It was a long, long time ago when I managed to apprehend my first roebuck, one that had proper antlers. It was something I’d been dreaming about for some time, though the standard of dogs I had back then ensured that this remained a dream. Sure, we ran roe bucks from time to time, but our pathetic pair of long-legged curs never got close enough to get physical. I think that, for a good while, I thought that bucks were actually uncatchable. All I ever seemed to catch was does, though I guess I wasn’t complaining about that. Then one morning my luck changed. I’ve never been one for running summer deer, as I always respected the roe too much to want to catch a fat doe or a spotted youngster. The only time I hunted summer roe was the odd occasion when I have gone after a specific buck.
It was May time and I was out, without the dogs, just rooting about at some ungodly hour in the morning. It will have been about 5a.m. or something like that; such a time that a man can walk where he wants without too much trouble. From one side of the river I spotted a movement on the other bank, binoculars out and with shaking hands I saw this was a roe, and after holding the bino’s as steady as I could I saw the pair of white-tipped antlers that told me this one was a buck. Suddenly I got a surge of adrenaline and away home I sped to get the dogs. I was only a teenager, and due to the fact that my one dog couldn’t catch a cold I used to borrow my uncles fast bitch, Kim, which I’d double up with the ol’ bone cruncher, Rocky. In later years I obviously only ran single handed on everything, but we’ve all been young I guess. Twenty minutes later and I am mooching the cover where I’d spotted the roebuck at the side of the deer fence, the dog’s take off and it isn’t long before I hear that throaty bleat of the buck. It took me long enough to smash my way through the cover but eventually found both dogs and my first ever roe buck. I was euphoric all day. However, I never got a photo of me and the dogs with this gallant beast because my impatient uncle butchered the deer before I’d brought my camera around to his house. However the antlers are hanging on my wall right now, memories of better times and better days, but definitely not better dogs.
Regarding roe, I think I always did catch far more females than males, though I have no idea as to why. Maybe there is just more of the fairer sex? When I watch roe there appears to be twice as many does than bucks so maybe that is the reason. People think that roe are only creatures of flight, but I have seen them hide like a hare many times. And for an animal with a huge white backside they sure do blend in well. I remember once slipping a lurcher on a pair of roe. They peeled apart and the one that wasn’t being ran hopped over a little fence and simply dropped like a stone into the long grass, vanishing without a trace. Just for the record, the other got away, but that was no great surprise for the dog that was doing the running was poor. He was plenty fast enough and the few deer he’d caught he’d done them in perfect style and with a panache rarely seen. But the problem was that he was just plain useless and would rather follow the deer about than committing himself. It was most frustrating as back then I was flat out at it, travelling all over the UK and Ireland hunting, if only the dog was as keen as I was! I remember we were hunting on a bit of a prestigious estate one time, it was pure heaven for me due to the amount of fallow to be found there. It was not unusual to see forty or fifty in a herd. I’ve always been a fan of the fallow and in the daytime, I think that they are one hell of an animal. That morning I remember the bloody useless lurcher running from one deer to the next, as they ran around the field in a herd, but he wouldn’t open his mouth and do anything about it. God I was frustrated! Especially so considering I’d driven for three hours to get there. However, he did manage to catch one deer, though I have to say that it had a bad leg that had previously been broken and had healed a little shorter than the other ones AND it had also tripped over some wire. Boy, did I count that one! When a dog’s missed over sixty ‘gimme’ chances in a winter you sure as hell count any ones that he does catch, no matter what the circumstances!
I’ve actually caught quite a few deer with either three legs or damaged legs, which I presume, must be from fences or car accidents. Some have healed very well, and yet others were hobbling miserably about and needed culling for their own good. I remember one roe that had half a front leg missing that we bumped into, the break was clean and healed perfectly, and her handicap didn’t stop the deer from tasting nice when served up with Yorkshire pud, veg and gravy!
