Can Chris Rogers deliver under the pressure of guiding for professional hunter Chris Bilkey, as they seek two good bucks in just two days?
After being deer manager on the Euston estate for the past eleven-and-a-half years things run fairly smoothly and consistently year on year. Every year has its slight variations and highlights, be it a memorable stalk, client, trophy or the weather.
This roe buck season, which we are now just about finishing (at the end of August 2016) has been memorable for two reasons. Firstly, it’s been extremely wet! I can’t remember a wetter roe buck season for us in East Anglia, usually the driest part of the UK. It resulted in the deer generally staying in the woods, rather than coming out into the fields. Summer stalking in our broadleaf woodlands is sometimes tricky. The lack of light breaking through the canopy means we really rely on our optics. Fortunately the Leica HDBs I use along with my client’s stalking rifle a Blaser R8 in .243 topped off with a Leica scope, work perfectly under such conditions.
The second memorable part of the roe buck season for me was guiding for a professional hunter over from New Zealand. Chris Bilkey is a extremely well respected professional hunter offering hunts to international clients for New Zealand and Australian big game animals. He came to me via a mutual friend, while over visiting the UK and taking part on his first driven grouse day. Chris was keen to try and get a good six point roe and a representative muntjac to take home.
We had limited time, usually for a hunt like this I would have a client for two days per species – a total of eight outings – but due to time constraints I had Chris for only four. Assuming the muntjac trophy would be the harder of the two in the high summer cover I opted to try for that first. Although territorial, finding the trophy buck you know is in the area can be almost impossible with limited time. We had approached the bucks territory and on our way shot three cull muntjac to ensure Chris would not go home empty handed at least. The cover was, as expected, very high off the mown rides of our big wood and we had searched the area thoroughly, hoping to catch a glimpse of our target. With a few cull muntjac in the bag and the heat rising quickly we had no choice than to call it a morning. Flies are a real issue on shot deer in the summer and we needed to get them back to the larder.
I had a feeling, however, that persistence might pay off, so we headed back through one last stand of beech trees interspersed with a few pines. Due to the heavy leaf litter from the trees, the cover on the forest floor was pretty low compared to other areas. Suddenly, and at the same time, we caught sight of a muntjac standing front-on observing us. With a slight sixth sense I got Chris on the sticks and ready to shoot before raising my binoculars to see what sex and size the individual was. Sure enough it was the one we were looking for, but standing front-on a shot was not available due to the excessive carcass damage shooting these small deer with a relatively big calibre would cause. However, the buck wasn’t overly phased by us and it turned to walk away, a quick squeak on my buttolo call (that hangs off my bino harness) caused him to pause momentarily and, as expected, Chris made a perfect shot bagging the buck to add to our total for the morning.
So that was the hard one done and dusted. The roe would be easy, right..?
The next two outings were spent looking intensely over a total of five fields, four of them stubble and the fifth an onion field. It is an area of the estate that always holds good numbers of roe and produces a good buck every few years. A good buck for us is an old, six-pointer that might just scrape a CIC bronze or silver medal. The poor, German genetics of our roe, which were introduced into the Thetford area in the 1860’s, only produce good bucks with careful and patient management. This is one of the jobs I use my Leica spotting scope for, selecting early on in the season which bucks will stay and which will have to go. Along with the same use for red stags and Chinese water deer the spotting scope really is the dedicated deer managers most important tool.
Anyway, I knew of a good buck in this area, as is usually the case I had seen him broadside at shootable distances and totally relaxed when I had cull stalking clients with me. True to Sod’s law, now I had the right client, he was hiding himself away. The rut was at its end and, being an older buck and recovering from the exertions of the season, he was in no hurry to move around. So it came down to the last outing. I’m generally quite relaxed about things, Chris had a great muntjac trophy that he was very happy to be taking home, but I really wanted to get him a buck, conscious that he probably wouldn’t return to the UK any time soon.
We had scoured the fields from a central vantage point, as we had done the two outings before, but had no luck. With the sun setting we had started to resign ourselves to a roe buck blank, but then we spotted a doe stood up in the field of onions, feeding on the weeds rather than the unpalatable crop. We watched for a while pleased to have seen one deer in the area. With that two twins popped up, followed by another doe and single twin, then a young four point roe buck made an appearance at the nearest hedge. The young buck strutted over in the direction of the does, clearly looking for some late rut action. All of a sudden he froze, staring intently in the direction of the does. With that I whispered to Chris that we would start making our way over to the deer.
We were a good 700 meters away from them, but I knew from the young bucks reaction that the older beast we were looking for was laid in the onions close to the does. We had walked no more than 100 metres toward the group when our target stood up, sending the young buck scurrying back to the hedge without delay. The young buck’s reaction startled the does and kids, and they also took flight towards and through the hedge. And, to make sure they were all okay, the old buck followed along behind. We continued over to the hedge they had vanished through, unsure of how far they had run on the other side, but by the time we had made the ground up they had settled in two groups. The firs, a doe, her kid and the young buck against the hedge some 200 meters away, then the older buck out in the stubble with the other doe and twins also 200 meters away. There was nothing else to do, it was the last chance of getting the buck so we crept up the hedge, me, ready with my Viperflex quad sticks, and Chris with my rifle un-shouldered. We gained around 30 metres, but the older buck, doe and twins had sensed us almost from the start of our approach and at around 165 meters the buck stood up purposely. The sticks went out and Chris didn’t waste any time readying the rifle. “Shoot,” I whispered, which wasn’t really needed as Chris was aware it was now or never. The shot rang out but there was no sound of the bullet strike and the buck didn’t seem to react. It ran forward some 40 meters and stopped, a second shot rang out and the buck stumbled forward before falling and ceasing to move on the stubble. A little stunned that Chris had managed to miss with the first shot on such an important last change we walked forward to to check the buck was dead. The buck had of course expired, a magnificent six pointer of bronze-medal size – a fantastic result for Chris and probably the best buck we had shot on the estate in the last three years. We again joked that Chris had missed with his first shot, but then we checked the body. Two, inch-apart bullet holes revealed themselves, perfectly placed just behind the shoulder. The first bullet had passed through the body without touching the ribs, resulting in no strike noise and no visible reaction from the animal.
With the usual photo taking and further joking that goes with such hunts we headed back to the larder, caped the buck and then headed to the pub to toast four great outings, two fine trophies and the fact that professional hunters with ‘Chris’ as their first name really are the best!