Stalking Muntjac with the ZEISS Conquest V6
I recently attended a press event hosted by ZEISS for their new range of riflescopes – the Conquest V6 series – and after a very informative and detailed presentation followed by some range time and a very nice lunch it was time to jump in the vehicles and head off to a hunting ground. Yes, ZEISS had arranged for us to not only test the Conquest V6 scopes on the range, but to take them out into the field deer stalking with Childerley Sporting.
The drive to the hunting ground took just over an hour and once we’d all arrived we got our kit together, which comprised of the Blaser R8 rifles with ZEISS Conquest V6 2-12×50 scopes mounted that we’d been shooting on the range in the morning and a set of ZEISS binoculars of our choice. I’d had a pair of Victory SF Black 10×42 binos on demo back in January, so I went for the ZEISS Victory RF 10×56 T* Rangefinder binoculars.
After a briefing from Paul, who told us we could each take two cull animals, we were introduced to our hunting guides. My guide, Phil, and I would need to jump in a vehicle as our hunting ground was about a five minute drive away. The time was just after 4pm and we had a good few hours of stalking in front of us.
Our patch of woodland was made up of mainly mature oak, silver birch and scattered patches of laurel. Due to the recent warmer weather the ground inside the wood was now very dry and the leaf litter was like walking on cornflakes. There was no way we were going to be able to be as quiet as we would like to be, but we decided to stalk into the wood and see if we could locate a muntjac.
There was plenty of sign about. The areas of ground that were free of dead leaves had dried out and cracked in the warm weather, but there were muntjac tracks everywhere. Within just a couple of minutes we saw our first two. They’d been tucked into a bramble and were disturbed by our feet crunching the dead leaves. The two small deer ran off deeper into the wood, their barks still audible long after they’d disappeared from sight. Phil scanned the wood with his Pulsar Quantum thermal imager. Everything looked quiet, but the thermal soon showed things to be very different. Although we weren’t picking up any munjac heat signatures the amount of pheasants and squirrels was staggering.
We pushed deeper into the wood, taking slow and precise footsteps to try and keep our noise to a minimum. Every ten steps, or so, we would stop and scan with the thermal. Phil picked up the heat signature of a muntjac and pointed in its direction. I glassed it through the Victory Rangefinders. The simple controls enable you to operate them with one hand. Simply press and hold the rangefinder button to show the turn on mark, which is a red circle. Place the circle on the target and release the rangefinder button. The distance is calculated and appears in place of the red circle. The munty that we’d located was 104 m out and partly obstructed by fallen branches and quite a large fallen tree trunk. It was also head down and feeding which meant that from where we were it wasn’t possible to determine if we were looking at a doe or a buck. We watched for a few more seconds and could see that it was slowly feeding up the wood to our left.
There was no option to stalk closer in the direction we were heading. Even if we were able to keep our footsteps quiet the amount of debris on the floor was going to make any attempt at reducing the distance stealthily impossible. We decided to head back on ourselves and then left-handed in an arc towards the edge of the wood and see if we could locate it again. Hopefully the carpet of bluebells in that area would dampen the noise of the dead leaves.
After making our way to where we wanted to be the thermal was still not picking up any sign of the muntjac. We stood for a few minutes, but still nothing appeared out in front of us. Phil had a deer caller in his pocket and squeezed a couple of times – still nothing. A few seconds after the third call a movement caught my eye out to our right. It wasn’t the munty we were looking for, but a vixen. She walked calmly towards us and we stood motionless to see what she was going to do. Phil whispered “do you want to shoot the fox?” Normally it was a question that wouldn’t even need an answer, but there was still the possibility that the muntjac was somewhere fairly close to us and I didn’t want to spook it by cracking off a 308 at a fox. We watched as she walked right across the front of us, no more 15-20 yards away not even giving us a glance. The vixen went through the fence and out into the pasture. Halfway across something caught her attention and she turned and bolted back into the wood and was away. Maybe what she’d scented had already disturbed our muntjac because we never saw it again.
The conclusion was made that we weren’t going to have any joy stalking through the wood, so the decision was made to make our way to a double highseat that was a short distance away. On the way Phil picked up another heat signature with the thermal. A muntjac was laid up under a large laurel, impossible to see with the naked eye. Spotting this little deer tucked away proves just how valuable the thermal imager is on a stalk. Not necessarily to spot the animal you want to shoot, but to locate an animal that has run on after being shot. In poor light or at last light a deer that’s taken off before succumbing to a shot can be very difficult to find, but there’s no hiding from a thermal imager that can penetrate the undergrowth.
