Despite the fact that it’s a filthy, miserable day outside, I’m very pleased with myself. For the first time in my life, I correctly interpreted the weather forecast and shifted my plans around accordingly. As a result, I had a fantastic afternoon in the bright sunshine stalking roe on the hill yesterday, and now I have got the fire on catching up with the work that I postponed as the rain batters against the window. If only I was capable of doing this more often.
Amongst the many things “on the go” is the building pressure behind catching up with my gamebook, and recording my fantastic 48 hours of fun in North Norfolk. I wrote last year about my first muntjac buck which was stalked on the North Norfolk coast near Burnham Market, and I also wrote in some detail about the subsequent pleasure of carving up and getting stuck in to the venison, which, while delicious, still couldn’t touch a roe.
Almost precisely a year later, I was kindly taken back to the precise location of my first muntjac to wait on the darkening and see what would happen. Standing with my back against a steep, holly coated hedge, I looked down a shallow incline towards a sodden carr of willow and alder one hundred yards away. This water-logged scrub forest is home to many muntjac, and although I was keen to clap eyes on one of the many chinese water deer which lurk in the adjacent reed beds, the spectacle of a muntjac was all I could think about.
Leaning on shooting sticks, I scanned through the ‘scope as the sky became heavier and monstrous folded torrents of geese came yammering wildly overhead on their way down to roost at Holkham. A barn owl hunted through the flag-topped reeds, and herons paddled idly past in the gloaming. At the same time, unfamiliar gangs of little egrets came swarming by – naturalised foreigners exuding a clear sense of purpose. A couple of hares emerged to idly browse through the mat of fallen grass where sprigs of bramble and roughage offered a bite to eat, and I almost jumped out of my skin when the first idle, lolloping soul came passively out from the cover of a blackthorn tree. Remembering the shape of the chocolate-humped deer I had seen in 2013, I tried to relax my tightened shoulders and breathe steadily.
They appeared as if the curtains had been suddenly lifted. Two little shapes burst out from the brambles and then vanished again into the long grass. Chasing each other madly through the tangled mass of undergrowth, I had a moment to get the rifle into my shoulder before they were gone. The wild, enthusiastic movement was quite at odds with the silence of its execution. They had been like ghosts, and now I silently cursed a missed opportunity, even though a shot would have been impossible. The darkness continued to gather as five minutes passed, and then the two little shapes returned; erratic and keen in their movements; scuttling jerkily and pausing only for fractional seconds to browse and fill their mouths. Time and again they almost offered a shot, and it was hard to decide which would become the target. They were both young does of a similar age, so the decision to shoot would be taken on which would offer the first shot – tempting chances came and went with never a half second long enough to squeeze the trigger.
With the last failing spark of blue daylight, the moment came and the doe went straight down where she stood at a range of perhaps sixty yards. Her partner flashed off into the blackthorn with a streak of high-tailed energy. Petulant barks echoed through the sunken wood.
Yet again, renewing my acquaintance with muntjac had been a real thrill. Speaking earlier in the day with my keeper friend on whose ground these muntjac lurk, I had tried to explain why I find muntjac so endearing. Living where I do in Dumfries and Galloway, these little deer are an exotic novelty, far removed from the near-vermin status they receive (and deserve) in the counties they inhabit. While they must be controlled with a degree of firmness, my friend responded that, within the gravity of the problem, there is room for pleasure. He reasoned that, irrespective of the harm they cause, we should enjoy these little deer, and that enjoyment is not incompatible with management. In those terms, I would say that there is a great deal to enjoy.