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Stalking medal roebuck in the English countryside

Thomas Nissen recalls fulfilling a long-held ambition, last season, of shooting a medal roebuck deep in the English countryside

Mud squelches out from beneath my companion’s boot every time it connects with the boggy ground below. Stalker Anthony White is well over 6ft tall and has a shoe size to match. He walks on ahead of me, untroubled by the noise or the giant footprints he’s leaving in his wake. I decide to take advantage of the ground he has compressed: my ‘little cat paws’ fit easily into the impressions he has made. There’s no noise as I move forwards, and my footwear remains free of the grey clay that is clinging to Anthony’s boots as though it wants to drag him down into the earth. (Click here for our list of the best walking boots).

My thoughts are jerked back to the present as Anthony stops at the edge of a large meadow. He’s spotted a roe doe on the hedge line a few hundred metres away. He urges me to set up the shooting stick and rest the rifle on it. When I’m ready, he calls the doe, and it responds eagerly. Its long leaps bring it directly towards us. Its fawn follows, but it doesn’t pull a buck with it. We pack our gear and move on, travelling further into the stalker’s extensive hunting terrain.

I arrived in the UK from my home in Denmark a week ago. Part of my mission has been culling foxes with my English friend Daniel Smith, but we’ve also been stalking roebucks in Dorset and Devon. Then, when Daniel’s buddy Anthony offered a morning of stalking in Somerset, I jumped at the chance.

I had visited the area on a previous pheasant shooting trip and seen several excellent roebucks, so I knew there was good game to be had. The challenge of stalking in this landscape of flat fields and quintessentially English hedges was a significant attraction. Stalking across the Somerset Levels is very different to that presented by the rolling terrain of Devon and Dorset.


Offer of courtship

The morning mist is lifting, and we begin to see more roe deer. The day’s rut hasn’t yet started in earnest, and the does are alone for the time being — only the young bucks show any interest in the bellowing call from Anthony’s Buttolo. That’s not to say some males aren’t already on the case. In a field of short-cropped green grass, we find a buck pursuing a doe with all the persistence of a telemarketer who’s about to miss out on his bonus. The female, however, is unmoved by his offer of courtship.

The buck in question has strong antlers, but they’re still relatively short. It’s a youngster, which is why Anthony decides to give it a year or two more to win a mate and show its potential. We watch the romantic drama unfold for a while before continuing our pursuit.

Top: Anthony and son Ed hold the stalking rights on around 4,000 hectares of farmland, forest and wetlands in Somerset and take most of their roebucks in April and during the rut. Above: the landscape of flat fields and English hedges are an attraction and a challenge for the stalker

Anthony has worked part-time as a stalker for 25 years. He and his son Ed hold the stalking rights on around 4,000 hectares of farmland, forest and wetland in Somerset. The areas are largely contiguous, and Anthony and Ed can manage the deer herd as they see fit. They shoot between 25 and 30 prize bucks a year, many of which are in the medal class, with gold bucks taken in the area every year. The largest males are typically shot in April, while the remaining prize and cull bucks are taken during the rut in late July and early August. They leave the deer in peace for the rest of the year, despite England’s long roebuck season, from April to late October.

A good climate, mild winters and abundant food year-round mean that parts of Somerset contain many roebucks with impressive antlers. Many medal bucks are shot but under Anthony and Ed’s stewardship, they are allowed to live more than a few seasons. They take most of the cull bucks themselves during stalks and have plenty of time to choose which have only limited potential.

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In general, they manage the herd to ensure that their customers can target a single prime specimen as opposed to shooting a large head of lesser bucks. There is a risk in preserving already serviceable animals over an extended period, and the business might be more profitable if they allowed more young deer to be shot rather than investing everything in magnificent mature males. But for father and son, sound management is more important than money. They strive to produce quality, not quantity.

Given the relatively modest size of their outfitting business, Anthony and Ed have permission from the authorities to sell all the game meat taken throughout the year to private customers, pubs and restaurants. In addition to burgers and sausages, they have also had success in selling boxes with various cuts of venison to private households. Although venison prices are at rock-bottom in England, compared with most of Europe, the pair have given the deer value both in life and in death.

Anthony sells the venison shot in his area to private customers, pubs and restaurants but this beast was shot outside his patch


Medal dream

My dream is to take a medal roebuck, but numbers are limited and I know my chances aren’t high. I tell myself it’s important not to be too picky and, in truth, I’m happy to entertain any possibilities Anthony might give me.

Before long, in a field of tall grass, we discover a buck standing between some rolls of baled hay that have been wrapped in black plastic. We can both see that the animal has some abnormal features and, after a few minutes of study, Anthony decides it can be culled. It’s too far away for me to shoot, so we try to lure it closer. Anthony sounds the call for a few minutes, but the buck stays put. However, his Buttolo has sparked the curiosity of a very young male — though clearly nervous, a hard-wired genetic imperative forces it closer. When it realises it’s been duped, it flees but, unfortunately, hightails it past the buck we had been hoping to attract, which also runs off.

Everything happens for a reason, and I’ll likely turn the corner and discover something even better — at least that’s what I tell myself when events don’t go according to plan. Of course, it doesn’t always happen like that, but occasionally, when the hunting gods are smiling down on you, incredible things do happen. Less than an hour later, we stumble upon a beautiful six-pointer in a small meadow surrounded by hedges. The buck is oblivious to our presence. Moments later, after a brief stalk, I drop it where it’s standing.

As the adrenaline quiets in my veins, I look around and realise I recognise this parcel of land. It’s at the foot of a small hill dotted with saplings. Anthony holds the stalking rights to a vast area, but the shooting rights to the land we’re on belong to Ron, a pal of mine, and my companion, Daniel. It was here, when I was shooting pheasants last January with Ron and Daniel, that the dream of a Somerset buck entered my mind.

We’d been on our way to our stands, crossing the neighbouring field to the one I’m standing in now, when I saw a prize male roe deer on this very spot. Even in mid-winter it seemed well grown. The allure of grassing such a handsome animal in a pristine meadow encircled by hedgerows was immediate, but as Ron didn’t hold the stalking rights, I was forced to push the dream to the corner of my mind, abandoning it in the spot reserved for wild fantasies and crazy ambitions.


More than luck

To encounter such a magnificent buck in this same field seems more than a matter of luck. It’s like some higher power has written a script of an impossible desire that is finally allowed to be sated. So many seemingly random events had to conspire to create this ending, not least our meeting with the obstinate buck an hour earlier. If I had culled that animal as planned, I would have missed my rendezvous with the deer of my dreams. Thankfully, fate had other ideas.



This stalk was arranged directly with Anthony White. If you would also like to try for a Somerset roebuck, Anthony can be contacted at: [email protected]