"Are you the man who deals with deer casualties?"
"We've got an animal badly injured on the Stroud to Gloucester road. Hit by a car. Two broken legs."
"OK. Is someone there with it?"
"Yes - an officer's standing by."
"I'll be there in 25 minutes."
For about 30 seconds I fight sleep and my conscience. All too often, after such a call, the casualty has recovered enough to disappear into the woods by the time I arrive. But this one sounds as if it is anchored by its injuries. In any case, what is the point of being on the police books as a helper if one does not respond to emergencies?
Up, then. Dress in forest kit. Clean teeth - shaving can wait. Clap kettle on to Aga.
Which rifle? Normally the minimum legal calibre for deer is .240. But with the animal crippled, I should be able to get to close quarters and put a bullet into the back of its head. Besides, firing a full-bore rifle on a main road is not recommended.
The .22, then. I scrabble for the key of the gun cupboard and screw the silencer into place on the end of the barrel. Fetch the bolt, which I keep separate. Pocket a dozen rounds of ammunition and a knife.
By now the kettle is hot enough. Half a cup of instant coffee. Leave the rest. In the farmyard I rout out the sheet of thick blue polythene which I use to line the back of the Jeep. Then away through the lanes, heading north: 12 minutes since the call.
Under a threatening sky, the woods are hanging dark grey-green on the hills, almost monochrome - but the road is dry and blessedly free of traffic. As I drive, I psych myself up for the encounter. Experience tells me that when an animal as wild as a deer has been smashed up, there is no future in trying to save it. The only humane thing to do is to put the animal out of its misery as quickly as possible. Even so, it is not a pleasant task.
In my mind's eye I am seeing a roe-buck, for roe are very active at this time of year as their rut approaches. Maybe the buck was chasing another off its territory when it ran across the road.
At 5.35am Stroud is a ghost-town. I scorch through, climb a long hill into fine drizzle and drop over the Cotswold edge. Far out to my left the Severn is showing: the tide must be in.
Fast down through the curves - and there it is: a blue lamp flashing, a policeman standing in the road. He starts to signal me past, but sees my indicator and waves me in.
The deer is lying on the grass verge beyond the patrol car. It is not a roebuck at all, but a beautiful fallow doe, her shiny brown summer coat dappled with white spots. She has her head up and is looking round, but I can see at a glance that her back end is smashed - legs all ways, blood spread over the road.
A quick check of the surroundings. Good job I brought a small-calibre, silenced weapon, because we are between two posh houses on the outskirts of a village.
One does not often get a legitimate chance to fire a rifle down the line of a main road - but here it is perfectly safe to move up behind a telegraph pole and, from a distance of three yards, put a bullet into the back of the doe's head. Down she goes, instantly dead.
The young policeman is not looking very well. "It's still moving," he says faintly.
"Nerves," I tell him. I explain that an animal injured like that is hyped- up by a tremendous flow of adrenalin, and that reflexes continue to operate for a few moments after death.
"I can't stand seeing animals hurt," he says. "It's even worse than with people."
I assure him that animals, though naturally scared of humans, have no foreknowledge of death. To his credit, he offers to help me load the body into the back of the Jeep. He grabs the forelegs, while I take the back, and together we swing it up. I spare him the information that the doe is terminally pregnant and, by the look of her, would have given birth to a fawn within the next few days, so that on this gloomy morning we have a double tragedy on our hands.
The carcass is not fit for human consumption. Best, therefore, to leave it at the hunt kennels for the hounds. At 6.15am no one there is stirring, but I dump the body and drive home. Back by 6.45am, I let the chickens out, feed and walk Zephyr the labrador, put out the dustbins for collection, break up a cat-fight and cook myself some scrambled eggs before getting down to work.
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