August is most definitely my favourite month in the deer stalking calendar (yes, I am very much counting down the days!), and while I have stalked all the UK deer species with the exception of Sika, the ultimate sporting quarry, for me, just has to be Roe. With the long daylight hours, warm sunny weather and the smell of harvest, the roebuck rut in early August can be one of the most adrenaline-fuelled times of any stalkers year.
One particular reason to why I love this time of year is the fact that you have spent the time in early spring evaluating your bucks as they clean off and establish their territory, but when it comes to the rut, everything changes as bucks, young and old, seem to appear from nowhere, from all the neighbouring woods, trying to take any chance to chase & court your resident doe – much like a roebuck lucky dip…. Anything can happen!
As a young hunter I have already got many planned future adventures in mind, from Alaskan Moose to winter Foxing in Scandinavia, but the spectacle of calling in an old mature roebuck, in the rut, seems to be always present, even in the off-season.
At only twenty two years young, I’ve been fortunate to have experienced hunting most my life by following in the footsteps of my father Owen and accompanying him out in the field. I have cut my teeth on assisting him with his cull and therefore mainly shot females and young. I have often found myself ‘pulling the leg’ of fellow stalkers about getting ‘buck fever’, until I, myself experienced it last summer, when I took my biggest trophy buck.
We were a week into August and the rut was beginning to tail off in the Cotswolds, England, which was our destination on this particular evening. My father was keen to see what deer numbers were showing on the stubble fields now they were cut; with fallow deer, muntjac and foxes we had plenty of options.
The hunt for this particular roebuck wasn’t planned and by pure chance we stopped to glass a certain meadow that had recently been mowed and baled, and in which we had previously seen this mature master buck months before. We knew this was his territory, but we went in on a whim with low expectation as we had not seen him since the spring.
As part of our family business, Cervus-UK, we spend many hours on our reconnaissance effort, with trail camera’s being set up, moved and re-set trying to capture a glimpse of the resident bucks in order to evaluate them, in particular the one we were after tonight. But, with age, this buck had learnt to avoid the trail cameras; like he knew exactly where they were. He was a true master buck!
So there we were, standing at the gate overlooking the meadow that is our bucks’ area. The golden hour had well and truly passed as we watched a doe and kid feeding on the edge of the spinney and Owen thought we were half an hour too late. We crept round the edge of the field using the hedge and then the hay bales as cover; minutes ticked by, it was now around 9.00pm, getting dark. Our movement was muffled by the noise of the spring lambs bleating in the neighbouring field. The air was warm, thick with pollen; my Dad whispered over to me, “If there ever was a perfect night for this buck to appear, it was tonight. If we don’t sit it out we’ll never know.” I knew he was in good spirits, as his night had already been successful, taking a destructive young buck he’d been after since April which was now laid in his roe-sack.
We stalked into a shootable distance looking onto the spinney. Our setup was perfect. My rest was a large oblong bale and I felt stable. My Dad gave out a few doe fieps to entice any potential bucks in the surrounding area. 15 minutes passed, nothing. I knew from past experience that calling can be a challenge at the end of the rut as the old boys are tired, and so if anything comes it tends to be a horny youngster. By this point the doe and kid had disappeared back into the thick cover which left just us waiting, hoping for the old boy to appear.
As I sat remembering the time and effort put into recon over the past few seasons; the hours spent glassing the field to see a glimpse of this illusive buck, somehow I knew sitting this evening was the right decision. As the final few minutes of light began to fade away, the field was still, my mind in tune to the echoes of the surrounding nature changing to the night shift.
Settling back with a patiently I thought, it’s the effort that counts and in that moment of doubt I caught a flash of movement. I lifted my binos to my eyes and they became fixed on what I had been hoping would become reality. Out of nowhere, a huge set of antlers came into focus, out of the cover, about 150 meters in front of us. Head down feeding, the buck was oblivious to the prior doe fieps we had made and was having a break from any rut-time action. My heart was now pounding, beat by beat, as I gained focus through my scope on the magnificent specimen, I could feel myself tremble as my body surged with adrenaline.
The crosshairs of the Leica ERi found the right spot just behind the shoulder. I tried to control my breathing as I watched the buck’s long brow tines moving in the waning light – I had fallen into trance! I took a moment and looked up from my scope, knowing how relaxed the buck was and how frantic I had become! In a moment it stood still, head down, broadside. “Whenever you’re ready Dan…”
I gripped the thumbhole stock closer into my shoulder, breathed out one last breath and squeezed the trigger of the Merkel RX Helix. The rifle answered and sent my bullet screaming toward him, fuelled I’m sure with a bucket of my own adrenaline!
The buck dropped on the spot, his instinct working frantically to counteract the blow that the .308W round delivered. I began to shake, gasping for air, knowing that ‘buck fever’ had surged my body!
The moment had come and had been executed perfectly. In the end, a racing mind and a split heart was all it took. The whole experience encompassed what hunting is all about: being rewarded after many years of effort in deer management, whilst enjoying what the outdoors has to offer and giving back. That memory, shared between father and son, will stay with me for a lifetime! On closer inspection it was obvious this buck had seen better days with the weight of his antlers now right down onto his coronets. The buck was later measured and scored a respectable total of 107.37 CIC points – a Bronze medal and a Warwickshire one at that!