I?m a roe deer man and very much a one shot, one deer sort of stalker, confining myself to farms I know well. I have the luxury of being able to choose exactly what I shoot and when I shoot it. I shoot for sport and the farms I shoot over enjoy seeing the deer as much as realising the need to cull. Professional stalkers, on the other hand, are out all day and in all weathers, and have to meet tight management figures. In Sussex, the fallow population has increased dramatically in recent years, as it has in other counties. That puts an enormous strain not only on the crops and forestry, but also on the stalkers who manage them. I was invited to join three professional stalkers, Julian, Dominic and Mark, to see first hand how they manage fallow on 600 acres of West Sussex woodland and arable farmland.
For the good of the herd
The ?super moon? (when the moon made its closest approach to earth for 18 years, making it 30 per cent brighter) was shining on a cold and frosty morning earlier this month, and experience had taught us that the deer would be out feeding and heading back for cover early, so we needed to be quick. My 2am alarm call seemed an age away as we arrived at the woods half an hour before light. The area boasts a beautiful patchwork of old, rustic farms, with large, undulating fields of mainly grass intersected by hawthorn and brambles. Big blocks of deciduous woods divided the ?fallow restaurant fields?, as we called them. There were only six high seats in this 150-acre patch, but the dead ground and numerous trees allowed for a successful stalk.
Fallow herd and feed together. At this time of year it can be all does, a mixture of does and bucks, or a small group of bucks. With the season finishing at the end of March, Julian was keen to reach his quota of 75 to 100 deer to keep the farmer happy. Does are often pregnant around now, but it is necessary that they are culled for the good of the herd. The problem with fallow numbers is compounded by the fact that several of the big woods surrounding the land are owned by non-shooters, who will not allow deer management. This means that, regardless of the annual cull, the numbers of fallow increase every year, risking animal welfare. It is almost impossible for the stalkers to keep numbers at a sustainable level, particularly as thefallow are now virtually nocturnal.
Selecting the right equipment
When you are waiting for deer to emerge from the liftingmist as the sun burns the moisture off the hedgerows, you run through every possible scenario. Is my range estimation correct? Will they really emerge from that ride or thicket? Is the wind now turning and going to give me away?
You never know how a stalk will unfold and on two previous occasions on the same farm we?d had a blank day. The stalk is dictated by cover, weather, wind, which crops are growing where, the location of deer bedding areas and, in more populated areas, dog walkers. It?s a good idea to make a mental picture of the location. If the wind is in the north, then a southerly stalk is obviously best, but if there are sheep on a field you might need to skirt down the hedgerow from a more easterly direction, and if you bump into a roe bedded in the bushes it will be curtains.
Being mainly grazers, fallow have distinct routines, and Julian, Dominic and Mark know their ground. They knew they had most likely been out on the grass the previous night, especially with such a bright moon. We approached down the tree line with the wind quartering us, gauging numbers, sexes and suitable deer to shoot as we went.
Sure enough, we encountered a small herd of 12 does heading back towards a wood, which was off limits to us. We needed to get moving before they reached the wood. The moon had set at 5.10am, so we only had one chance. We slowly stalked from tree to tree and, lastly, on our bellies. At 125 yards, Julian set up his Callum Ferguson Predator rifle on his Harris bipod for a steady shot at the lead doe. He always takes a neck shot as the gamedealer prefers a clean carcase. Julian steadied his aim and waited for the doe to offer a safe and clean shot. She stood broadside and lowered her neck to feed, but another doe moved past, obscuring the shot. After a few seconds a clean shot was available again and a light pressure on the Jewell trigger sent a 100-grain 6.5mm bullet through the neck vertebrae causing the doe to collapse, instantly dead. Instinctively, Julian reloaded in case the fallen got up, then he scouted for another suitable cull. But the remaining 11 were now in full retreat and that was that.
With the area now disturbed, we went to a double high seat to cover an area, with three fields around a central wood acting as a deer corridor. From there, we heard a muffled shot in the distance, the distinctive sound of a moderated full-bore rifle and the thud of the meat shot breaking the dawn silence. Then we heard another shot. ?The chiller will be full today,? Julian told me. ?Mark?s a good shot.?
After an uneventful hour in the high seat, we packed up and joined Mark. He had nestled into a gulley downwind of a classic fallow deer escape route, which was invisible from the flat field ahead. Experience had told Mark that either the deer we spooked or a new group would eventually use this track. When we arrived, the high seat was groaning from the weight of three does hanging from it and Mark had just finished the gralloch. All three were heart and lung shots.
Back to the larder
With four fallow does on the ground, the work began. Julian used one of his excellent game carriers to transport the carcases to the chiller. They attach to the ball hitch of your truck and can carry four fallow with ease. It takes the back-breaking effort out of dragging a deer, keeps the carcase clean and allows for easy extraction from hard-to-get-to places. On the way back, Mark spied a group of seven more does making their way from a small copse across a long, open field to a large off-limits wood. The morning was brightening fast, so we left the heads and feet on the deer in the chiller to go straight back out.