I guess if we’re going to talk about food and Dartmoor then thoughts may naturally go to the deer that are a major part of whatDartmooris so famous for.
Recently, when I was contacting Mick Jones; North Dartmoor’s Head Ranger, this thought rapidly become an action when, after I added a light reference to the potential opportunity to join him next time he was out shooting, I received a one line reply…You free on Saturday at 7:30? To my shame I did take a little time to consider this as getting up at 6am on my day off to get ontoDartmoor did make me wince.
Clearly I was a numpty to give this a moments consideration as when I did get there it was a beautiful clear morning, well worth getting up at such an unsociable time (for me) and, wrapped up warm enough to ignore about the cold, we soon set off.
Conversation was light on the stroll down to thedeer parkand with Mick and I both having a child of a similar age we got chatting about the comedic elements of raising toddlers.
We soon reached the entrance to thedeer parkand after some guidance from Mick we headed into a stunning, barely touched landscape of natural wild flora.
Seeing so many crafted, manicured gardens makes you forget about how awe inspiring the untouched land can be. To me the moss covered rocks, bracken and wild bushes are on a par with an underwater reef covered in coral and reeds that inspires a sense of duty to leave this untouched and in shape for those who’ll come after you. And equally a pang of nostalgia (or is it a sense of embarrassment) by how rarely I spend my time on places like this.
Strolling as quietly as I could behind Mick there was the air of a gentle morning stroll until without any warning his rifle slipped off his shoulder and was brought up to aim with the fluidity equal to me reaching into the cupboard for a coffee cup. What really caught my attention was how the character holding this rifle, poised and rigid with stance that seemed to be gripping the very ground he was standing on seemed nothing like the calm friendly chap I’d been chatting to a moment earlier. Then, due to lack of a ‘safe’ shot, the deer swiftly skipped away and Mick’s tree-like pose slipped back into the relaxed, composed style that I was used to.
It was at this point he showed me some images of deer wounded by poor shooting, a quick wake-up call as to the necessity of doing this right.
We continued on following signs left by the deer until we came over the crest of a hill Mick become planted in the earth again, poised once again with his eye down the sight of the rifle looking at a herd of eight deer. After a while they dispersed and Mick explained that if he had shot and missed the stray round would have travelled over a pathway. The likelihood of anyone walking past at that time would be so remote, but you’d never take the risk.
Our next sighting was a real gift in spotting a white doe not forty meters from us. She plodded off and again the rifle went back over my guides shoulder and as we carried on Mick explaining that there is an unwritten rule never to shoot white deer in the park.
By now the sun had risen high enough for us to have to call it a day. The final part of the trip was a show around the deer larder that was, for today, unoccupied.
I guess this means that I’ll be unable to pop by Castle Drogo, who benefit from the work done by Rangers, for their signature venison dish. This for me is what completes this story. For a time longer than I know how to measure we have hunted and in today’s world the majority of us are pretty far removed from this, but a trip up to Castle Drogo for some seasonal venison dishes helps complete this process in a way that brings us a little closer to appreciating the journey.
I’m not ignorant enough to ignore that for some people this is an enormously contentious issue and I’m not versed well enough to defend Deer Management, but I am at ease with this process. I guess if I wasn’t then I would have enjoyed a Saturday morning lay-in.
These are not a bunch of testosterone fuelled red-necks with a no-deer, no-beer mentality; nothing could be further from the truth. What you have is a team who, in my opinion, if you cut them would bleedDartmoor. A team who’ll happily take their eye off the prize to take in the vast, awe inspiring views of the landscape around them. This is not done for any misguided glory, but as a process to maintain a healthy, natural and sustainable balance. Again I should be careful not to incite any adverse reaction from those who may disagree with the principles of Deer Management. I guess my view is simply this… there is a deer management system in place, and I feel that you couldn’t ask a better man to be leading it.