For Better or For Worse
- Thursday, 14 November 2013
Stuart Morrison from East Sussex Deer Management takes his wife for an outings deer stalking and introduces her to what it's all about.
Deer stalkers can be an obsessive bunch and it is easy to forget wives and girlfriends who have to put up with quite a lot during the stalking season. Being woken at a ridiculous hours and putting up with lonely evenings, while their other halves are out stalking. Enduring our endless tales of what we’ve seen and done and cleaning up what looks like a murder scene after a deer has been butchered on the kitchen table. Dare I mention head boiling!
With this in mind, I decided to invite my wife out with me for a morning stalk. We had talked about this before but shift work for us both got in the way. My wife seemed really keen to come and see what it was all about and thought she’d do so before the temperatures dropped too much more, as she’s not keen on the cold weather.
The evening before the stalk I equipped her with a Jacket & trousers and a fleece snood and gloves. We also had a chat about basic stalking strategies from not slamming the car door to feeling for sticks before stepping. I also discussed typical shot reactions and what might happen if a shot did in fact present itself.
At 5am I was awake before the alarm clock. Everything was laid out ready and we were up and ready to go. A quick flask of coffee was prepared and Bibe my Weimaraner slipped on her neoprene jacket. This really was going to be a family outing!
I am fortunate to live not far from my stalking ground and we arrived about fifteen minutes later in darkness. I told my wife to sit tight while I got the rifle loaded and sorted out my gear. Then we were off with no door slamming! (The briefing had worked!) We needed to walk a short distance through the wood in the dark. Knowing it well myself I could have done it in the dark but had to grant her the luxury of a little torchlight.
We emerged into a clover field with the first hint of dawn ahead of us. We had only gone a few yards when I noticed the silhouette of a Fallow Buck merging with the edge of the wood no more than twenty yards away! I motioned for us to stop and for a few fleeting moments we stared at each other while a tawny owl screeched from the nearby woods. What a moment! Then the Buck turned and walked off briskly disappearing over a slight ridge in the field, seconds later his head and neck, once again silhouetted against the golden sky came into view as he had one last look at us before he slipped away.
My wife seemed impressed already! We had only gone a few yards and this was already proving to be a good outing. After a few whispers we were off again crossing a stile into the next field. The light had increased enough to see the Buck disappearing down into the corner of the field and away. I wasn’t at all bothered as I’m not into shooting Bucks during the rut, or anytime really. My job here is to reduce numbers and the approaching Doe season is when I will do most of my shooting. Only poor condition Buck’s or Prickett’s would be on the agenda today.
It had been a coldish night and there was a hint of frost on the grass as we slowly progressed across the field. In a hushed voice I explained the route we were going to take and we crossed the field to the next vantage point. Scanning the misty valley below us with the binoculars failed to reveal any deer, so I had a quick look down the hedgerows, nothing. We continued along the field boundary towards the stile that would get us into the next field.
As we approached the stile I was aware of movement in the shallow ditch to our right only about fifteen yards ahead. At first I thought it was a Fallow fawn but a Roe Doe jumped out of the ditch and into the field. I hissed for Bibe to sit and again we experienced a truly magic moment as the Doe surveyed us and we watched her for several minutes at an incredibly close range. She never really seemed concerned and eventually trotted across the field and up towards the wood.
By now my wife was genuinely enjoying the outing. Two close encounters with two species of deer within ten minutes of leaving the Landrover!
Once the Roe was safely in the wood we walked on to the stile. Again I scanned the valley for deer and spotted a large Fallow Buck patrolling the hedgerows of his rutting territory about five hundred yards away.
I glanced behind me and couldn’t believe that there was a deer facing us at about one hundred yards on the exact spot from where we had been no more than five minutes earlier! My first thoughts were that the Roe had circled around behind us but a check through the Binoculars proved it to be a small Fallow but was it a Buck or Doe? It was alone and wandering slowly towards us following our exact route. I guessed it must surely be a lone Prickett wondering where to go and what to do with himself while the Big Bucks were Rutting.
Once it was a bit closer I could make out a couple of inch long spikes indicating that this was a good cull animal. I got the rifle mounted on the sticks and hoped it would turn, which to my relief it did. Crossing the field it stopped for another look back at us, and with a nice backstop I set the trusty .270 130-grain bullet on its way. The deer dropped on the spot but quickly got to its feet for a final twenty yard dash before dropping dead, success!
Pouring my wife a cup of coffee I left her to watch the sun rise while I fetched the Landrover with Bibe. This was followed by a detailed explanation of ‘gralloching’. Not for the faint hearted, however fortunately my wife is an operating theatre sister, so blood and guts do not faze her at all. In fact she was most interested to see the difference between human and deer internal organs! The gralloch revealed a good heart/lung shot, which had severed all the main vessels at the top of the heart.
Retiring to the vehicle we were soon off. After dropping my two passengers off at home I took the carcass straight to the chiller and reflected on a perfect outing. As I turned into the driveway I was sure I could smell the unmistakable scent of frying liver!
What an event this had turned out to be. Introducing my long suffering wife to deer stalking was a risk however she appeared to have enjoyed the occasion and has since described it as a ‘Memorable Morning’ high praise indeed!
Stuart Morrison manages deer near Ashdown Forest in East Sussex and runs East Sussex Deer Management: www.eastsussexdeermanagement.org.