Recently I had a look at research in the United States on the drivers and motivations behind hunting. The research indicated that there are a number of distinct stages of hunter development. One such stage is described as the ‘experienced or sporting stage’. In the ‘experienced stage’ individuals realise that hunting is more than just shooting or harvesting an animal. The success of the hunt is measured by the overall experience, the appreciation of the outdoors and the environment, respect for the animal hunted, the process of the hunt, and the mateship that comes with shared experience with other hunters. At this stage you also realise the importance of introducing and teaching new hunters about the outdoor experience.
It really struck a chord with me after I read this, and I got to thinking about where I am at the moment in my hunting and where I have been in past years.
I freely admit that I am a very average hunter. The lack of classy trophies on the wall at home attests to that. The few heads I have on the wall are more of mementoes and reminders of the hunt and the country, mountains or hills I was in, rather than trophies as such.
So, while I am not an expert or gun hunter per se, one of the things I have always done is take someone hunting if they show an interest in it. Through this I have developed lasting friendships and I would like share such an experience with you.
The pleasure of watching a young fellow grow up and become a good hunter
Quite a few years ago I was invited over to a friend of a friend’s barbecue. I took some sambar venison to contribute to the barbecue, and while cooking it up I got talking to the host John and his son Phil about shooting and hunting.
They tasted the venison and thought it was pretty good.
Phil was in army cadets at his school and enjoyed the shooting involved. He was also dead keen to get his minor’s firearms permit and start hunting.
A little while later I was asked if I could take Phil and John out for a deer hunt, as Phil had got his minor’s permit.
I said, `no problem’ — I would contact a landowner I knew and if we got permission we would maybe try for a fallow deer and possibly a goat or pig that also inhabit the area.
A few weeks after that we drove up to the property for a weekend’s hunting and a bit of a look around. On arrival we called in to see the farmer and got some hints on where the deer were being seen. We then settled into the shearer’s quarters, lit the fire and got our gear ready for the next day.
John and I had a quiet ale by the warm open fire that was crackling away nicely in the hearth. We then hit the sack, aiming to be up an hour before dawn to head out to the back of the property to hunt a series of ridges and gullies where we should find a fallow deer or possibly a goat or pig.
The alarm got us up nice and early to what was a cool start to the day. A good mug of steaming hot tea and a bowl of porridge had us warmed up and ready to go.
Twenty minutes later we were at the spot on the fence-line track where the cockie had advised us to park.
We quietly got our gear out, checked our firearms and began the climb up the ridge to what appeared to be a good spot to look for deer. We were in low rolling hill country comprising open grassy woodland interspersed with clearings. It really was ideal fallow deer country.
The sky was beginning to lighten, the early autumn air was cool, still and heavy with the scent of eucalypt and there were a few low clouds hanging round the hills.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to just be up there and taking it all in.
There were well pronounced game trails, so we followed one of these to where the heads of a few gullies joined.
As we came near the crest of the ridge we slowed and looked into the gully ahead, glassing for game. The first two just had stock, cattle and sheep, in them. But on peering into the third one we picked up movement in the bottom and three dainty young fallow deer were quietly feeding thirty to forty metres below us.
I indicated for Phil to come forward and load his rifle. He did this quietly. By this time the deer had noticed us, but they were all young — this year’s fawns — and did know what to make of us.
Phil shouldered the rifle and placed a shot perfectly in the lead deer’s shoulder. At the shot the animal fell and the other two ran 20 metres then stopped and looked at us.
Once Phil had unloaded his rifle, we congratulated him, shook hands and patted him on the back for a job well done.
As we went down to the deer, I watched Phil and John. I love watching people approach the first deer they have taken. It is a great mixture of excitement and awe for these amazing and beautiful animals we hunt.
I grabbed a twig of vegetation and did the ‘last bite’ for Phil’s deer (I like doing this for newbies to re-enforce the respect we have for our quarry) and took the pictures of them to record the moment. We then smeared a small line of blood from the deer on Phil’s face to welcome him to the hunting brotherhood.
The lad had a grin from ear to ear and it stayed there for the whole weekend.
I showed Phil and John how to field dress an animal. Because it was so small it would be easy to carry the whole animal back to the vehicle. The venison off this young animal would be both tender and delicious, so we wanted to get everything we could off it. John and Phil did a great job of carrying the deer out; Phil’s feet were hardly toughing the ground!
Over the next few years Phil and I stayed in touch intermittently.
He started hunting locally in the Central West of NSW and took some really nice red deer stags on a property he was lucky enough to have access to.
He had also joined the army as a grunt and got fit as well as pretty good at getting around the bush.
In 2013 we had caught up at my place in Orange and were talking about hunting.
Phil hadn’t taken a sambar yet, so it was decided we would go for a sambar hunt down in north-east Victoria in an area I enjoy hunting.
A month later we had a good catch-up on the six-hour drive south to Victoria, set up camp beside the river and then headed up a forestry road to drop into a good gully system with open grassy areas to wait and see what came out at dark.
Dropping off the main ridge, I pointed Phil in the direction of what I knew was a reasonable area for deer. I crossed to the other side of the ridge and sat quietly, glassing an open system. I watched a few fallow deer picking their way across the hill as sunset drew out and fired up the sky into a symphony of reds and yellow on the clouds.
It is great to be out hunting at that magic time when the bush goes quiet apart from the kookaburras’ calls or the odd dingo wail that floats in on the wind. Deer just seem to materialise on faces you have been glassing with your binos for ages.
I heard a shot from Phil’s 7mm magnum roar up the valley followed by a good ‘whoomph’ indicating a solid hit. I heard the deer run and then the distinct sounds of it stumbling and the clatter of rock as it fell.
