Jim will hopefully gain his Level 1 with us. In the meantime, having looked at the weather conditions for the week I decided Tuesday would be the best bet for a stalk with warm sunshine interspersed with cloud cover, hopefully the deer would be behaving more predictably, the cold strong winds of the past month have made things a little tricky and I was eager to get Jim onto a buck on his first outing. I had arranged a time to meet and chosen a suitable venue where I was sure we would at least see deer, however the previous evening I had driven around and seen very little in the way of cull bucks so at the last minute I changed the venue, this was a problem, earlier in the year I had taken the bucks I wanted out of this area leaving only better animals and was reluctant to shoot one of them this early, all I could do was hope that the rest I had given the area had allowed a few wandering youngsters to move in – time would tell.

At 19.00 Jim arrived as arranged and we set off on the short journey to the plantation, he was nervous but keen so I did my best to allay his worries, I assured him that as long as he did exactly what he had practised at the range on the deer targets everything would be fine, I would be with him every step and the dogs were in the back of the truck as back up – he seemed to relax a bit!

As we were approaching the longest day and with clear skies we had plenty of time so I decided that we would have a drive around a couple more areas first, unfortunately the landowner had been spreading muck in a neighbouring field so it proved largely a waste of time but it helped Jim to relax a bit and get into the habit of glassing around looking for deer. Next we parked up at a vantage point I use to scan the valley, again we saw no deer, under my breath I was cursing, had I done the right thing switching venue? Now it was me who was anxious – since the beginning of April I have a 100% success rate, I knew it had to end but I really didn’t want it to be tonight, I just had to hope that the deer were in the plantation, the only thing really in our favour was the wind direction, it was a Southerly meaning we could get into the plantation from the top going downhill and work our way through ending up in the most productive area, the South East corner where it meets a much larger plantation, all the time stalking into the wind.

We parked in the yard and made ready, I explained to Jim the need for as little kit as possible and why, too many people take too much unnecessary kit with them when out stalking – if the truth be told if they thought about what they actually need, a good deal of time and money would be saved, on a lot of my ground I am lucky enough to have vehicular access so extraction equipment is seldom needed, also when I am busy culling I tend to move on after shooting one animal so only perform a green gralloch or just bleed the animal for dressing out later, so the only extras I carry after the rifle, binoculars and stick are some disposable gloves and a knife, the only addition to this is an old dog lead or similar as a drag rope and some extra ammo if I’m expecting a busy day – nice and simple, I have seen some people load their pockets with gadgets and carry rucksacks or similar full of goodness only knows what including, and I kid you not, 20 rounds of ammunition!

We made our way into the top of the plantation and immediately I was able to show Jim evidence of deer damage with some fraying and browsing being clearly evident, he looked quite surprised and realised why deer control was necessary as a few of the younger trees were well beyond saving. this particular landowner has a passion for trees and an absolute hatred of deer and if he was a shooting man would no doubt wreak havoc on the local deer population, as it is he relies on us to keep damage to a minimum. The top of the plantation has never been a very productive area so it was good that I was able to point out this damage to Jim whilst getting him to glass for deer and instil in him the need for a nice slow and stealthy pace. I slowed him down further when we got to the main plantation and immediately he spotted a roe doe browsing slowly along the edge of the planation, this was absolutely ideal as we were able to spend a good 10 minutes watching her, all the time getting nearer and nearer to her with me being able to point out key differences in the sex and species, we ended up no further than 20 yards away, Jim could not believe how close we could get to her as this was the first live deer he had seen that close, I explained that at this time of year the does were easier to get close to and that as we couldn’t see a youngster with her it was likely that it would be hidden away whilst she fed, for her to return to later and feed the youngster. As I didn’t want to alarm her and cause her to run through the plantation barking at us I moved into a position where she would hopefully wind us at her own pace, this worked a treat and after a few more minutes she bounced off through the adjoining grass field into an area upwind of us, this would allow us to go round the top of the main plantation and stalk back into the wind. Having gone only a few yards I spotted movement in the plantation to our left and immediately froze, a fallow doe further in had also winded us and had come to investigate, now we had to keep still and be patient and hopefully she would move off in her own time without any further disturbance – the last thing I needed now was a big daft fallow crashing through the trees scattering any other deer. Because we were now downwind of her she decided to move off down to the bottom end of the wood which was ideal for us as she would hopefully be in the last part of the wood we would get to.

