One of the drawbacks to hunting at this time of year is that dusk and dawn are now so close together that there is very little time in which to sleep. And if you are hunting for several days at a stretch, then sleep deprivation really begins to tell!
Last weekend was a case in point. I had arranged a muntjac cull on a local estate where I regularly stalk. With nine portable high seats in position, covering all the best places, it was an opportunity to invite a group of friends, all of whom are experienced stalkers, to help me make a good bag of muntjac. It can be difficult, when you are stalking alone, to catch up with these challenging little deer throughout the season, but when you have a good team of rifles out for a concentrated period of time, morning and evening, then great things can be achieved.
This year the guest list was an international one, with my good Danish friend Peter Nielsen flying over from Warsaw to join the rest of my UK team. I picked him up last Thursday from Stansted airport, and because I have a hunting area just half an hour away from the terminal I could hardly resist the chance to pay a visit. That meant getting up at 0245, but the early start was worth while. At 0520 a muntjac doe stepped out from behind me just 10 metres away and proceeded to walk directly under my high seat. And I mean directly underneath – through the legs! I prepared myself to take a shot as she walked away and got herself to a decent range, but all of a sudden I heard a commotion, and off ran the muntjac. She must have got a whiff of my hand scent from the stalking sticks which were leaning against the tree to which my seat was fixed. So no shot there, but just 20 minutes later a fallow pricket walked across the ride to my left, and made an easy shot for the .243 at 50 metres. So I arrived at Stansted to pick up Peter with one dead deer already in the back of the land rover.
We started our team cull the following day, with Peter, my wife Veronica and I meeting two more friends at the estate yard. Sadly, nobody saw a thing on the first morning, but Friday evening was much better, by which time another couple of guests had turned up. Peter shot his first muntjac together with a fox, while Veronica shot a very handsome muntjac buck. I waited patiently in my high seat until, half an hour after sunset, a group of red hinds walked past. Shooting a big red deer when you are geared up for muntjac presents its own difficulties, but with a team of six rifles to lend a hand, we eventually dealt with the huge animal, though supper was seriously delayed that evening, which meant even less sleep than expected.
On the second day of the cull we shot another three muntjac between us, but that was not all. I was sitting in my high seat as the sun set, when a deer stepped out at the end of the ride. It took me a while to work out what it was, because it certainly wasn’t a muntjac. My immediate thought, looking at the delicate way it walked directly away from me, was that it was a roe doe with a particularly sandy coloured coat, but as it turned to cross the ride, the truth became obvious – a Chinese water deer, the first I have seen on the estate. It was a young buck, which caused great interest for the entire team as they came to check it out in the back of the land rover.
We had a further two muntjac on the final morning, including a big adult buck which I stalked in to and shot at 80 metres. The curious thing about it was that it had shed both antlers – something which I have never seen before in late March.
So we ended up with 7 muntjac, a red hind, a Chinese water deer and a fox, plus some really good dinner parties and three hearty stalkers’ breakfasts during which the events of the morning and evening stalks could be mulled over. We had a total of 11 hunters out over the three days and I think it’s fair to say that everyone had a really enjoyable time.
No sooner had I got all the deer hung up in the larder than I took another phone call from a local landowner. A muntjac was damaging his vegetable garden and could I go over the following morning to deal with it. Yes of course I could, though it would mean setting up another portable high seat and being on the ground at 0445…hey, who needs sleep after all?