Hunting Chital

My mate Andrew Hargrave asked whether I would like to join him on a Chital hunt to Far North Queensland. Earlier Andrew had booked a hunt with Vince Ashe, internationally known for holding the hunting rights on one of the best Chital properties on the planet. I had never shot a deer in Australia so it took me about a millisecond to accept.

We decided to drive the 4,000 km return trip to avoid all the hassles with transporting our firearms and ammo on airlines. In any case, we also wanted to take a bunch of gear including, camera equipment, a shotty, fishing gear and a couple of big coolers to transport meat home.

That great hunter, Kermit Roosevelt (son of Theodore) wisely said: “there are three sorts and periods of enjoyment out of a hunting trip”. The first, when you plan and anticipate, the second, the hunt itself and the third is the memories created. We wondered what our coming adventure would yield.

We met Vince in Charters Towersand immediately drove out to the property, checked our rifle zeros and spent the late afternoon surveying the hunting area. There were many chital stags in all stages of antler development – a good sign.

Up at 4:30 am on the first day of our hunt and off just on dawn. I was to hunt first, but as we expected the day was mostly spent surveying the rich population of deer and checking trophy potential. Vince asked Andrew if he could take a doe for meat. Andrew quickly obliged and vince did the butchering. Our venison meals there disproved any doubts about how good chital is to eat – delicious.

The next morning scouted again, and after lunch got in some good fishing in the river. Late afternoon saw us commencing a stalk on a small bachelor herd of very promising stags. 150m out we confirmed the largest stag, although in hard velvet, would go 30-inches. We decided to pass him up for the moment as the wind was swirling and we did not want to spook them fruitlessly as we’d be after them next day.

Next morning we quickly rediscovered the herd and started a stalk, but 200m out a kangaroo spotted us and took off, alarming the herd which moved quickly into a nearby thicket.

We didn’t give up, retraced our steps and swiftly planned a long stalk utilizing Vince’s years of experience hunting. The plan was to quickly get well ahead of the now travelling herd, moving up-wind to where they may end up. With the temperature moving into the 40s, we moved through the scrub and large clearings sparsely populated with gums we encountered more roos and several cattle threatening to give the game away.

Then suddenly, well ahead of us, we saw them browsing on the edge of a large, sparsely vegetated clearing, which we would have to cross to get in a shot. They soon camped up under some low scrub and a lone gum. Vince glassed and to our amazement found it was a different herd of bachelors, all marginally smaller than our original quarry. Then to further complicate things, on cue, the original herd also appeared out of the scrub and started to browse towards us. Finally they bedded down about 450 meters from us. We were now well into our second hour of stalking surrounded mostly by open ground with little shade and it was getting very hot. This was going to be a difficult and tiring stalk. Between the stag I had now set my heart on and us were another small mob of roos lying down under a gum to our front left and just beyond that was a small herd of cattle. The new bachelor herd were to our front right. The roos had already spotted us slowly approaching and were becoming curious. Luckily, the cattle and the new bachelors were sleepy and content to just sit chewing their cud.

We knew roo, cattle and deer would spook instantly if we put a foot wrong or had a wind shift. How were we going to get through this maze? Situations like this call for patience and the collective years of hunting the three of us bought to the table. Vince suggested he guide us straight through the small corridor between roos, cattle and deer and hopefully put me in a shooting position. Andrew used his chalk dust dispenser to constantly check the wind and range finder to give us what we would need if a long shot was the only possibility.

Crash! Suddenly the silence was broken. A large limb broke off a gum 100ms to our right. Gums do that for no apparent reason at times, even without wind (i.e. never camp under a gum tree). Although it got the immediate attention of all, to our amazement, neither cattle, roos, nor deer seemed worried. After a very anxious minute or so, all went back to normal, so we continued our painstaking stalk. We were in 40 degree heat and starting to feel it regardless of the temporary relief we got from the water we carried.

Vince was concerned if we did not get a shot soon we would lose all opportunity as we could see that the sun was starting to creep around to where the deer lay and my stag would soon move to a new shady spot. Then he did exactly that. Could this stalk get any more complicated? As he moved into his new bed under the same gum I was hoping for a quick shot, but he chose to move around the tree on the far side blocking the shot and lay down in a grassy spot facing at a slight angle towards us – foiled again.