Just going back to that first roe buck of mine, he was caught up against a line of deer fencing by the lurchers. I have to say that if it weren’t for fences there’d be a lot less deer getting caught. How many dogs could catch a good daytime roe in the middle of a field? I’ve seen many dozens of dogs run daytime roe and there wasn’t too many that could stop the deer out in the open, and, it has to be said, I’ve seen my own dogs being outrun by them too. Back in the day, by the time Christmas had passed all the dummies had been taken out and the deer left were the crème de la crème and they came out of the woods with a rocket up their arse! I’ve seen a few people made a fool of by a good daytime roe, myself included. I remember one local lad, who has now jacked, had a ¾ greyhound, ¼ collie and it had managed to catch a couple of roe one winter and didn’t we all hear about it. The dog was about four years old by then and had only just started taking them! All I heard was how amazing this dog was and that if he got a good slip the deer would be on the floor before it had travelled fifty yards! That was some strong talk about a dog that had done very little. I was only a youngster back then but I was already experienced with deer and I knew their capabilities.
Not long afterwards I got picked up in the Escort Estate and me and this guy and this super dog headed down to a sneaky little wood next to a river. It’s a place that I’ve always hunted and have known about since I was thirteen years old. You’ve got to walk about a mile until the wood is reached, that was one thing I liked about the wood, it could never be driven to and it was too far to walk for most of the lazy hunters. The lad and his deer slayer got in position at the thin end of the wood and I walked it through. This plantation is shaped like a shoulder of mutton and it only takes a bit of noise at the ‘thick’ end to get the deer moving to the thin end. Once there they had to break across a massive field. I’ve seen a lot of roe caught on that field, but I’ve also seen a lot missed too. I was down to the last hundred yard of woodland, here it was only thirty yard wide so I could see if anything double backed on me, and as I got closer and closer to where the lad stood I wondered if I’d done something wrong and that, perhaps, there wasn’t any deer in the wood today. Then, when I was less than fifty yards away there’s a crash of branches and snap of twigs and its Game On! A bloody great roe doe is out and away at full stretch. The lurcher was slipped straight away and I watch as the doe just drags the dog away over the other side of the field and away into the distance, the dog never got within ten yards of that supercharged doe. Five minutes later and the lurcher comes staggering back, tongue a mile long and looking completely goosed! There wasn’t much boasting during the mile walk uphill back to the car I can tell you! We’ve all been there I guess, we’ve all thought that we’ve a had a dog that simply doesn’t miss, but when he bumps into Mr Right then things don’t always go so rosy.
Another thing I noticed was that deer vary depending on where in the UK they are being ran. I was raised on these local rocket-ship roe, deer that were never given a minute and were ran relentlessly regardless of season. There used to be many dog men around here and any roe that wanted to live local had better make sure it was a master in the art of canine evasion or it wasn’t going to be around long enough to pass it’s genes on. Obviously I thought that a roe is a roe is a roe and that all deer were equal. I was wrong, and when I starting doing a hell of a lot of travelling I soon found populations of roe that were ‘easy’. Norfolk was one such place and it is a county that had a huge population of roe and I honestly found them very easy to catch. It wasn’t uncommon to see a dozen in some fields, and I honestly don’t remember my own dog missing one from there, though he surely must have done. One thing I did notice was the amount of parasites on those Norfolk roe, they were seething with ticks and I always thought they had poor carcases when compared to the local roe. But it isn’t only roe that vary depending on where they’re found, Red deer can be found up and down the UK with the biggest being in the south.
I’ve ran reds all over, mostly without success. Those southern reds that live in Devon, Thetford, Cannock and Derbyshire are massive, and when a dog gets up close to them the dog looks like a flea in comparison. I remember one red stag jumped a fence next to me and he must have gone well over the twenty stone barrier and looked like a race horse with a rocking chair on his head. I mean this thing was huge and no canine in the world was ever going to do anything with him. However, up North the body mass shrinks a little as the red herds are living on poorer ground and feed is less. I remember one day my buddy and I managed to drop a big hind at the bottom of a gully, both our dogs had their work cut out and the run had been over a mile through rough terrain and patches of thick rushes. I remember thinking to myself; I wonder if the dogs would have managed to make a catch if the hind had have been one of the southern whoppers? In all honesty I don’t think they would have, but you never know do you?
Will the taking of deer ever be legal again in the UK? Who knows eh? We’ll have to see what happens with the repeal. I am not one for mentioning politics too much, but I’m glad we’ve beaten the Labour Party, if they would have gotten in we would have really had our work cut out.
Hope you all have a great summer.