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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

From the High Seat; Seeing Things

Isn’t it amazing that despite the boast we often make as country folk that we are far more observant than ‘townies’ that we can often be tricked by the simplest things. 

Is it a buck or a doe? It's standing on a rutting stand, so it might be a buck,but it's quite small and skinny so it might be a doe, you can't see any antlers though so what is it really? 
One occasion I remember particularly clearly occurred many years ago, at the time I was a relatively inexperienced, but very enthusiastic, deer stalker I had woken well before dawn to get down to my chosen spot well before light to await the muntjac I was sure would be there. I quietly made my way through the ditches and along the hedgerows until I was at my chosen vantage point and waited. As the sky started to grow light I saw a shape, a slightly hunch backed, dark shape moving slowly from left to right at what I thought was about one hundred and fifty yards distant. I watched it intently through the binoculars waiting for there to be enough light to allow a safe shot at what I had convinced myself was a muntjac. I never took the shot though, when it became light enough to see what I was looking at it became clear that it want the 150 yard muntjac that I thought was there but a badger seventy five yards away. The combination of the darkness obliterating the colour and making it hard to judge range had me completely fooled for the best part of twenty minutes. 

As well as showing just how easy it is to be thrown off by low light and less than ideal conditions this highlights a really important safety consideration. Scopes should not be used to identify quarry or targets. That’s what binoculars are for, while it might be common practice to use scopes to observe with, or to scan a potential target in military situations in the countryside good practice and plain common sense dictates that we don’t point our rifle at anything until you are sure it’s a muntjac not someone’s Alsatian or a fox and not just a pair of eyes that might just as easily belong to a Chinese water deer, badger or someone watching owls with night vision goggles. 

I’m sure these mistakes don’t only happen when we have a weapon in our hands though, I remember several occasions when I have been watching deer without a rifle, either as part of a deliberate census or just to take a few pictures and I have been convinced that I have been watching a buck only for it to take a step and the tree branch that was behind it no longer looks like an antler and it’s suddenly a doe. I’ve also been stood behind a student who was taking part in a deer census as part of his practical studies towards a college qualification in game management who had not noticed a group of three young fallow bucks sitting amongst a patch of gorse because all that was visible was the top of their antlers which just looked like twigs. They were only forty yards in front of him but almost completely invisible until they stood up. 

Amongst these does is a Busk with a broken antler, he blends in well, can you spot him? 
While we do sometimes convince ourselves something is there because we want it to be, we want to see something that’s in season, or bigger and better than the last stag we shot or something unique in some way, that strange abstract shape becomes that massive buck, a bit like modern art I suppose. Sometimes though we aren’t seeing things and just get distracted by something even more awesome that we were looking for in the first place. This has happened to me plenty of times out in the countryside. On one occasion, out on a stalk I was walking alongside a drainage dyke, where I have often walked before, mostly concentrating on what was in the field to the side of the dyke I was suddenly distracted by a movement in the water, not a duck or a moorhen but a mammal, jumping to the conclusion that it was a mink I began to unsling my rifle only to see it joined by another, and another and it became clear that they were too large to be mink, I got out the binoculars and it became clear, three young otters, joined a second or two later by two adults from around the bend in the dyke. I was mesmerised, all thoughts of muntjac and venison forgotten I sat on the dyke bank for a good twenty minutes, totally still and captivated by these otters. I had seen otters before in the wild but never in a family group and had never expected to see them there. After a long time they moved off and I was released from whatever spell they had me under as I stood up I saw stood not more than fifteen or twenty yards behind me a muntjac buck stood still watching me, as I moved it ran off but I didn’t care. On another occasion I lost the best part of half a days work on a deer farm in New Zealand because I was watching kingfishers catching crabs in the estuary and smashing them open against a log when I should have been feeding the deer. 

A New Zealand king fisher catching crabs.
So while I should probably not publicise how easily distracted I am to my current or future employers it’s great to work in the countryside where so many distractions can be found and where as long as we are safe a little bit of wishful thinking about the size of the buck we are looking at is absolutely fine.

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