Between school, a part-time job and sports, it’s not to often that my dad and I can get away for a hunt. But each year we both agree to block out the weekend of July 6 and 7 for the ADA South East Junior Ballot.
The Junior Ballot is held annually each year by the South East branch of the ADA, and it is a great way for junior ADA members to get out in the field and experience some of the best hunting around. My first Junior Ballot was in 2018 when I shot my first buck; my guide Meeky did a great job to navigate us onto a buck on the last day through tough conditions.
Last year I was drawn into the ballot for the second time, again being sent to the same property as the year before. This time around the weather looked much better and I was keen to go again. Due to the three-hour drive to the base camp and then another 45-minute drive to the hunting property, we didn’t get an afternoon hunt in, but spent that time getting to know the other juniors and their guides and what our plans would be for the following morning.
My sleep felt like it had lasted five minutes when my guide Steve’s alarm sounded for a 5.30 am start.
After a quick morning coffee and confirmation of hunting positions, we set out at sunrise and quietly drove the recovery vehicle out of the dense scrub where the hut was and onto the tea tree plains.
Both groups wished each other good luck, and we began our hunt on foot. A couple of hours of stalking through Mallee knobs showed no signs of deer but we kept on walking. Things were looking down and we were getting ready to head back for an early lunch and to prepare for an afternoon hunt, until we got a call on the UHF: the other group was stalking a mob of deer down the other end of the property and had a fair chance of spooking them.
We were close to the recovery vehicle but had two options: a high-risk high-reward method that would involve driving to where we thought the deer might be running to; or, trying a lower-risk method of walking in a direct line and trying to cut them off. If we chose to walk, it would give us another chance if these deer managed to evade us. Even if this failed, we all came to the agreement that we had another two chances, one later that afternoon and another the following morning, so we got in the old Hilux and sent it down the track.
We parked the ute about 100 m down the other side of the hill and did a mix of jogging and power walking to set up on the top of the hill, leaning against a fencepost overlooking a gulley filled with trees. Dad, Steve and I all sat anxiously glassing the tree line looking for any movement in the trees.
I was feeling a mix of nerves and excitement, however Dad and Steve being experienced hunters looked in their element. A few minutes passed when we saw a doe moving in the visible patch between Mallee knobs. Nearly instantly, a whole mob burst out and made a dash towards the fence we were leaning against. I could have taken a shot at one of the animals while they made their way single file through a pop hole, however I didn’t feel comfortable taking that shot; I could have missed and ended our whole stalk there, or, even worse, taken a bad shot and wounded the animal.
We could have given up there, but we went in hot pursuit of the mob. They were running through a clump of trees and we had to try to keep up before we lost them on the open plains. We caught sight of them about 600 m down in the corner of the paddock. Hiding in the rocks and small trees, they seemed content to stay there.
However, we had the advantage of the wind; the mob couldn’t pick up on our scent from where we were hiding.
A quick discussion between Dad, Steve and I birthed a plan. Dad would move about 500 m diagonally left and hopefully his scent would encourage the deer to come back towards us. Steve and I found a nice hole under a tree where we would be sheltered from the deer’s view, and while we waited for the deer to start moving Steve ran me through what should happen and what to expect.
Only a few seconds later the deer caught scent of my dad and started a slow trot towards our position.
I loaded my Weatherby .270 with two 150 grain Hornady bullets and extended my tripod to a comfortable position. Steve pointed out a buck for me to shoot, and I waited for him to slow. But instead of slowing down and calming, the buck saw us and alerted the mob. I had a small window to get the shot off before I would never see him again. I gently pulled the trigger on this buck and the bullet ripped straight through him. He ran a small distance before he laid down and died.
I slowly got up with a smile. As Steve and I shook and hands I truly got a good look at this old buck. He had plenty of character about him with nice big tines. A few minutes later my old man returned to have a look and get some photos.
Fortunately for us the buck was close to the recovery track, so we didn’t have to drag him very far.
After a nice lunch and exchange of stories we skinned the buck, took the meat and removed the head. We weren’t too stressed about finding any more animals, so we headed back out for a short afternoon hunt at the other end of the property. We saw plenty of deer but didn’t stalk any due to the distance and the fading light.
One of the best parts of the Junior Ballot is getting everyone from all the hunting properties back together at the base camp. Everyone who got a head for the day bought them back to the base camp and we all shared hunting stories over some great food cooked for us by Brett and Sharon.
I had my head aged; it was fascinating to watch a couple of the more experienced members take a quick glance at the skull and age my deer at 8.5 years old. It turns out he was past his prime and slowly going backwards in quality each year.
I’m looking forward to this year’s Junior Ballot, although with the coronavirus hitting the whole world and states and territories closing their borders, I think it might be difficult for any hunting to take place interstate.
Hunting for me as a junior is great and getting the chance to learn off lots of experienced hunters through the Junior Ballot is something I’ll always take the chance to be grateful for, from learning about the bush to spending time with my family and mates.
Hunting as a junior has a lot more to offer than just meat and bone.
Contributed by Fraser Diprose.