Happy snap: Ariel, out of hunting gear before she heads home again, with Mick. Capturing the moment on camera was secondary to the memory.

Something special about the hunt

The object isn’t always to put something on the ground. Sometimes that’s secondary to the hunt, because hunting is many things. More than killing an animal. The hunt on this still and cool Sunday evening was about dad and daughter.

Ariel rarely gets to stay for long when she visits, so we’ve only been hunting a couple of times. She wanted to this time, so we took the last few hours of her stay and went stalking up the back creek. Goats, pigs, foxes, even deer live up there, and we weren’t fussy.

I’ve never shot the deer on my place. They’re few and far between, and it wouldn’t hurt if their numbers grew a little before I started. That’s my management plan. A mate spent a couple of afternoons up there a month ago, and he found not just the two does I knew were around, but the new fawn and a spiker. The known population has doubled.

Hunting with Ariel, though, was a special ocassion, and I’d bend my rules. We’d once been deer stalking together but without success. It’d be nice to have a successful hunt today, be it goats, pigs, foxes or deer.

We stalked the creek in the late arvo sun, which warmed our backs as a light breeze cooled our faces. Ariel is a bit of a natural, moving quietly, moving carefully, glassing regularly and staying alert. She has good ears, too, and detected something moving nearby, though we never saw it. She saw sign and learned quickly from it.

A wallaby’s tail-slap on riverstones sounded almost like a gunshot in the steep valley of the creek. That flushed the deer. The two does and the new fawn spooked, scrambling briefly into view and out again. We sat and waited, but that was all, and as cold and darkness slowly filled the valley we walked back. More wallabies – tail slaps and fleeting glimpses. And maybe the rustle of deer disappearing into the scrub. Too dark to be sure.

There’s no point whispering when you’re no longer hunting, so we chatted. We don’t get to do that much these days, especially somewhere as beautiful as this. The conversation meandered as it does in the bush: a movie, how to avoid tripping when you can’t see the ground properly, a vegetarian friend’s Facebook posts, the ringtails and brushtails that’ll be out soon.

“Deer,” I said as we stepped out of the dry creek and into the big clearing. Out of the trees, there was enough light to see the ghost-pale buck prancing across. He fell to a shot through the middle of his chest. It was the spiker.

Ariel was full of conflict. She knows hunting; she’s eaten venison. But this was the first of these lovely animals she’d seen killed. Its body was warm, it’s blood wet, its eyes open. She struggled a bit as I gutted it. That’s just the way it was for her, and as much as she was repelled by it, she knew she’d be fine once she got past the initial shock.

Whether she’ll ever shoot one herself is another thing. Maybe she’ll be like Anne, leaving the pretty deer to me while she aims for pigs, foxes and other nasty ferals. We’ll see.

I thought back to the first time I’d taken Ariel out for a meal, when she was about 10. She ordered her favourite, lamb chops, and was horrified that I ordered kangaroo. “You can’t eat Skippy!” she said. But when the juicy slices of roo arrived, she couldn’t resist: “Can I try some?” And then: “Can we swap?”

After we heaved the deer’s carcass into the ute, I realised I hadn’t got a photo. I hadn’t captured a major milestone in the history of my property – the taking of our first deer. Ah, but putting something on the ground isn’t the most important part of all hunts. The milestone had become a detail on a hunt made special by a daughter’s company.




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.