Swinging the motor into the long concrete drive, I was disappointed to watch the cock pheasant scuttle into cover. A rude greeting. Does he not know I am his guardian? In truth, I didn’t blame him. Most of his harem are now on eggs or shielding poults from all manner of threat. The biodiversity on this acreage is diverse and tolerant. There are only two people employing guns on the estate. The deer-stalker, David, who introduced me to this small paradise. And me, controller of ‘small vermin’. Define that as red fox and smaller. There are few rules forced on me other than “let the hares be, please, they do little damage”.
I’m sure that many of you will understand me saying that sometimes the need to seek sanctuary in wood and field, away from people, is essential for my wellbeing. I’m not a religious man but I am a firm believer in the power of meditation. I don’t mean sitting cross-legged with your hands in pray position chanting “Ooooom”! For the hunter, it simply involves losing yourself amongst the trees or along the hedgerows; immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and scents of nature. Take this privilege away from me and I would soon be in poor physical and mental health. I know … I’ve seen it happen to others.
Conditions underfoot were good and I was in no hurry. The verdant, winding rides had been freshly cut and I turned every corner stealthily, ready to target any creature sitting on the sward. I get many grey squirrels and (occasionally) magpies or crows this way. All three like to pull a stolen pheasant or woodpigeon egg into a wide space to feast on it, evidence of which I found along the way.
At a crossroads in the ride I stood above an escarpment and saw movement in the barley field below. Two beasts scuttling around, partly obscured by the foliage at the base of the slope. I’m used to seeing roe and muntjac in these woods. Occasionally fallow. I was sure though, that these might be red deer and they had clearly picked up my scent, panicking about where to flee. I backed away swiftly and headed on a route to take me upwind of the deer. I was now going to stalk the deer – with a camera. I was in no hurry and I still had squirrel and fox on my mind. If either presented, my rimfire would spit and the deer would be gone.
At the far end of the wood I stopped for a while. Half an hour, in fact, just to sit on a tree stump and enjoy the ambiance. Above me, jackdaws wheeled and stressed at my presence near their nest trees. I could see the young branchers hustling in the oaks. I like all creatures. Even those that I shoot. These small crows entertain me with their aerial acrobatics. I shut out the noise to listen for other woodland dialogue. The repetitive, eponymous song of the chiffchaff. The distant plea of the yellowhammer. The bark of a roebuck in the adjacent wood. The mewing of the buzzards. Now, there’s a thing.
When I moved to Norfolk from Hertfordshire twenty-two years ago, the sight of a buzzard was a rare event. On long distance walks with friends along Offa’s Dyke and the Pembrokeshire Coast, I thrilled at seeing these native raptors. I still do but am surrounded by them in East Anglia now. We have another treat here now, too. Red kites have followed in the wake of the buzzards, their breeding territories moving steadily Eastwards. Rarely a day goes by now when I don’t see one or two of these magnificent birds while commuting to work (in the Brecks) and back. Just two weeks ago I watched one drift above the spot where I now sat.
Setting off back along the top of the escarpment, the jakes continued their nagging. A scampering in the briars brought me alert and the gun swung from my shoulder. A grey squirrel scampered up a sapling and clung, side-on. I had the heart shot lined up in the scope in milliseconds but left the safety catch on, hoping it would shuffle around and pin with the trunk as a back-stop. It didn’t. I’m an extremely confident shooter. I am also an extremely safe shooter. To miss the beast would mean a .22LR round travelling down across the valley towards a very busy road. I lowered the gun and whispered “Bang! You’re dead”.
I climbed down the escarpment carefully. Reaching the base I stole through the bluebells in search of my deer. Scanning the barley field as I followed the path just inside the wood I couldn’t see anything. Stopping at the point where they had been when I first saw them (ironically, near the stalkers high seat) I looked out across the knee-high barley. Nothing. Then, as I was about to move on, two forms stood up on the far side of the field, near the feeder brook for the river. They had been basking in the crop and seemed to have winded me again, for they were looking directly at me for a while, though about 180 yards away. I took some (poor) photo’s before they moved off. I was still unsure whether fallow or red due to the distance.
Back at the car, I stripped down the rifle. Unclipped the magazine, ejected the breeched bullet, pushed the bolt forward and test-fired into the undergrowth. The light click re-assuring the rifles safety. I unscrewed the sound moderator and used a cloth to clean the first few interior threads. Then packed it away in its pouch. I wound on the barrel thread protector, slipped a bikini cover over the scope lenses and zipped my trusty companion into the Jack Pyke gun slip. It was then, and only then, that I realised I hadn’t fired a shot all morning. Yet I felt completely fulfilled.
When I’d left my (sedentary but stressful) work on Friday afternoon I had measured my blood pressure (because I have been asked to by my GP) at 175 / 117. Danger level. Stroke or heart attack level. I measured it again today when getting home from this physically demanding sortie. 130 / 83. Doctors tell you to give up everything to improve your health, don’t they. But they rarely tell you to give up work.
Oh! The deer? I sent the blown up shots to David, the stalker and he confirmed what I thought, as you could see the pedicles. They were young male reds.
Keep the faith. And if you enjoyed the read, please share it.
© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2022