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Stalking fallow deer

A marauding herd of 13 fallow deer are making themselves a nuisance but heading out with the rifle to end their rampage is easier said than done

The sea of bright yellow flowers appearing and the accompanying sweet smell of oilseed rape pollen surely signal a turning point in the year. The heat can finally be felt in the sun as it climbs higher in the sky and all around us the warmth of spring is evident. There are stunning cones of horse chestnut flowers, rapidly growing cow parsley and dozens of little rabbits.

As April ticks towards its conclusion, though, the end of the fallow stalking season makes a steady countdown and with it the last chance of managing a population of deer hell-bent on munching every growing crop in the district. (Read more here on the importance of details for deer management).

Jamie takes up residence in a slightly weather-beaten high seat

There had been a particularly disruptive group of fallow bucks, 13 in total, which have been roaming a large area of arable and forestry land, seemingly intent on trashing everything in their path. They are a bunch of misfits; older bucks past their peak and younger ones apparently sidelined by their bigger and more handsome siblings.

One of the problems was pinning down this pack of hooligans. With more than 4,000 acres of virtually contiguous farm and woodland to go at, they move quickly and unpredictably, making them very hard to find when you go out to try to manage them.

(Read more here on how trail cams can be used for deer management).

The sun hung motionless in the late afternoon as I trundled out in my Defender. Despite having almost 300,000 miles on the clock, she rumbles along nicely and starts on the nose every time. Being on a road certainly isn’t a Defender’s natural habitat and, as soon as I swung into the gateway of the first field and on to the field margin, I could almost feel the truck relax.

Finding the deer without my Defender would be almost impossible, given the expanse I needed to search in, and we pottered back and forth along field margins, stopping now and again to scan the fields with binoculars.

(Looking to upgrade your old Defender? Read our full review of the new Hardtop Defender 110 here, or if you’re looking for something else, read our top picks for the best off-road SUVs here).

The Land Rover Defender’s reinforced bonnet makes a perfect vantage point for Jamie


Out of date

The reinforced bonnet of the Land Rover gave me an elevated platform to spy over hedges and see further with each stop. But despite all my searching, the crazy gang were nowhere to be seen. I had been given some detailed information from the farm manager and another local stalker, suggesting where they were likely to hang out, but even that appeared to be out of date.

Making the assumption that, because they weren’t out on the fields, they were likely to be hiding in one of the woods, I parked up and set off on foot. I headed into Long Wood, where we had been making a concerted effort on deer management over the past few years. It was hugely pleasing to see the wood was benefiting so colourfully from reduced deer numbers, with a carpet of bluebells. It was even more pleasing to spot an early purple orchid hiding among the blue; a flower I hadn’t seen in estate woodlands before.

Detailed information from the farm manager about the targeted deer herd’s likely location gives Jamie the opportunity to get set up and wait for them

The crunch of dry leaves among the flowers sounded an alarm well ahead of my arrival, so I moved on to the main ride where I could move more quietly. I made my way upwind, keeping an eye out through the trees for any signs of deer, but ultimately with no result.

The chances were therefore that the fallow were going to be in a big block of Forestry Commission woodland to the north, guarded by a matrix of mountain-bike trails and dog walkers. I decided that my best bet would be to wait for them and see if they ventured out from the woods to graze on the spring beans emerging from the adjacent field.



A rickety high seat stood on the woodland edge, where a bend in the treeline protruded out into the field slightly and I made my way down to it. As I did so, the shouts of some mountain bikers echoed through the evening, followed quickly by the thundering of a deer herd charging quickly through the trees. I saw them as they went, counting them one by one as they scarpered over a fallen log — 13 in all. Finally, I’d found the gang I was after.

(Read more here about how to build the perfect high seat).

It reassured me that the high seat was probably going to be my best option and I climbed it with caution, feeling it creak slightly as I did. This wooden construction hadn’t enjoyed the winter exposure and would be in need of some running repairs over the summer. But it would suffice.

Despite it being a relatively warm evening, the wind felt cold at the top of the tower and I was pleased for the nose-high zip and hood on my coat. From my position in the high seat, I could see most of the field, with a wide grass margin separating the arable from the woodland. Two hares chased each other back and forth in the middle of the field, enjoying the last of the evening light.

They were put on high alert as a fox emerged from the woodland, nose and ears first, sniffing and listening intently. The hares decided it was time to leave and they lolloped away across the arable towards the safety of Long Wood opposite.

The fox watched them go before beginning a hunt along the field margin, searching in the tussocks of grass for voles and mice. It eventually found one, pounced, then disappeared back into the woods with its prize.

At that moment, a small muntjac doe appeared on the grass, close to where the fox had emerged from. It was relaxed and calmly wandered towards me, completely oblivious to my presence. At first I watched its progress through the binoculars, but it then came close enough to see without them and, for the next 15 minutes or so, I quietly studied it.

With the main aim of the evening being a fallow buck, I left the muntjac alone, not wanting to spook anything considering its own venture out of the woods. The little doe eventually made it to within about 10 paces of me, before suddenly seeing me watching it, whereupon it dashed back to safety.

The high seat has not wintered well and needs some repairs but it serves its purpose for Jamie


Bigger doe

I was beginning to lose the light and, as the day faded, so did my hopes of finding a fallow. Even if I did see one soon, it would be a devil to gralloch in the dark and I didn’t much fancy it without a head torch. But compromise came in the form of another muntjac, as a bigger doe emerged from the woods.

This one was more alert, clearly on her way somewhere, as she scuttled out of the woods and across the grass margin on to the arable. She would scurry for a dozen steps or so, before pausing and looking around, followed again by another dozen steps. This was my last opportunity and I followed her closely through the scope. She paused, looked around, scurried a few more steps, then turned and I fired.

I quickly cleaned up the carcass, then began the long walk back to where I’d left the Land Rover. By the time I got there I was puffing; for a muntjac she had some weight to her. I set off for home, the headlights of the Defender lighting up the woodland edge as I trundled along. Then, all of a sudden, my headlights caught the flash of some sets of eyes, and across the track in front of me charged the crazy gang, all 13 of them, mocking me as they went.

It was far too dark now to consider a shot, so I watched them under the lights as they crossed a concrete road, clambered up a bank the other side and trotted off to wreak a night of havoc on the farms.

I cursed them then headed home; it would now be August before I could plot another game against them. Conservation has its ups and downs; it doesn’t always go to plan and I consoled myself that at least there was one less muntjac to munch the early purple orchids finally establishing themselves in our
woods. It was a little win that felt like a great victory in the moment.