This story should have been written nearly 50 years ago, but although I’ve told it to several of my friends, for some reason it never got into print. It concerns my experience with an unknown species of deer (a stag) I encountered in the Victoria
Alps back in 1971. In an area high above the Howqua, that Len Richardson called Eagle’s Peak. On a number of occasions Len and I camped in the Howqua and I drove up a steep mountainside in my old short wheel-base Tojo for a few miles and hunted all along the ridgetops. I also climbed up there on foot at different times on my lonesome. It was one helluva drag, but in those days I was a lot younger and very fit.
There was a wallow up there that I used to stake out, and adjacentto which I bagged two sambar stags. But in mid-1971 some time in late July, as I can best recall. I set up camp in the same spot and hiked “up top.” It was a nice sunny morning and I circled a steep little gorge and sat down to rest and look and listen.
Suddenly I heard a flock of white cockatoos squawking and carrying on somewhere on the other side of that rocky little gorge. Obviously something – animal or human – had caught their attention. The birds are a darn nuisance when you are stalking sambar for if they spot you they’ll raise a harsh cacaphony of noise alerting every deer within hearing to your presence, spooking them.
To my great surprise, no sooner had the cockatoos started up, than I heard a deer start roaring from across the gorge. The sound was loud and unlike anything I’d ever heard emitted by any kind of deer anywhere I’ve hunted. I tried to imitate the sound made by the deer, and we kept roaring forth and back for several minutes. Suddenly, he stopped roaring and didn’t reply to my next roar. By now I was intrigued and wanted to discover what kind of deer he was, The little gorge between us was too rocky and steep to cross so I decided to work around the top of it and get closer. I started pussy footing up the slope, but had only covered about 50 metres when I caught a whiff of strong scent, looked up and saw the deer, a stag, walking around the side of the slope above me. We were both caught by surprise. He stopped standing side-on and looked at me. My rifle was slung on my shoulder and I had no time to get it into action, in any case I was too busy eyeballing the deer.
I’d never seen a deer like this one before, but got a good look at him before he turned and went bounding away. He was out of sight over the ridgetop before I could react. The large dark stag was stockier than a sambar, but the same dark brown colour shading to yellowish brown on the lower parts. But the strangest thing was: he had a mane like a horse and a tail more like that of a donkey than a deer. The antlers were of the sambar type, yet the conformation seemed somehow different.
Not long after I first met him, Len Richardson had often spoke about the “big black rusa” he’d hunted in the country “back of Mount Torbreck”. He said that during the rut they made the mountains ring with their loud roars and how unlike sambar they gathered large harems of hinds. He had a set of antlers on the wall but they didn’t resemble any rusa antlers I’d ever seen. They were more like sambar except that the inner tines at the top were longer than the outer tines. He also showed me a photo of one of the “rusa” stags he’d shot and it had a long mane and a long tail. The antlers resembled those of the deer I sighted on Eagle’s Peak.
You can read the whole fascinating story of this mystery deer species in the June issue of Sporting Shooter magazine, on the news stands very soon.