Tip-Toe through the bluebells

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Spring is well and truly here, the snowdrops are long gone and the primroses are fading. My woodlands are now alive with the sounds and smells of a new season in full bloom in early May.

The fields are full of the sunshine yellow of oilseed rape flowers and many of my woods are carpeted in Bluebells.

 

This is one of my favourite times of the year to hunt and at this time I am able to offer my clients the opportunity to stalk Roebuck and Muntjac together as a combination.

 

The Muntjac bucks are at the end of my season for paying them any attention and are due to cast anytime. Their antlers are a white polished trophy that almost resembles ivory and for me, at their most pleasing. The roebucks have been clean for a month or so and have a reasonable colour on their antlers, they are on their territories and are more reliable to stalk in the same locations than in the summer rut-time, which can be exciting but unreliable to locate specific bucks in a certain area.

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Mid-April to early June is the prime time for my Roebuck stalking both professionally and recreationally. June to early July is my quiet time and I manage to get a few weeks in the Cervus-UK office, before the busy few weeks of the roe rut.

In early April I start my reconnaissance by putting out trail cameras in areas where we have seen bucks over the winter, or where potential mature bucks have been seen the previous years. One of the pleasures of my job is seeing trophies grow over the years and harvested as old/mature beasts on many occasions.

The Bluebell flowers stay in bloom for about a month, with a fortnight of spectacular colour where it carpets large areas of my woods. It is a special time, especially after a spring shower the flowers come almost fluorescent.

Last year, in early May, I had the pleasure to guide the German Count, Bertram Von Quadt, an experienced hunter, who for many years has visited the UK to hunt roebucks in the Cotswolds. He has shot many roebucks but only one Muntjac buck prior to this visit.

One of the estates I manage sits on the rolling north downs of Hampshire, the blocks of woodland are typical of the area and contain mixed hardwoods of various ages. In the spring they are stunning with huge areas covered with bluebells and this was the case for Bertram’s hunt. The weather was cold at first light, but warmed with the glorious sunshine, when it finally poked its head out. The activity of any deer was frustratingly minimal, with only the pheasants and squirrels out of bed early.

On this estate in particular, we have a thriving population of roe deer with a few nomadic fallow deer making an unreliable appearance now and again. Muntjac are there in reasonable numbers but certainly not in the density of my Oxfordshire woods. This pays dividends in the fact that bucks produce excellent quality and we manage to take several medal class each year. My client Bertram had expressed his interest in doubling his Muntjac trophy total, so on this particular morning, I was after an old buck that I had previously seen with a hope that we would take him at first light (the Muntjac hour) then continue to stalk for a Roebuck, as the warm sun touched the field edges a few hours later.

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So there we sat, up a high-seat, looking down a particular ride that had dense bramble on the left and an open expanse of mature beech to the right. Under the beech there was a swathe of bluebells, so not the worst view you could have from a lofty perch. Bird song filled the air a cuckoo called and squirrels busied themselves in search of food, but nothing in the ‘deer department’ was moving. The sun was now up and after an hour and a half I suggested we stretch our legs and stalk a few blocks (I’m not the most patient high-seat ‘sitter).

We slipped from the seat and stalked the woodlands glassing every spot you’d think a deer would be. Nothing. I was getting ‘stalkers fatigue’, with so much effort spent concentrating picking yourself through woodland silently, searching constantly with all your senses on maximum alert. I could understand that the roe does would be couched up, with fawns imminently due, but where were my roebucks patrolling their territory? We reached the end of the piece of woodland, and stopped by a huge log pile. Bertram suggested he took a quick ‘fag break’ to check wind direction and we relaxed for a moment, revelling at the carpet of blue that stood before us. We leant on the log pile reflecting in our lack of success, when Bertram froze and nodded over my shoulder. I turned slowly and looked to where he was staring. About 150 metres away was a mature roebuck heading in our direction, head down, following his nose. “He’s coming straight to us”, I said. We pushed back against the log pile and Bertram took advantage of his 100 tonne shooting rest. The buck made his way straight to us and just as required turned to present himself side on, at about 70 metres. BOOM!! Came the report of the unmoderated Merkel K3 Extreme, and the .308W bullet did its job. The impact dropping him on the spot. Bertram turned and smiled and ejected the spent case from the single-barrelled action.

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Before I could say a word the brambles, just to our right and behind our log pile low seat, exploded, as a Muntjac buck erupted from cover only 15 metres from us. By the time I had reached into my pocket to find my Buttolo call, Bertram had slipped in another round, closed his weapon, and had taken his aim, free hand. The buck left cover and crossed a path now about 50 metres away, but his tail wasn’t up (as one would expect) so he wasn’t so bothered. I squeezed the bellow of the call hard, and the squeal let out in his direction. The buck stopped and turned and then dropped as the Hornady SST bullet hit him square on the shoulder (thank god I still had my ear defenders on I thought!). Bertram’s smile had doubled in width and so had his Muntjac trophy wall. “Bloody good shot mate!” I said. “It’s the driven hunter in me” he quipped back.

So after a pretty lean morning, we suddenly had a roe-sack full and all from the ‘lucky log pile’. Both bucks lay in the bluebells and the sun shone as we pulled them next to each other to take a nice photo. Both bucks were lovely animals, Bertram had a memory of a not so typical hunt, when ‘lady luck’ had more than saved the day!

 

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