Who could possibly turn down an invitation to go stalking in North Yorkshire? Certainly not me, so when Viking Arms suggested someone from the office visit Darley in early November to review the Merkel RX Helix, I readily volunteered.
I met Rob MacArthur, one of the sales team and a keen stalker, for a quick drink on the eve of our outing, and to hear a little more about the company. Set up in 1965, and run as a family business since then, Viking Arms has two divisions: one for shooting sports and police, and another for military and security. The company distributes numerous rifle brands, including Ruger, Merkel and the Wild-West repeaters made by Henry.
The next morning, Rob picked me up from the car park. I was relieved that the weather seemed to have turned milder once more, but that was short- lived, for as we headed across the Vale of York, the roads were increasingly icy. Though Rob has his own stalking ground nearer to home, he’d decided to take me out with John Fawcett to see if we could track down a fallow buck, a species I’d never before stalked.
John explained the lay of the land: mixed woodland, with rides that swooped around a ridge. The rides and tracks weren’t taxing – there were fairly steep but short inclines followed by almost flat sections before the next incline. We’d be stalking in the shadow of the famed White Horse of Kilburn.
Rob handed me the Merkel, unloaded, so that I could get a feel for the safety and trigger weight, and work the action a few times. I’m more used to turn-bolt action rifles, but the simplicity of the straight- pull action – and its safety – didn’t give me any cause for concern.
What I particularly noticed while carrying and using the Helix was that it was exceptionally well-balanced, and slotted into my shoulder nicely. The straight-pull bolt, while initially a little disconcerting if you aren’t accustomed to it, was completely instinctive and fluid in its motion. I found it meant that I kept my head more still, so that if a follow-up shot had been necessary, it would have been fast and sure.
With a moderator, the kick was barely perceptible, again allowing me to keep my scope on the animal and watch the bullet hit its target, by no means the case with every rifle.
However, what really sets the Merkel apart is the ability to switch between different calibres, ranging from the .222 to a .300 Win Mag. Not only that, but the barrel, stock and fore-end changes are easy, so your classical stalking rifle with a straight walnut stock can become a tough work tool with a synthetic stock and adjustable cheek-piece. This is all thanks to the rather ingenious but brilliantly simple Merkel Bolt-Barrel-System, which allows you to disassemble the rifle and change calibres without using any tools, something that Rob demonstrated to me after we’d finished stalking.
Spotting the first roe
As soon as the darkness began to recede, we set off, following a stony
track for the first section, from which we could glass both the slopes
above and below. Slowly, slowly, we worked our way along, John leading
and Rob taking up the rear. Rustlings and the occasional bark might be
an indication that there were plenty of fallow about, but that doesn’t
mean you’ll find them.
We continued on our way, heading further up the hill, and cut into a ride. As we did, a jogger pounded behind us, calling, perfectly amiably, “Don’t shoot me, will you!” Amazingly, this clearly didn’t have much of an effect on the deer as a roe poked its head out from some shrubs about 120 yards away.
“Do you want to take that one, Kate?” John asked. “Or would you rather wait for a fallow?” Indicating that I’d rather wait to try for a fallow, we continued on our way, stopping after every 10 yards or so to check the surrounding woodland. Just as we’d stopped and lifted our binoculars for the umpteenth time, a small fallow buck wandered across the ride 150 yards ahead.
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John’s experience as a stalker showed through – in one fluid and soundless motion, he positioned the sticks and I placed the rifle on them. The buck was still completely unaware of us and had its tail to us. I calmed my breathing and relaxed my upper body, knowing that when he turned I’d have a small window of opportunity.
Turn he did, and, positioning the cross-hairs for a neck shot, I squeezed the trigger, dropping the animal where it stood. All the same, I kept the rifle to my shoulder, watched through the scope and worked the bolt, just in case. There was no need, however, and we were soon gralloching the buck, which was a youngster with just two tiny knobs, making him a perfect cull beast.