Saturday, 11 April 2009

'I like Chinese'

With a few weeks to go before the end of the Chinese water deer season, Pete Carr has his work cut out making up cull numbers on one Bedfordshire farm. I joined him. If you want to watch it, visit
The damage to arable crops can be colossal. The brazen way these little deer sit out in the fields must drive farmers demented. The huge numbers of young they produce each year – litters of up to six at a time – must be a constant headache. Happily, they are easy to stalk.
Chinese water deer are among the earliest deer to evolve. They have tusks and no antlers. Their cousins the muntjac have both tusks and antlers. And their more distant and ‘recent’ relations the roe deer and others just have antlers. They came to England from China in collections of zoo and park animals. It didn’t take long for someone accidentally to leave a gate or two open and they were out into the English countryside. Unlike muntjac, which are spreading fast and, according to some stalkers, competitng with local roe, the CWD has not gone far from its roots in Woburn and Whipsnade. However, you don’t get many roe deer in this part of Bedfordshire.
So it’s Peter Carr’s job to bring stalkers to shoot these deer, many of them looking for the tusks that will earn them a gold medal and, when he has to make up cull numbers, he goes out and shoots old females for himself.
Spotting the difference between an old female and a prime male is tough. The CWD sexes and ages look so similar that they have the same open season, between 1 November and 31 March. However, Pete’s an expert. The problem for him today is that he is being filmed by Not only does that put him under pressure to do everything just right, it also means there’s a film crew involved in the stalk. Even CWD spook eventually – and a film crew could be what does it.
The ground is gently rolling here but there are main roads including the M1 within rifle shot. Pete has to be extra safety conscious.
He finds one deer to stalk, crawls painfully through a hedge to give it a go, then crawls painfully back again because he is unhappy with the backstop.
He saw a large group near the far end of a huge field. The wind isn’t perfect and the fact there are so many of them means it could only take one to start running and they will all disappear, but he reckons its worth it.
Taking just one cameraman, he heads down the hedgeline to get within range of the herd, which lie on the other side, to the right. On their way, a random young buck gets up in front of them and gallops down the hedge in front of them. It reaches the bottom and veers right through a gap. Luckily, it is too far from the main group to make them run – though some of the older animals look up suspiciously.
As if this stalk wasn't complicated enough, Pete’s rifle – a Sako 85 in .22-250 – carrying a “gun cam” – a tiny camera mounted on the scope which can capture the final moments of the stalk. This means he has extra cables trailing from the scope. He gets tangled up in them in one hedge and has to pause to untangle them. Every movement this close to the deer has to be carried out slowly, smoothly and precisely.
At last he’s in place. He crawls forward like a cat, clicks down the Harris bipod legs and raises the butt of the rifle to his shoulder. Find the old doe - forget about the camera – breath – breath – and…
He hit it in the heart. The animal ran 100 yards but it was a dead deer running. It fell and kicked. Pete got up grinning and dusted himself done. Job well done.

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