England: the land of milk and honey, and mud. Welcome to the English countryside. Ladies and gentlemen stroll the high street in Burberry jackets and Dubarry boots, there were designated bridleways for woodland gallops, shoots feature high-flying pheasants, and everyone owns a working cocker-spaniel.
Same place, different year. Once again, Dad and I were in England to hunt spring roebuck. The forecast called for inclement weather. Luckily, the first two days stayed dry, sort of. My feet however, waded through plenty of water. Having just come from a non-hunting holiday in Croatia, I didn’t have enough room to pack my wellies. I had no one to blame but myself for six days of stalking through water with flimsy, leaky hiking boots. Trench-foot crossed my mind. England was experiencing even more downpour than usual, and the saturated ground reflected this. Fields were soggy and our gamekeeper had to pay attention to avoid getting the truck stuck in the deep mud. “My African PH called England, Mud Island, it sure seems appropriate now” shared our gamekeeper. Everything was still a few weeks behind schedule. Nevertheless, cherry blossoms were just starting to display their delicate white flowers; promising the return of springtime.
That first evening we stalked in a valley bottom and saw an outstanding number of deer. Muntjac and roe browsed on fields and hedges everywhere. Several great future bucks mocked us from close distances, but the older gentleman we were looking for wasn’t around. Morning began at 4:30, giving Dad enough time to shake his jetlag and slurp some coffee. We drove to a field familiar from last year. Roe were out but starting to browse back towards cover. Roe were out but starting to browse back towards cover.
“I can’t quite make that left one out in this dim light, what can you see Savanna?” My 8x Geovids did the trick. Dad connected on an old buck, and the hunt was off to a successful start!
The evening was less productive, but we did gain insight about an area revealing plenty of roe and muntjac sign, including a prominent scrape line of a dominant roebuck marking his territory. The ochre clay told a complicated tale of feast and flight. Nibbled off corn cobs lay strewn about, and a muntjac chowing down at the field’s edge confirmed the culprit. Our gamekeeper explained how the ‘munties’ love anything yellow indicating a high sugar content, such as corn, gorse flowers or buttercups.
We dashed to the local pub to devour local delicacies before the kitchens closed. I particularly enjoyed the steak and ale pie washed down with a G&T. The following predawn we felt confident with our plan to waylay the buck we had sought that first evening. Since the blackthorn hedge was too thick to crawl through to where we planned to sit, we stalked down the “wrong” side of it. Mere metres next to us, a buck barked and bolted off. We had spooked him browsing parallel to us.
Finding a thorny hole in the hedge, Dad and the gamekeeper clawed through the tunnel to set up on the buck on the other side. A comical game ensued, with the buck several times trading sides of the hedge and us having to crawl back and forth through this tunnel each time. Becoming increasingly suspicious, the buck retreated towards the wooded edge of an open field. He barked continuously for thirty minutes while we stalked into position. Very long story short, the buck finally gave me a shot opportunity at just under 200 yards. It was an older four pointer, and my first English roebuck, whose genetics had done their time in the area. Now, there was an opportunity for one of those dandy young six points that we had seen to claim his territory and continue improving the trophy quality.
One English breakfast, shower, and long nap later, the sky was on fire, and the light acquired a blood orange hue. Though we were enjoying the evening, the deer seemed to have a different take on the situation, and remained out of sight. It was simply an ‘off’ evening.
Rather than stalking, we next decided to try sitting in ambush. Dad set up on one side of an old ash trunk, while the gamekeeper and I lay prone on the other. “The most likely spot they’ll come out is between those two light trees over there on the right.” The waiting game began and it didn’t take long before a roe doe appeared next to the forest’s edge. Colin and I could see a large shape next to her behind a hedge, and at some point it really looked like a buck. Five minutes passed then a second doe came out of the hedge instead. “Did we make that doe into a buck?” Perhaps we had imagined it. Losing interest there I began glassing down the length of the field. Peripherally I caught the glimpse of a third figure next to the does. Colin and Dad noticed at the same moment. I threw my Geovids up and urgently whispered to Colin “Tell Dad to shoot: NOW!” I started shaking, and every millisecond felt like an hour. The buck standing on the field was a freak. “His headgear looks like an octopus” whispered Colin. Dad shot and the buck dropped on the spot. Walking up to the buck, we experienced the opposite of ground-shrinkage. Tines kept popping up in all directions! This malformed buck had been completely unknown, and what a surprise he was. It was definitely the buck of several lifetimes, with a one in a million shape.
The next day, no one felt any pressure to shoot anything. All remaining outings were there to simply enjoy nature. If a mature and massive six point were to cross our paths however, Dad had the .270 along just in case. It just so happened that we were stalking along a hedgerow in search of a cull muntjac for the pot, when exactly such a roebuck appeared to our left. Two more seconds and we would have been past that field and would have never seen him. Dad launched a shot onto his boiler room, and the buck dropped instantaneously. There was plenty more head-shaking and hand-shaking. The unimaginable had become reality.
Our final morning’s mission started to stalk a muntjac buck. Change of plans! “Let’s go shoot you a pricket!” Milling about before us was a herd of fallow bucks. Having missed a dandy stag the year before, I was very keen to accept this chance at redemption. Layer upon layer of dark brown bodies shifted as the fallow moved as one clump, not allowing a safe shot. Though they moved away swiftly, they had not noticed our presence. Rushing forwards hunched over, we gained ground as swiftly as remaining silent would allow. Our gamekeeper knew exactly where they were headed, so we turned right attempting to cut them off before the woods swallowed them. We succeeded! Peeping over the crest of the emerald horizon, the herd’s white leader unwittingly betrayed their location. I was trying to still my crosshairs on a small pricket whose chest cavity was momentarily obscured when our gamekeeper told me to shoot the buck appearing clear in the lead. “That’s not a pricket!” “It’s ok, go for it!”. Pulling his feet out from under him, I finally had my very first fallow buck. I was ecstatic.
Sitka pants completely caked in mud and boots smelling like a bog, we stuffed those clothing articles into the suitcases and boarded the train. Parting ways in Oxford, Dad continued towards Gatwick Airport enroute Alberta while I returned to university in Bournemouth. One malformed buck, one old and one massive typical six point, one first English roebuck, and one first fallow buck, will adorn the walls of two very happy hunters.