Muntjac are funny little creatures and I can?t get used to seeing them in the British countryside. They still look foreign after all these years, yet they can offer a great morning?s stalk and, even better, they taste delicious.
They are so widespread these days that I suppose I will get used to them, though when they turn up on a roe stalk unexpectedly or bark at you as you line up a shot on a roe that you?ve stalked for one and a half hours, it isn?t that easy. Their ability to adapt to almost any environment and breed so successfully has meant that some farms are overrun with them, especially in the Midlands. They are often thought of as vermin more than a legitimate quarry species. However, they can test even a seasoned stalker?s skill and they have one advantage ? their small size means it takes less effort to carry them home.
The muntjac?s small size also tests your observational skills. They are to be found in various places: hedgerows, fields and the edges of rides, but what makes them a tricky target is that they are always on the move. It?s rare that I have shot one that was standing perfectly still, unless I have barked or whistled at it to make it stop. They forage about, nibbling here and there, in an almost nervous state, not wanting to stay in one place too long. So, when you have one in your sights, the time in which to calculate range, age, sex and suitability is extremely short if you do not wish to lose the opportunity of a shot. I often stalk them into the wind, following the muntjac around a plantation or wood, bobbing from tree to tree until a safe shot at a broadside target is offered.
One of the memorable moments
I was out one morning and my attention was focused on a bigger quarry than muntjac, as I had spied a frayed tree on a ride. Sure enough, a roebuck had been marking his territory. I was on the right tracks.
It was only 20 minutes into daylight, when a flick of an ear caught my attention in the wood to my left. I froze. With the rifle slung, I slowly raised the binoculars to check the movement. A roebuck was looking right at me. I find, in situations like this, that it is always best to wait. Two minutes stretched to five ? which, when you are holding up heavy binoculars seems a lifetime. In the end, the buck dropped its head, giving me time to raise my rifle, but in doing so, I snagged a branch. It was all the wily old buck needed, and off he ran, barking as he went.
However, the buck?s retreat had disturbed a muntjac feeding just 10 yards from it. Because I was looking at roe deer level, I had completely missed it. The muntjac slowly walked out of the wood. As soon as it reached the ride, I shot it ? a different conclusion to my morning?s stalk than I had expected.
This is typical of muntjac ? they can turn up when you least expect them, sometimes for the good, as on this day, but sometimes for the worst when they give you away to other wildlife you may be stalking. Magpies often chatter at muntjac as they do when they see a fox, which can be a good warning that something is about if the foliage hinders your own vision. From now on I will be looking for muntjac but at a much lower level through the woods to see if this improves my chances.