Still, warm and with the faintest hint of drizzle in the air, the evening was absolutely ideal for encountering a roebuck feeding along the woodland edge. Sadly, it was also tailor-made for the predations of the ravenous Highland midge, clouds of which swarmed from the heather around me, as I lay with rifle by my side, scanning a vast tract of bog for a foraging buck.
Surrounded on three sides by stands of well-grown spruce, this northern bog formed a rich isthmus of sedge, cotton grass, vetch and gorse, all offering fine browsing for early summer roe.
My plan for putting a buck in my roe sack was a simple one ? namely, to lie in ambush on a low heathery knoll, some 100m from the forestry fence, in the hope that sometime before dusk, a shootable beast might emerge from the gloom of the close-ranked conifers.
Cursing the ineffectiveness of my chosen insect repellent, I wiped a gloved hand across my midge-bitten face, as a fresh cloud of winged torment rose from the surrounding vegetation like a vengeful wraith. To gain a little respite from this aerial assault, I slid the hood of my camouflaged jacket over my head and, as I did so, caught sight of a movement on the edge of the trees.
Taking up my binoculars, I focused on a point where an overgrown forestry ride met the now collapsed and dilapidated deer fence. There, little more than 100m away, and looking straight out across the bog, stood a fine, thick-necked, six-point roebuck ? exactly the kind of beast I sought! Barely lifting my face from the concealing heather, I carefully slid my stalking rifle on to a clump of yellow grass in front of me ? a perfect rest ? all the while keeping my eyes fixed firmly upon my quarry.
Despite his suitability for culling, the roe would have to cross the tumbled down fence, and then move out across the bog before a safe shot could be taken. There, the rising ground would provide the perfect backstop for an errant bullet.
As though responding to an off-stage cue, the buck cleared the tangle of collapsed fencing in a single bound, and with a spring, cantered out in front of me.
My pulse now raised by adrenalin, I surveyed the animal through binoculars once more. Heavily set and with a broad grey face, the buck?s advanced years made him ideal for the gamelarder. So, easing the .270 into position, I checked the safety catch and silently chambered a cartridge.
The buck, having now slowed to a stop, stood grazing in belly-high vegetation, quite oblivious to the drama, and the fact that it had unwittingly put itself in the perfect position for the shot. I nestled the rifle?s heavily figured walnut stock into my cheek and shoulder, then settled the crosshairs of the 8×56 Schmidt & Bender scope directly over the animal?s heart. The yellow grass tussock offered perfect concealment and provided near bench rest conditions, so it was with considerable confidence that I eased the Heym?s safety forward and steadily increased the trigger pressure.
In spite of the .270?s apocalyptic roar, I distinctly heard the ?thwack? of bullet striking muscle and bone. The buck dropped on the spot like a puppet with severed strings. Working the bolt I quickly reloaded, sending an empty brass case pinging into the surrounding heather, as the echo of the shot receded into the far distance.
Feelings of relief and elation washed over me, for I was convinced that I had made a perfect heart shot, and that although hidden from view, my quarry now lay dead before me. Imagine, then, my utter amazement, when this same roebuck rose like an antlered Lazarus, from the very clump of rushes into which he had so dramatically descended.
A picture of health and clearly quite unscathed, the old roe shook himself, took a few steps forward, and barked loudly. There wasn?t a mark on him!
My mind raced as I struggled to make sense of the situation. Had the shot missed? How could it have, when I had heard the bullet strike and saw the animal drop like a stone? The buck took a few more steps and barked again, the points of his antlers gleaming ivory white.
With a little less confidence than before, I again steadied the rifle on the grass tussock, placed the scope?s cross-hairs behind the buck?s shoulder, and fired. As the 130-gr ballistic tip struck home, the old roe once more plummeted lifeless to the ground. Unsure of what might happen next, I lay motionless on top of the heather knoll. Was the buck to rise for a second time,
or was he finally down and dead?
As the minutes ticked by, there came neither sound nor movement from the swathe of rushes, so easing the rifle?s safety catch to the rear, I recharged the magazine and rose to my feet. With binoculars supported by my stalking stick, I swept the foreground for any sign of a wounded roe, but found none.
Still greatly puzzled, I shouldered my roe sack, and with rifle muzzle held high, quietly moved forward. Striding out across the quivering sphagnum, I half expected to see the old roe spring to its feet, and barking, bolt away to vanish amidst the dark conifers.
My fears, however, turned out to be groundless, as I found the old buck lying dead exactly where he had fallen, a crimson rill trickling from a single bullet hole behind his right shoulder. Stooping, I rolled him over on to his left side, and there found only a single exit wound. I remained baffled.
With the light of evening fast fading, and the midges? appetite as keen as ever, I decided that this was no place for a postmortem, and that perhaps some things were simply beyond explanation.
With the task of gralloching now before me, I looked for somewhere dry to lay my binoculars and unloaded rifle, and turning, noticed a clump of ling a little to my left. As I approached this patch of heather, the puzzling events of the evening became a little more transparent, for there, stretched out on the ground, and almost entirely obscured by surrounding rushes, lay a second, thick-set, grey-faced roebuck! Identical in appearance to the beast I had first stumbled across, this animal also displayed a crimson bullet hole behind his right shoulder. The two bucks were like peas in a pod, and might have been drawn from the same plastic mould.
In an instant, the fog of mystery evaporated, for this was the buck that I had seen jump the collapsed deer fence, then canter out on to the bog. Unknown to me, however, this animal had chosen to stop and feed next to another aged roebuck, an animal slumbering and completely hidden from view.
When I had taken aim and fired, the first buck fell dead, almost on top of his reposing compatriot. The sleeping buck, disturbed by events, had then leaped to his feet and bounded forward, barking and giving the impression that the first buck had been miraculously resurrected. Small wonder I had been puzzled.
Later, when congratulated by a friend on taking two such fine old bucks, I considered ? at least for a moment ? owning up to my blunder and admitting that my success was due entirely to confusion. There are occasions, however, when it is better to remain silent, and have this taken as a sign of modesty. This, I believed, was just such an occasion.