Muntjac were not called ‘barking deer’ for nothing. Originating as they do from the dense forests of south east Asia, they evolved to communicate by both scent and sound, and occasionally a buck will announce his presence with a repetitive territorial bark that can continue for half an hour or more. When conditions are right and when the wind is in your favour, it is sometimes possible to stalk right in to a barking muntjac and get a shot before the animal realises that it is in danger.
Winter - a naked underwood
All my successful attempts have been made in late winter or very early spring, when the woodland understorey is bare enough to make it possible to glimpse a muntjac through the undergrowth at maybe 60 metres. You also need to know the ground very well indeed, enabling you to identify where exactly in the wood the barking is coming from and so to plan your approach.
One morning in March I found myself on one of my favourite woods when not one but two bucks started barking, challenging each other in a territorial dispute. Luckily I was downwind of them and I immediately pinpointed them to an area of old hazel coppice beside a release pen. One bark was the deep sound of a mature buck, while the other was a much higher note, perhaps a young animal testing the territory of his older rival.
A memorable stalk
I covered the first 250 metres quickly and quietly, but as I got to within 80m of the release pen I dropped my speed to dead slow, checking through the bare brushwood with every step and hoping that the barking would continue. The younger animal was in too dense a thicket to make stalking him viable, and I realised that I would have to get past him in order to reach the more open coppice where the deeper voice was coming from.
With infinite care and in total silence I passed the thicket and from the edge of the coppice I searched systematically with my binoculars, eventually catching a flicker of movement some 70m away through the bare hazel stems.
It was the old buck, walking around in a circle, barking as he did so. Cautiously I raised my rifle on the sticks, waited for him to come broadside and squeezed the trigger. At the explosion all barking stopped and the wood went quiet again. It was the end of the line for that veteran old buck, with his torn ears and scarred face, but it was a triumph for me, and it remains one of my most memorable stalks at this fascinating quarry.
Who is our author Graham Downing ?
Graham Downing is a regular contributor to Shooting Times and The Field, and is editor of ‘Deer’, the magazine of the British Deer Society. He is a Vice President of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Shooting Consultant to the Countryside Alliance. He is a passionate muntjac stalker and is author of ‘Stalking Muntjac – a complete guide’ published by Quiller Books.