Sunday, 27 October 2019

Muntjac - Mini Deer With FANGS!

The Northern Monkey calls me from his way home from a building site just to the north of london. “I’m at some traffic lights and there are two little deer just standing on the grass staring at me, look a bit moody, they’ve got fangs!”

Muntiacus muntiak reevesi aka Reeve’s Muntjac are our smallest and soon to be most prolific deer. Regular readers will know I’ve hunted these 30 lbs mini deer a few times, seen them, and heard them, all without ever firing a shot.

It’s still called Hunting, it’s still not called shopping.

They bark, not unlike a dog but not quite as loud, they’re skittish, they never really seem to stand still even when nibbling, they are aggressive and armed to the teeth. Or at least armed with long curved canine teeth. They may only be the size of a Labrador but only the most aggressive kinds of terrier would stand a chance against them.

Introduced into the substantial gardens of his ancestral home, Woburn Park, by serial wildlife scallywag [this isn’t the only invasive he released] the Duke of Bedford in 1894, Reeves Muntjac have spread a long way since then. Up and down the country and even ‘swimming’ the Irish sea to appear in Northern Ireland. Of the six species of deer we have they are the most successful. Increasing not only in distribution but at 8.2 percent a year, population has soared from a guesstimate of only 2,000 in 1963, to more than two million today, a Muntjac doe will mate within days of giving birth and will give birth again every seven months. Their diet, the tender shoots of woodland flora like; bluebells, oxlips, native orchids, and the wood anemone, means that they are seriously unloved by the conservation organisations. Rose gardeners particularly hate them, apparently they can, and will, eat a grand’s worth in an evening. They are yet to develop any road sense, of the 42,000 road accidents a year involving deer, resulting in 20 human deaths and £10 million damages, they are about 9,000.  A cull plan of 25-30% would stabilise the population, it would take 50+% to reduce their numbers and that would mean taking a shot at every one you ever saw, which just cant happen.

Where the culinary solution falls down is they might be the best eating deer but they are poor value in the amount of meat you get for the amount butchery it takes to get it. The front legs are scrawny and often bullet damaged, the delicious loins are one per person rarer than a row of steaks, leaving only the haunches which ain’t that big. For not a lot more knife time on even a Roe you’re getting a far greater return for your butchery efforts.

As part of the Adult Onset Hunting program I’ve promised to take a few club members and foodies hunting, this time its The Sailor [yeah I know I've kind of run out of steam with the TLA's]

It's traditional on these pages to start with a description of how hard it is to actually leave town and the snide remarks made by my fellow traveller regarding my time keeping. But you’ve heard it all before. I travel to the far side of london thought he rush hour, then we drive back around london through the second hour of rush before heading not very far north, next time I’m going by train, it literally takes 45 minutes.

There are two schools of thought on which rifle to take: They’re legal to shoot with a .22 centre fire as long as it makes 1,000ft/lb of energy at the muzzle, and delivers a expanding bullet of 50 grains and up. Or in the other school its anything up to a .308, moving at a sedate pace, to reduce meat damage.

The thought of lugging my 15+ lbs Precision rifle across london, let alone across muddy fields doesn’t appeal so I’ve chosen the CZ527, that perfect expression of the mini Mauser. Even with its suppressor up front its only xxxx long and it doesn’t weight a lot. For now mine is chambered in .223 and has a perfect balance just in front of the magazine. I don't know about you, but I was taught to clamber in and out of the highseat with an unloaded rifle, so I’ll always favour a magazine-fed stalking rifle to all that fussing about dropping rounds into my hat and re-stuffing the rifle at each end of the ladder. While I have other favourites the CZ527 is nearly the perfect ‘woodland’ rifle.

We spend a pleasant evening in the ‘spoons gossiping about the other members of the club, slagging off the owner of the chain, and drinking cheap pints.

The Sailor has done us proud finding a hotel even cheaper than the one I stayed in last time and we saunter back for a brief nights kip before hitting the road before dawn. For October its positively balmy even at night its comfortably double figures [centigrade]. All of my stalking trips of late have been by electric vehicle and we whirr though the night past the gallops and stable yards of horse country.

Although I’ve not seen him in an age, it was good to have Mr 7mm as our host and guide; he’s safe, kind to newbies, and has thousands of acres of excellent stalking.
Handshakes dispensed with we clamber into Mr 7mm’s truck and head off into the farmlands. To give the newbie the widest possible introduction to stalking I’m dropped off at a highseat where a spinney abuts a track leading into a block of forestry. Even in the dark it looks proper promising. Mr 7mm produces one of those night vision monoculars that would have been black-ops ten years ago and there are three small deer and a couple of Hares glowing bright green out in the fields.

