Pest Control Diary: Life’s a Drag
Howard puts a game sledge through its paces and recalls some stories
I don’t often get the chance to socialise due to my work commitments but when I do its usually on one of my trips away! On one such occasion, five of us were like a bunch of giggling teenagers, each trying to better the others stories. Imagine this; it was a cold frosty day when I went beating on a pheasant shoot, we were all dressed appropriately and my headwear had ear flaps. We all line up quietly along a ride, and on the whistle, we started.
Keep in line
We soon came face to face with an area of trees stacked up one on top of each other, which had been blown down by the winds. Even the dogs went around but with the words ‘keep in line’ ringing in my ears and convinced the pile would be holding a lot of birds I went for it! Under over and through, needless to say I held up the line with my friends shouting all kinds of comments. I finally emerged and caught up with the line sweating, red faced and with my ear flaps on my hat flapping around like Muttly. Then the penny dropped, as not one bird flew out and the whole line of beaters fell about laughing.
Another good story was a keeper friend, who was helping out on a neighbouring estate during the Sika stag season. He would take out a guest stalker and when successful, would radio the under keeper so that he could drag the carcasses to a pickup point. He was a big lad with some muscle but always seemed knackered. This went on for two weeks until we discovered why, as he was dragging them by the back legs while the antlers where ploughing up the ground behind him and snagging up on the heather.
Getting it out
All laughs aside; carcass extraction and contamination is a problem, but today there are all kinds of aids. On certain ground, it’s sometimes not worth taking the shot unless the deer is small enough to carry out on your back. The reason I’ve got onto the subject is I have a deer sledge on trial, so I thought I’d give it a go and headed for Montrose in Scotland, as my last trip there was not successful.
Arriving Friday afternoon, I spied the ground and with the crops near ready for harvest, saw deer everywhere I looked, so decided to rest up and make a fresh start the following morning. I was pondering about whether to take the sledge or not, before I knew it the alarm was ringing and I was up and out, leaving the sledge behind, only because I hadn’t practised with it. I was concerned it may be cumbersome or noisy dragging, and as my last trip was a washout, my first objective was to put some venison in the freezer!
Picking my way along the tramlines to overlook a small wood, I set up my sticks, rested my rifle and waited. First one deer then another showed, bounding through the crops, some three to four hundred yards out; if that’s the path they’re following, I would have to get closer.
I was just about to move when I saw movement along the edge of the wood, all I could see were two heads, both does but decided to watch them as they made their way up along the deep farrows along the edge of the wood, before turning and disappearing inside. Moving closer, I set up my sticks again and waited when I noticed a doe and a young buck standing just inside the wood; so close together it looked like one body with two heads.
Knowing I would only have one chance of a shot, I lowered my binoculars and picked them up in the scope, hoping they would come out of the thick cover of the wood and split up, giving me a clear shot at the buck. Before I knew it, the doe jumped down off a small rise and into the furrow, leaving the buck standing broad side on. Within seconds I had taken a heart shot and on the report of the rifle, the young buck turned and went back into the wood. At the same time a deer (not knowing whether it was a buck or a doe) broke from the wood, bounding through the crops.
I immediately picked it up in the scope, following it until it stopped, showed it was a buck; placing the cross hairs on the neck, I touched the trigger, resulting with two in the bag.
Mark your target
When stalking in crops, the only way of marking where the deer has fallen, or looking back to where you had taken the shot from, is using the tram lines, dividing the field up in sections if you are to stand any chance of finding it! Better still, if it can be taken on or close to the tramlines, it means less crop damage as you walk about looking for it! I dragged it to the edge of the field, before making my way back to the wood to look for the other buck, which had only run a few feet before collapsing from a perfect heart shot!
Now all I had to do was to walk back for the sledge and put it through its paces. Dragging it empty down the stony lane, though it behaved well, it was noisy, but in the crops in was magic. Taking it slow and following the tramlines, I got to the buck and put him in without tying him in, to see if the sides where high enough to stop him falling out. With the sledge rocking from side to side, I had no problems at all; even loaded, it pulled and behaved well, sliding effortlessly, even with two deer onboard.
I found the overall size and the height just right and I am sure it would be suitable for the larger deer species, when dragging over rough terrain. One trick is to push the legs through the drag rope that’s threaded along the rim to prevent the carcass from falling out. But that would only be in extreme circumstances, as I am sure with the height of the sides combined with the weight of the animal would be enough.
I tried to carry the sledge on my back by pushing my arms through the drag rope along the rim but found it restricting. The drag rope is long, so can be wrapped around your waist or lashed to a 4x4 or quad bike’s tow hitch. Ridges on the underside form runners, giving more control over boggy areas. I found the sledge to be well made and thought out, which is not surprising, as the director of the company that supplied it is a stalker himself.
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