We continued along the side of the plantation and spotted a couple more roe does in the plantation until we reached the furthest Northern point where we would start our proper stalk at which point I handed Jim the rifle and again ran through the operation of the safety catch. Having seen a couple more deer my confidence had risen, I was certain there would be a buck close by, I just hoped it wouldn’t be a huge one! We started down the far edge of the plantation where the owner had recently mowed a ride – this is the best kept plantation I have ever stalked, it is around 50 acres and contains a good mix of deciduous tree species with cherry, ash and beech forming the majority, it is around 10 years old and is perfectly laid out with wide well managed rides running from east to west intersecting the blocks of trees. Having reached the bottom of the first ride we made our way up the second, back the way we came but with a new block of trees upwind of us and to our right, having reached the top of the second ride I quietly informed Jim that we were now going down to what is usually a very productive area of the plantation, the North Easterly corner, we had a block of trees on our left and a block on our right which although we were winding, didn’t really matter as the wind was coming off our left shoulder at 90 degrees and we would be looking straight ahead and down through the plantation giving us the advantage. We had barely gone 50 yards, just over the brow and looking down into the corner when a Muntjac buck walked out across the ride from our left about 60 metres in front of us, Jim immediately spotted it, I instantly put the sticks out and whispered to Jim to put the rifle on the sticks, put the safety catch off and wait for it to hopefully stop then shoot, a second or two later it was straight in front of us as it reached the edge of the ride, I was just about to shout at it to stop it when it turned to look at us and froze, a second later the rifle went off and down it went – Jim had grassed his first deer, I told him to reload but knew it was unneccessary, immediately a roe buck ran out into the ride startled by the shot, a lovely 6 pointer exactly from where I knew he’d be and not one I would have wanted Jim to shoot, so lucky for us not so lucky for Mr Munty! We watched the animal for a minute or two just to check for signs of life and to give Jim a chance to compose himself, he was amazed at the speed it all happened from seeing the deer to identifying it and taking the shot, in a matter of seconds his pulse had gone from normal to racing and now he had the shakes. He was obviously over the moon and was glad of all the training he had done with me at the range, in all it couldn’t really have gone any better – another satisfied client utterly hooked and my 100% success rate intact, for now!

I showed Jim how to bleed the animal and left it pointing downhill to let gravity help whilst we had a steady walk around the bottom of the plantation just in case there was anything else hanging around although I suspected that the buck that we had disturbed with the shot would have made sure that any other deer in the area would know of our presence by now so was surprised to see a fallow doe along the field edge adjoining the bottom of the wood, possibly the one we had disturbed earlier, we stopped for a few moments to watch her apparently unaware of the earlier goings on before walking back to fetch the truck and dress out Jims first deer.

I was genuinely pleased for Jim, he has been an attentive client, has always listened and has learnt well, I have no doubt he will become a fine stalker. All through the evening he was asking relevant questions and took in everything I showed him, he was able to observe 3 deer species, albeit very briefly with the Muntjac! This is how we operate at DDS, we pride ourselves on teaching people as much as possible then getting them out into the field to put it into practice and continue the learning process, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to get a novice his first deer and then listen to the torrent of emotions that pour out afterwards, it’s what makes the early mornings and late evenings all worth it, I was proud of Jim and the way he handled himself and was delighted when he decided to have the carcass butchered and I am sure when Jim gets to taste his first deer he will be even more hooked.

Safe shooting.

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