It was late March, the flight to Victoria was a good one and my mate John picked me up and took me home. Sort of like a lost puppy, as I am hopeless in airports and towns and get lost really easy. Having his vehicle packed with all camping gear we would need for a week in the bush, early the following morning we set off to hunt the mighty southern red deer.
This was going to be a great article with pictures of me sitting behind a monster red stag, but unfortunately things just didn’t pan out that way at all. Our days were long and sign was pretty thin on the ground until the third day when fresh prints were found. Later that day we spotted a massive red stag running through thick timber that left no chance of a shot. That evening I spotted him again at around 300yards for all of five seconds, looking like a horse with a tree on his head; I was hooked. Four days we hunted that big fella with no luck. We walked for him, sweated on spots he had frequented, but with no results. On our last day there, while waiting at a spot overlooking a large expanse of good country, John decided to take a short walk. Bugger me if he didn’t walk onto an at least 16-point red stag walking at around 150yards from him. Getting back to me as quickly as possible, we made haste getting to where he was seen, but it just wasn’t to be. He was well and truly gone.
The fallow spot John had been saving and watching was a no go too, as there had recently been poachers right through the place by the amount of tracks we saw. It was one of those trips when things just didn’t go right. My time with John on his patch was still very enjoyable, as you don’t have to shoot something to have a good time. One night over a drink or two to drown our sorrows a plan was hatched for John to have a hunt for a chital with me. My only hope was that he would get to see a few deer and get a chance for a shot at one, as John had never hunted chital before.
Fast forward to early May. Arriving at our campsite, it didn’t take us long to get sorted and into our hunting clothes. Leaving my rifle locked away at camp, the camera was my weapon of choice as I hoped to be able to get a few reasonable photos of some chital and hopefully a dead one with John sitting behind it with a big grin. That afternoon a few hinds were spotted feeding in the last hour of sunlight. Knowing that the stags would come out later than the hinds, we snuck into a good vantage spot and waited to see what would eventuate. Pretty soon, four or five young stags came out of the thick timber and started feeding alongside the hinds. If a big stag was with this group he would be coming out soon. John had his Weatherby .270 at the ready, but nothing more came out from the timber. At least, John got to see some chital and even a few young stags that were play fighting in the last rays of sunshine. They are a magnificent looking animal and just to be able to watch them going about their daily routine is absolutely great.
The following morning after checking the wind, a long walk was undertaken and a few hinds and a spiker were spotted, but no big stags. Approaching the car, next minute a stag gave a warning squeal, amazing, we were nearly to the vehicle and a stag was walking past it and being quite vocal. On looking closer, the tracks showed that a few animals had walked past the vehicle and seeing as the wind was right we followed them through the thick Wilga. Finding a spot where a stag had peed, the pace was slowed to one step forward, look around, another step and so on until a group of deer were spotted amongst some wilga and pines. Watching them intently it appeared to be a group of around five stags in varying stages of antler growth. Some were hard and one was in early velvet. After looking for more than half an hour it was decided that John would shoot a small stag for meat, so at least he would have a deer on the ground as it would be a shame to see him go home without shooting a chital at all. Sneaking in slowly, John crawled from tree to tree until he was in a good position; trouble was the selected deer had bedded down. All this time, not being game to move, I had been standing virtually in the open, dressed in my Blackfoot camo shirt with Aus Cam pants, face net and gloves; this camo really does work well. Waiting and waiting there was no opportunity to shoot, so I indicated that I would whistle and when the stag lifted his head to see what the noise was, John might get a shot. A sharp whistle, the head popped up and bang flop, the stag was down and dead. Moving over to where the now very dead stag lay we noticed a tree with a bullet hole through it? Amazing, there was a tree right in front of the stag and John only had eyes for the deer after watching it for nearly an hour, luckily the 140grain Barnes TSX projectile went through the tree hitting the stag right where he aimed, killing it instantly. Photos and all meat we could salvage from the stag taken, it was a very short carry out.
The following day, hunting hard and not having much luck, suddenly a small herd of deer were spotted walking through some pines. An 800yard stalk got us close but the deer it seemed had all disappeared, then a stag was spotted coming through a bit of an opening in the trees. It had nice shaped antlers and was quite heavy for his length. It wasn’t any monster but John whispered that it had all its points and looked beautiful to him and least he would have a representative head to take home and we still had time to hunt for a better one later. A short stalk brought John to within a reasonable distance, but the stag had disappeared into the trees. Next thing he sees an antler and the stag walked into a clear spot. The boom of the 270WTBY Mag echoed across the flat and instead of falling like it was supposed to, the stag took off leaving John wondering what had happened and where had he really hit it? Then after 50yards the stag fell down and he was a relieved man. Putting another shot into the stag to make sure, a pair of relieved hunters walked up to this magnificent animal.
He was beautiful and John was over the moon, immediately he got me to take a photo of him with the stag on his phone to send home to his grandson. Five minutes later he received a call saying, “Good on you Pop, you shot Mr. Chital” A long photo session followed, then the stag was caped and as much meat as possible taken for the four km walk back to the truck. Finding a good shady tree along the way, the packs, cape and meat were left there as it was still another three or more K’s to the vehicle and we would be able to drive nearly right to where the tree was. The rest of the day was spent finishing capes and salting them down before time for our afternoon hunt rolled around. That arvo we tried a new spot and got into a position where the hills could be watched for deer. It wasn’t long before we spotted some hinds out feeding. Amazing how they can be there right in front of you yet you don’t see them until they move. Just goes to show that movement is the main thing that will give you away other than scent or noise.
Watching for some time, it was ascertained that there were ten or twelve hinds but no stags. All we could do was wait and in hindsight we should have moved closer. “Look at that mate” I exclaimed to John. There above the hinds a massive stag had walked out, his antlers were higher than his back while his head was down feeding and they were thick. Bloody hell, we should have been closer not sitting 500yards away. Waiting where I was, John stalked down the hill and through a couple of gullies getting to within approx 250yards from where the stag had come out, but he could no longer see him. Then the unthinkable happened, a small mob of goats walked straight into John and took off in fright, scaring the deer away with them. It being nearly dark, we headed forlornly back to the truck and then back to camp.
Up early for the last morning we decided to sneak in, in the dark and sweat on the same deer to hopefully be feeding back towards the scrub line. As the sun slowly rose, throwing its vibrant glow over the panoramic landscape before us, immediately deer were spotted. Unfortunately they were all hinds, after waiting some hours, still no stag showed so we decided to head back seeing as it was now 9-15am. Walking back, talking and doing the wrong thing, as the hunt ain’t over until your back at the truck, we were right in the open when deer were spotted running towards us from the far hills. Sitting down and watching, two hinds and a spiker ran past us, stopped, had a look then kept going. Then another couple of small stags came down the hill, I said to John that I would shoot one for meat and cape if they came close enough. At around 300yards from us they stopped and one was broadside on, so leaning over my knee, at the squeeze of the trigger a 100grain Nosler sped toward the unsuspecting stag. Bang, flop, it happened that quick, one second he was standing there, the next he was down and dead on the spot. The .257Weatherby flattened it like it had been hit by lightening. Bugger, more caping and cutting up of meat and a big hill to carry all the meat up, but it was a good way to finish off the last half hour of the last hunt on the last day.
Well, unfortunately John didn’t get to take a monster stag, but he did have a great time seeing new country and some new deer and hopefully took a few great memories home with him.