For the professional stalker, trophy roebucks are a highly valued resource and need to be well looked after and managed, says Peter Jones.
There, lying lazily in some welcome winter sunshine is the first decent roebuck of the year. This was not April, still only January and yet there he was, boasting antlers in velvet well beyond the length of his ears. This one had real potential!
We had first glassed him and an accompanying doe from a distance. Lying on the sunny side of a long hedgerow, two large masses of brown appearing alien against the green grass. Half an hour later and following a long crawl over cold, hard ground with Tony, one of my regular clients, we had moved within range of this magnificent animal.
As a professional stalker this was great news, not just because we would now also be within reasonable range of the accompanying doe, but also because having just taken on this new additional parcel of land in Hampshire, this was clearly a precious animal and just the reward I had hoped for.
Lying just within sight, about 120yds away, with its long ears betraying its presence was the accompanying doe and the target of our efforts. Aware that for Tony this was the culmination of an outing's stalk for roe does we set the .308, Sako 85 squarely on the bipod and watched patiently as the two animals lay with heavy eyelids in the bright sunshine, granting us time to ready ourselves and confer in quiet voices.
To my mind this is the perfect scenario for any stalker who prides himself on good deer management. For me, stalking at its best is a considered sport and on this occasion I had time to weigh up the consequences of our proposed cull. Just how much potential does this buck have, I wondered? What level of disturbance will he tolerate before he decides to seek a quieter territory? And with that in mind, how will he react to losing his sole companion?
The two animals abruptly stood up and as if realising the time of year, and sensing the danger she was in, the doe instantly broke into a trot and vanished over the brow of the hill into the nearby hedgerow. The buck lingered a little longer, confirming my initial thoughts of his potential by demonstrating a strong, straight back and powerful haunches, before also trotting off in pursuit of his companion.
Only weeks later and aware of the requirements of conducting a sufficient doe cull clear in my mind, I visited the same spot again with another client. To my delight the buck was there again, in exactly the same spot. But what is more, on this occasion he was with not one - but two accompanying does. This time the decision was clear and after mimicking the stalk I had carried out only weeks earlier, a yearling doe was dispatched by my client with a textbook heart/lung shot.
With increasingly high demand for quality roebuck stalking from both domestic and international hunters, for many professional deer stalkers they are becoming increasingly valuable animals. So it is from these early days in the height of winter that many guides and professional stalkers will have been putting in the groundwork and making considered decisions.
The success of the coming buck season will very often depend upon the stalkers intimate knowledge of the whereabouts and quality of the animals on his ground. This can make the difference between a successful summer's roebuck stalking and a flop.
Granted, many will argue that come May and the inevitable jostling for territories that will ensue, the result will be that many bucks will leave the ground or indeed become the victim of traffic collisions. However, with sufficient care of these precious animals more can be nurtured and allowed to mature into fine trophies.
Clearly the doe cull is crucial to any management plan and should be delivered with a certain sense of determination. However, to my mind what sets stalking apart from other forms of shooting is the considered nature of the sport and the observable benefits one can get from careful and selective culling.
We should be clear that too much disturbance before the buck season gets under way will have a direct effect on the antler quality of our bucks. However, we must also be mindful that if we have not culled sufficient does, the antler quality of our bucks will inevitably suffer from an inflated pressure on available browsing. Herein lies the balance.
Of course not all of us have the luxury of being able to commit time on the ground to locating and selecting our animals, and for many, sufficient culling in itself is the objective, as opposed to the quality of the trophies. Therefore when on those rare occasions we get the opportunity to consider a proposed cull, it should be welcomed and a careful decision should be made.