We had no choice. We had to close the distance further or shoot him in the head risking a spoilt trophy. We were still 200m out. Thankfully by now we had the other bachelor herd behind us and the cattle had started to slowly move off, but the roos were another story, now just 30m to our front left and likely to spook any second. Vince decided to try something well out of the box and threw a stick at them in the hope that they would just get the message and move off quietly. Vince’s tactic worked and they lazily moved away to another gum tree for shade; our luck was changing for the better.

We slowly closed to within 150m and it was now or never. We had been stalking in the severe heat for almost three hours. I placed my Sako 7 mm Rem Mag on a gum tree, sighted the Leupold on my stag, still partly obscured and immediately noticed I was shaking – probably the combination of all the excitement, a long stalk and the heat getting to me. However, I did have a small target window through the grass and dry sticks. As Vince whispered: “its now or never mate”, I took the shot. The 140 grain Barnes TSX hit home with a characteristic thump and the Chital stag rolled over, never getting to his feet.

On reaching my trophy it was handshakes all round and the traditional safari photos. We found that I had in fact pulled the shot to the left and because of the stag’s orientation, had taken him in the lower neck / chest and through into vital areas. Yes our luck had held. I had my first ever deer taken in Australia, a memorable and challenging stalk and an excellent trophy that will definitely go on the wall.

Back to camp and a well deserved brunch and the rest of the day was spent fishing, cooling off in the river and for me, doing some wildlife photography, which is my second love to hunting.

That afternoon Andrew was up to hunt next so we drove to the other end of the property to check on trophy potential. As the 4 x 4 bounced along the corrugated dirt track we spotted a small herd of Chital ahead. The stag seemed to be a monster with 30-inches plus mains and very long inners. We decided to retreat a good 500m and glassed to see what would eventuate from the herd’s movements. We found the herd was moving away from the clearing where we had first sighted them and into some thick bush so a stalk was quickly planned. The idea was that Vince and Andrew would approach from downwind while I set up my Nikon D 300 and try to catch as much of the action I could on camera.

After a relatively short stalk, given the mammoth events of the morning, Vince guided Andrew as close as possible to the stag and his harem. Andrew’s Mauser .30-06 topped with a Kahles scope broke the silence. A complete miss resulted due, we believe, to intervening brush. The stag and his harem immediately propped, bewildered with no idea of the source of the danger. Then the does scattered. The stag remained confused. A quick second shot from Andrew and the stag was down. Approaching the stag, we all realized just what a trophy Andrew had taken. There was no ground shrinkage on this one. As a SCI Measurer, I calculated he would go over 140 SCI and Vince added he would go around 200 Douglas. A monster by any standard. Of course Andrew was overwhelmed with joy. This was turning out to be a great day.

The safari was coming to end and we both had excellent Chital stags so on the last morning of our hunt Vince decided to wade us across the river to the “Great Basalt Wall” to recover some trail cams he had set up at a promising hunting site near a large billabong. On the trip out to where we would wade the river we witnessed two dingos hunting a herd of Chital about 700 meters from the track we were on, but soon after we started a stalk, again over mostly open ground, they lost interest in the deer and were off. I had missed an opportunity to get that dingo I had always wanted.

Reaching the river at one of the few crossings available, we waded across and after what proved to be a long walk, we reached the billabong where we found lots of feral pig and dingo sign amongst Chital tracks. Water birds were also in good quantities including black swan, ducks, shags and egrets. This was a truly beautiful place I’d like to revisit with my long lens and tripod. The photos on the cams would later prove the true potential of the area.

Vince, walking a few paces ahead, hurriedly motioned me forward and said, “Dingo, coming towards us”. I had about 10 seconds to unshoulder the Sako before the dingo rounded a fallen gum and, to her surprise, spotted us – Bang. The 7mm Rem Mag is a lot of gun for a dingo, especially at 30m and what proved to be a old bitch, fell in her tracks without a movement. She was much smaller than the monster dogs I had spotted on a trip to The Territory, but I now had a dingo to complement my first Chital stag. Vince did his thing with the knife as dingos have a $150 reward on their head in QLD.

On the way back to camp Vince suggested that I take a second stag for the skin and cape. I did not take long to agree and after a relatively short stalk on a representative trophy feeding on lush green grass along the river bank I had my second Chital stag.

That night we had a great dinner of freshly caught fish and of course, chips.

We rose at 5am the next morning to witness a great sunrise and quickly got on the road back home. Kermit Roosevelt’s philosophy became a reality again as Andrew and I recounted those wonderful days of hunting in Far North QLD on our 2000km journey south and considered possibilities for our next trip.

This article was first published in Sporting Shooter Magazine May 2013




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