Me and Scooby hunkered down at the side of an open gate hole that was positively heaving with huge slots in the mud. This was it, what I’d driven over two hours for. I was revved up like a greyhound in the traps, heart pounding wildly, just waiting for a massive antlered beast to break cover.
My buddy had elected to walk through a real narrow strip of wood and all I could do now was wait, and hope. It was hard to believe a red stag would be ligging down in such a tiny affair of woodland; it was basically a ten yard wide strip of three year old saplings. But I had faith in my buddy, he was switched on and knew what was where. So me and Scoob waited. And we waited some more. When I finally saw the stag he was already heading across the field in full stride, and before I had chance to even think about it Scooby was on his way. Now that dog was a mover and he had to be ’cos he was trying to catch up to something that looked like a race horse with a rocking chair on his head. I’ve hunted reds all over and they don’t come any bigger than these beasts. Impressive is an understatement. They look like they’re cantering along as if they’ve all the time in the world, but don’t you kid yourself, they are covering some amount of ground with one single stride.
Scooby had his pedal to the metal and at the end of the second field he was in range and took a firm grip of cervus hindquarter, trying to slow him enough for a second grip, but there was no slowing, just a powerful force that drove onwards, ever onwards, and both hunter and hunted disappeared from view into a couple of acres of swampy willow. I ran down the field, all the while hoping to hear that throaty bellow of submission. However, there was no noise and a couple of minutes later a black lurcher came breathlessly trotting back through the wet wood. Scooby wasn’t normally black but he’d been having a bit of a scuffle in the stinking muddy ooze. This time he had lost the David and Goliath mano a mano, but there’d always be another time. At least he was only bruised and suffered no permanent damage.
It had been another great encounter with a great quarry, but what was most remarkable was that this all happened behind a trading estate in Birmingham! It was not exactly the wilds of Bonny Scotland, but there was a hell of an amount of red deer living in the roadside plantings. I hunted that area a little bit but I was never successful, though that’s never dented my enthusiasm one bit. On the contrary, I thrive when things seem impossible, and it’s a good job because if a man wanted to stop red deer in the daytime with any degree of regularity there was going to be many blank days along the path to success.
Back in the day, I can remember when I managed to achieve a ‘Grand Slam’ of deer, something which I’d fantasised about my whole life. All six species, single handed in the daytime was some feat, but my dog managed it, in one single season, so I was chuffed to bits. I thought that dropping a red would be the hardest of the six to tick off, but it was Sika that proved most difficult. The sheer logistics meant that daytime wasn’t ever going to be easy, but in the end, and after a lot of miles, my pooch managed a good hind, which I will never forget. By this time I’d already had a massive red pricket, but it was doubled up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but in order to get what I wanted it had to be single handed. The next time out though I spotted the reds before they spotted me. It’s a lot harder than you’d think as they blend in with the browns of the dead bracken. I slipped him on a big, old hind and yearling that were already going full steam ahead for a conifer wood at the bottom of the plateaux. Unfortunately we became unsighted and I lost my dog for about fifteen minutes, finding him with a yearling, dead, in a stream down a sheer drop of some fifty or sixty feet. He was bleeding badly that day and I had to wrap every foot up in order to try and stop the spurts as we had many miles to go before we got back to the car. I won’t lie; I was worried sick about him, but there was no way he could be carried, we were on ground that was hard to walk on, let alone carry a dog across. Thankfully that day had a happy ending and we all survived to run another day.
So, I’d had a red, but I wasn’t happy as it was only a yearling and, you know what it’s like, I wanted something a bit bigger. As it happened the next time out I got what I wanted, but I’d spent some money on diesel doing so!
I don’t hunt during the summer, I’m too busy with other stuff going on, but I did used to love hunting the roe bucks on the warm, sunny mornings. Spotting the bucks with my pair of Swarovski’s I made sure they were the right sex before making a stalk, as it would have broke my heart to hunt a summer doe. I remember once I got a phone call from a friend telling me about two roe he’d seen in a couple of fields behind a local off-licence. I knew this land well as I’d ferreted it relentlessly as a young man, back in the days when there were dozens of bunnys to be had. Anyway, I made a plan and the very next morning I was in the dew-covered fields at 5a.m. Although the temperatures had been touching on the Mediterranean during the day the morning was very cool, cold even.
