Well, technically it's 7 if you include wild boar. But traditionally the 'Big 6' is a British sporting achievement where the aim is to shoot one of each species of deer found in Britain - red, fallow, sika, roe, muntjac, and chinese water deer - usually within one calendar year. It's a very tame version of the 'Big 7' African Game as, aside from aggravating a grumpy pig, you are unlikely to get mauled and eaten by a labrador-sized herbivore.
I've half-heartedly warmed to the idea when Mike suggested it. I think it's more a male way of thinking, to tick off each species from 'the list', like playing "I spy" or participating in a gory scavenger hunt. And of course, most sportsmen want a trophy specimen from each group to hang on their wall (if the wife says it's ok) or in their shed (if the wife says it isn't).
I'm not much for the trophies. In fact, aside from my medal-winning boar tusks and one good roe head that Mike shot long ago, we haven't got any trophies to display. Both of those are hidden away in corners. Our most useful head is from a poor specimen red deer which Mike 'liberated' from the village hall, and now hangs in our stairway as a hat rack -Trophy hunting aside, I did like the idea of learning more about the life cycle, habitat and social structures of different deer species. I knew a little bit about fallow and roe, as those are my 'bread and butter' deer, common on this estate.
But I didn't know the first thing about Sika, except that 1) they are called 'stags' (as opposed to 'bucks' - it relates to their latin name Cervus) and 2) they originate from Japan (Sika is the japanese word for deer). And 3) that I had been invited to shoot one by Keith Edwards, a friend and deerstalker who manages a large wild herd. (He's in the 'trophies in the shed' category). I did a bit of quick research, and put a few rounds through my .308 rifle to check for accuracy before setting off last night for a guided hunt.
The weather was cooperative, and I watched the orange autumn sunset from the highseat. If I never saw a deer it was still better than being at home doing laundry. But over a few hours as the sun set, we counted 36 deer. The sika are rutting so the stags are trying to round up a 'harem' of ladies. I heard my first sika stag call - a loud roaring whistle that rises in pitch, then falls and ends with a grunt. You can hear young stags, their whistles are higher, almost like their voices haven't dropped yet. I saw hinds (lady deer) with youngsters preparing to survive their first winter, young 'pricket' stags play-fighting with youthful enthusiasm, and seasoned stags sniffing the air to see if any hinds were receptive to their advances. One tried to mount a hind while she grazed but she scooted away to graze somewhere more peaceful, baby in tow.
Keith really wanted me to have a medal-winning stag and, though I was grateful for the generous offer, I would be happy with a cull animal. As it turned out, a heavy-bodied stag, certainly over a decade old with weakening antlers came out of the woods. He presented the best target. He'd sired his fair share of offspring for sure. It was time for him to come out. I dropped him cleanly with the first shot on the other side of the river. We dragging him back and gralloched him, and he came home with me in the back of my truck. I owed Paul ('trophies in the house' category) a deer, and Paul needed a good sized animal right away. There's a Food Fair coming up and Paul is making sausages to sell.
Well done, old man.
I won't keep the head as a trophy, but I will keep the antlers to make my own priest. A 'priest' is a heavy tool for dispatching wounded birds. It's called a priest for the macabre reason that it is delivering the bird's last rites. I have to drill out a section of antler and fill it with lead or shot to increase the weight. I've never made one before so two antlers gives me two chances to get it right.
The best part about getting my sika stag is: I'm now ahead of Mike in the race to finish the 'Big 6'. I still have to attempt the red, the muntjac, and the chinese water deer. I'd better get reading.