Stalk to fork
Over the years whilst living in Dorset I’ve been exposed to deer and venison A LOT. Eating, skinning, cooking, stalking, watching, tanning, curing the list goes on.
My husband shoots often and usually I’m the wing man in the cutting room upon his return where I lend a hand gutting and prepping the animal for it to be chilled before the skinning and butchery takes place a week or so later. I’m not squeamish when it comes to blood and find the whole process fascinating, so in my mind it seemed only right that one day I shot my first deer and saw the whole process through from start to finish.
To shoot a deer you will need to have a rifle of legal calibre and the landowner’s permission to shoot on their land. Enter my friend Rob who luckily has both and was willing to take me out stalking.
Now I’ve done a fair bit of target shooting with rifles in the past usually lying down and it turns out I’m a bit of a sniper, but I wasn’t sure how I would react when looking through the scope at a living animal, would I be able to take the shot? Target practise.
Up early one chilly morning in February to meet Rob, we had a small area to scout, which we did and quickly got sight of a group of 5 roe deer in the dawn light. We got ourselves ready and followed the hedge line ready for them to pass in front of us; all being well we’d be close enough and I could take a shot. My heart started beating faster and suddenly I wondered whether this was all happening a bit too quickly. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the deer got spooked by something and darted across the field into the cover of a small wood. Deer 1 – Emma 0.
We decided to drive around and walk in from the other side to see if we could find the herd again. After a rather amusing scramble under a fence they were in our sights, their little heads sticking out over the long grass. Quickly the gun was set up and I had them in the scope. You realise quickly how it only takes one step of the animal to change their body position completely blocking that safe shot and one by one they moved off into the woodland behind them. Deer 2 - Emma 0. Lining up for the perfect shot.
We followed the hedge line hoping they would pop out of the woods into the open field. We found a gap in the hedge and set ourselves up as they started to appear. They were starting to move across the field, we picked one and Rob said simply, “when it next stops, shoot it”. It all happened so quickly; I got my placement, pulled the trigger and crack the gun fired. I must have closed my eyes because I didn’t see the hit and Rob had moved slightly when I shot so missed it too! The deer dispersed in all directions and there was a moment of doubt from both of us as to whether I’d hit it at all or perhaps just injured it. We counted the deer as they scattered into the next field and knew we were still missing one, the one I’d hopefully shot.
Now, I’m ok with dead animals but injured animals that are calling out and suffering I struggle with emotionally. Luckily, we found it quickly and it had been a clean shot. The adrenalin when it was shot must have caused it to run and it had made it less than 20 metres before it dropped, I had shot the heart and lungs it would have died very quickly.
On approaching the dead Roe doe, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt, there wasn’t the bravado you see when people trophy hunt and I didn’t feel sad in any way for shooting it. I think the overriding emotion was that it had been a good stalk and I was really pleased with my first shot. You can see the exit hole on the right hand side of the hide.
A week later I spent a couple of hours, skinning and butchering it down. With Dessert Island Discs playing the background and rather aptly listening to Bear Grylls and David Attenborough I carefully removed the hide and broke down the carcass into its component parts. What was most satisfying was that I’d done it, I’d stalked, shot, skinned and butchered a deer and for the first time and I’d be able to enjoy my own venison for dinner. My trusty helper waiting for any scraps.