Ask ten deer stalkers which deer they believe is the most challenging deer to stalk and its likely you will get a number of different answers. At the end of the day, it’s a subjective decision based on one’s individual experiences. A bad day, an overly alert deer, or some other factor may have made a particular outing very challenging and as a result, disproportionately influence that stalkers perception going forward. Equally, deer in one area of the UK may not be representative of the same species located elsewhere.
Stalking a deer doesn’t finish when you pull the trigger. Just like climbing a mountain, its often after you summit that the hard work begins. Recovering a dead weight deer carcass will certainly help determine a stalkers appetite to pull the trigger in a similar location in the future. The more experienced stalkers are more likely to contain the adrenaline and excitement of having a deer in the cross hairs than the new entrant to this wild pursuit. Most people learn quickly however, as did I following the experience of recovering two red deer across 200 meters of clear fell a number of years ago!
In my limited experience different deer species and sexes become more or less challenging as the year progresses. On my main permission, which is inhabited primarily by red and sika deer, it’s a relatively easy task to stalk all deer with a camera throughout July. Come the 1st August however and there isn’t a male to be seen! Similarly, hinds will be happy to make their presence known right up until the 1st November when they too seemingly disappear! Its as if they have an in-built alarm clock that warns them when it's time to go ‘dark’!
Patience is the key to stalking. Fieldcraft is without doubt essential but without patience one’s chance of success is significantly reduced. All said and done patience is actually an underlying construct of all fieldcraft anyway. It’s no surprise therefore that our ability to be patient can change with the time of year. Longer days mean earlier rises and later departures. Shorter days mean the opposite. Dependent on your level of fitness and mental aptitude to accept a blank day, different times of the year will heap pressure on your ability to maintain patience throughout you stalking activities.
My experiences have led me to believe that sika are the most challenging of all 6 UK species. I wouldn’t separate the stag from the hind, finding them both equally challenging. They appear, and then disappear, in a mystical fashion, moving effortlessly over ground that would result in a broken angle for any human trying to run across it. The sika I stalk aren’t small either, so if you are successful, you know you have a busy time ahead trying to recover the beast to a more accessible location. For full disclosure however, I ceased stalking red deer with any real vigour some time ago, primarily due to the extraction of this largest species. Next on my list after sika and red is the fallow. I’m referring to those that aren’t constantly exposed to humans partly due to the fact that I assume they would be easier to stalk but also because I’ve never stalked them. Truly wild fallow I’ve found very skittish, and amazingly a herd can disappear in the blink of an eye. Muntjac would be the next on my list followed by roe. Sadly, I can’t remark on CWD having never stalked one.
Ultimately the decision is yours to make. If, like me, you relish the challenge then I’m sure you will pursue you own most demanding deer and that’s all that matters. Theres something virtuous about having to work hard to succeed on a stalk so, whenever possible, pursue your nemesis and not the easier option!