First Fallow Year
I didn’t mean to go from recreational stalker to deer management.
…It happened by accident.
A lot of things happen in my life by accident. It was indeed due to an accident that I’m even doing this now…
In 2013, I was involved in an accident which almost killed me. In fact, it should have killed me. By pure chance, good luck, or the good grace of God, I somehow survived. Not only did I survive, but I recovered – against all odds. Which is something I am grateful for each day and vowed to make the most of.
I’m just a tiny little woman who somehow beat the odds. Here I am… born and bred in the countryside, later going on to live in London for the start of my adult life, and then, when I could no longer tolerate city life, it was time to head back out to the countryside again.
Since the accident, I’ve set up my own web design company and have been shooting and butchering my own meat – pretty much eliminating the need to ever buy any meat products. I promised I’d make my survival worth it. This is the best thing I’ve come up with so far.
I’m happy – and pretty darn lucky. I’m well aware that there are people who’d have given their right arm for the opportunity I accidentally landed myself with, and sometimes I still can’t believe my good fortune with how things turned out and how I landed on my feet. But it hasn’t all been a dream, or a path paved with gold and wonderful new experiences. Idyllic is not the word one would use to describe professional stalking. Far from it.
Many stalkers set out as recreational stalkers – taking some meat for the freezer, maybe passing a carcass or two on to their friends or a game dealer, or perhaps taking a trophy buck as a memento for the wall. Recreational stalkers – people using their weekends, days off or the odd evening to spend out in the field. Once you’ve experienced a step beyond this, that sort of stalking looks like a dream.
I moved to the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire borders in 2016, completely unwilling to tolerate the kind of lifestyle offered by a city such as London any longer. My only stipulation on my new rental home on my part being that I could “bolt a big metal cabinet to your walls”! I got a call from a lovely man saying not only could I bolt a cabinet to the walls, but he even had a spare one I could have. Oh, and he was just dropping six fallow carcasses off at the game dealer if I fancied lending a hand when I got there.
And so it began.
I moved to a tiny little village outside of Oxford and pretty much didn’t sit down for a rest for the next six months. To me, the main clear difference between recreational and management stalking is that when you’re recreational stalking – you do it because you want to. Because you have time to. You can take a break without consequence and life continues around stalking. When you’re managing a patch of land, it never stops. Not every deer manager is lucky enough to call it their full time job. Most deer managers will also have a day job. This means getting up before dawn every single day, rain or shine – 4am is pretty usual. You stalk. You process your animals, and then you jump in the shower, clean yourself up and start your work day.
You finish work, you come back home, change in to the same clothes you had on that morning and you’re back out again until after dark. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you might have a chance to get some dinner – if you’ve been unlucky on your stalk! If you’ve got animals to process, you get to choose between dinner or sleep before it all begins again.
Protein shakes become your friend. As do little boxes of cooked chunks of venison, suitable for on-the-go nibbling.
You’ll lose weight. You’ll lose sleep. You’ll lose friends. Relationships. Your social life will go down the toilet. I had someone ask me in around mid-January when I’d be free for a drink. “1st April, once the fallow season ends” I responded.
Unfortunately, or perhaps thankfully, we lack roe on our land, and so April becomes relatively quiet, targeting just the last few fallow bucks before the end of the buck season. Still… We never had that drink.
There is one thing to be said for a season on the deer like this. It’ll make or break you. You’ll push yourself harder than you ever thought you could. And it’ll test more than just yourself. You’ll find out your real friends, and you’ll have a whole load of ‘new friends’ now that you have deer to shoot and venison to eat. It’ll teach you to read people as well as the land.
Nothing quite prepares you for immersing yourself into this lifestyle. Not head first. You’ll lose and learn more than you knew possible.
What you lose, you’ll regain in other ways. Ways in which money could never buy.
Money can’t teach you the way in which the grass lies being indicative of the passing time and position, species of a deer. It can’t teach you the way in which the wind blows influencing the location of the deer you’re looking for.
Only time, patience and immersion can teach you to scan your land and notice every little bump and shadow in the hedges through the seasons. To show you the art of spotting a deer at half a mile just as you scan the horizon.
With time you learn your art, and stalking is, without a doubt, an art. A most beautiful, isolating and most desolate of personal art.
Deer will teach you more about yourself than anything else. Those mornings when the world is asleep and it’s just you and a rifle with the dawn. Stalking beyond recreation is not an art for someone not comfortable in their own solitude.
Solitude is the most isolating and peaceful of experiences.
There’s an album, by a little known artist. “The silence teaches you how to sing.” The silence teaches you how to stalk. The silence teaches you how to be you. Minimalist, experimental, and sparsely beautiful, one could almost mistake the aura and title as being akin to that of deer stalking. Solitude is a place of purification.
In the months I spent on the fallow, I learned more about myself and people than I did the deer. I learned more about the deer than any course or book could teach. But mostly, it teaches you about yourself. It teaches you to trust your instincts, to develop them, to become at one with the land. After a while you stop second-guessing yourself, and this translates in to all aspects of your life. You trust your gut. You read your land. You act accordingly. You learn and you develop every aspect of your knowledge and understanding.
…This is why we do this.
We do this for the love. We get nothing from this, beyond personal character development. We, in retrospect, lose more than we gain. But I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
The land has taught me more than I ever expected. I’ve found my peace and I seek the tranquillity of an empty field, knowing it is never truly empty. A place where just the white flash of a tail, or a little black nose poking from the undergrowth can illicit so much joy. A place where nothing else matters. Stalking teaches you appreciation for the little things. To be gracious for every minute detail in life. To understand that everything changes and to move with the changes.
It isn’t just about the deer. The deer provide us with a nourishing, ethical and healthy source of meat. We take pride in the work that we are doing, knowing it is protecting the livelihood of others and encouraging a balanced eco system. We see this, day in day out. We don’t need a charity or government body to tell us this. We don’t need infomercials or posters to show it. Our hands, our actions and our presence makes a difference and we see it with our own eyes. And do be able to experience this day in day out, whilst providing ourselves with a source of meat is truly an honour. For those of us who manage the land, even the idea of a trophy animal is ‘distorted’ and somehow more treasured. To take a truly impressive animal from your own land is a gift and an honour. In a way, we value it more than the man who pays to do so elsewhere. To most recreational stalkers, a trophy is an achievement. To a deer manager, a trophy is fairly insignificant – you’ll often find us keeping peculiar or otherwise average trophies. Purely because of the memories and the sentimentality attached to something we’ve nurtured. It may not be CIC scoring, but to us it’s better than gold.
It’s the little things. The birdsong which otherwise goes unnoticed. The wildlife which would otherwise remain hidden, but ventures out whilst you are there. You become part of that – you are just another organism in the vastness of the ecosystem you have entered. Nothing can teach or show you that. It can only be experienced in time. Through death comes life in so many places.
I’m tired. I’m more alone. I’m weary and I’m stocked up with enough venison to last me a few years. I’ve lost friends. I’ve ruined relationships. I’ve neglected people, responsibilities and become some sort of hair and blood covered recluse. But I’ve found myself. I’ve grown older and wiser in my year on the fallow. I’ve learned to look beyond what’s right in front of you. I’ve found my peace.
The silence may teach you how to sing, but stalking teaches you how to perform the entire song.