As the wind screamed through the pines, I was thinking about how amazing it was to be out hunting with my man, and having the opportunity to possibly get a red stag in the roar. We had arrived at our accommodation in good time for an evening hunt, and cruised up to a nearby valley. My rifle hadn’t had an outing in far too long, but anticipation was high. On our way up the hill we spotted a mob of wild pigs which lifted our spirits significantly.
We found a position to glass from, and one of the guys spotted a hind in the distance. As Jimmy started to take a video, a stag came running from behind a tree and mated with her. It was so unexpected, and the commentary on the footage so frank that we were laughing about it for ages. Settled on top of a knob, we let out a few roars and glassed the nearby valley.
We were pretty relaxed and left the rifles in the grass as we moved about to check out different faces and guts. Suddenly, a stag ran across 30m downhill from us. He was obviously a bit spooked, and his ears moved rapidly. He was a 6-pointer, and we were trying to coax Jimmy into position for a photo when the stag leapt the fence. Our evening was off to a great start! As the evening progressed we saw a few meat animals; a couple of spikers that were nice and close and a hind with her yearling.
As the temperature dropped and the light left us, we headed back to the quad. We were feeling elated, and distant roars built our anticipation for tomorrow.
Day two had us up before the crack of dawn, with Jimmy menacing us with the camera for an early morning movie. After a good cooked breakfast and almost getting over the shock of forgetting coffee, we were away. The wind was still very strong, but a fairly sunny day emerged.
The day was spent being led on a wild goose-chase by stags that roared from amongst thick scrub and gorse, but remained unseen. Whenever we let out a moan in reply, the stag seemed to move off. We tracked him over ridge after ridge, spending the whole day sneaking down tracks and through pine trees. Whoever said that hunting on private land was easy hadn’t been here! I had not been on a decent walk like this in months and months, and as the day wore on I became pretty tired! Unfortunately my torn calf muscle twinged again too, and trying to walk with a shortened stride on one leg was exhausting. After the whole day back and forth across ridges, hearing him roar but never seeing him, following his movements through gullies and along faces, we decided to go to a nearby hut for a nap before re-checking the very shootable gully nearby.
The only animals we saw all day were a hind, yearling and spiker that we met on the track, photographing them before they melted into the trees.
The hut was run-down and grotty, and the mattress smelled like diesel. It was a shame, because with a new fireplace, a bloody good clean and a coat of paint it could have been brilliant. To make it worse, there was a mummified startling gaping beneath the bed. The three of us fell pretty soundly asleep after a feed of crackers and noodles. We were a bit dehydrated after the day in the wind and sun, and felt a bit better after a rest. As we approached the nearby basin, there was a stag moan from beneath us. We felt the anticipation come up again, as the stag we had chased the whole day was positioned just below us somewhere. However, it was not to be, as he soon moved off to our left. He let out a good roar from back down in the further gully, and suddenly a shot rang out. We were very alarmed. ‘Well that sounded bloody close!!’
‘That had to have been on this property, suppressed rifle!’ Shortly afterwards, a quadbike started up in the distance. We looked at each other, and decided to abandon our evening hunt and call the owner. He knew we were hunting and we doubted that he would be out doing the same with us around. Getting hold of him at home confirmed that we were most likely dealing with poachers. The worst thing was that we didn’t know where they were, but we suspected that they had been after the same stag we were trying to roar in.
We decided to try to find them and take photos for evidence, so took the quad down the track a bit before stopping to listen. I raised my binos to the hills.
‘There are three men sitting on that hill, I think!’
There they were, on the skyline of the neighbour’s hill paddock bordering the farm we were on. Three men, sitting evenly spaced. I had far more luck spotting people than deer on this trip!
As our quad approached the foot of the hill the men were on, we could see one man up walking towards the others. Upon seeing us, they all immediately got up and disappeared over the hill. A quadbike started up.
‘Well that’s sketchy as hell!’
The wind was blowing right towards us from them – so completely wrong for hunting the hillside they were sitting on. They had been sky-lined, and now they fled when we approached. Furthermore, there was the question of what they had shot, and why three men were sitting on a hill top instead of gutting an animal. Our only explanation was that they had a person on our block who remained unseen.
