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Breaking my buck

“If at first you don?t succeed, try, try again,? goes the old saying. Well, I?m happy to report that it?s true. After 12 months hunting for roe deer, I?ve finally got a story with a happy ending (for me at least).

Over seven or eight excursions at dawn and dusk, my roebuck luck had always been out, until one ST reader offered to help break my duck. John Gosden, a stalker over a sizeable stretch of Hampshire, was confident he could find me a makeable shot. Indeed, there was a one-horned buck ? ?a killer?, as he called it ? that needed to be extracted, so we set off for the spot where he had often seen it.

Creeping out through the wood to the high seat, we soon shimmied up a ladder and on to the thin wooden platform looking out across an open field towards a copse some 100 yards away. It was one of those still, balmy May evenings when the sky, a heavy blue all day, becomes a pale shadow of its former self.

The first two deer appeared almost as soon as we had sat down: a buck and a doe. The doe strutted forward from the cover of the trees to the lush grass of the field; the buck was altogether more cautious, loitering a good 150 yards away, staying close to the trees.

John scanned it with his binoculars. ?He?s too good for you,? he said, with an apologetic grin. Beneath us, 10 wild peahens pottered about in the grass, each one a mini-alarm system if we made too much noise. There was still time for my luck to change, however, and within 10 minutes a young buck emerged from the wood 100 yards in front of us. It was not our ?killer?, but it didn?t have a head to make a Belgian twitch. Better still, it was small. Surely, it was finally going to happen.

I had been watching it through John?s telescopic sights, getting myself relaxed, when my host decided the shot was on. ?I think it?s time you got your first roebuck,? he whispered.I flicked the safety catch. The deer was standing square, its slender neck raised to nibble a drooping branch. I brought the crosshairs down its torso, took a breath, exhaled gently, extended my finger on to the trigger and told myself to squeeze ? but with no bullet in the chamber, I?d have been better off throwing stones. John chuckled as the buck disappeared into the trees, another in a long line of mishaps.

John decided we were better off taking destiny into our own hands. He had spotted a pair of bucks to our right, 500 yards up the edge of the wood. The wind was on our side and there was a slope that would hide our approach. ?I?ve never failed to get someone a deer on this estate,? said John. ?You?re not going to ruin my 100 per cent record, are you??

No, sir. We scurried off through the trees and reappeared along a ride that would lead us out along the edge of the wood to where the deer would be ? but the coast was clear. John looked about for Plan C and it presented itself to our left, rising from the grass where it had been lying. There was a doe with it, no more than 80 yards away. By now we were out in the open. Surely they had heard us? Indeed, the doe trotted on 30 yards in alarm, before stopping to stare in our direction. We froze. The buck stood where he was, calmly chewing on grass as though bored of the doe?s amateur dramatics.

There were a few tree branches in the way, so we eased further out into the open. John passed me his shooting sticks. My ticker was buzzing with buck fever. ?Take your time,? John said, ?but not too much of it. ?I took the shot and the beast careered off to the right in the long grass. I thought I?d missed again. John had been watching through the binoculars, however, and held out his hand in congratulations before going to get the vehicle.

How did I feel, now that my quest was over? Triumphant, certainly, but a little bit dazed. It proved the benefits of having an experienced stalker by my side. I may never shoot another buck, but at least i have one tell to tale.