Blackcaps and Bucks


I woke with songbirds on my mind but they were Canaries, singing in my head. Yet it was a long-time until kick-off at Wembley. On such a bright May morning, it was tempting to fill some hours with an idle ramble. With a hungry gun in the cabinet and a lurcher watching for any sign of a pending sortie, it would have been rude not to. Within thirty minutes we were standing in a shady corner of a wood on the Old Hall estate. I stood to let my eyes adjust to the gloom and let my mind suck in the living ambience of a forest backlit by the rising sun. A male blackcap jinked from cover to land on a briar tip and scold us. We were obviously too close to the nest for his comfort. I ignored his protest, preferring to vindicate our presence through the twitching of the old lurchers nose. The dog was glancing at me and telling me that there were squirrels close by. More of a threat to the little songbird than we would ever be. I whispered to the dog and he reluctantly lay prone on the damp grass. The blackcap flashed away and within seconds I heard the scrabble of claws on bark. So did the dog and he half rose, into a squat. The grey had scented us and appeared just fifteen yards way upon a low pine branch. The shot was clean but the retrieve (from a dense briar patch) tested the dogs mettle. Praising him for his endeavour, we moved on. Breaking onto a new maize planting I stood in wonder, counting hares as though I was counting crows. Dylan, my lurcher, sat alongside me through the audit, head tilting and ears waving. Seven little witches or warlocks (for hares are the re-incarnation of wild souls) played upon the dusty soil which held the slender maize sprouts. I don’t shoot hares (on this estate) with my air rifle yet the lurcher had murder on his mind. At twelve years old that’s akin to me wanting to chase Taylor Swift around the bedroom. I restrained the old dog with a whisper and we both enjoyed the fantasy. He with hares and me with … ? We stalked on. Moving slowly through Scots Wood I saw the lowest branch of a maple tree tug down violently. A movement totally out of sync with the landscape. Then I stood and watched the prone roebuck tugging at the succulent leaf buds. The dog, with his low view, could hear the nibbling but couldn’t see. In his frustration he let loose a whine. The buck stood, staring at me yet not seeing me. Fully shrouded in camouflage, I looked like the shrubs alongside. I lined up the rifle cross-hair on his heart, just twenty yards away. I steadied my breath and tickled the trigger, whispering ‘boom’. He heard the whisper, scented the long-dog, barked and fled. My legal-limit air rifle is a small vermin tool, not a game rifle. The buck was never in any danger from me. Yet (once again) I was pleased that my woodcraft had brought me so close to a large and perceptive quarry species. We walked the wood, the dog and I, and we took our quota of small vermin as we always do. It was a good walk. Later I revelled in the spectacle of a canary overcoming a red lion. A wonderful day.

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