Day three finally saw an end to the howling wind, and a fine drizzle fell. It had rained heavily overnight, and the tracks were sticky. We saw some good pigs in the gully, and I was offered the opportunity to shoot one. I passed it up as we had been watching them too long and I wasn’t feeling it. Or rather, I was feeling pressure to shoot and because I had watched them for a while, the excitement couldn’t override my nerves. They looked very small from 200m away, like little piglets, but they were actually about 50 pounds or so. I soon learned it is very hard to judge the size of a pig!
Two stags were spotted on the top of a ridge fairly early on, and we decided to try for them. One stag was extremely alert, and despite the distance, he seemed to be very aware of us. It took us a good hour or more to sneak along the tracks and get to the ridge he was on. The roars we let out went unanswered, by anyone. The deer on the ridge had moved off fairly quickly and we figured he was probably heading down the face. As we crept along the tracks we saw our first fallow, a beautiful doe, craning her neck over a rise in the track to get a better look at us. She spooked and bounded into the pines.
Getting onto the track on the stag’s ridge, Jacko and I crept very slowly and carefully. My boots had developed an extremely irritating creaking noise as the liner moved against the leather at the heel. The two of us were both hunting, and Jimmy had very generously offered to be the pack carrier / camera man. Jacko and I moved in fairly decent synchrony,
and I found him very natural to hunt alongside. If it was an exceptional stag, the shot was his, and if it was representative it was mine to shoot. We were both on half cock and being very careful. An animal suddenly spooked to our right. It didn’t bark, just galloped away. We were gutted, so we carried on to the point we had seen the stag at and sat down for a consolation biscuit. We could see in the dirt the marks left by his back feet as he had stood watching us, a kilometer or so away. I had taken about two bites of a SuperWine when i spotted something, and began raising my binos. Jimmy saw it at the same time.
The stag was about 400-500m away, looking at us. He moved off through the pines, and I was still gathering my wits when Jimmy hissed at me to go catch up to Jacko. With the second Super Wine clenched between my teeth, I took off to catch up with the rapidly disappearing Jacko, who was intent on intercepting the stag. Long story short, we got the run-around again and we sat in the drizzle waiting for Jimmy to emerge.
The plan for the rest of the day was to check out the river flats. Nothing was roaring, but we figured some might be down there and we just couldn’t hear them.
The river flats were a maze of open clearings, scrub and pine trees, with the river winding in between it all. We stalked through the clearings for a fair while, hoping for something! I did find part of a skull with two character antlers attached, and Jacko found a couple of cast antlers which we kept.
Three young pigs were foraging under the pines and I had fun sneaking up on them, before the sheep ahead stampeded and spooked them. After concentrating for a long time, straining to listen, trying to stop my boots from creaking, and being interrupted mid-biscuit; it was time for a rest. We had almost given up, and had a plan to check out one last clearing before packing it in. Snacks were divided between us and we chatted about the stags giving us a run for our money. Jacko was to head off to grab the bike and Jimmy and I would edge around the top of the cliff, cross the river and check the last clearing. We were packing the bag up after Jacko left when there was a whistle. I grabbed my rifle and Jimmy followed with the camera. Jacko sheepishly informed us that it had been a “hurry up” whistle, as he hadn’t been aware that we were packing the bag. We returned to our gear and were stuffing the last of the jackets in the pack when a dark shape emerged
in my peripheral vision.
‘Deer! Fallow!’ I whispered rather too loudly, grabbing my rifle while trying to stay low. Two does and a yearling were heading down a very steep slope to the river. I put the rifle in the fork of a tree and took aim.
‘Come down here – use your bipod and lie down!’
Jacko was nowhere to be seen. I did as Jimmy instructed, found the shoulder of a melanistic doe broadside in my sights, and squeezed the trigger. As the rifle spoke, she leapt upwards and I knew it was a good hit. Jacko ran out from under the pines – he had seen the deer and didn’t know that we had too. He had been relieved to hear the rifle go off and the thwack! of a solid hit. There was a small blood trail about 15m up the hill leading to the doe. She was beautiful, nearly black with paler dapples. It’s always a bit sad to end a life, but nice to get something in the bag and blood the beautiful knife Jimmy had made for me at Christmas time.
Heading back to the house on the bike, we passed the area we had stopped at the day before with the poachers. Jimmy pointed out some little piglets in the grass.
