This morning’s dawn was brief but beautiful, a pleasant distraction as I walked away from the car and into the bush, loading the rifle as I went. I yawned as my legs warmed up to the exercise. It was the earliest I’d been up in about a month and the first walk I’d done in a week.
I carried the Schultz in case there were pigs about. Using it would be a bonus, though, because first and foremost I wanted to see what was happening in one of my favourite deer-stalking haunts.
The benefit of seasonal deer hunting, and the enforced lay-off during the current off-season, is having no pressure to actually hunt. Scouting is a very different thing, done with a mindset where the only shooting you do is with the camera.
Heading over into the first gully, I spotted a doe in trees at the bottom. She looked out, on alert. Then I saw the pair of wedge-tailed eagles on the ground about 50m from her. They worried her. Maybe she had a fawn in there.
I headed around and down, scaring away the birds but coming in above the fallow so she didn’t spook until I was just 30m from her. She bolted at the last minute, again making me think she had a fawn tucked away, so I quietly looked around. But no, nothing.
Skirting roos and sheep (isn’t it amazing how close you can get to both when they’re quiet and not treated badly?), I worked my way along the hills to the far gully and saw two deer coming up from the very bottom after feeding on the open ground beyond. As I moved further, I found one more at my height, feeding. He seemed alone but as I crept closer his mate jumped from beneath a thick bush, but after a few seconds of confusion they stood nervously for a while until I decided to move on.
A big fella, his velvet antlers just beginning to take shape, was eating among thicker scrub only 30m further around. I watched him for a while, then moved down to photograph the ones coming up from below.
I’d been sitting on the hillside for a minute or two when whoosh! A wedge-tail treated me to a low pass from behind, swooping straight over my head and then wheeling high above.
He did it a couple of times before settling in a tree on the ridge and screeching, which got the deer right on edge. They were soon gone.
I took the hint and left, too, another couple of hours in the Aussie bush imprinted in my memory.