We walk over to the highseat. “if you shoot a deer, stay in the seat, where you shoot one there will most likely be another a few minutes later”.
A note for new stalkers: please stay in the highseat, I know you want to go and see that deer you shot, but it adds all sorts of unnecessary complications to the enterprise and as Mr 7mm says you might be blowing your chance of deer number two.
As Mr 7mm walks away into the gloom I drop the mag; sling the rifle on my front, clamber up, last quick check that the moderator is screwed on nice and tight, mag back in, chamber a round and settle down to wait. There must be a pen near by as within a few moments pheasants start to appear. Some of the hens are so white I’m compelled to check if they’re albino. At the 87m feeder they mill about and warm in my coat I start to feel a little drowsy. A Hare bounds out of the cover crop and I watch it though my binoculars until it goes back the way he came, my eyes are getting seriously heavy by this time. I’m in that half trance place where it could go either way, the swaying of the boughs behind me, the indistinct first light, a pheasant I made eye contact with earlier stands at the bottom of the highseat and creates me until i’m fully awake again. Out at the 87m feeder the pheasants are having her breakfast interrupted by a Muntjac doe. She circles the feeder and as she drops her head to snaffle a few grains I send her 55 grains of my own. She takes off like a scalded cat, I know I hit her fair and square so I try to suppress the nagging doubts about; myself, the bullet, the scope, the rifle, the shot placement, and how Artemis has abandoned me.

The Brugger and Thommett  moderator is obviously really good, the pheasants flap about a bit and then go back to eating. My brain is replaying “if you shoot a deer, stay in the seat, where you shoot one there will most likely be another a few minutes later” when not 90 seconds later a Buck turns up. he too circles the feeder and as soon as he settles in the crosshairs I give him a round, or so I thought. With a crouching gait he makes for the cover crop never to be seen again. No pins [pieces of shot-off deer hair], no blood, he literally disappeared.
I go back to waiting for a while I sit and think, for a while I just sit. There’s a gun shot in the distance and my hopes rise that The Sailor has closed the deal on his first outing.

It fully light when a third Muntjac appears at 57m a juvenile pre-antlered male, stoops to look around, and catches a round, dropping like a bag of wet sand right on the spot. If I recover them all I’m now out of freezer space so I pop the magazine and await the chaps arrival.

The feeder at the edge of the crop field is a measured 87m the furthest pale dot on the track is Muntjac No.3 at 57m

I took all the measurements with the nicest affordable range finder I've seen so far. Its by Pro Wild and is now under a 100 on both sides of the pond.

20 minutes later the boys appear. Yes they saw deer, no they didn’t shoot any of them, they too heard the shot, but they didn’t hear my shots. Mr 7mm pulls his ghillie face when I tell him the first one has vamoosed, so I get to pull my told-ya-so face when I recover her from the first gap in the hedge she could have chosen. With no ‘pins and paint’ on the ground its all looking a bit inconclusive for shot number two. There’s nothing. We spend most of an hour having a good tromp around, the cover is very thick and my doubts are growing by the minute. We gralloch and set off for the traditional stalkers breakfast

There is little to report from the afternoon session, my arrival startled a herd of Fallow does in a field Mr 7mm doesn’t have permission to shoot over, and with a .223 I didn’t have the necessary firepower for them. Hare weren’t on the list so i watched a medium sized one bound around through my binos and trudged back across the plowings glad once again to have bought the wand-like mini Mauser.

From the car I message our Alaskan corespondent, the blogger known as Hodgeman, telling him I’d finally been able to close the deal, Alaska is well outside the top of the Muntjac’s northern range [its probably Northern Ireland] so he’s interested to hear about our 365 day a year season and their petite size.

‘Moose birth calves bigger than that!’

On the way home:
I’ve struggled the sports bag full of deer on to a station trolly and with my rifle across my back I’m pushing it like a fat boy with sciatica though the station when I’m hailed by one of a posse of teenage boys.
“Is that your gun? Have you been shooting?”
There’s no ignoring him and his out of town accent means he’s unlikely to be too much of a problem.
I laugh “No its my boss’s Bass, I cant even play”
“You ain’t dressed for playing the Bass”
I catch sight of myself in a reflection, I’m wearing muddy wellies, and blood splattered stalking clothes.
He has a point. I put my finger to my lips, wink and waddle away a bit faster.

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