So I jumped off the bike, lay my rifle on the ground, and ran after this little pig. He didn’t put up much of a fight at all, and squealed weakly as I easily caught him. Jacko got more of a run around with his larger piglet, and Jimmy and I both doubled over with laughter watching him out-manoeuvre it. Two young pigs retrieved, we exclaimed first at how cute they were, and then at the size of the lice crawling all over them. They were too young to be on their own, and mine especially seemed very weak. We surmised that the poachers may have killed their mother the night before, or even a few days ago, leaving these little guys (now named Doris and Boris) to die of starvation.
With the piglets installed in some temporary accommodation, we had a quick bite to eat and headed out again. The watchful eyes of a hind with her yearling were evaded, and the evening was spent glassing and cursing my groaning boots. As we travelled a pine-covered ridge we could hear pigs off to our left. They seemed to follow us upwards, and as we stopped near the top we could tell they weren’t far away.
‘They’re just little ones by the sounds!’
And then they emerged, a convoy of the cutest little piglets you could imagine, heading right for us. Jimmy filmed as Jacko and I stood still, with the little pigs just a few metres away. They made tiny little squeaks and grunts as they busily searched for food, oblivious to our presence. That is, until they got downhill a bit, raised their little noses into our scent on the wind, and bolted.
It made our day to have such a close encounter with the piglets, and as we drove to the hut many giggles were had about them were had.
I opened the house to find our little visitors curled up in the lounge on Jacko’s clothes.
‘Uh, we have a problem!’
It turns out little piglets can squeeze through small gaps. The sound of galloping tiny hooves, slipping on the smooth wooden floor and a weary human stomping after them was apparently entertaining from the basement where Jacko was. Jimmy of course filmed me trying to catch them from under the bed and behind the tv. The video was watched multiple times later for its excellent comedic value.
The morning of the fourth day was pristine, breath-takingly beautiful. We parked the quadbike on a hillside and admired the sunrise for a while, the orange glow emerging over black hills cloaked in mist. We were feeling very excited; it was the first heavy frost of Autumn and the wind had completely gone. Excited, that is, until we let out a couple of roars and heard nothing in return. We had figured it would have been the perfect morning for them to get going again, but we went unanswered.
Down-heartened, we moved to a new spot and tried again. Above the cacophony of sound from the magpies, there was something different.
‘It’s just a pig oinking, isn’t it?’
It turned out it was far more exciting – a fallow buck in the distance! We headed towards the river flats. It was a heavy frost in the valleys, fence posts glittering in the rising sun. I was very grateful for my balaclava. Every time I blinked I felt like I was thawing ice crystals on my eyelashes. By the time we reached the flats and slowed down, my toes felt like each one had a vice grip clamped on its toenail. We stopped above a river and my freezing feet were so painful I couldn’t stand still. I cursed my damp socks. As we listened, we could hear a shepherd’s whistle. We cursed the farmer who insisted on rounding up his stock on the boundary at such an early hour! We also heard a pulsating drone, which became the loud and charactaristic thud-thud-thud of a chopper. It cruised repeatedly nearby for an eternity before moving off, and we cursed that too.
It was quite some time before the fallow buck croaked again, and we moved off in search of him. As we were sneaking up a track, Jimmy motioned for us to stop. He spotted a yearling hind grazing the sunny face across the river from us, and we watched for quite a while, listening for the buck. A mob of hinds and their yearlings moved into the sunlight and we were all excited, thinking there must be a stag with them. As we watched, the mob moved off swiftly as a stag chased another hind off to the left. I quickly readied the rifle, aiming for the area where the hinds had fled from. It was expected that the stag would emerge pretty quickly and we could stop him so I could take a shot. We hadn’t heard the buck for a long time either, and spirits were pretty low. I looked at Jacko, who was on my right, and in my peripheral vision I caught a glimpse of something odd.
‘Is that a deer, like right there?!’
It was a spiker, 20m away, just watching us. We left him with the intention of getting the stag, but he never emerged, so we went to check out the clearings on the flat. No luck, but at least by then my feet were nicely numb and the rest of me was thawing out.
That was about the end of our trip, rounding up the piglets and dealing with their car-sickness on the way back left a lot to be desired, but we had plenty of laughs recalling some of the antics of the most enjoyable hunting trip we’d ever had. We didn’t come away with a stag, but we had some really unique experiences that were a lot more satisfying.