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Deer Hunter - Pack Light, Pack Smart

Over the years, I have been out with friends on their stalking permissions and it’s interesting to see how their obstacles are overcome with ingenuity and lateral thinking. Stalking is necessarily a solitary sport, so ideas and methods are not universally shared - we tend to find out through trial and error as to what works and what doesn’t. With this in mind, I thought it may be interesting to put a few notes together, based on how I do things, and share them with you. Even someone as unimaginative as I am must have learnt something after nearly 30 years of stalking!

Too much, or just right?

We all know the feeling of too much equipment weighing us down as we trudge over another plowed field, but when should we stop loading up? Of course, much depends on the stalk ahead; are you out for the day, or just a few hours after sun up? Are you stalking on familiar ground or somewhere relatively new? I have stalked the same adjoining estates for the last 18 years, so know my ground well. I really hate to take more than necessary, so my minimum carry looks like this: Rifle with 4-rounds in the magazine, binoculars, 7 spare rounds of ammo; just in case, two pairs of nitrile gloves, small folding pocket knife, wooden quad sticks, mobile phone and a small head torch! And that’s that, not a lot really!

I can bring this along on a summer stalk, just in trouser and shirt pockets. There can be a long walk around fields to the particular wood edge I may be stopping at, so nice not to lug much weight in the warm weather.

I don’t take a rangefinder, as I know my distances on home turf. A small head torch for finding carcasses after dusk is useful, and doubles up as a flashing marker for deer left out in the stubble to be picked up by car later. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it can be to find a fallow buck carcass in a large field after dark!

Further considerations

If further searching is ever required, I get the car with a foxing lamp and battery pack. I don’t take a rope or drag with me for carcass retrieval in summer mode. The woods have too much understory to stalk at this time of the year, so all shooting is in the open. Generally, the ground is hard, meaning I can drive to most places for carcass pickup, without leaving ruts for the landowner to despair over.

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Barrel pull through, lens cloth, bipod, fixed 6” blade knifes and steel, bottles of water, plasters, wet wipes, towels, insect repellant, camera, walkie talkies, compass, bullet drop table or notes, plastic bags, light waterproofs, firelighters, spade, thermos - all in the car, but not with me. Let’s be honest, most stalking in Southern England is carried out within easy walking distance of the vehicle. We are not in the Serengeti or a huge forest in Hungary, in which we may get lost for days. Besides, a camera, compass, bullet drop notes, a small torch… and help in the shape of a dog or lift with a heavy carcass via a call or text are all available on my phone.

Cold logic!

But come winter, there is more to consider. Now stalking within woods, some sort of carcass retrieval is necessary - a rope at its most simple. I also take extra blue nitrile gloves - not to wear, but to tie to saplings to mark a fallen deer when returning. They really do show up well! I see in the shooting press that carcass extraction has become quite technical, with roe sacks, drag bags and harnesses commercially available to carry during the stalk. Personally, I leave a builders wheelbarrow, the type with a large pneumatic tyre, hidden in the wood. A large percentage of my cull are fallow does which are heavy, but not when loaded on the wheelbarrow. Plus I don’t have to carry it around with me!

Waterproofs? I never stalk in the rain. Not that I don’t like to get wet, more importantly deer don’t either, so have found stalking in the rain unproductive for me. I am fortunate in that if rain is forecast, I simply wait for another opportunity.

I don’t use my bipod as much as I used to, so my rifle is so much lighter now! In summer, there is long grass along most rides due to EEC hedge cutting restrictions and shots over crop mean both situations require some height. Inside the woods, understorey that lasts nearly all winter due to mild winters nearly always means a standing shot. Bipods are only useful to me over stubble and empty livestock fields, which are hardly ever on my patch!

Don’t believe the hype!

Besides, after using wooden quad sticks for 18 months now, I can confidently shoot out to 200m on a calm day. The only ‘extravagance’ I ever take with me is a pair of secateurs. Over the course of a year’s stalking, I will often use the same pathways and runs through a wood. If I nip only 10 or 15 bramble stalks near their base each outing - usually on the way back to the vehicle - my subsequent outings become easier and easier, without much effort on my part.

Reading the shooting press, I realise there is a commercial push to sell gadgets and gizmos, especially the ‘tactical’ ones in vogue at present. From my point of view, much of it is unnecessary. How much equipment do you really need to take with you?


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