It was the first hunt of the year Leon and Blake were keen to gain a meat animal before concentrating on the master stag.
‘You should have come to William’s birthday party’, my wife said as she walked in the door; ‘Peter was there and he had some news for you, you have to ring him.’ I had already wished William happy birthday and sitting around listening to 50 screaming kids running around and jumping on air castles holds no appeal for me what so ever so I had gladly stayed home.
A phone call to Peter certainly was good news for he had seen five deer the night before the birthday party while out chasing foxes in his back paddock. He wasn’t a deer hunter but my suspicions were that they were Sambar as the area is in the heart of their range; Peter didn’t know what breed they were, just that they were big so that narrowed it down to either Red or Sambar; and of course I was welcome to have a crack at them.
As my freezer was devoid of any venison a hunt was organised for the following Thursday and mid-day found us navigating a very slippery track trying to get our campervan up onto a bit of flat ground, which was temptingly close but difficult to get to. Eventually we made it and while Blake settled the campervan in I dug a shallow pit for our campfire, we were definitely going to need one as snow was down to 300 metres, so the nights were going to be cold.
As I was gathering wood for the fire I couldn’t help but notice all the fresh Sambar sign, the place was littered with it. Fresh prints virtually at the campervan door led up to a preaching stand twenty metres away. Fresh droppings indicated that the deer were feeding here the previous night, in other words things were looking promising for a successful hunt.
‘You’ve bought what?’ I exclaimed as I looked in the campervan door; ‘I’ve brought a TV, a microwave and an electric heater,’ a somewhat embarrassed Blake said, ‘and the generator to run them.’ ‘Some hunter you are,’ I muttered as I went back to setting up the campfire. I had hunted this property once before and that was a few years back so the area was basically new ground to me and seeing that we still had a couple of hours left before dark we thought we would split up and explore different spots to give us a bit of a starting point for a hunt tomorrow.
We did a radio check and as we headed off I said to Blake, ‘Shoot any wild dog you come across, and if you get a deer give me a call.’ We seem to be coming across wild dogs more often these days and one encounter worth mentioning happened last year when we were deer hunting on a property a couple of kilometres up the valley. We were guiding a couple of friends from Tasmania who were keen to grass a Sambar. Seeing it was raining and late afternoon I decided our best bet would be to find a spot overlooking a likely trail and ambush a deer as they came down to feed in the paddocks.
A flash of orange-brown caught my eye and a quick look through the binoculars confirmed my suspicions; it was a wild dog. I told my hunting mate that I could call it in if he wanted to shoot it and he answered in the affirmative so I started howling like a wild dog, much to my companion’s amusement. Out of the gully it came at a brisk trot but what was more concerning was the big dog coming at a fast pace from another direction. I told Jonty to take the one on the left and I would handle the one on the right, after he had taken his shot.
It sounded like the logical way to handle the situation and I tracked my dog’s approach through the scope on my .338 magnum. 40 metres, 35 metres, 30 metres, it just kept on coming and no shot from Jonty. At 20 metres I could wait no longer, hell it was nearly in our laps, so I fired. Needless to say the dog collapsed as it ran into a 250 grain projectile coming the other way. ‘What the hell happened?’ I asked Jonty. Apparently he couldn’t get a clear shot at the dog that was advancing on his side and when I fired the dog spun on the spot and bolted. The dog I shot was an impressive size, in good nick, the property owner was bound to be pleased with the news of its demise.
Anyway back to our hunt and while Blake was going to wander along the track, to see if he could find a spot the deer were favouring, I decided to follow the tree-line along the border of the property looking for a fresh game trail. What a joke, it was proving harder not to find one as the game trails were literally everywhere, either heading up into the hills behind or over to one of the several preaching trees. A wattle tree that had been trashed by a stag had branches laying all over the place and the slots at the base of the nearby preaching tree certainly indicated a reasonable sized stag was in the area, somewhere. One game trail had heaps of fresh tracks on it so I decided to follow it up as far as it went or until I ran out of daylight.
