Memorable sporting occasions come in many guises? the high curling cock pheasant that folds to a well-placed shot in the teeth of a January gale; a fine sea trout taken at the witching hour, when the shrieking tawny owl is the solitary angler?s only companion; or a woodcock taken in twisting flight, as it darts across a woodland ride. Then again, it could be something altogether more unexpected.
Days of heavy summer rain have made roebuck stalking all but impossible here recently. When leaden skies over Speyside finally cleared a few evenings ago, I headed out with my rifle, my stalking stick and a mixture of delight and anticipation.
Finding the right position
Quietly picking my way through tall grass and thistles, I set out toward a high meadow, where previously I have met with considerable success when searching for a roebuck. Lush, undisturbed, and no more than a few acres in size, this patch of secluded grazing lies adjacent to a huge swathe of trackless forestry. Unsurprisingly, it is frequented by feeding roe throughout the summer months. With the evening light beginning to fade, I had simply to position myself out of sight on a small knoll above the meadow and await a suitable buck.
Calm before the storm
Settling myself down amidst concealing vegetation, I rested my back against a weathered fence post and began my evening vigil. In less time than it takes to tell, the ubiquitous Highland midges had located me, but fortunately were thwarted in their attempt to feed by the wonders of Deet.
To my left, a dark wall of impenetrable conifers stretched away to infinity, the saw-toothed horizon of trees rising up to meet the dying light of the day. Above this ragged skyline a woodcock roded with a frog-like croak and the first stars of evening blinked from the indigo dome.
I shifted the weight of the .270 across my lap and noticed that the breeze of early evening had increased considerably. What had been a gentle zephyr had now developed into a considerable headwind. Still, if this headwind were whipping my scent away from any buck about to enter the meadow, so much the better. Then a roe appeared. Resting my binoculars on the bridge of my nose, I focused on the brown form moving out from the forestry edge, only to see a young doe stepping out to feed some 200 yards away. The tranquillity of the scene was about to be shattered.
As I lowered the binoculars to my lap, I was struck by a great weight from above and was physically flattened to the ground. To say that I was surprised would be to master the art of understatement, as I quickly realised that not only was the object heavy, but it was also alive!
With arms wrapped around my head, I endeavoured to defend myself from the assailant?s thrashing hooves and limbs, as I struggled to make sense of what was happening. Rifle and binoculars now lay upon the ground before me, as I grappled with the mystery beast from above, soon realising that the best way to avoid being kicked black and blue, was to take the offensive.
With this in mind I pounced on the cloven-hoofed assassin, and, after a short wrestling match, managed to subdue a very startled, wide-eyed and somewhat bewildered roe doe.
Not being a wrestling aficionado, I couldn?t say with certainty what kind of hold I had on the doe, but it seemed to work in pacifying her and prevented me from receiving any more kicks to an already throbbing head. Was this onslaught an attack by a hitherto unknown strain of ninja roe? Or was it a Hitchcockian turning of the tables on humankind, in which not birds, but deer were fighting back? I thought not.
Instead, I believe that, in a freak occurrence, the roe doe had elected to jump the fence at exactly where I lay unseen in ambush, waiting for a buck to enter the meadow.
A strengthening wind had prevented her from picking up my scent and also meant that I couldn?t hear her approach. And as I was hidden from sight by tall grass, dock and thistle, I was, in effect, invisible.
The doe had jumped and landed right on top of me. At last in control of this bizarre situation, and considering myself in no further danger of assault, I slowly rose to my feet, while still holding my four-legged assailant firmly in my grasp.
Walking out into the field, and at a safe distance away from the barbed wire fence, I bent forward and released my hold on the roe.
Almost before her hooves touched the ground she was running, and though a little wobbly at first, was clearly none the worse for our encounter. Within seconds she had reached the forest edge, there to be swallowed up in the shadow of the trees.
Often I come home from stalking with venison. Always with memories? but seldom with bruises!