For any keen Aussie deer hunter waiting for the rut is like a kid waiting for Christmas, it seems like it will never come. The countless hours spent day dreaming of grunting bucks and roaring stags just seems to make the weeks drag out as that sacred time of year draws closer. But finally it was here, it was the 2nd of April and after an early knock off from work on the coast the old Landcruiser was following its nose back to the hills where I grew up and the fallow deer call home.
My good mate Steve was down from Cape York for yet another fallow rut and he had arrived a couple of days earlier and had been hunting with my cousin Ross. The boys had been in to the action already and as I rolled into camp up on the mountain that night there were three racks of antlers hanging in the tree, a lovely spotted skin rolled up and salted in the corner and a venison casserole simmering away in the camp oven. Both Steve and Ross had opened the account with nice young bucks and just on dark that evening Ross had spotted a gnarly old buck bedded in a patch of timber in the open country. A good stalk put him in position 30 meters off the buck and as he got to his feet a single well placed arrow put him on the deck. The old boy had plenty of character with a wicked guard tine on one side but unfortunately a smashed up palm on the other.
That night was absolute bliss as we sat around the campfire yarning and having a few beers while listening to bucks croaking in the valley below. This is the sort of stuff that can’t be measured in Douglas points. The bucks croaked hard all night but shut up shortly after dawn and we spent the next morning doing a fair bit of legwork up and down the mountains trying to locate bucks. We saw plenty of deer but the wind was up to its usual tricks and we were beaten on every stalk and returned back to camp just as the heavens opened up. Packing up camp in the rain we only just made it out before the tracks became impassable in the wet.
The next few days were spent hiding from the rain as we copped over 150mm for the weekend, Steve and I had shifted camp out to another property and awoke one morning to find the creek behind camp a raging torrent and our access in and out of the property cut off. Ross came out for an overnight hunt and had to paddle his gear across in a canoe. Despite the weather we were still seeing plenty of deer and although the bucks were quiet both Steve and I came very close to sealing the deal on good bucks.
I had clean missed a nice buck after rattling him in to fifteen metres and having my arrow deflect off a stick while Steve had been within 60 meters of the same big menil buck twice but just couldn’t make it to his comfortable shooting distance. The buck was holding out in some pretty open country near camp and getting in those final few meters to effective bow range was proving difficult. He would have been easy game with the rifle but for now all Steve had was photos and video of the big fella on the hoof. After yet another morning of being outsmarted by the deer we decided to pack up camp and give the property a break for a few days before returning for another crack later in the week.
That afternoon back at home Steve and I decided to take it easy and go shoot a few rabbits with the .22, just as we were leaving the car I said to Steve “Better grab the bow mate, you never know a buck could start up at any time”. And sure enough as the afternoon wore on and we were potting a few bunnies off the warrens down on the flats a series of deep throaty grunts echoed down off the hill behind. After half an hour or so the croaks were loud and constant and it was simply too much to resist, we had to go have a look.
Steve was wearing a blue shirt so I quickly swapped him for my khaki one and we set off up the hill to where the grunts were coming from. With the sun in our eyes and roos and does spooking everywhere I thought we had no hope of getting the drop on this buck as we tramped up the hill to where we had heard the last grunt. But as luck would have it we stopped for a breather up on top and heard a grunt close by, seconds later I spotted a cracker of a buck only 100 metres away in a thick patch of casuarinas with six does.
The wind was good so we sat quietly for a minute and tried a few rattles but he wasn’t interested and continued to do the rounds of his does and scrapes in the patch of casuarinas grunting steadily. Steve decided to push out a bit wider in the thicker timber up on the hill and stalk in above the bucks rutting stand. He moved slowly and made good ground to about 60 meters off the buck then finally all the stars aligned.
The six does seemed to have had enough of being chased around and headed off up the hill into the thicker timber in single file with the buck bringing up the rear, their path took them to within 30 meters of Steve and he was ready with an arrow on the string. Steve waited patiently as the first does came filing past and as the buck appeared I saw Steve draw back and moments later heard the tell-tale thump of an arrow hitting home. The deer scattered into the timber while I quickly moved up to where Steve was, and as I was asking how the hit looked we heard sticks and rocks crashing and looked up to see the buck down and out only 50 meters away up the hill. You beauty!
He was a great buck and Steve’s best to date, just goes to show if you spend enough time in the bush sometimes things go your way…. and maybe camo is overrated! It was now the 8th of April and the rut was just starting to heat up as the nights got colder. We had some awesome walks in the bush over the next few days with multiple bucks croaking around us, chasing does, fighting and coming to our calls. I had plenty of chances at reasonable bucks coming well within range but nothing had really stood out yet so I let them walk. I did however manage to take a nice big sow one morning with a single arrow from 20 meters which was a nice bonus.