At my heel was one hell of a fine runner; only young but he just seemed to have the knack of stopping nearly every deer he ran. He’d had his first winter, stopping four species, and so I was looking forward to his second season and hopefully was going to try him on the bigger three species a lot more. At almost 27 inches he was a big kinda dog, but he was light with it, looking a bit lanky if anything. Though I have to say he was much more rapid than he looked, as quite a few daytime deer had already attested to. The first few fields held two herds of those brown Soay sheep, which didn’t half look like a deer from a distance. As it happens the dog paid them no heed. From a youth he knew they were verboten, and despite these brown dunces running wildly across the field my dog just carried on at heel.
Once the sheep fields came to an end I clipped my lurcher on the lead, there’d be no accidents with doe’s then, and with binoculars I scanned the next few fields. A heavy dew coated the grass, and a million yellow buttercups were waiting for the sun to come and brighten up their day. A doe appeared, coming out from a hedge. I say hedge, but what I really mean is a thin stuttered line of hawthorns, punctuated with the odd prickly holly bush. My dog and I watched her trot toward the wood that I had my back to, she wasn’t suckling and was probably just a first season doe that would be mated this summer. I found that does with fawns weren’t often found with bucks in the early summertime, they had their time taken up with offspring. However, the does that had set up a summer territory with a buck were nearly always young does from last season.
Once Mrs Roe had vanished into the cover I continued along, scanning the fields once more until I’d covered them all. Damn! I wondered if the buck had gone, or maybe he was already in the wood. But both of these scenarios were unusual, so I retraced my steps and as I scanned the strip of hawthorns the doe had come from I spotted a nice buck eating the young leaves. How I’d missed him the first time I don’t know. Maybe he was bedded down? Who can say. But here he was now and what a beast he was too. Around my area we don’t get many good roe heads, they are thin and small as a rule. However, this individual was bucking the trend, he had a very thick set of tines on him and I longed to have a closer, more personal, look. Due to the lay of the land the dog couldn’t see this deer, so we had to go under a wire fence first, then walk through the gap of the hedge. This took all of 90 seconds at the most, but by the time I was in position the buck had gone. I scanned and scanned, but couldn’t see anything so I walked both sides of the hawthorns and, again, nothing. The buck would have had to cross a field either way he went as behind him were a row of houses. This buck had outwitted me, no doubt about it, and where he went was a mystery, maybe I’d found the Bermuda Triangle of roebucks?
A five minute drive later and I was on a series of cut silage fields. All through March and into April I’d been watching four roe feeding; two of each sex and the older buck sure did look a dandy one. However, I covered all six fields and saw the grand sum of zilch! I thought to myself “Oh, this is one of those mornings”. As it happens I spotted a cock pheasant and thought I might have a bash at him with the catapult, and after getting close I missed, as usual, but in the next field I spotted a roe cantering like an old horse. As fast as I could I got to the gate, up with the binos to check it was a buck and away the dog went. That buck was already nearly at the end of the field and he was fair motoring so I thought the dog was going to have his work cut out. But he was one of those dogs, he didn’t miss too many so I set off in the general direction and at the end of the next field saw a dark movement in the hedgerow and there they were. That buck was a fine specimen, plenty young enough for the meat to be tender and he had an unusual set of antlers too, which was a bonus. I went home a happy chappy that morning and within the hour there was nothing left except a hide and a pair of lungs!
The very next morning I got a phone call from a farmer friend telling me he had a buck in his Christmas tree plantation. “It can’t get out” he ranted down the phone. However, in my experience, if they can get in then they can get out, but I didn’t argue. So I grabbed the pooch and my knife and off I went. Ten minutes later and the farmer is showing me the plantation, which was fenced with nothing more than regular wire with two strands of barbed on top. I think he found it hard to believe a roe could jump it, but I’ve seen them jump much higher. I remember I saw a roe buck clear a six foot fence once. But anyway, I sent the farmer into the plantation and, lo and behold, a cracking buck came charging out. Even as I slipped I knew the dog was going to have his work cut out, the conifers were closely spaced and the grass was over knee height, which just about makes a catch impossible. It was a great sight to see, both dog and buck going round and around and for a little while I thought I was going to have a nice set of antlers for my wall. Although my dog was within two yards of the thundering buck he was struggling to close the gap, deer bound through long grass much more effectively than a dog does and after charging to the end of the plantation the buck bounced over the fence and made his escape into a huge, dense lump of saplings. My dog came back a minute later with his tongue almost dragging on the floor. You can’t get them all, but that was one buck I would have liked to have grassed back in the day. There’s always next time I suppose….