At times on a hunt you have to make decisions. That’s when you pull out the stops, say “B..ger it” and forge on into the unknown. Blake Hjorth tells.
Young buck seen on previous hunt.
“B..ger it, I’m in for tomorrow morning.” That’s how this hunt started. I’d just got home from an afternoon hunt and told my brother Reid on the drive home that I wasn’t getting up at 4:30am again tomorrow morning. Not half an hour home, and I’d rung him to say that I’d be on his doorstep before sun up tomorrow. “The rut’s only here once a year, and you just never know” was what I was thinking. Besides, what else was I going to do? My reluctance was stemming from the fact that we’d been hunting solidly for 2 weeks in prime rut time and we weren’t seeing much, and more importantly, not hearing much grunting. The previous night we’d seen a few does right on dusk and waited and waited until the darkness of night told us it was time to go, all in the hope that a buck might follow them out into the semi open farmland. No such luck. Things just weren’t happening.
The alarm clock went off way too quickly, as it always does, and we were in the paddock just before the sun started to come over the nearby mountains. As we sat in the Hilux waiting for hunting light, what do you know? It started pissing down with rain. We just looked at each other; both thinking to ourselves how warm and dry our beds would be right now, but not actually saying it to each other. “B..ger it”, Reid said, “we’re here now, and it’s only water”. So on went the Ridgeline jacket and we were soon tramping up the hill with hoods on and heads down, setting off in the direction that we’d seen some young bucks previously.
This particular property has plenty of thick bush, with gullies leading down into open farmland. Our plan was to get high into the bush line and walk up and down into each gully, glassing along the way. In this type of weather the deer should be looking for shelter fairly early in the day, and we thought we might be lucky to catch one coming up the gullies after feeding in the paddocks during the night. Well, we trudged up hill and down dale, and often we just stood under a tree trying not to get too wet while we searched the opposite hill faces and into the thick brush choking the gullies with our binoculars. Nothing!
3808 Sprung! We haven’t seen these guys since.
Over the next hill we went, and as we were heading down again, some colour and movement caused us to freeze. Sure enough, on the opposite face and walking quickly, was a buck. The binos told us that this bloke was definitely a cull head and needed to be removed from the herd before he had a chance to mate this year. The problem was, he was now in the wattles and headed upwards into the thick stuff. The Tikka .270 was resting over my knees waiting for the shot but he just wasn’t giving me a chance. He didn’t know we were there, but he sure kept every tree between him and us as he meandered through the scrub. Off he went, none the wiser, and we’d got the bit of encouragement we needed to push on. It was getting on a bit now, but I said to Reid, “B..ger it, let’s keep going. We’re already wet and in this temperature we could hunt all day.”
We were now heading into an area that always holds does. Not ten minutes after we’d seen the buck, we heard what we wanted…. a big, hearty grunt coming straight from where we were headed. Jacket hoods came down quick smart so we could hear better, and we were waiting for another grunt to let us pinpoint this new buck’s position. Sure enough, he started going off. Whether it was the rain and the lower temperature, or he’d just seen some lovely does walk by, but the “rut” just started for us on this property. It always amazes me how quickly something can come from nothing in a hunt, and we were now re-energised purely because of a grunting noise coming from 3 or 4 gullies away. Funny game this deer hunting business. And now the rain was even starting to lighten up. Perfect.
We knew his general direction and headed there quickly, while making sure we weren’t pushing any kangaroos or other unseen deer in his direction. The wind was right and we made ground quickly. The closer we got, I soon figured out that he was holed up in the thick stuff. I’d shot a nice buck not too far from here a couple of years earlier, and had a shot and missed a larger buck a year before that, that we had christened “Big Brown”. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping that Big Brown had somehow returned to his old neighbourhood. At this point, this is where the weather was actually helping us. We were in the scrub and the rain had dampened the ground underfoot, which on normal days sounds like crunching cornflakes. The rain was also muffling any other noise that we were making. Not that the deer should have heard us, as this buck was not letting up on the grunting.
Approaching the fallen buck. Shot taken from about 80m back past my right elbow.
The guttural noise was echoing of the trees and the hill face and Reid and I were amped. We were close, but still not exactly sure of his location. He was moving about a bit and here in the trees, he was proving hard to lock on to. We were moving slowly, and scanning ahead with our binoculars every few steps or so. As he grunted, we moved, making sure we were stopping behind a tree each time. We topped a small rise and froze. We both saw them at the same time. A small mob of about 8 does was shifting through the trees roughly 80 metres ahead of us. They weren’t onto us, and it soon became apparent why they were on the move. Off to our right and out of a small gully came the buck grunting his head off and chasing after his ladies. He was doing well to keep them in the vicinity rather than chasing them over the hill and Reid quickly identified this as a buck he’d seen a few weeks earlier. Reid said, “It’s up to you mate. He’s a decent buck for this place”. I hadn’t shot a buck for over 2 years. B..ger it. Decision made.
The difficult part now was going to be getting him to stop long enough for a shot and not behind one of the multitude of trees. I can still picture it now. He was standing still, repeatedly throwing his head back as he grunted. I had him in the scope and his head was all I could see while the rest of his body was covered by trees and bushes. His does were above him and off to my left. I knew he’d move after them soon, so started scanning to my left for a gap to shoot through. Back to the buck and I knew that he’d give me 4 or 5 steps before I’d have to make the shot. After that, he’d be hard to hit, as he’d be weaving through the trees. He was off and he was moving quicker than I thought. He’d gone from standing still to a run in two steps. Now or never! I swung with him as he moved and let the 130gn ACP go. It was clear I’d hit him but he was still moving. There’s always that moment of doubt when you hear a hit and the animal keeps moving but I was confident of the shot. Reid…maybe not so much. “Where’d you get him?” he yelled, getting ready to start chasing on foot. I was still following him in the scope as he ran through the trees and not 30 metres later I saw him fall. “In the right spot”, I said. The bullet had hit further back than I wanted but had smashed through his liver and ribs sending the petals through his chest cavity while the shank had also expanded and punched right through and left a good, wide exit hole. He was going nowhere.
I was going to take the head for a euro mount but Reid wanted the cape, so I had a double bonus. If he wanted the cape, he was going to have to carry it. I’d just shot a nice trophy and now my brother was going to carry it all back to the car for me. A great ending to a great little hunt! As we trudged back to the car we reflected on how many times we could have pulled the pin on this hunt and gone home empty handed. It was a good lesson. The next time I think, “bugger it”, I might just give a bugger and crack on.
My “pack horse”. Doesn’t he look happy!