The Deerhunter

The rattle of leaf-bare twigs above my head, slapping together like old friends shaking hands, told the tale of another day lost to air-gunning. Despite having a rifle slung over my shoulder I knew opportunities would be few and far between in this high wind. Yet, at least it was dry … and that despite a dire forecast. We are at the cusp between winter and spring, snowdrop and daffodil time. The early nesters, the crow and the magpie, are seeking out their lofty sites and will be constructing soon.Through the wood, the lurcher nosed at the small excavations left by last nights badger forays and followed the scent of squirrel from mulch to trunk. I watched the tree-tops but without vigour. The bushy-tails aren’t partial to bough bending winds like this, preferring the giddy sanctuary of the drey. I could see the scrapes amongst the leaf mould where a roe deer had spent the night, sheltering behind a wide beech bole. I knelt to feel the bed and found it luke-warm, so readied my Nikon and called the hound closer to heel.
Over the wood the rooks wheeled and rolled, relishing the gusts and surfing the eddying air. At ground level wren, robin, blackbird and thrush danced from scrub to shrub at our passing, scolding and chirruping. Outside the wood, the wet water meadows were alive with fowl and their hideous chorus. Honking and squawking, squealing and whistling. The usual suspects … Canadas, greylags, mute swans, wigeon and teal. A pair of Egyptian geese blessed me with their passing. Strange looking fowl with their spectacled eyes and tucked up feet.

I returned to the hunting of the roe. Figuratively speaking, of course. It takes a far more powerful gun than mine to stalk for venison. My prize, if I was successful, would be a simple photograph or two. Moving silently along, keeping old Dylan close to me, we crept into the wind. A strong blow, in such circumstances, being like the proverbial cloud with a silver lining … carrying both scent and sound away from my subject. The lurcher, of course, is invaluable for this type of work. Simply point his nose at some fresh roe currants and whisper “look about!” and he’s on the case.

Dylan led me along the base of an escarpment, out of the wind. We both baulked at the rise of a woodcock just in front of us. Have you ever folded a leather belt and pulled it taut suddenly, making a ‘crack’. The sound my old Dad would make when threatening me with a leathering. That is the sound of the woodcock hitting the air before it jinks away. We forged on, the hound leading me up the escarpment and back into the wind. And that’s where we saw her, beyond the briars, between the slender trunks of sycamore and hazel. I tried to halt my heaving lungs and take the photograph as she stared straight at us. At the first click, she bolted. We watched her white rump bob away into the plantation, the dog not even flinching. He is trained to ignore all illegal quarry, more’s the pity. But, hey! I had my picture.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Feb 2016

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