European roe (Capreolus capreolus) are the most widely distributed deer species in the UK, according to the latest population survey undertaken by The British Deer Society. It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 350,000 roe deer living in Scotland with their highest density in lowland areas such as the Borders, where I live.
Home for me is now a 3,000-acre arable farm that grows wheat, peas, potatoes and oilseed rape. Along with the resident brown hare population, the farmer has tasked my husband and me with keeping the roe numbers in check. Scottish roe are not known for their huge trophies – their antlers tend to be well formed, but finer and thinner than their English counterparts. I’m more interested in filling my chest freezer with delicious venison, however.
Being able to go deerstalking directly from your own back door has to be every stalker’s dream. Finally, after years of having to drive at least two hours, I am living that dream. Moving 400 miles from Sussex to Berwickshire was an enormous undertaking, but one we have not regretted. The fact that there are so fewer people and so much more quarry made it an easy decision. The farm is very picturesque and looks out to the Cheviots, a range of rolling hills straddling the Anglo-Scottish border between Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
Through carefully positioned Bushnell Trophy Cameras, I had identified several dominant bucks living in small woodland coverts. The plan was to wait for the rut and then call them to me using the irresistible pheep pheep of a Buttolo deer call. During the rut, bucks become aggressive and maintain exclusive territories around one or more does.
The dark art of roebuck calling is something I have learnt through trial and error. Squeeze the Butollo too loudly and you’ll frighten any bucks close-by. Get it right and they will come within 10 feet of you. Getting so intimately close to your quarry that you can see its eyelashes can be disconcerting and lead to terrible buck fever, so it is important to remain as calm as possible.
I will freely admit that the first time I successfully called a buck, I failed to pull the trigger as the scenario was just so intense. Seeing a randy roebuck crashing through woodland or bolting through crop to get to you is quite a sight! This will be my eighth year calling roebucks in the rut, so thankfully their abnormal behavior no longer takes me by surprise.
It is widely acknowledged that stormy, muggy weather brings on the long-awaited rut each August. Sure enough, once I arrived home from the three-day CLA Game Fair in Yorkshire the humidity was starting to build. The tension in the air was palpable. It was definitely worth venturing out to see how the local deer were behaving.
For this year’s rut, I had a brand new rifle to try – the recently launched Sauer S101 Artemis, which has been designed especially for women. The German gunmaker spent years in consultation with female hunters to create the ultimate rifle with the correct proportions, so I had high hopes of how it would fit me. Test firing the rifle on the range prior to the rut allowed me to get to grips with its dinky size. Finally, for the first time in my stalking career, I have a trigger that I don’t have to reach for, which will make a big difference in the field. Plus the rifle is super lightweight – it only weighs 6.3 pounds, which is far more comfortable for me than the average rifle and will not go unnoticed when hill stalking. The S101 Artemis is going revolutionize my stalking.
One of my trophy cameras had picked up one buck in particular that had caught my attention — striking six-pointer boasting incredible symmetry. He lived in a woodland block near my house that was surrounded by standing green wheat. My plan was to hide in the tramlines and entice him out with the Buttolo by mimicking the estrus bleats of a doe ready to breed.
With my new rifle slung over my shoulder and Gretel, my Bavarian mountain hound walking beside me, we gingerly ambled along the farm track toward the wheat field. As I scanned the woodland for out-of-place shapes using my Leica Ultravid 10×42 HD binoculars, I picked up the distinctive outline of an ear. Was it an ear? Or were my eyes playing tricks? The shape twitched. It was definitely a hairy roe ear, but was it a buck? Beech leaves obscured its head and body. I hissed at Gretel to freeze but she had already spotted the deer and was fixated on where I was glassing. Before it could spot us, we crawled into the standing wheat so that we were completely hidden by crop.
The deer was browsing leaf buds and looking totally relaxed. There were too many obstructions for me to be able to tell if it was a buck or doe so I gently squeezed the Buttolo in my pocket so that its sound was muffled. It instantly stopped eating and pricked its ears in my direction with its neck straining to see the imaginary doe. It took a few steps forward to fully reveal itself. Not only was it a buck, but it was the same handsome buck my trophy camera had photographed.
By now, I was on my knees with the rifle resting on sticks. I flicked on the illuminated reticle of my Leica ERi 2.5-10×42 scope. The pinhead sized dot glowed bright red in total contrast to the greens of our surroundings. I squeezed the deer call again. The buck then raced out of the shadowy woodland into the field, all the while licking his nose for clues of the doe’s whereabouts.
Once on a tramline, the buck presented a textbook broadside shot. I moved the red reticle into the front shoulder mass above its leg and gently squeezed the trigger to release a round of 150-grain Hornady Superformance SST. The buck dropped cleanly on the spot.
In terms of calling roebuck, this was a lucky Red Letter Day; it doesn’t always go to plan like this! Having confidence in my rifle set-up helped me make a quick decision and eliminated any hesitation on my part. The perfectly balanced S101 Artemis features a short length of pull and slim palm swell to prevent my small hands fumbling. A wily species like roe will not hang around for me to adjust the rifle into my shoulder before I take the shot – I need to be able to react quickly.
I gralloched the buck in the field and fed Gretel a small piece of heart as a reward for lending her services. It might only be once a year that my deer dogs need to track a lost deer, but I would never stalk without one. As a responsible and compassionate hunter, I think you owe it to your quarry to stalk with a dog that is trained to track both adrenaline and blood trails.
We bagged up the feces and rumen lining to send to the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh to help with their on-going research into liver fluke, which appears to be on the increase and spreading across the UK into previously fluke-free areas. This buck’s carcass was healthy and clear of any disease and was a welcome addition to the food chain and my cull sheet.
Hunters from all over the world descend on the UK to experience stalking roebuck in the rut. If you’ve tried every other type of stalking and have yet to experience the magic of calling a buck to within feet of you, I’d certainly recommend you down tools immediately and go – does are only in estrus for a few weeks.–Selena Barr