Gold buck fever
- Credit: Archant
Roy Lupton uses all his skills to stalk a magnificent – but elusive – roe buck
With the dawning of the first day of the roe buck season comes the anticipation of another exciting year’s stalking and also a flood of memories of seasons past. The roe deer is by far my favourite of all of the UK’s deer species, not only for its beautiful looks and fascinating behaviour, but also because its size dictates it being much easier to handle and process.
My first ever deer stalking experience with a rifle – more years ago than I care to remember –ended in me accounting for a doe and a yearling on Scottish hillside. I can still savour the smell of the heather and the taste of the fresh liver for breakfast. It was at this point that I was captivated by deer and my obsession with stalking, especially for roe, was born.
Throughout my stalking career I have been blessed with meeting some truly wonderful people that have shared with me both knowledge and some amazing stalking memories. One of the most vivid memories I have is from when I was going through a period of being mesmerised by trophy stalking (a phase in my life from which I have quite happily recovered… mostly).
Don’t get me wrong; I still admire and appreciate a buck or stag in his prime and I am sure I will still squeeze the trigger again on some fantastic heads, but I now get greater pleasure watching them for another year or so until they start to show the signs of one too many a rut.
This particular stalk saw me visiting a very good friend who managed a beautiful estate that had some particularly nice roe. I always used to visit in the beginning of May for a week or two of the most exhausting stalking I have ever encountered. We would be on the ground half an hour before light, back for a quick lunch and then out again until just after dark every day, come rain or shine.
On the second morning of this trip, stalking along a woodland ride, I noticed the movement of a couple of deer to my right, in some particularly thick re-growth. Focussing the binoculars on the half-obscured heads of the deer that were no more than 40 yards off, I could make out that one was certainly a buck. It was only when he turned away to disappear into the taller, more mature forestry that I realised this was going to be ‘my’ buck. His tines formed perfect ivory tips seemingly feet above the top of his ears; I couldn’t make out the mass of his antlers at this time but the height was enough to make my heart skip a beat.
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From that first sighting my every waking thought and even my dreams were focussed on finding this buck again. Returning for lunch and meeting up with my friend I could not contain myself, spluttering out about the monster in the forestry. As the canny Scotsman he is, his response was a simple smile followed by: “You’ve seen him, then.” Apparently this buck had been around the block a few times and had managed to evade every attempt to account for him. At the age I was then this simply further fuelled the hunger that was already raging within.
The next week saw me hunting hard with every possible moment of daylight spent searching for this particular beast. Unfortunately I only got one more glimpse of him as he silently disappeared back into the safety of the mature forestry. With only a couple of days left of my trip, I was frantically trying to come face-to-face with what was turning out to be a ghost buck. “They certainly don’t get that big by being stupid!” my friend reminded me.
In a last act of desperation I decided to put up a high seat overlooking a clearing that acted as a sun trap in the early morning. Although I had never spied the beast in this particular area, I hoped he may visit it at some point during the day, as it was very close to where I had my last tantalising glimpse of him. I worried that a fresh high seat in this area might put the deer off for a couple of days but I knew this was going to be my last chance saloon, with some Dutch clients due to stalk the ground hard the following week.
I put up the high seat as quietly as possible that evening then tried to get some sleep. It was almost impossible, as I was so worried about not waking up to my 4am alarm, which would give me enough time to get to the seat at first light. I had even arranged for my friend to ensure I was up and out the next morning.
On waking and grabbing a quick cup of tea and a flapjack I scurried out of the cottage to be greeted by a dull, cold and drizzly morning. ‘The gods are definitely against me on this one,’ I thought. With the weather reflecting my mood I sullenly made my way once again to the forestry block. After the number of times I had stalked this particular track over the preceding weeks, I easily navigated my way to the glade in the semi-darkness, every pothole and fallen branch etched into my memory.
I was determined to sit it out and wait but after four hours and no sign of a squirrel in the glade, let alone a deer, the thought that the buck may be feeding elsewhere got the better of me so I decided to have a stalk back to where I had seen him before.
After a couple of hours and my mood now turning from sullen to wanting to kick myself for not sitting it out, I was due to return to the cottage for lunch. But the drizzle was clearing and I could feel the faintest hint of the sun’s warmth on the back of my neck, so I knew I couldn’t leave the wood. Instead I returned to the high seat.
The passing of another hour or so saw the glade drenched in sunlight. With the temperature rising I felt my eyes giving way to the tiredness that had been building over the trip and the inevitable flickering of my eyelids gave way to, let’s be honest, a snooze. The next thing I knew I was woken by a rustling coming from the thicket behind me, and as I gained consciousness it sounded like a buck fraying on a bush!
All I could hear was my heart racing in anticipation of seeing what was making the noise as I tried not to move too quickly or breathe too heavily. As I painstakingly moved my head to the right, craning round to identify what was going on, the unmistakable form of a roe buck emerged from the thicket. Standing no more than 40 yards off I could instantly tell this was my buck.
Not wanting to look at his head for fear of the now-present ‘buck fever’ increasing, I slowly managed to move the barrel of the rifle towards him, without him even looking up. As the crosshairs covered his vitals and with me being able to overcome my breathlessness for a couple of seconds, I started to squeeze the trigger. At the same time the buck moved his head behind his shoulder to alleviate an obvious itch. I saw this all in slow motion and tried to stop squeezing the trigger for fear of the bullet passing through his chest and destroying his magnificent head. It was too late: the buck dropped where he stood, collapsing over on top of his head.
Feeling sick to the pit of my stomach I made my way down the high seat and over to my buck, almost not wanting to see what had happened. But as I rolled his body over I could not have been more ecstatic – the round had not exited his shoulder, leaving his head perfectly intact!
After the following minutes of elation had passed and after phoning my friend and a couple of other mates who were eagerly awaiting news, I sat for a moment with him in the wood, just admiring him. It was then that I was struck with a feeling of great sadness and regret for taking such a magnificent animal.
I think as hunters we should never lose sight of the fact that we are taking the life of another creature. It does not matter how many deer I have accounted for since; my success is always accompanied by a twinge of sadness and remorse. A feeling I hope will always be there.
By Roy Lupton