The month in the United Kingdom was going well and I had already made good on a couple of things that I had wanted to achieve, catching a couple of pike (including my 26lb monster) and my first brown trout. So to keep the ball rolling, it was time to head to our next destination. After a couple of days to regroup and catch up with family we were on our way to North Yorkshire to find a roe buck.
The roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) is one of the two deer species native to Britain, the other being the red deer (Cervus elaphus), and is naturally found in woodlands where it browses on several types of vegetation. Historic overexploitation and habitat modification led to a considerable range restriction of the species and by the 1800’s the roe deer had been extirpated from England, holding out in more remote areas of Scotland. From here, and via some small scale reintroductions, the species has again spread to occupy most of its former range. It’s now not unusual to see a roe or two hanging out on the wooded edge of a field or along a hedgerow in the middle of the day where hunting pressure is no longer a disturbance factor. Even so, they are commonly overlooked by the general populace that runs and power walks the paths and roadsides. Trust me; they are there if you just look.
Where these animals are still pursued they are plenty wild, and I’ve always felt privileged to be out and about as first light is starting to illuminate a misty wood or field, and to see the dainty form of a deer out feeding and unaware of my presence. I spent a bit of time stalking roe while in the UK three years ago and had plenty of memorable encounters with the both the rifle and camera. That time I was hunting does, but this time I was around for the start of the buck season which, in England, runs from 1 April until 31 October.
We weren’t expecting a dust storm to hinder our initial efforts at locating deer; but our first few outings were shrouded in grey murk fresh from the Sahara, of all places. You see something new every day. Even so, we did determine where the deer were located on the farm we were doing most of our hunting. A few deer were poking about on north-facing slopes rising onto the North Yorkshire Wolds; at least four were hanging out in a narrow strip of wood backing onto the Cut (a small canal draining the surrounding fields); and six deer were living in another field along the Cut that had recently been harvested of its sheltering crop of Miscanthus grass. We hadn’t seen any mature bucks but scattered brashing (where a buck had scrapped with a small tree to rid his antlers of velvet) told us that something bigger than the young bucks we knew about was getting around.
One morning while stalking into a position to observe the Miscanthus deer we crossed a narrow bridge over the Cut. A movement in the water catching my eye, I looked to see a lit-up pike darting about before seeing me and taking off. Considering that the Cut is only a foot deep in most sections and about eight to ten feet wide, this was an exciting observation (we did put some effort in that afternoon, and came away happy with a cracking skinny-water pike capture).
Our fourth morning out found us stalking the slopes on the Wolds. Overlooking the country below us we could see the six Miscanthus deer out and about in their field in the distance. Too far away for the morning, we focussed on getting to a reliable spot close by; a small wooded hollow providing good cover for wary eyes.
Generally, we would stalk in from above the hollow on an opposing slope; however the westerly wind of the morning dictated that we would have to stalk in from below it. This meant that we wouldn’t be able to see what was in the hollow until we were right in amongst it. True to form, as we crept over the lip of the hollow two deer burst out and took off up the hill. Lying down and resting the .25-06 on its bipod, I waited for the inevitable look-over-the-shoulder of the young buck as he reached a vantage point out in the distance. I heard dad saying “aim high on the shoulder” as the buck stopped and turned back to see exactly what had disturbed his morning activities. The shot rang out and I heard the thud of the bullet as the buck dropped. A young buck, still in velvet, we admired him as the woodpigeons clattered out of the trees, before grallaching him and carrying him out between us.
Three days later found Dad, his mate Lee and I watching the Miscanthus deer as darkness set in around us. From our viewpoint on a bridge over the Cut, we observed the does browsing along the boundary hedge, and in the neighbour’s fields beyond. Suddenly a young buck came streaking across the field and hot on his tail was a bigger buck. The big buck chased him from one end of the field to the other, before they turned and dashed back the way they had come. There was the mature buck we had been looking for.
Dawn found us creeping along the Cut headed for the Miscanthus field. As we passed the end of ‘Crooked Edge’; the hedge marking the farm boundary; I spotted the back of a deer silhouetted underneath the next hedge over. The deer lifted its head and we could see that it was a buck. For now though there was nothing we could do as he was on the neighbours land.
Putting him out of our minds we continued to stalk onto the Miscanthus but found it to be occupied only by the numerous local hares. Peeking back over my shoulder I saw the buck again; he was working his way towards our farm boundary. The wind was now angling back towards him so we moved as quickly as we could back over the Cut to keep our scent out of his way. He was still feeding along his hedge when we crawled into a good viewing position under the Crooked Edge.
Now the waiting and hoping began, as the buck meandered about in front of us while still out of bounds. He was a beautiful looking animal; heavy bodied with a boof neck and white polished tips to his striking brown antlers. We watched him feed for a good five minutes, tucked away in our hedgey hidey-hole while the early morning countryside came to life. We whispered a plan for where he would need to be to take a safe shot – if it came to that. We simply enjoyed watching him.
As he came to the end of the hedge he was feeding along the all-or-nothing moment arrived. Would he continue to feed in the line he was travelling? That would take him over the boundary and into the danger zone. Would he round the hedge and disappear? That would take him into safety for at least another day. He turned and sauntered around the hedge. We laughed and cursed. Typical! Wait… He was back! He wandered out and across the opening between the two fields at an unhurried pace while my heart quickened a little at the understanding that I was about to take this deer.
As he came into the safe shooting zone a distant noise made him stop fully broadside, his head high and looking out across his territory. The shot was good and he fell where he had stood. The sun broke over the horizon. A short-eared owl broke cover. We shook hands before making our way over to our breakfast. Fresh venison liver after a morning like that is hard to beat.