Once settled into the highseat I ranged all the prominent features out in front of me. I had a reasonably clear line of sight out to just over 150 m. We’d been sat for about half an hour watching the cock pheasants strutting around and the squirrels quarrelling on the ride before a muntjac appeared from the brambles. A quick glance through the Conquest V6 confirmed that it was a doe. I flicked the safety on the Blaser R8 and watched through the scope for a few moments just to make sure that there wasn’t a fawn in tow. Confident she was alone Phil whispered, “You can shoot that one”.
I already knew that the oak tree on the left-hand side of the ride was 89 m away. The doe was settled and grazing slightly beyond that. I got in behind the scope and flicked the rifle off of safe.
There was no need to wait on the scope for the muntjac to present a shot, she was already side on. I placed the ultra-fine cross hair over the heart and lungs and gently squeezed the trigger on the R8 sending the 308 Win bullet down range to meet its target with a thump. The impact was exactly at the point of aim and the muntjac dropped on the spot.
Things settled back to normal quite quickly after the shot and it wasn’t long before a buck popped out of the undergrowth very close to where the doe had appeared from. We watched him inspecting the shot deer when a doe came out behind him. They were both unsure of deer laid on the ground. I watched through the scope ready for the buck to move and present a shot on the doe, but he turned quickly, disappearing back into the brambles immediately followed by the doe.
The next forty-five minutes to an hour were full of activity around the highseat. Phil had picked up another buck and doe slightly behind us on our right-hand side. There would be the possibility of a shot if the doe stopped in a small clearing. I tracked her through the scope as she walked into the clearing, but she gave no indication of stopping and moved out of shot and out of sight. Phil was still able to track using the thermal and could see that she had turned towards the thick brambles that lined the edge of the ride. We both focused on a patch of bramble that we anticipated she might appear from. While we were waiting I heard the rustle of leaves to my left and when I looked I could see three young fallow deer making their way towards the ride. As they emerged from the trees they passed directly below our feet before making their way into the trees on the right. I can only assume that they pushed the muntjac further on as they moved away from us because we never saw her again.
The buck was still out on our right and we watched as he foraged in the leaves before moving back behind us and out of sight.
For a few minutes things went quiet again, apart from the three fallow deer that we’d seen about fifteen minutes earlier came back down through the trees and headed off in the direction that they’d originally come from. I watched them as they walked in single file back into the wood and through the laurel. When I looked back out in front of us a muntjac was standing close to the one I’d shot earlier. It was moving uneasily and when we looked at it through the binoculars we could see that it was a young buck with an injured front leg. We weren’t out for a buck, not even a young one like this, but decided that the best thing to do was to dispatch this animal, if I could get the shot off.
I followed the buck with the scope as he hobbled across the ride and behind some bramble. There was a clear patch of ground between the bramble and the wood and I focused on that waiting for him to appear from the right of the reticle, which he did, but continued walking and was quickly obscured by the trees. He was only out of sight for a few seconds before re-appearing and walking back in the direction that he’d come from. I whispered to Phil that I wasn’t sure he was going to stand still if, or when, he came out from the right-hand side of the bramble. Phil whispered back that if he did show himself he would give a call. The buck showed himself and I had the scope exactly where I wanted to place the shot. Phil gave a quick call to stop him and within a fraction of a second the shot was off and found its mark. The buck went over where he was stood. That was it! I had my two deer and it was time to load up and make our way back to the yard.
As we were waiting for the others to return from their stalks the light was dropping off quickly. This was the perfect time and conditions to test the optics in low light. It was about 8:30pm and was quite dark. I was ranging a hedgeline that was on the far side of a drilled crop field and picked up three fallow deer grazing next to a fallen tree. I’d not spotted them with the naked eye, but they were very visible through the ZEISS Victory RF 10×56 T* Rangefinder binoculars. The distance was 197 m. They were also very clear through ZEISS Conquest V6 scope. With a light transmission of 92% the FL lenses – the same ones that are found in the Victory range of scopes – were taking in every available scrap of light. The optical performance of the scope is outstanding. The only let down was that I didn’t have a light metre in the camera bag because I would have loved to know just how dark it really was.