Day Two: I’m sitting in a high seat, it’s dawn and cool, but above freezing. I’m waiting for a deer, not just any deer but a Fallow; Briton’s only deer with palmated antlers. But that’s not where the story begins…
I know a couple of other outdoor bloggers, not very well because we don’t spend a great deal of time together, but when we do it’s always fun. The last time I was at chez Bambi Basher – I did a few little jobs for him, making his drains flow a little smoother (perils of dog breeding init) and getting a sink or two to drain a little faster. Mrs Bambi Basher AKA The Tea Lady said ‘you’ll be back’ but you know how things are, one thing led to another and, before you know it months of passed and I’d forgotten all about the mixer tap in the kitchen and the dogs outside tap leaking.
Then I received an email the gist of which was – ‘Have things that go bang, a new hunting ground and leaking taps, when are you coming down?’ Being gainlessly underemployed that week I dressed for deer huntin’, packed for leak stoppin’ and headed for the milds of East Sussex.
If you don’t know what East Sussex looks like think Virginia with smaller mountains (in fact no mountains just hills) it’s farmland, and ancient woodland and very pretty. Very mild.
Where there is woodland there are deer, where there are grain farms and orchards there are deer.
Fallow a herding deer who are considered both a native and introduced species. Hunted to extinction in pre-history and then re introduced twice, by the Romans and the Normans. Due to reduced hunting pressure and changes to framing practice there are now more deer in England (particularly the south) than at any time since the Norman invasion of 1066. Some fawns are killed by Foxes in the spring but apart from that the most common cause of death for deer is the Road Traffic Accident. Farming and orchards both offer the kind of smash-and-grab feeding opportunity that the Fallow prefers, breaking from the cover of the forest to graze the pasture at dawn and dusk. With so much ground turned over to food production the land can support quite a lot of deer, although it can’t support the numbers the herd has grown to. As deer in the UK don’t belong to anyone they’re considered wild animals, deer management falls to the landowners and farmers whose crops they’re eating. The cull period for Fallow Bucks is Aug 1st – April 30th and Fallow Does Nov 1st – March 31st.
Fallow stand in height between the big red deer and the little roe deer, with the bucks measuring just over 3 feet at the shoulder and weighing a little over 200 lbs. The doe is only a bit shorter, but is more lightly built.
Meanwhile: on the edge of the woods:
Still. It’s as thought the wind only works weekends and didn’t know it was coming in that morning. What sounds like four different woodpeckers sound as though they’re winning a head-butting competition with the local hardwoods. Owl’s announce the end if their shift. I keep glassing (not attacking people with a pint glass – in the country it means using binoculars) at the tree line nothing sizeable moves, I say nothing moves but as I’ve now been so still for so long the mumbling creaking organism that is the forest has swallowed me whole. The bobbing of the tree next to my high seat announces the day shift has begun for the Blue Tits. Dawn breaking casts deer-like shadows.
My ears ache for the crack or scuff of a Fallow’s approaching footsteps. The rifle sits cold but not inert in my hands. I know there’s ‘one in the pipe’ I put it there myself. When a Fallow comes, if a Fallow comes, it is my intention to kill it. Firing once. The bullet will clip the top of its heart and puncture both lungs deflating them, the loss of pressure rapidly draining the blood from the Fallow’s brain. The bullet will have killed the deer before the sound of the bullet arrives at the deer. No sort-of, no it’ll-be-ok, no Hail-Mary shots. Just a bullet placed within a 4 inch circle centred behind the deer’s front legs, or no shot at all. This is not the frenetic action of the Battue, there will be no pressured ‘snap shots’ at a deer on the run. I must sit still until I can hear my own heart beat, ignoring any thoughts of bragging rites and racks on walls.
I once read a hunting story about a trip to Canada in one of the outdoor magazines where the writer breaks from his trophy quest to interview ‘old Ben’ (or whatever he was called) the outfits talismanic ‘old bloke’ who would take to the woods with an old service rifle and a bucket to sit on. Old bloke was famous for his day-long still hunts. Not for him the hour-either-side-of-dawn-and-dusk and back to the fireside, needless to say he’d acquired his talismanic status by being a very successful meat hunter. The incredulous journalist asked ‘but what do you do all day? “I sit and think, but mostly I just sit”.
I envy him: My thoughts run wild. I develop weird email withdrawal symptoms, I have sudden insights into the whereabouts of lost things, my body seethes with itches, aches and pains. Then the thoughts pass, my eyes defocus, my peripheral vision expands, and I’m seeing without looking.
I keep my thoughts corralled in a sombre place. Waiting. If it’s possible waiting without anticipation. Just when I think I may be developing mammalian dive response, (the blood has retreated from my extremities, my heart has slowed), and I’m almost tempted to test if I can actually move my limbs for when the time comes, but don’t want to break the spell, the radio beeps and I look down to see The Bambi Basher waving to me. Time for a change of tactics.
Day One – It’s about velocity:
As previously reported I have a lot of trouble leaving town, getting to the station is like wading though porridge towing a dead donkey. Clients email, buses break down, trains are re-routed via Hades and I make it to our meeting place two hours after my intended arrival time. TBB meets me at the station eyes twinkling with enthusiasm. “Feeling accurate?”
Bambi Bashers Paradise: his rifle range.
We bounce the little 4WD down the lane and into the coppice, where we set up the shooting bench and TBB breaks out the rifles.
.275 Rigby Mauser and a Full-stocked 6.5 X 55 Swede
As we’re setting up Mc Shug joins us – you’ll meet him later.
Shoulders looking a little tense Bushwacker?
The flinch: Veritably it doth suck
I thought I’d gotten on top of it, but after cracking my skull last summer I’ve developed a flinch, my eye closes and my head jerks away from the cheek-piece. I can get 3 inch groups together, but it’s proper stressful and very frustrating. No more ‘where two holes meet’ action for the foreseeable. Bah!
More in Pt4
Deer Hunting In The UK Pt1
Deer Hunting In The UK Pt2