In the dying moments of last year, I resolved in 2014 to catch a sea trout and stalk a six pointer roe buck. Although I only managed the former on a technicality (see full report), the latter presented one of the most exciting and overwhelmingly memorable achievements of my life, fulfilled as it was after a lengthy crawl through a sea of bobbing cotton and granite on midsummer’s night.
The resulting head is no medal winning monster, and it would have been tossed away by the majority of serious-minded stalkers. Blunt, broken and definitely going back, my first “proper buck” makes a trophy that only has meaning to me, and I am prouder of it than any of the other bits and pieces of sporting paraphenalia I have picked up over the years. In fact, I shot a far better seven-point buck just a fortnight later, and while everything about this second beast was bigger and more impressive, it still pales by comparison to the stubby, twisting prongs of the old boy.
Perhaps the joy of the achievement had to do with the fact that it was the culmination of several failed assaults on the same buck, who had made his home in a fortress of moss and black-stained granite. Saucy and proud, he delighted in his bark, which rang around the dripping stones where the hard fern lolled in hanging tongues. Even the slightest flicker of suspicion would send him bouncing cockily away over the crackling heather stick, and he trumped me a dozen times before the tables finally turned.
As it turned out, he saw me first on our last meeting. I could feel those eyes. When I crouched down where he was standing half an hour later, I saw how obvious I must have been against the massive sweeping bulk of the hill behind me, blundering foolishly like some ignorant human. We stared at one another, and I froze as still as was conceivably possible.
It wasn’t enough. He was unhappy, and as the seconds ticked by, I realised that there would be no relaxing of tendons or return to normality. I had been detected, and it was now just a matter of time before he left. As if to add insult to injury, he barked and tossed his head, turning his ears back and looking away. When he turned again, I moved quickly forward and set up the tripod, peering down the scope to see that he was now facing the other way, preparing for an exit. I picked my spot and squeezed the trigger.
Of all the shot reactions I have ever seen, this buck presented one of the finest and most reassuring. At one hundred and twenty yards, the bullet struck him a little far forward. There was a sonorous crack. I saw the shock impact as he hunched up and sprang out, legs straight like a pronking springbok. Able to bounce once more, he then fell and swung his legs into the air in a sudden and abrupt cartwheel. A small heath butterfly gusted past in the silence.
I got married in October (so I had better choose my words carefully), but it was the finest “sporting” moment of the entire year. I have shot dozens of roe over the past five years, but this seemed to go above and beyond – my first proper head, and enough meat to keep the barbecue going until September. I don’t ever want to develop an interest in big heads or trophies, and I simply can’t see where competitiveness fits in my understanding of shooting. I wanted a six-pointer because that shape represents the fulfillment of a deer’s potential – a mature roe with his wits and cunning finely tuned. I stalk only for sport and meat, and the memory of that evening will be savoured for years to come.
So in keeping with the theme of sporting resolutions, let it now be noted that 2015 will be (at least in part) devoted to the pursuit of two more firsts: a sika deer and a sea bass – roll on the New Year!
In the meantime, thanks as always to the many friends and supporters of this blog –