Contributors to Shooting Times have extensive cause for complaint about the often idiotic antics of our administrators. As befits a deer man, my rants are more frequently directed at animals of a certain species and gender that surpass all of them in sheer cussedness. I refer, of course, to those fallow does.
No contemporary deerstalker is unaware of the need to cull fallow does. The doe cull is now enshrined in the deer management training manuals. I feel sure that my fallow does have studied these manuals, because from the start of the open season, they become as elusive as bongo. All summer long, they present themselves before the high seats, daring me to shoot them out of season, but not now.
Recent outings in three successive days illustrate the point. On the first, I spotted, stalked and shot a fallow deer grazing in a field mid-afternoon. Inevitably, it was not a doe, but a pricket. Next, two of us stalked in the early morning ? five hours between us ? without seeing a sign of deer. The next outing was an evening affair and my arrival on the ground at 2.30pm proved to be too late. The fallow does that ?never come out of the forestry before dark? were already out in an unapproachable spot. I made a point of returning the next morning and waited for light and deer to come. Hopeful at the start, I did not see a hair during a three-hour vigil.
Early bird or night owl?
These blank outings have given me some food for thought ? over and above my unprintable ones ? about fallow does in general. These have been as to what is the best time of day to catch out fallow does in the wintertime if, indeed, there actually is one? Morning outings have an advantage in that the following up and finding of a shot deer is much easier in the coming light than it is in the evening. At last light, even a dead deer is hard to find in cover and a mobile beast might escape altogether. However, the last knockings are, relatively speaking, a productive time of day for fallow doe culling.
The next advantage of dawn stalking is that, if deer have been feeding remote from their daytime couching beds, they may be intercepted as they return to them. Such a strategy requires the stalker to be in his high seat before the light comes, as fallow does prefer to be back in cover before it is either light enough or legal for the stalker to engage them. With the arriving light, the deerstalker has expectation, aspiration and hope. He expects to see deer,
aspires to shoot a doe and hopes, often against hope, that he will be lucky. If he does not see deer then a glimpse of a travelling fox or a flutter of migrant birds on a branch should content him. He or she who is out in the woods and fields at first light is deeply privileged.
Luck may, of course, also attend his efforts during the short winter afternoon?s outing. If ever there was a time to sit and be silent, this is it and, if there is a bite on the fields, a deer may step out of the woodland to feed. Some fields are such a draw that the deerstalker knows the deer will appear on them. Whether they will come to the right spot while it is light and legal to shoot, or after dark, are the unknown factors that prevent all such outings from becoming routine. Within woodland, restless fallow deer movement usually increases in the afternoon, sometimes giving the chance of a shot, against which advantage the deerstalker has to balance the faster falling of shadows and an earlier finish than outside.
The middle of the day is a less favoured deerstalking time. The received wisdom is that the fallow deer couches down from dawn to dusk in discreet patches of cover. A deerstalking connection seeks to exploit this habit by visiting their accommodation and turning the deer out to a Rifle or Rifles waiting in nearby high seats. He has some success, but still accounts for more deer during his dawn and dusk forays. For such daytime tactics to succeed, the deerstalker needs couching beds in his woods. If fallow does spend most of the winter daylight hours in or close to their couching areas and off the deerstalker?s own ground, this leaves little legal shooting time in which to get to grips with them.
Be they at dawn or dusk, the outings are all different from the prowls that so enchant deerstalkers in pursuit of a summer roebuck. Those are pure pleasure, whereas winter outings after fallow are all too often cold, hard and unproductive. For all that, fallow does are the most smart and wary of deer to stalk and the culling of each one is a real achievement.