Hardman's hunting: Seeing the wood through the trees
PUBLISHED: 14:09 12 June 2018
Phil Hardman enjoys a new appreciation of his beloved hunting permission
I want to start this piece by saying a big thank you to everyone who wrote in, or contacted me offering words of support after I announced the devastating loss of two pieces of my hunting permission, which made up the vast majority of the land over which I shoot. The support of readers really helped to lift my spirits, and the words of encouragement helped me to get back up from the knock, get out there, and see if there was any way I could hang on to at least the smaller, tenant farm part of the land.
The good news is, I managed to secure that land, and once again have permission to shoot on it, which is a huge relief. This was possible simply because I had always kept up good relations with the farmer, despite having my permission from the shooting estate that owned the sporting rights on the land. When those rights were returned to the farmer, he was more than happy for me to continue, which just goes to show, be polite and courteous to everyone you meet when out shooting because you never know when you might one day need their help or support.
Small but perfectly formed
Compared to what I have lost, this piece of land is relatively small, and the woodland part of it, which is what I am really interested in, is smaller still, but despite that, more bags of quarry have been filled from this piece of 22-acre woodland, than from the other 250 acres combined. When it came to where to go, and what to write about for this month’s piece, there was really only one choice. I had to go to the place I thought I might never get to hunt over again, of course I did. So that’s where this month begins, with a journey through the smaller woodland, the same place I have hunted pretty regularly for the past seven or eight years, but this time, I was looking at it so very differently.
The weather this past week has been a bit of a scorcher. In fact, I believe it’s been a record-breaking heat-wave for this time of year, so I avoided the worst of the sun’s intense rays, and stalked the woods later in the day, once things had cooled off a little. After a spring that had seen huge amounts of snow still falling until a month or so ago, nature has been slightly late in getting into the swing of the breeding season for most animals round here, so they have now had to catch up, and are even more distracted by courtship than usual. I hoped to use this to my advantage and bag some woodpigeons that might be using the wood as a breeding ground, to pair up, mate and nest. I was quietly confident of my chances because a distracted animal, makes for a far easier prey.
Bringing out the beauty
I had forgotten just how great it can be when hunting in nice weather, and the sun only served to bring out the beauty of the place even more as I stepped out of my car and walked into the wood, readying the Weihrauch HW110 for action as I went. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was sitting low in the sky on its way to its nightly meeting with the horizon. I could hear pigeons somewhere up ahead in the wood, ‘cooing’ and fluttering around, but despite there still being a relative lack of leaves on the trees, I couldn’t see them yet. They were pretty close, though, so I made my way forward very carefully, threading my way through the ivy-covered tree trunks, pausing and scanning every limb, trying to get the drop on them first.
Fight or flight
I paused under an overhanging holly bush, listened and watched, hoping they would reveal themselves, and was just about to continue forward when movement caught my eye in a bush on the edge of the treeline. I was sure I had just witnessed a squirrel jumping from one branch to another, causing the branch to shake, but I needed to get a bit closer because there were trees obstructing any shot I might get. I stepped forward out of the shade of my covered position, and suddenly became aware of something to my right, 10 yards away.
It actually triggered my fight or flight response, and for a split second my heart skipped a beat. Ten yards away stood a roe deer, just staring at me. Frozen to the spot, I stared back, not even daring to turn my head. I’m sure it was a matter of seconds, but at the time, it felt like forever. The journalist in me took over and I went for my phone, slowly. If I could get a photo of this … I didn’t even get my hand to my pocket. In fact, I might have only moved a single finger when the deer turned and bounded away, disappearing in a few short leaps as it made its way back deeper into the wood.
My initial reaction was something along the lines of, ‘I love this place! swiftly followed by me kicking myself for not seeing it first, and being able to sit tight and take a picture. I wondered how it is that I can spot a woodpigeon in a group of trees, or a grey squirrel, from hundreds of yards away, but a deer can be within 10 or 15 yards, as big as it is, and I’d have no idea it’s there.
