Saturday, 8 April 2017

OF MUNTJAC AND MEN


 OF MUNTJAC AND MEN


 

In the UK, when we talk about muntjac, we are talking about mintiacus reevesi, or Reeve’s muntjac.  John Russell Reeves first brought Chinese muntjac to the UK in the early 1800s, and hence they were given his name.  It was the 11th Duke of Bedford, who introduced them on his estate at Woburn Abbey in 1894 that really got the ball rolling. Although introduced as an ornamental deer, and part of the Dukes collection, they soon escaped and started colonising the southern counties of the UK.   Muntjac are a very prolific deer species, with many sub species, all belonging to the Muntiacineae family of deer.  Reeves muntjac is an Asian deer, living in China, India and Malaysia, but other less known species like the Fea’s Muntjac come from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.  Another interesting muntjac species is the Giant Muntjac; this deer was only discovered in 1994 in northern Vietnam, being well over twice a big as Reeves Muntjac, with mature bucks weighing around 110 lbs.  The muntjac is considered to be a very primitive deer species, with a fossil record going back as far as 15 million years.
 

Muntjac in the UK do well in areas with mixed woodland, with plenty of ground cover, brambles being one of their favourites.  On estates where the local fox population is kept under control for the purpose of rearing pheasants, Muntjac will thrive with the absence of predation to their young.  Never ones to miss an opportunity, Muntjac will readily exploit any easy food source, pheasant feeders are a favourite. On an estate where I shoot regularly, while sitting quietly in my high seat, I would be alerted to the presence of Muntjac by their banging on the bottom of the drums, used to hold the wheat for the pheasants.  The muntjac would get their heads under the drums, and to encourage the wheat to flow through the springs, which are designed for the pheasants to peck at, they would head butt the drums.  This would not endear them to the game keeper, who would try and stop them, by the addition of wire netting around the feeders, as a final resort, we would move a high seat to over look the area, and shoot the offenders. 
 
 

Never under estimate the tenacity of muntjac, although I am one of those people that believe that, a .22 centre fire is enough gun to kill muntjac cleanly, but as with all calibres you still have to put the bullet in the right place.  The .243 is probably the most popular calibre, and a good choice against these compact little deer.  A muntjac once wounded will seek out the thickest patch of cover it can find; it will take a dog to discover its whereabouts.  But you’re problems don’t end there, it’s not unheard of for a muntjac buck to gore a dog when cornered, and do it some serious damage, so shoot straight and avoid the need for a follow up. 
 

It was seventeen years ago I went after Muntjac for the first time, apart from pictures in books and magazines I had never seen one before, so I was a little apprehensive as to weather I could recognise one, from all angles.  I know that sounds a little silly to you stalkers who stalk muntjac, but put yourself in a similar position to the one I found myself in.  I had travelled down to Hertfordshire on the Wednesday morning from my home in Clwyd, I met Martin for the first time that afternoon, he was the guy that managed the deer population in the area. We decided that I would sit in a high seat that evening, and watch a ride that he had cut a week earlier.  That afternoon Martin arrived at the pub where I was staying; from there we drove to the wood, parked up and walked to the high seat.  After taking me to the seat, Martin pointed out where he thought the most likely crossing places were, and left me to it.  The high seat was situated under a large larch tree, at the junction of two rides, my view from seat was straight down the freshly cut ride, for a distance of 160 yards, before it curved to the left and disappeared.  To my left I could see for a distance of 80 yards, up the other side of the block of woodland.  Large old growth patches of brambles skirted the edges to the rides; the ground beyond the brambles was a mixture of nettles and long grasses, growing below sparsely planted larches, so my chance’s of spotting a muntjac anywhere but on the ride was slim. 
 