I thought ‘onya mate’, grabbed my rifle and day pack and began heading over to where I thought Phil had taken the shot.
A couple of ‘cooees’ and 10 minutes later I caught up with Phil and he told me he had shot at a sambar hind but it had run through some scrub and he had lost sight of it.
We both knew it was a good shot and had heard the deer go down, it was just a matter of finding it. He had picked up a couple of spots of blood and running marks on a bench in the bottom of the gully. We went over to the sign he had found and marked it with some toilet paper. The area we were in was a tight gully with the odd grassy bench. We searched by headlamp near the last marks and downhill/stream for an hour or so. We decided to go back to camp and come back first thing next day.
The night was going to be a cool one and the meat would still be okay in the morning.
We were up at sparrows next morning and back at the spot at first light. We quickly picked up the tracks and followed them to where they ran out on some bare rock in a scrubby area. Phil went to search downhill in the gully and I went back and retraced the sign back to the rocky area. Instead of going downstream I searched in circles out from the rocky area and on my third circle I picked up a mark — going uphill, not down! I soon found another couple of marks in a grassy spot that lead to a rocky area and remembered hearing the clatter of the deer’s hooves on these. I picked up some marks going out of the gully on a steep face as well as a few spots of blood; this was promising. I followed them up and they went to the left onto another rocky area and again stopped.
I stood there looking up and across the relatively open steep face, thinking, where the hell did you go?
I happened to glance back down into the creek and there she was lying under a coprosma bush.
I called out to Phil and he came up to me. He saw the hind and said, ‘Are you kidding me – she has gone 100 metres uphill?’ I replied, ‘Sambar are different to reds and fallow deer — they can run downhill, across the hill and uphill, even if hit hard like this girl was. They don’t follow the normal deer rule book’.
After a quick handshake and a ‘well done on your first sambar’ the photos were taken.
Phil then got out his knife and did a good job of getting the legs, backstraps and fillets off.
Yes, he had come a long way since I last hunted with him 10 years earlier – and it was good to see.
A couple of quick sweaty carries, with me hanging shit on Phil for him punishing a poor old Kiwi by having him carry his meat for him, and we were back at the vehicle track.
I went and got the Hi-lux and we threw the legs in the back and headed off in different directions for a hunt, as the day was still young.
We spent the next couple of days in this area and saw a few fallow deer and sambar but didn’t get on to any stag activity.
We decided to head to another area about half an hour’s drive away for the last couple of days of our hunt. We got to the next spot, parked the vehicle, set up camp and headed out for a hunt in cool misty rain and with a bit of clag hanging round the tops of the ridges. I hunted through some beautiful sambar country that had signs of hinds and a bit of stag activity in a couple of wallows and rubs, but the damned wind was drifting around in all directions.
Phil takes his first sambar stag
I got back to camp a bit after dark and Phil got in not long after me. He had been into an area that had sign, but the understorey was a bit thick for a good stalk.
We warmed up by the fire and made a plan for the following day.
It rained pretty hard all night and was still going for it in the morning when the alarm woke us an hour or so before sun-up. I amended my hunting plans and decided to stay in the stretcher. Phil said he was going to go up into the gully I had been in the day before.
I said, ‘Go for it’ and wished him luck.
About half an hour later, my sleep was interrupted by the boom of his rifle. I thought, ‘Onya mate’ and, as it was still raining pretty hard, went back to sleep!
Twenty minutes later Phil was back in camp with a big grin on his dial. He had shot a nice wee sambar stag and was as pleased as punch!
‘Well, where is it?’ I asked, to which he responded that it was up on the hill waiting for me to come and photograph him with it and help with the carry out, since I had been so good at carrying half the hind for him! `Good on ya,’ I thought.
We jumped in the Hi-lux, drove up the ridge about a kilometre and dropped over the side.
Two hundred metres down the hill was Phil’s stag.
He relayed how he had stalked up the gully and, looking uphill, had seen the stag moving out of thick cover towards a rub tree. When it stopped to sniff the rub tree, he had shot it in the neck (he didn’t want it running off) from less than 40 metres and the stag had collapsed on the spot.
Handshakes and congratulations completed, I took a few photos of Phil with his stag.
The lad started field butchering the animal, and while he was doing that, I started carrying legs back up the hill to the vehicle, while gently reminding him of my much more advanced years, wonky knees and back.
Three carries later by me and two by Phil (which I gently reminded him about) and Phil was on the final carry with the stag’s head. With four sambar stag’s legs, three hind’s legs and the head I think I was possibly exceeding the 50kg limit for my roof racks. Never mind, they were a bit wobbly but held until we got back to Orange.
The trip from camp back to the tarmac was a bit of an epic as the heavy rain had turned the steep ridge track to very slimy slippery clay, but that’s story for another day!
Phil and I have kept in contact on and off over the seven years since that hunt. He has been doing a fair bit of hunting in Oz and even had a sojourn in New Zealand, living in my old hometown in Invercargill and having the odd successful hunt on tahr, chamois and reds. Recently we caught up on a phone call and are making plans to maybe have a hunt down his way on the reds next year (surely the COVID-19 restrictions will be over by then) – he owes me a couple of carries!
So, if you are at the coffee machine at work or at friend’s barbecue and a young fella expresses an interest in going deer hunting, invite him out and show him the ropes.
With the deer populations growing the way they are in south-eastern Australia we need to get more hunters involved in hunting and managing deer. Also, the rewards are many: watching someone take their first deer and then going on to become a hunter in their own right – and just remember also for us older fellas, there’s always the benefit of having a good keen man with a young pair of shoulders to help carry a deer out if need be — if they don’t shoot the deer first, that is.