His dark antlers give him away in the pale field of grain. Slowly – barely visible – he grazes his away through the field. Through my binoculars, I can see the detail of the beautiful patina of his antlers. Big, fine antlers. Perfect symmetry. The rutting season is over and the old buck has played his part just as he has many times earlier. But this year it is his turn. And I am prepared. I have finalised all the details. Almost.
Roe deer hunting in September is a challenge. The silliness that affects bucks during the end of the rutting season in August is a thing of the past. Territorial bucks have stopped guarding their does, stopped driving away antagonists, quite simply stopped letting themselves be seen unnecessarily. And when they are seen it seldom pans out as you would expect.
The old buck started to forage in the field of wheat, which has escaped harvesting due to extensive wild boar damage, after the rutting season was over. The hope is that he will sooner or later show his flank in the lush edges of the field of wheat, but he stays amongst the grain. In safety. Most of the time he is not visible at all, but sometimes he can be seen for a second when he lifts his head and checks his surroundings as he eagerly chews on his carefully selected greens.
Early the following morning he is there again. Just in time for me, still with legs damp from the morning dew, to sit down and see the old buck graze amongst the ears of wheat before, with a few quick bounds, he leaps over the clover at the edge of the field to disappear into the forest. It is as if he were never there.
In the afternoon, I am back on the hill. This is the only place where it is possible to fire safely at a visible target. I want to get there early, before the buck arrives, so I have the chance of a shot as he crosses from the forest into the field. But several hours later he suddenly appears in the middle of the wheat. How he got there is a complete mystery. As usual, he chooses to graze where the wheat is the tallest. All I can see are his ears and his splendid antlers. On occasion I get a glimpse of his neck, but I am too far away to even consider a safe neck shot.
After another morning and evening on the hill I start to lose faith. I had thought of everything. I had identified the right buck, chosen a suitable place to wait, sighted my rifle and chosen my quietest clothing. I even had a brand new pair of high-powered binoculars around my neck. And as if this was not enough, the weather had also been on my side. The wind had been steady and blowing in just the right direction and the buck had been totally unaware of my presence as I waited among the ferns on the hill.
But I had missed one small detail. A rest for my rifle. I had quite simply counted on the buck stopping to graze at the edge of the field of wheat, thereby giving me a simple shot on his way either to or from the field. Instead, he rushed over the clover in a couple leaps every time. And from where I was waiting on the hill, chancing a much more challenging neck shot while he grazed amongst the wheat was simply not an option without a rifle rest.
The last evening. As usual I can see the dark antlers and ears of wheat that fall in front of him as he carefully picks his way through the field selecting his beloved greens. But this time my pulse is a little higher. The sounds surrounding me fade as my breathing quickens. Before long, my breathing is all I can hear. The old buck wanders into an area of flattened wheat and raises his head to check his surroundings. Thanks to some duct tape, three sturdy sticks and a moment in the woodshed earlier, the crosshairs are steady and his neck is exposed. My improvisation seems to be working. A little detail that makes the world of difference. In the end everything falls into place. And so does the old buck.
Large and small – it is the details that decide if a hunt will be successful. Hunters who ignore the details don’t only risk the success of the hunt, but also the ethics of the hunt. A rifle must be perfectly sighted. Clothing, optics and other equipment must be adapted to the demands and requirements of the hunt. And building a makeshift rifle rest is maybe not optimal. Better to perhaps go through the details an extra time before starting to hunt. Because the better prepared the hunter is when it comes to knowledge of wildlife and choice of equipment, the larger the chance the hunt will be a success.