I kept on going, heading up towards a steep gully with one side lined with clumps of blackberries, it was certainly getting quite steep and, seeing that the afternoon shadows were lengthening, I decided to do a bit of contouring and have a bit of a scout around of the area. As I neared the gully I thought to myself that the spot looked good enough to hold a deer feeding and so it was.
A light brown colour on the other side of the gully secreted away amongst the blackberries caught my eye as being out of place and a quick look through the binoculars confirmed it as a deer, a hind in fact, completely oblivious to my presence a mere 50 metres away. For once I had the luxury of having time on my side and the benefit of a handy tree to use as a rest. At the sound of the shot the hind jumped up, took a step and dropped dead, as quick as that.
Turning the radio on I informed Blake that I had a deer down and needed some help with the carry out. He had heard the shot and as it was only a single, he knew that I had deer and he was already on the way back when I contacted him. Feeling pleased with myself I crossed the gully via the deer trail, fought my way through the accursed blackberries and made my way over to the deer. It was a healthy specimen and destined to supply us with good amount of venison.
Luckily I unloaded the rifle and placed it against a tree for the next second I was rolling down the hill, after placing too much faith in a rotten branch of a downed tree and it had given way. Tucking my head in so as not to hit it on a rock, my rolling stopped when I crunched up against another downed tree. No damage done, only a bit of bark off and injured pride. Blake, coming up the gully, was suitably impressed and burst out laughing once he was assured I hadn’t killed myself. With nightfall quickly closing in we got busy with the deer and a short time after we were heading off with our venison and looking forward to a nice cup of tea and a good rest in front of the campfire. I wasn’t long out of bed after tea as I wanted to get off to an early start, I wanted to see if the deer were still frequenting the paddock, so that meant I had to be on the way well before dawn.
It snowed lightly during the night, which made it so much harder to get up early but committed I was and just on first light I was slowly picking my way along the tree-line bordering the paddocks and the forest. I was a shade disappointed when I didn’t come across any deer, but picking a game trail, heavily trod by numerous hooves I followed it away from the preaching tree and up into the hills. The tracks were getting fresher and fresher the further up I went and I loaded the rifle, expecting action at any moment, the tracks looked that good. Nearing the head of the gully I selected a nice comfy position, settled back and started looking through the binoculars, searching for any tell-tale sign that might give the deer away.
Half an hour quickly passed with no deer showing, but I knew better, all the fresh sign just screamed deer. I was certain I was in the in the right place and planned my approach to where I thought the stag would be holed up, a nice sunny spot about 100 metres away in some thick dogwood. Being unfamiliar with the area I was approaching the stag’s bed just a bit too low and ran smack into its girlfriends who certainly voiced their disapproval of my presence. Their honking was enough to tell the stag all was not well and it was long gone before I found its still warm bed under the much rubbed cherry tree. Next time I am up here hunting I will approach from a bit further up, hopefully catching it off guard.
It was getting on so I decided to hunt my way back to camp and thought I would follow its tracks down the hillside to see where they led me. Its tracks led me down the hill and I noticed the cloven hoof prints had lost their wide open appearance and had closed up, indicating it was settling down after being disturbed but there was no doubt that it would still have its guard up. The game trail led to another bedding area and a very popular one at that. No matter which way you looked it had well-travelled game trails leading to it. There must have been quite a few deer using it and no doubt it would be a great place to set up an ambush on my next trip.
The sunny side of the hill had me wandering towards it and sticks cracking off to my left caused the old heart to pick up the beat a bit but I could see nothing in the dogwood thicket. Squatting down on my haunches I was able to look under the dogwood and I wasn’t at all surprised to find the cause of the snapping sticks. At a mere 20 metres a very nervous hind was glancing around frantically trying to pick up my presence. An easy shot not taken as we already had our meat animal so I just sat and watched it for a while before its nerve broke and it bolted.
Locking all the information gained during the hunt away for future reference I made my way back to camp, satisfied with the hunt even though I didn’t collar the stag, maybe next time will be different, I will certainly have more information to work with.