Stalking: There’s the rub!
In the north-east of Scotland, even the warmest of summer days can start with a chill dawn, so as the sky blushed pink in the east, I welcomed the sun?s warming rays, while around me woodland which only moments before had been in the shadows was flooded with a spectrum of crimson and orange light.
Perched in a high seat, with stalking rifle to hand, I had been shivering since long before dawn. My position at the junction of two broad forestry rides was the perfect place to ambush a roebuck on its way to feed on the lush young barley growing on adjacent farmland.
My every nerve strained to detect any sound or movement among the conifers. A flash of sapphire wing bars caught my eye as a jay hopped out on to the ride before me. Beautiful, cunning and the scourge of nesting songbirds, the bright-eyed corvid called raucously as it searched through decaying branches on the woodland floor for an early morning meal.
As the sun heaved itself above the skyline of ragged pines, light flooded through the trees like a rising tide. Scents of warming earth and pine resin filled the air, and in the distance a farm collie, keen to be about the business of the day, barked repeatedly.
To my left, a scuttering sound drew my attention, and turning slowly, I was delighted to see a red squirrel scamper up the trunk of a Scots pine. It was no more than 10ft from my man-made eyrie of wood and nails, and chattered as though annoyed by my trespassing on its territory.
Displaying perfect arboreal gymnastics, the creature sprang from branch to branch, finally coming to a rest upside down, its tiny claws allowing it to hang suspended while it regarded me with a bewildered eye. So absorbed was I by this woodland sideshow that my concentration had wandered almost entirely. It was with considerable surprise that I noticed that the high seat in which I was sitting had begun to shudder.
Earth tremors, though rare, are not unknown in the Highlands, so I must admit that seismic activity crossed my mind as a possible cause for the structure?s trembling.
The reason for the seat?s shaking was no less surprising, however, for as I glanced towards the ground, I was met by a sight bound to make any roe stalker?s pulse race. There, aggressively rubbing its neck and shoulders against one of the high seat?s four rectangular legs, was a roebuck of medal quality ? and this was taking place no more than 8ft below me.
So completely distracted had I been by the antics of the squirrel, that the sixpointer had approached through the trees behind me undetected. When he reached the high seat, he had presumably considered it a perfect scratching post.
This bizarre situation left me with a unique problem. The buck was so close, and the morning so still, that I dared not move a muscle for fear of detection. I simply continued to stare at one of the finest bucks I had ever seen, unable to even move my rifle, let alone take a shot.
A shuddering seat
The high seat continued to shudder as I watched the buck rub first his neck and then his right shoulder, producing a sound like someone scrubbing their fingernails as it did so. At this point, my heartbeat seemed so loud that I felt sure the roe would hear it, as my pulse, quickened by adrenalin, pounded in my ears. I tried not even to blink.
Slowly and steadily, the buck rubbed along his right side, scratching his ribs, and then finally his rump, before stepping out from under my perch and quietly making his way on to the forestry ride. Every few steps he would stop and look around, checking for danger, little realising the peril in which he had placed himself. Still I remained transfixed as the jay that had visited me earlier called loudly from the trees. At this sound, the magnificent six-point buck became startled, and bolted down the ride some 50 or 60 yards.
Never have I been so grateful to a jay, for, unwittingly, the bird had given me the very chance I needed to take the shot. I raised the Ruger No.1 from my lap, and gripping the carbine?s short fore-end with my left hand, slid the rifle up and on to the high seat?s padded front rail. Tucking the butt-plate firmly into my shoulder, I nestled the rifle?s stock snugly into my cheek, and settled the cross-hairs on the base of the roebuck?s thick-set neck.
I eased the safety catch forward. Once more the jay called from the trees and, distracted, the buck turned broadside towards the sound.
The buck drops here
The medal buck fell as if poleaxed; his spinal cord perfectly severed by the 130-gr .270 bullet. As the sound of the shot roared away, the jay, frightened from its treetop perch, floated away overhead, towards more open, safer farmland.
Replacing the safety catch, I descended to ground level and quietly approached the fallen roe. Its back was against the bowl of a spruce, a trickle of crimson running from a single bullet hole at the base of his neck.
Looking back towards the high seat, I could see clearly the deer hairs caught on the rough fibres of one rectangular leg ? a tangible reminder, perhaps, that no matter how distracting the wonders of nature, it never pays to let your concentration wander.