PUBLISHED: 16:38 03 August 2012 | UPDATED: 15:04 28 November 2012
Mark enjoys being out in the woods even if he doesn't manage to shoot anything
One of the things I don't often get to do is stalk roe. There is a little pocket of roe deer in Kent but unfortunately none of them venture anywhere near my stalking ground. In numerical terms, this has been the most unsuccessful stalking season I have ever had, and I was even starting to forget what deer looked like!
I was very fortunate, then, to be at the Essex Game Fair and bump into Dan Cockett who works for Jelen Deer Services. After a brief chat and swap of shooting-related stories, I was invited to come to the deer training centre and told to bring a rifle - this is the kind of meeting I am never late for!
I drove down to Hampshire for silly o'clock in the morning and found a very smart set-up in the pitch black. I was greeted by Dan and we had a quiet cup of coffee and a kit check before moving off to the ground to look for a roe buck. We chatted as we drove to the ground and Dan asked me if I was interested in shooting a good buck. I replied that I was really not fussed about getting a good one; I'd be happy to just get a small one that no one else wants!
I didn't mention it at the time, and looking back as I pen this I wish I had, but for me, 99.5% of the pleasure of stalking comes from just being outside with a rifle and appreciating the scenery: I truly mean that. When we got out of the car I could see the red glow of the summer sun just edging over the horizon, and I could smell that warm summer scent that cannot be described in words to anyone that hasn't been up at that time of the morning. The midges floated across the sky against a red backdrop that looked as if a painter had daubed his brush with the most fantastic red that you could ever imagine.
We crept around the first wood and in the half light Dan managed to spot a deer. He looked carefully and saw that it was a young buck that he'd be happy to cull. I stepped forward and for a moment I could see the deer in my scope, standing looking at me face-on. I don't take head shots from sticks, if ever. I looked for a neck shot, but the bullet would have passed through to strike the back of the animal. A chest shot at this angle was would have resulted in a reverse THS (Texas Heart Shot; only a cowboy takes it).
After my trip up and down the animal with the cross hairs, I came back up to look at the deer's head. I looked at him for just a split second and could see that look in his face, the, as Crowman calls it, "Nah, sorry mate but I don't think so!" look. The deer trotted off and I could see he wasn't going to stop. It would have been the quickest stalking success I had ever had but the deer got away. Looking back, it was one of those situations where there was really little that could have been done to get a shot I would be happy to take, and I'd rather see the deer bounce away for another day than shoot it badly.
We continued to stalk and after encountering a few does I took some time to ponder an original thought about the pleasure of the surroundings. I have a great love of the countryside and find a pleasure in seeing a well-managed estate that nothing else can come close to. This particular estate was so well kept that I have to say I was not completely focussed on the stalking all of the time!
After a very satisfying and eventful morning, we retired to the office to talk about stalking and what Jelen Deer Services has to offer. The conversation started along the lines that a DSC 1 doesn't make you a competent deer stalker/handler overnight, nor does the lack thereof mean that you are incompetent. This attitude was so refreshing that Jelen instantly had my full attention.
In my years of buying deer for my game business I have had to destroy just three deer. In each instance, this was due to the lack of adequate handling by people who had their DSC 1 and were convinced they knew it all.
I was fascinated to learn about the live capture side of Jelen's training and the great lengths the company goes to in ensuring the success of its students. I think this could be the only course provider that I have encountered that takes pride in getting students to a pass level, as opposed to some others that appear to take pleasure in seeing them fail.
After a few minutes chatting with the Jelen team, I was shown some slides that are used in the DSC courses. I thought the teaching techniques were extremely good and, after noting that I was stuck on a few of the questions, I began to think that I should try to get my DSC 1. Previously I have been reluctant as I haven't been able to find a course provider that suited me. However, Jelen mentioned that Dan was starting to run courses in Essex, just over the water from me, so I signed up there and then.
My deer stalking trip to Hampshire was one of the best trips out I have had, and I am lucky enough that I've reached a stage where failing to get a deer has no effect on how much I enjoy myself. The experience, the weather and the company made for a very pleasurable and memorable experience.
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The roe deer
Although I have always claimed that all deer are as good as each other in terms of eating, if I was breaking my own rules and had to pick one, I think I would choose roe as the chef's favourite. It requires very little hanging and the animal is so tender that you can fry steak from the hind legs.
Recipe for Carpaccio roe deerINGREDIENTS SERVES: Many
PREP TIME: 15 mins
200g roe fillet (sirloin but it is sold as fillet)
Small bunch of rocket
Salt and pepper
1 Trim the shiny sinew off the top of the fillet and roll the raw piece of meat in the salt and pepper.
2 In a large frying pan, heat the oil then sear the meat on all sides for 10 seconds per side and return to the fridge.
3 Wash the rocket and sprinkle it on the plate, then add thin slices of the fillet on top of the rocket.
4 Flake shavings of parmesan (optional) on top, and dress with a squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of olive oil.