Here comes a young buck of inferior build, smaller, lighter, with only bumps of antlers. He is the one to get

Six-forty am. The sky is blazing with stars, but the eastern horizon has only just started to glow. There is time to stand and listen.

An icy breath of wind steals out of the north, too gentle to mask any sound. A tawny owl hoots, and suddenly there it is: the heavy, snoring grunt of a fallow buck on his rutting stand, deep in the wooded valley to my left.

Snort, snort, snort, snort ... The calls are those of a mature animal, but he is beyond the boundary of the land on which I have shooting rights.

That buck falls silent. Then another starts, also below, but on my ground. I can pin-point his position, and quickly plan a route to get to it: across two fields, over a gate into the wood and down a network of grassy tracks, right, left, right.

For a deer-stalker, the main advantage of the rut is that a master buck, by his harsh grunting, attracts animals of every age and shape: not only the does that form his harem, but also lesser bucks, including freaks and cripples - and one of these may well be a good beast to cull.

Nip along this first meadow, then, to a gap in a belt of trees. At the gate I pause and scan the next field with binoculars. The grass glows silver-grey with frost. Two hundred yards out, a deer of some kind is standing in the open, facing me, slim as a ghostly gatepost, but I cannot make out what it is. Above and to my right, beyond a narrow spruce plantation, dawn is setting the horizon on fire.

The second buck calls again. Then from above, much closer, comes a volley, an explosion, of roaring grunts, followed by the rattle of antlers on wood. This sounds more urgent, more promising.

The light strengthens. I look back up the field and find that the gatepost has gone. The commotion on my right is coming from the upper edge of the spruce. I move cautiously in that direction. At the lower side of the wood I crawl under an electric fence and on to a path that I keep raked clear of twigs.

Silently I ease forward up the slope, winding between the spruce trunks. Another outburst of grunts echoes down through the trees, then the sharp crack of antler meeting antler. A fight has started.

Ahead of me the skyline is flaring up red and orange. Across that fiery backdrop flits the silhouette of a deer, a black shape moving fast; then another, and another, all in a state of agitation.

At last I glimpse the cause of the excitement: two big bucks wrestling furiously, outside the wood, in another field; antlers locked, shoving, twisting, they battle for supremacy.

It is a phenomenal sight, this ritual fight etched upon the dawn. If it were rugger training, how happy the coach would be that his lads were getting down so low and bracing themselves so vigorously in the scrum. Steamy breath rises as the combatants shudder, slip and wheel.

Younger deer zip back and forth, black against the light, electrified by the action. A doe and fawn race past, then a pricket (a second-year buck), a good, big youngster, with antlers 8in or 10in long. But then comes another pricket of inferior build, smaller, lighter, with only bumps of antlers. He is the one to get.

I cannot shoot safely from the ground, because the rifle bullet would fly over the crest of the hill. I need to reach the high seat, or tree- ladder, built on the upper edge of the wood, and fire downwards. Yet the seat is barely 20 yards from the battling bucks, and perilously close to the line of the wind. One whiff of my scent, and the whole party will be gone.

I creep on up the path. Ten yards from the field I feel cold air wafting into my face: by a lucky fluke, the wind is curling westwards into the wood and down to meet me.

The assailants break, and as they raise their heads, I can see they are both in their prime, eight or nine years old. Then they set to again with a vicious clash.

At the foot of the ladder I slide the .243 off my shoulder and climb stealthily, one rung at a time. The big boys continue to tussle like lunatics, obsessed with their own affairs, but the mediocre pricket is darting about, hyper-alert. I wait till he is facing away, then wriggle into a firing position 15ft above the ground.

Centre the cross-hairs of the telescopic sight on the animal's neck. BOOM! Down he goes, instantly dead. The two bruisers break contact and stand glaring, as if outraged by the disturbance. Then they gallop away into the sunrise, side by side.

For a second or two there are deer flying in all directions: a moment later, every one has vanished like morning mist.

I feel relieved that everything went well: that I chose the right animal and culled it cleanly. The dead pricket never knew what hit it, and the rest will soon recover from their fright.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz