A Queensland Royal
By Tony Kamphorst
There’s always something special about seeing new country and the anticipation was high as the ‘cruiser climbed its way steadily up the winding spurs and ridges of the Brisbane Valley. I was following the tailgate of Sid’s Hilux and getting keener by the minute as his voice crackled over the radio and started rattling off place names and landmarks that I had only ever heard talked about around campfires down in fallow country. It had been three years since I had heard a red stag roar and it was great to be back in this iconic Queensland deer country with some good mates and a whole week in the bush ahead of us.
We pulled up at the hut and settled in, a few of the other blokes were already there and it wasn’t long before the esky was getting a work out and conversation was flowing. Being the 25th of March it was early days yet and the stags had only been letting out the odd roar, but it was also the time of year when things could change overnight and a stag could turn up anywhere. That afternoon we went for a drive and Sid showed us the lay of the land to give us a feel for where we would be hunting over the next few days.
The next morning we woke before dawn and stood on the verandah of the hut listening to the distant moans of two stags somewhere out in the darkness. Sid dropped my mate Steve and I off for a walk and we hunted a couple of likely looking gullies. A few hinds were spotted and we heard a stag let out a roar late in the morning across the gully but the wind was wrong so we left him alone and returned to the hut for a feed and a midday snooze. Later that afternoon Sid went and checked a game camera he had set up on a wallow in a gully not far from the hut, there were over three hundred photos of deer on the camera in the last four weeks and it showed a big double six had been using the wallow for the last few days. He was a beautiful animal and we decided right there and then he was worth putting in a bit of time for.
That afternoon we sat on a hill overlooking the gully where the wallow was, a small group of hinds fed out of the timber into the open country and a spiker appeared just on sunset but the big stag never showed. We waited until dark then backed out quietly without disturbing any of the deer. With the mob of hinds in the area we figured the big double six wouldn’t be far away, so the next morning we were back up on the hill overlooking the gully watching and waiting.
The weather had come in and we sheltered under a couple of big box trees as clouds of misty rain and fog blew in from the south. It wasn’t long before we spotted the mob of hinds from the evening before as they appeared out of a depression in the open country and started making their way up the hill back to the timber. I was watching the hinds through my binoculars when I picked up a much darker, larger bodied animal trotting down the ridge towards them. “That’s him” said Sid quietly as the big double six strutted down the hill to his harem. Even at 450 metres, well out of range, he was an impressive sight.
The mob milled around out on the open ridge for a while then moved off into the timber out of sight. We couldn’t do much from where we were as the wind was marginal and we had three hundred metres of open ground to cross. In the end we chose to back out and come back in the afternoon from a different direction and try and catch the mob as they moved out of the timber for their afternoon feed. The sight of the big stag stuck in my mind for the rest of the day.
That afternoon the clouds had cleared and Sid and I walked in to a spot where we could watch the timber line where we hoped the mob would feed out and offer us a shot on the big stag. We had been sitting for half an hour or so when I got up for a stretch and spotted the stag already bedded down way out in the open. The mob must have moved back out into the open country earlier in the afternoon when the weather cleared up and had been hidden from sight the whole time behind the hill.
With the wind good we circled around and used the lay of the land to get within about 400 metres. Sid stayed back and I dropped my pack and began the stalk with just my 30-06 and rangefinder. The mob was down in a shallow gully which allowed me to keep out of sight and gain good ground to about 250 metres. I really wanted to get a bit closer if I could so keeping most of the hinds out of sight down in the depression and keeping a careful eye on which way the stag was looking I began crawling closer.
Soon I was on my stomach pushing my rifle ahead of my and slowly grovelling my way closer. Finally I reached the point where it was too risky to push my luck any further as the grass was only about a foot high and I was now in full view of the stag and all eight hinds. The rangefinder read 168 metres, that would have to do. I was starting to second guess my decision to crawl out in the open as there was nowhere for me to take a steady rest, I had left my pack behind and the grass was about a foot high so my only option was to prop myself up on my elbows and take the shot prone. The adrenaline had set in big time, my heart was going like the clappers and the crosshairs were shaking like a leaf.
I didn’t want to shoot the stag bedded down so I waited for an nervous twenty minutes, face down in the damp grass trying not to think about the fact that I was lining up the red stag of a lifetime. Finally the stag tossed his antlers around a couple of times then stood up for a stretch. This was it. I took a deep breath, took a wobbly aim at his shoulder and pulled the trigger.
“BOOM…. WHUMP”. It looked good, the stag took the hit and stumbled forward out of sight. I kept watch over the gully and next thing I saw was the hinds trotting over the ridge out of sight…. and the stag following them. Shit! He was on the move but looking pretty groggy. I quickly moved up to where the stag had disappeared over the rise and spotted him just as he was walking into the heavy timber. Throwing the rifle to my shoulder a quick offhand shot dropped him on the spot. What a relief.
The stag was classic twelve pointer with awesome long tines and great mass all the way to his tops. A proper royal. But it wasn’t just blind luck that a stag of this quality had turned up here. It was the result of twenty years of deer management and a lot of hard work from a group of blokes with a real passion for red deer. Culling poor heads, introduction of new bloodlines and letting good young stags grow out were all part of it, and most importantly a property owner who valued the deer on his land. The stag was a great example of all this and I knew it was a real privilege to take him.
After a late night of celebrations at the hut it was time to focus on getting Steve a stag. We put in plenty of miles over the next few days and saw a few deer but the weather was still unseasonably warm and the stags were keeping pretty quiet. On the fifth day Sid, Steve and I were crossing a small creek out the back when I thought I heard a stag moan further down the gully. The wind wasn’t ideal but the stag sounded close so we headed off down the creek in his direction and sure enough he let out another low roar five minutes later. Sid was the first to spot him, only about a hundred metres away standing dead still amongst the timber looking in our direction. We could only see parts of his antlers through the trees but he looked heavy and long, a mature animal. “If you can see him, take him” said Sid as Steve rested his Sako 30-06 across his knees and closed the bolt.
The stag was hidden behind a couple of stringybarks and it was a tense couple of minutes as we waited for him to move. Suddenly a lone hind broke cover between us and the stag and he immediately trotted down the hill towards us to follow her. The stag stopped front on at around 80 metres and Steve took his shot, hitting the stag perfectly in the centre of the chest. The stag made a short dash and went down, he was a great nine point bush head with plenty of character and Steve was stoked. After a few photos Steve and I skinned the stag out and took the meat and head while Sid went and got the vehicle to save us a heavily loaded walk out.
For the last few days we left the rifles at camp and spent our mornings and afternoons stalking with the cameras. The stags were starting to fire up and I had some great close encounters with deer, saw a couple of good stags and some young ones with good potential. It was a great week in the bush, not just for the hunting but also for the good times had around camp with a bunch of great blokes. It’s a special time of year and something I will never get sick of doing.