March for me is always a great month as it’s the month of the IWA exhibition in Nurenberg, a shooting show that’s been exhibiting great products for over 50 years. I’ve always had a soft spot for this particular show and for Nurenberg itself. In fact it was at the show that I proposed to my wife 17 years ago…
It’s also the month where, over the past 10 years, a group of good friends from the north have gathered together in the Lake District to take part in a deer drive on an estate where, it’s got to be said, the stalking is challenging.
Two consecutive Wednesdays are picked and at 06.30 we arrive at the appointed meeting place, it’s always the same spot. In the car park at the centre of the estate.
Cars full of friends & dogs, some with trailers, some with quad bikes all stream down into the car park, park up, kit up, load up, unload quads, hitch trailers, accept radios… All in total silence… Not one word is spoken, friends greet each other with a beaming smile, a knowing nod, a hearty hand shake and a pat on the shoulder.. and if you’re lucky, a gesticulating offer of a freshly baked Nidderdale pork pie and steaming coffee.
We’ve been doing it for too long… Car doors are quietly closed by leaning against them and giving them a nudge with the hip. Once we are ready we just instinctively gather together in a circle and receive the whispered days instructions and safety brief. It’s always the same, we split into the same two groups, the first always beats the first drive, the second always stands. The first always peel away from the group and stow themselves into Land Rovers, in trailers or on the back of quad bikes, the second give them a few minutes and then move into place.
The only thing that actually changes is the weather and the wind, and they dictate what order the drives are started in and from which direction. You can be lucky when walking up and get easy drives all day, or you can be unlucky and get beasted by some of the most unforgiving terrain in this Eden outside of Yorkshire. But mostly it just averages itself out.
With everyone in place and confirmed by a quiet radio check, the day begins. I’m in the first team and generally we stand for the first drive, my position is just at the eastern side of a spindly copse overlooking a patch of grassy field surrounded by dry stone walling.
As usual I have my Merkel Helix 30-06 straight pull rifle, and for this kind of work I’ve topped it off with a Meopta Meostar R2 1-6×24 red dot scope. Wound down to 2.5x magnification this scope gives me a really wide field of view, and because I shoot with both eyes open a little magnification helps my right eye focus on the dot.
This time I am trying something different – the ammunition I’d decided to use is Lapua’s Naturalis round. A solid monolithic bullet head, machined out of copper, with a food grade polymer tip. Previously I had used a standard soft point jacketed bullet, but with these large red hinds and dense brush I had experienced fragmentation and some excessive meat damage, so I thought this time I’d put Lapua’s flagship round to the test.
I’d found during a quick zeroing session the day earlier, that the accuracy was outstanding. I had zeroed at slightly high at 50 metres (I know I shoot consistently low at a moving target, so I adjust for that) then took the target out to 100 then 150 metres, both consistently tight groups, sub MOA, with zero pretty much spot on at 150 metres.
The round is 30-06 with a 170 grain (11 gram) head. The polymer tip acts as a valve and is designed to use hydraulic force to create a consistent and controlled expansion even at extended range and reduced velocities. With its new design it ensures supreme weight retention; even after impacting on heavy bone it can frequently retain 100% of its original weight.
On the first drive I was on the edge of a stone wall, backed by spindly silver birch trees, surrounded by the early morning Cumbrian mist as I contemplated life, the universe and if the answer really was 42. I recall that contemplation went on for some time as I remember seeing and hearing nothing until distracted by the whispered command that came over the radio earpiece; “Endex, unload, make safe”.
Shortly after a “walker” came in to view – we don’t call them beaters because as we move forward, the trick is to be as quiet as we can (although our quiet and deer quiet is obviously totally different!). We met up, exchanged a whispered “see anything?” and “no!” and so moved on to our next allotted stand or starting point depending if we were a walker or not.
It was my turn to walk, the six of us got into line and then waited for the command to start. When it came we stayed as far as possible in line of sight (all wearing fleurescent vests), and also in radio contact. The line has to be kept with the slowest setting the pace and that can depend on the terrain and density of the brush.
After about 10 minutes, I saw a flash of white rump which turned out to be a group of roe, moving at a fair trot. I had no idea on sex and although does were on the list, they were not the focus of the day.
Another command came over the radio, “Stop Stop”… We all stopped.
The idea is to gently move the deer towards the rifles at a walk or slow trot. The rifles are stationed at points where there’s always an opening or small clearing in front of them, giving a clear field of fire. If the deer are presented at the correct speed, they will nearly always stop for a couple of seconds in the clearing and give the rifle a chance of a shot.
A few minutes went past and we resumed our walk. I heard a shot from up in front, a large ‘kaboom’ rolling down the valley and after another couple of minutes I heard another. This time distant from the west. It was starting to get exciting.
