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Roe stalking: Into the Woods

Roe stalking in woodland should be intensely enjoyable, even on the occasions when no shootable beast is seen. On those days when everything goes right it is as breathtakingly exciting as the Cresta Run. Today, most beginners will have received fundamental training and undergone stalking tests, but launching out solo can be daunting and help may be needed, something which is not always covered in manuals.

So much in woodland stalking depends on local knowledge and the way you go about it. Ultimately the success achieved will be thanks to the groundwork put in. You need to know the thickness of the wood. Are there rides, paths or open spaces? If there is a game shoot, one of the best ways to get to know the area is to join the beating team. This will get you into all sorts of odd corners and you can also make a friend of the keeper. You will see deer and take note of browsing, especially on ivy-covered trees, to give an idea of the population.

Fortunate stalkers in the South may find remnants of old coppice with standards which, if the coppicing is still maintained, can produce ideal conditions both for roe and stalker. Here you can perfect the art of real ?still hunting?, working slowly and silently upwind so that wildlife forgets you are there. If the surrounding fields and hedges are included in your area, this is a tremendous bonus. Woodland that has been felled and recently replanted needs careful exploration to find those places where it is actually possible to see a deer. Visibility improves as thinning progresses. The most difficult are blanket plantations of conifers, usually on poor, acidic ground where no provision has been made for deer control in the layout. There may be stream-sides left with the banks bare, or spots where trees have failed.

The ideal woodland rifle

For an ideal woodland rifle, a sound moderator is essential. Besides the reduced report, creating less disturbance in our populated country, the deer are less worried, which may allow for a second shot when, for example, a large doe cull is required. Less recoil also makes for steadier shooting, while the long-term and irreversible damage by rifle shots to one?s hearing is minimised. The rifle barrel should be short and accuracy at sporting ranges will not be affected. A bolt-action rifle is the usual choice ? I favour a removable magazine, otherwise spare rounds have to be spilled out when unloading when, for example, one is mounting a high seat, and then laboriously fed in again.

Within legal limits there is little to choose between modern deer calibres, but make sure the calibre you choose is stocked by gunshops and in a variety of bullet weights. The lightest weights are unsuitable for roe in woodland. Mid-range weights tend to penetrate better, bruise less meat and give a better blood trail.

Scopes need to be of high quality, or they will eventually let you down. I am no lover of high or variable power instruments and within reason the lower the magnification the quicker it is to get on target. A popular power is 6x magnification, though 4x is more than adequate. Don?t economise on this or the mounts, which must be entirely solid. Much the same criteria apply to your choice of binoculars, for on them depend your success and, indeed, much of your pleasure. While 10x will arguably provide more detail, when used freehand or even steadied by a stick, vibration will lose all the detail you hoped to gain, let alone time spent fiddling with the knob to get a better focus. My own binoculars are 7x and if I need more detail on open ground I use a telescope.

As far as clothing is concerned, the essential is to wear garments in which you can move and sit in all weathers without discomfort or being obvious in the landscape. In this respect modern camoufl age clothing is useful, though wearing it outside the woodland boundaries when the public may be encountered is inadvisable. We are not ashamed of what we do, but it?s better to avoid misunderstandings. Wear a hat with a decent brim to shield your face and choose light-weight lace-up boots rather than shoes so that you can tuck in your trousers to try to avoid ticks getting into your clothing. Lyme disease is now prevalent and is to be avoided at all costs. Never wear wellington boots, as they are heavy and noisy.

Other kit

The rifle must be slung ready for use. A broad sling will be improved by having a non-slip lining, otherwise it will tend to slide over the straps of your rucksack so that it has constantly to be hitched back. Most slings for binoculars are too thin and long, and carrying the best part of a kilo round your neck for hours at a time will result in neck-ache; a short strap, on the other hand, means less movement to bring them into use.

A good-sized roe sack with a waterproof liner and broad shoulder straps is essential. Remember that a big buck can prove weighty after a mile or so! A pair of gloves will prevent the white flash of your hands every time you lift the binoculars, and for late summer a midge veil may be essential.

I learned my stalking in fairly thick cover where encounters with deer were likely to be within 60m or so, and much movement or noise would have been disastrous.

As a result, I favoured a single hazel stick, at the height of my eyes, to steady the glasses or rifle. The latter was held on my right shoulder, muzzle down, with the stick in my left hand. Do it any other way and you drop the stick. If your stalking includes some fields, then sometimes a longer shot may be needed and in this case a bipod gives a steady lying or sitting shot. Alternatively, you can invest in one of the ingenious multi-leg sticks that are now on the market. However, be aware that some are noisy and all are slow to deploy compared with a single stick.

A sharp, lock-blade knife is essential, with a blade not longer than 6cm to 7cm. Odd things will be added to your list as you find you need them. Rubber gloves, mobile phone, firearms certificate, plastic bags, and so on.

Finally, a dog is essential, or at least access to someone with a trained deer dog in the case of a problem. There is nothing worse than seeing a deer go off after a poor shot, and few things more satisfying than to know that the superior senses of a dog will bring a satisfactory result.