On the second last day we headed back out to the property where we were earlier in the week and that afternoon I found myself looking over a scene of absolute rutting mayhem. I was on a cleared plateau on top of a scrubby hill and before me there were no less than sixty deer with four mature bucks all rutting hard. Bucks were croaking in their scrapes, chasing does, mounting does and fighting off spikers and young bucks that strayed into their territory.
I had hidden myself in some timber on the edge of the cleared country and watched as does, fawns and spikers made their way within meters of me totally oblivious to my presence. Then a beautiful buck with exceptionally long antlers crossed the flat towards me and walked past in the open at 70 meters before checking a few scrapes and heading back out into the action, and all I could do was watch and wait.
The afternoon wore on and I got trapped by deer feeding all around me but the two biggest bucks were rutting on the other side of the plateau and I needed to make a move. Finally just as the sun set the does that had me pinned down moved off and gave me a chance to back out and get down over the side of the hill out of sight. I sprinted flat out around the hill and came up and over the top where the dominant buck had been rutting.
I had been watching this buck all afternoon, he was a very big bodied deer in great condition and looked a treat with his thick, rut-swollen neck and almost velvety black coat. His antlers weren’t as long as the other buck but they were thick and heavy and he was definitely boss of the mountain. I wanted him.
I moved in quickly using a small patch of timber between me and the buck and his grunts grew louder and louder until it felt like he was right next to me. Cautiously poking my way through the scrub I saw the buck standing in his scrape only 30 meters away, just as I was getting ready to draw back the doe that the buck had been courting all afternoon made a break for it and ran off over the hill with the buck in hot pursuit.
I could hear the buck grunting again a couple of hundred meters down the hill in the timber so he must have bailed up the doe again. I thought about going down there after him but decided to wait on his scrape, I had watched the buck hold this spot against all comers all afternoon and figured he wouldn’t give it up easy so I knocked an arrow and hid behind a tree a few meters from his main rut pad.
The sun disappeared to a faint glow in the west and the stars were coming out yet the buck still hadn’t returned. A few deer walked past a bit further out and I noticed their outlines were blurry and I was having trouble seeing my sight pins, if he didn’t come back in the next few minutes I would have to admit defeat. Just as I was about to get up and go I noticed a dark shape ghosting across the flat towards me. It was the buck… and he was coming back to his scrape.
My heart was pumping as the buck got closer and when he was about 20 meters out I drew back, he kept coming and finally stopped dead broadside right in the middle of his scrape ten meters away. I never saw the arrow hit but I heard it, and more importantly the buck could only manage a short 20 meter dash before going down. I had him.
Leaving the buck where he was I decided to return in the morning to get some better photos and recover the trophy. I was one happy hunter in camp that night as I retold the story to Steve, who had another close encounter with the big menil buck but once again the buck had given him the slip. That night as we drifted off to sleep a buck was grunting hard just across the flat from camp and was still going as we arose bleary eyed at dawn and geared up for our final day in the bush.
I was headed back to recover my buck from the evening before and my path along the edge of the flat took me straight towards the buck that had been grunting all night. The buck fell silent as I got close and I thought maybe I had been winded as the breeze was swirling pretty bad but I kept going and moments later I spotted the buck just as he started croaking again. It was the big menil fella and he had a single doe bailed up in a fallen tree and was going off his head. I was already happy with what I had but he was a very impressive deer and I couldn’t resist having a crack. I could only close the gap to around 70 meters before I ran out of cover so I knocked an arrow and waited.
I didn’t have to wait long before the doe made a break for it and bolted in my direction with the buck in hot pursuit, they both came tearing past within spitting distance but the buck took no heed to my frantic doe calls and never slowed up enough to offer a clean shot. I thought I had lucked out on this one but then moments later I got a second chance.
The doe had managed to give the buck the slip by scrambling through a hole in a fence that the buck couldn’t fit through with his long antlers, so he was momentarily by himself and running around frantically grunting and looking for another lover. I quickly moved forward a few meters and crouched down behind a fallen log and gave a couple of soft doe calls.
The buck stopped grunting, took one look in my direction and came trotting straight over covering the hundred meters between us in a matter of seconds, I drew back as he went behind the log and as he slowed to fast walk and came around the other side I steadied my aim on the point of his shoulder and released. The arrow hit hard and the buck was down in seconds.
I took a moment to sit on the log and take it all in. It’s hard to describe how lucky I felt to be able to spend a week in the Aussie bush with good mates and experience moments like this, at the end of the day we all have huge respect for these fine animals and harvesting one is a privilege. The next day as I began the four hour drive back to the coast and the daily grind there was only one thing going through my head… it’s going to be a long twelve months ‘til next April!