Two hundred yards further up the bank the ground started to change. The brush, grass and leaf litter morphed into a fissured limestone skating rink covered in wet moss and lichen. A dangerous place for a dog let alone a man with a loaded rifle. I quickly sent a message to my fellow walkers to stop whilst I unloaded, taking the box mag out and emptying the chamber. I adjusted my 3HGR sling across my back and secured the retaining strap under the opposite arm so my rifle was secured safely. I radioed back that I was “good to go” and we moved off again. It’s a difficult stretch of rock, I do complain as every year I seem to get it but no one seems to mind…
As I was definitely the slowest, the line moved very slowly, in fact there’s always some quiet comment in the ear piece that is quite rude and intended to spur me on! Unfortunately for them I prize my ankles as much as my scope and rifle, but slightly less than my dog, so I take it easy, using the stunted silver birch that grows out of a lot of the cracks and holes for support.
Just as I was getting near the end of this natural assault course, I spied four young stags up front, not 40 metres away. They were probably 3-4 years old and moving forward. Alerted but not really concerned, just moving steadily. With a slight breeze against my back I knew I could just stay put and they would move on to where I knew a rifle was waiting. Fairly exciting for him though stags young and old were not part of the cull so that particular shooter would not get a shot this time.
The drive finished with two hinds and a calf shot.. A great beginning.
After a coffee and pork pie break we were off again. This time, because of the terrain and brush, I was to walk again. I knew from past experience it was really easy to get disorientated here, as you just push your way and zig zag through dense foliage for about half a mile.. almost fun.. although because of the way this part of the forest is set out there was only two of us walking.. myself and an old friend who is as probably as unfit as I am!
We set off, two abreast, zigging and zagging and making no attempt to be quiet, we were not talking as we were out of breath. We took numerous short stops and always kept in visual contact. A few shots were heard in front of us and we stopped for five minutes at the edge of a scarce small grassed opening down in a little valley. Tim on the south side, me on the north high side looking down. We were only about 50 metres apart but close enough to acknowledge a shake of the head, a knowing look and a quick gulp of water.
We’d dressed light (we’d done this before!) but still another layer came off. Over the radio a couple of calls came in that hinds and calves had been shot and their position was given out for collection later by quad. A quick look over to Tim and an OK hand signal (at least I think it was that) followed by an open palm karate chop style gesticulation advised me to prepare to move on.
As I started something caught my eye, a slight movement.. I glassed the spot and saw a shape amongst the branches and twigs that shouldn’t be there.. A few seconds and I’d counted three hinds.. a quick call on the radio to Tim.. Could he see them? No he couldn’t, was the reply.. Let’s wait.. followed by a warning… “Make sure they’re hinds….”
Dropping the wrong make and model with this group, even as a totally genuine mistake would be met with merciless derision and the chance of not being invited back.. I knew the area like the back of my hand, I knew where the rifle positions were to my position, I knew that Tim was to my left and I could see him.. and I was in an elevated position.. Oh please let them be hinds…
I made a steady position against a thick stumpy silver birch, scope caps up, round in the chamber, red dot on.. and we waited. We waited for about twenty minutes until an old hind came closer to the edge, a visible outline but a lot of twigs still in the way. As she slowly moved out another two hinds followed her. Still between clumps of gorse but they were out.
Looking at Tim, he shook his head, he had no clear shot. Focusing back at the hinds, they just stood there with heads bobbing and a lot of nose licking. The lead hind moved out another two metres from behind the bushes, pulling the others with her. She stopped and looked over in Tim’s direction, not 40 metres away, presenting a perfect neck shot. The de-cocking safety switch on my Helix went forward without thought, red dot just under her head, good back drop and down she went.. I still believe she thinks she’s still standing there.. it was quick.. super fast reload with the straight pull without taking my eye away from the scope and the target.
The other two, didn’t move far, I was on the second in an instant, straight to a neck shot and again she went straight down, another instant reload and on to the third.
She’d moved away but not far, just back inside the brush line.. The sound of the shots in that little valley bouncing around totally disorientated her. She stood, again no broadside chest shot, but another good neck shot.
And then she looked at me.. I had the red dot perfect under her chin, ready to go, finger on the trigger, a fraction from being released.. looking at me right through the scope and her right ear twitched.. she licked her nose.
Game over, safety on.. and relax.
Afterwards I said to Tim I couldn’t see her.. he was already not best pleased with two rather large hinds to retrieve and no way to get a quad in to get them. Things were not looking good. I heard Tim on the radio.. “he’s done it again, for **** sake! Can anyone give us a hand dragging these hinds out?”
Total radio silence….. Total dead air….
Walking over to the grassed hinds for the grallock, the Naturalis had certainly done their work, the second shot had actually gone through some brush and performed flawlessly, not effecting its flight path or terminal effect..
If your stalking dictates the use of lead free ammunition, I wouldn’t recommend anything else other than the Naturalis. If you just want to be green, Lapua isn’t the worlds premium ammunition manufacturer for nothing…!