A long account for anyone who has the time..
On Friday 1st November, I joined Geoff in the high seat for the very first time.
We arrived on a patch of land that we hoped would be promising; the rain was kind, the resident guinea fowls loud and the company was good.
After some hours without a deer in sight, darkness began its descent and we entered twilight. I was sure I would be making my way back home empty handed but with plenty more knowledge gained.
Geoff took a final sweep with his thermal and spotted a group on the edge of the wood around 200 yards away, to our 1 o’clock. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Another scan of the woods revealed a second group to our 10 o’clock, closer, but undecided on their direction of travel. Geoff was commentating on their movements when through the scope a fallow emerged from the left bringing her followers out into the open.
This was it.. my moment. Three more fallow joined the first group; grazing, walking on, grazing and walking on some more. All I could hear was my heart thumping against my chest - the sound was deafening. I took aim but as I did, a follower tucked up right behind my chosen deer, I paused - the window of opportunity was passing quickly and part of the group began to trot on.. This really was my moment and last.. I heard Geoff in my head telling me to gently squeeze, and I did.
The sound ripped through the silence of the field and stopped my heart. The darkness seemed to surrounded us more now. I lost sight of my deer. I panicked. I pleaded to Geoff to help me. Thankfully he had it in his thermal; it had ran but was now down.
My heart and head were racing. Geoff had told me to before to prime the next into the barrel ready for a second shot, I hadn’t listened. I immediately felt regret. What a fool. The deer could be suffering because I hadn’t done as I was told! I needed to know it was dead.
Geoff explained that we needed to wait, if we approached now, we could risk loosing it into the wood. My eyes filled and I cursed myself for every second that passed. After 10 long minutes Geoff confirmed that it remained where it had fallen and was safe to approach. We climbed down from the high seat and Geoff jumped on the quad, he told me to follow behind slowly.
I couldn’t help but keep pace - I was desperate to know it was not suffering. With each step I prayed - I’m not religious but I prayed to anything that was listening - “Please let it be dead”.
Geoff disappeared off into the darkness, and I waited to hear another shot. Silence. Geoff returned and said, “congratulations, you’ve just shot your first deer” - the relief washed over me but for some reason I didn’t feel elated.
I approached as she lay still, hand to her chest, she was soft and warm - a melanistic fallow doe, around 3 years old. I wasn’t thrilled with my shot placement, a little low and a little far back; I took a moment to appreciate her beauty and silently digested the events of the last 15 minutes.
Geoff was straight to work and brought me back into the present moment - she was now a carcass that needed to be processed. Geoff was deft in his gralloch, even with me on lighting support, and within 10 minutes or so she was secured on the front of the quad. Sadly, we didn’t have time for an anatomy lesson - one which I would have liked to especially given my shot placement - but with the late hour it was completely understandable.
Snug on the quad, we made our way back to the Landie and then on to the diner. I’ve spent every waking moment since replaying the events over and over, analysing and pondering, and it has taken me until today to see things in a different light.
I embarked on this journey because I care about the meat that I eat, where it came from, how it met it’s end, up until it reaches my plate. Up until now, I regretted the moment that I squeezed that trigger, because I couldn’t tell you how long she suffered for before the lights went out and that pains me..
But this evening I thought, I’m sure her suffering was much shorter than that of the animals that are loaded up for slaughter, and that gave me comfort.
For me, if I am eating it, I should be able to harvest it. To take a life is a huge responsibility. To take a life with such a precise and deadly weapon weighs even heavier. Time is not on ones side when taking aim at an animal, and that needs more of my attention.
Geoff, thank you.