Understanding why an animal is doing what you observed and whether it is likely to do it again is important for any stalker.
On a day of driven pheasants, the keeper has done all the groundwork in order to get well-presented birds over his Guns. All that is expected from them is safe, straight shooting. Success during stalking is a different matter.
You may rely on luck, and many a fine trophy is brought in as a result of pure happenstance. However, consistent results just don’t come that way and depend to a large extent on the attitude of the stalker.
Do you say to yourself, “I will go out in the woods and see what I can see?” Or do you take a mental step backwards and think things through along the lines of, “If I was a muntjac buck, or a trout or a pheasant, whatever you are chasing, what would I be planning to do this morning?” Then you go there and see if you were right.
Experience of the species and knowledge of the terrain is in your favour, but in addition to all the considerations of wind, weather, season and crops, an ability to anticipate our quarry’s behaviour has to go beyond observation to an understanding of just why the animal was doing what you observed, and whether in similar conditions it is likely to be doing the same thing again.
A flick of the ears
If a beast is already in sight, then studying the body language allows you to forecast its likely actions. A deer’s ears, for example, are a great give-away.
Are they relaxed back, radaring round for the general news, or have they suddenly become focussed. If so, watch out!
The roe may have you nailed, at least as a potential hazard.
Eye-contact is usually fatal. Even with fish, which I find surprising. There were two brothers who had an uncanny ability in their particular fields.
One was Frank Sawyer, whose name and his deep knowledge of trout and grayling is still revered on the South Country chalkstreams. His brother, Wally, had an equal ability but with grey partridges.
Time and again he would plan a drive which cut across all the accepted theories ? and time and again the birds would fly exactly as he had predicted. This was not only long experience but a deep understanding of partridge mentality.
In stalking, consistent success often depends on a few things. One is to analyse your own feelings. If it’s wet and cold with a bitter wind, one is tempted to walk in the lee of a few hedges rather than patrol the open fields.
After a cold night camping out, a nice sunny corner where one can run about and get warm is equally attractive for man or beast. Similarly, a buck might think to himself, “If the local car park was busy with tourists yesterday, it might be worthwhile having a quick look this morning.”
Deer do not turn up their noses at discarded crusts, or even cigarette ends and many a gold medal as been taken while a beast was scavenging.
If you stalk an area pretty often at first light, don’t be surprised if you see fewer and fewer deer.
That is why the tractor driver laughs at you, because he sees more at 10 in the morning than you do at 5.30am. Deer aren’t fools.
When the rut is on, was it a clear night with a good moon? In that case it is likely that after romping with the girls until the small hours, a bit of a snooze might be just the thing before starting up again.
As a result the stalker has a blank morning though all the signs were right. Activity may well be in full swing again when the stalker has gone home to breakfast.
If a shootable beast is in sight, the stalker is faced with agonising decisions.
Interpretation of its body language at that stage can span the gulf between success and abject failure.
Will it get slowly to its feet, or suddenly bolt? Will it allow you to crawl a few vital metres more to make sure of a steady shot? Will it stay lying there for hours while you freeze into hopeless shivers?
I hate endless delays. I have to admit, when one is close enough and sure enough, I have always preferred an assassination, shooting the beast as it lies rather than waiting, increasingly nervous, for something to happen.
Curiously enough, the behaviour of deer when you are trying by various means to get them up seems to be quite different from those dreadful moments when the slightest clink of a stone sends the buck of a lifetime bounding off into an uncertain future.
I have coughed, clinked a cartridge on a stone, unconvincingly roared at a stag, even waved a handkerchief, all without the slightest effect, though by its ear movements the beast was obviously aware of my demonstration. Clearly it thought, “Just another harmless tripper”.
Stalking for a trout
Now that stalking for me is no longer a possibility, I have discovered the nearest equivalent is stalking trout in clear water with a nymph. Sometimes it is just as exciting as going after a roe.
When nymphing there is so much to be gained by close observation of the fish. Often it is quite obviously resting, having found a sympathetic lie where the minimum effort is needed to stay in place.
Leave it alone: remember where it is and look for it later when something has stimulated it into a feeding mode; fins and tail active, movements here and there, mouth opening to snap up the passing nymph.
Also, how much better to present it with an imitation of a nymph than bombard it with Grey Wulffs on the surface hoping for a reaction. Too many archaisms are perpetuated in homage to the long-departed Halford.
Failing a summer morning after roe there is enormous satisfaction in stalking a trout!