Through my binoculars I could see the entrances to tunnels, which went into the brambles, at any moment I expected to see a muntjac’s head appear from one of these, but as the hours went by, and the sun started to set, all I had seen was a number of fallow deer.  Then in the last few minutes of shooting light, a small dark shaped appeared on the ride, I couldn‘t make it out at first, it was a deer, but was it a muntjac? It wasn’t until it went broadside that I could see it was a very small fallow calf.  It sounds hard to believe that I could make that sort of mistake, but in poor light, and with a lack of previous experience on muntjac, I defy anybody to have told the difference.  In my defence, I did not shoot the unidentified object, nor did I point my rifle at it, so apart from a little egg on my face, nobody or anything was in any way hurt, due to my lack of experience.  The following morning, Martin again picked me up and took me to another high seat, it was situated looking down a very over grown ride, by that I mean, the trees on both sides met in the middle.  This tree cover meant that this ride took a little longer to brighten up in a morning, to the point that you could see through your binoculars, or scope.  After 45 minutes watching the ride a fox appeared, I wasted no time in shooting it, but in the back of my mind I thought I’d probably blown my chances of a muntjac this morning.  A mear 10 minutes later, out stepped a muntjac buck, not head up and alert like a roe or a fallow buck would be when about to cross a ride, but head down and almost oblivious to where and what he was doing.  I had been warned by Martin that muntjac do not as a rule spend much time on rides, and in most cases they just go straight across, so I had decided that if one was to appear, once positively identified I would make the final decision to shoot or not while looking at it through my rifle scope.  The buck turned out to be a youngster, with about two inches of antler growing above the pedicle, the 150 grain Sierra Game King bullet from my .270 win put the little deer down in it’s tracks. 
 

Now some of you may well be thinking, that for me to point my rifle at an animal I haven’t decided I want to shoot is wrong, you may think I should have scrutinised and judged it through my binoculars, and made a decision that way, and in an ideal world you would be right.  The problem with muntjac in a woodland environment is they do not afford you luxury of time, so it’s my opinion, with what time I do have, I spend preparing for a possible shot, that way if I decide to shoot, I am less likely to miss or worse, wound a muntjac through rushing the shot.  Providing you have made a positive identification, and you are sure that what you are looking at is a muntjac, and not the game keepers dog, then I see nothing wrong in making the final decision on whether or not to shoot while looking through your rifle scope. 


The other point I wanted to make about muntjac is, when I took my first one, it was literally just a few minutes after shooting a fox, so the buck I shot must have been very close to the ride at the time when I shot the fox, and yet he still he came out.  Over the years since that first muntjac, this is a phenomenon that has occurred many times.  I have shot muntjac just as they have emerged on a ride, only to have another adult muntjac walk around the body of its dead companion just seconds later, to get onto the ride.  No other animal species that I have ever hunted as ever shown such a blatant disregard for the sound of gun fire.  Red and fallow deer can some times mill around after the first shot, if they are unable to pinpoint the danger, but I do not believe that they would calmly walk out of thick cover as if nothing had happened.  I have seen it happen far to many time’s with muntjac, for it to be a few blasé individuals, it seems to be a trait of the species. 
 
 

 

Muntjac venison is very under rated, and very few game dealers seem to want to take it, I think this is probably due to the amount of work they have to do to the carcass, compared to how much venison they can sell from it.  From my own experiences of skinning and butchering, I know it takes me almost as long to dress a muntjac, as it does to do a fallow, at a recreational level that’s not a problem, but if it was business, then it’s a different matter.  When I’m butchering a muntjac, I like to keep the haunches for roasting joins, the saddle I bone out and cut into steaks, and the front legs and the trim I mince to make sausages. 
 
 
Whether you like or dislike these little deer, they are here to stay, they have given me an immense amount of pleasure over the years, and I only wish I had some a little closer to home.  They may not come over as the most intelligent of our deer species, they may not produce large impressive antlers, or large quantities of venison, but considering how long they have been around they must be doing some thing right.  One thing they do is, they give you an excuse to go some where you would never have any other reasons to go, you will meet new people, make new friends and experience a great hunt, what more do you want?

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