Luckily, as the deer ran, I hadn’t noticed any movement from the bush where I had seen the suspected squirrel movement, so I still had the chance of a shot. I moved to the next tree, scanned through the scope, and there it was – not a squirrel, but a woodie, sitting tucked up nicely in the upper part of the bush, facing away from me, giving me the perfect shot at its back. I rested on the trunk of the tree, put the scope’s reticle between its shoulder blades and fired. I saw the feathers on its back part perfectly as the pellet hit home, and the bird flopped forward without so much as opening its wings and it crashed into the woodland floor.
I walked over to make the retrieve and just as I picked up the shot bird and stepped out from under the bush it had been in, I spotted another pigeon sitting in a tree about 25 yards from me – just sitting there, relaxed, not a care in the world. I’ll admit I was slightly perplexed as to why it would just sit there, when I was not only moving around, but I had also just fired the rifle so close to where it was perched. I didn’t think too long about this, maybe a tenth of a second as I raised the gun and sent the pellet zipping through the branches towards the world’s most docile woodpigeon.
As it fell, bouncing off a couple of branches on its way down to the ground, I wondered, did it think I was a deer? Had it seen the roe from my encounter a few minutes earlier and dropped its guard, assuming that any movement I made was just another harmless deer moving through the wood? That is all I can come up with to explain this particular bird’s unusual behaviour, but whatever the reason for its mistake, it paid with its life. On any other day, I’d have expected it to burst out of the tree when I shot the first one, and be long gone before I even realised it was there.
Sitting and listening
After collecting kill number two, I decided to take a break for a minute, to sit quietly and listen and watch, just in case there was anything else in the vicinity, before moving deeper into the wood. I worked my way down to the small stream that cuts through the centre and followed it, the softer, damper ground less crunchy underfoot and helping to mask my approach. Maybe because it was late in the day, or perhaps it was the deer running through the wood at full belt, but for whatever reason, I didn’t see another thing in the wood for the next hour, and with the day drawing to a close, I was forced to accept that two was all I was going to be bagging on this particular trip. Not that I was complaining; a month ago I thought I had taken my very last shots in this wood, and here I was with not only two in the bag, but endless chances to come back and do it all over again, as many times as I wanted.
The two pigeons were a sweetener – don’t get me wrong – but the deer, the songbirds, the stream, the ivy-covered trees, all of it … I was appreciating this place in a way I hadn’t since I first got the shoot seven years ago. This hunting trip was never supposed to be a full-on session. It was intended to be a nice, relaxing walk out with the rifle. I hadn’t even bothered to wear my full hunting gear. I was in a casual hoodie and a cap I usually wear when I’m trying my best to look trendy, not out in the hunting field. It had been so long since I did that – just me and the gun, wandering, not tied to a plan, not bound by pressure, trying to be a pro’, or getting some amazing feature for the mag’, just doing what I wanted, enjoying myself. For me, it was really amazing!
Just an everyday hunter
On the walk back to the car I was thinking about all of this, and a letter printed last month came to mind, asking why the magazine doesn’t feature articles by ‘normal everyday airgunners’. Truthfully it does, I’m just some bloke with a rifle, no better nor worse than anyone else who enjoys being out in the countryside with a gun, who has learned some stuff over the years that could help some people. I‘m still amazed when a deer sneaks up on me, still happy with a brace of woodies, and still aware of just how lucky I am to be able to do it all in some beautiful parts of the countryside, just like everyone else who has a permission they love. I still buy my own pellets from my local gunshop; I still miss shots, and I STILL forget to bring my hunting boots with me sometimes. Oh, and this month, I even managed to forget my camera, so had to use my phone, so I’m sure I‘m going get it in the ear from editor. *He did! – Ed*
Yeah, trust me, I’m just like everyone else. I make the same mistakes, too, and as often. Until next time, then, happy hunting!