When I said to Dad last year that the 2020 hunting season was going to be one to remember, I had no idea just how right I was.
With the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic that’s crippling the world at the moment, a lot of us are reminiscing on past hunting trips, wondering when some sort of normalcy will return so we can get back to doing what we love without so much uncertainty.
This year, hunting over the border in South Australia came to a grinding halt when the COVID-19 pandemic hit its peak. Entry into South Australia from Victoria ceased unless deemed essential, meaning the 2020 South Australian fallow deer rut would be a no-go for lots of Victorians.
What I’d planned to be a full-on year of hunting in my first year of hunting solo, wasn’t going to plan.
With the prospect of the border opening anytime this year looking pretty bleak, I started to think back on past hunts and appreciate those hunts over the border a lot more. One in particular that stands out is a hunt Dad and I had in September 2019.
Dad and I had planned a weekend trip to hopefully fill the freezer before the end of the season. We were both keen to head over the border for one last hunt. Before we set off, Dad and I talked about how this trip was mainly to help me fine-tune my skills for when I was able to hunt solo in 2020.
We set off on our usual trip with the plan to get there early enough to go for an afternoon hunt.
We arrived earlier than we’d planned, which gave us some time to briefly unpack, get changed, and head out for a look not far from camp to see if there was anything out feeding. We sat out and watched some cast bucks with a young button fawn till right on dark, then decided we would venture back to camp and try to catch up with them the next day.
Most of the bucks we saw while we were hunting had cast their antlers for the year, so it was important to make sure that any deer we took weren’t cast bucks.
The next morning, we went out for a look but once again didn’t have any luck. We saw some cast bucks grazing and mucking around in the paddock, but nothing we wanted to take for meat.
We made our way back to camp and discussed our best possible chance of shooting a deer that evening.
On this hunt, there was a catch. Dad told me that I was ‘guiding’ him on this hunt and that every decision about where we were going to hunt and where we would sit, was all up to me.
I had a think and decided we’d sit under a patch of trees back from the scrub, near where we had seen deer feeding the night before.
Dad and I waited at camp until the right time to head out. As we made our way out, I kept stopping to glass the scrub line just in case there were any deer already out feeding.
We got into position under the tree and set up. Dad spotted a lizard catching some rays in the afternoon sun, and while he was distracted watching it, I kept an eye on the bush line ready for any movement or animals starting to come out.
As the sun set, I started to get nervous about whether I’d picked the right spot and thought to myself ‘I’ve got this wrong, maybe I’m not ready to hunt by myself just yet.’
I glanced over to Dad, who’d become quite acquainted with the lizard. He put his binoculars up to glass the bush line, and just as I did the same, I heard something come through the fence.
Sure enough, the deer had started to come out of the scrub to feed. It was the same cast bucks and young button fawn we’d seen the night before. I kept an eye on the scrub as I watched four cast bucks and the button fawn come through the fence and start to feed.
My heart started to race as I watched them through the binoculars. The cast bucks could tell something wasn’t right and started to get a bit antsy. I turned to Dad again, who smiled and whispered, “It’s up to you.”
I turned back towards the deer in front of me and got ready behind the .243. I had to be quick as the bucks around the fawn had me pinned. I waited for him to step out by himself and let the .243 do the rest.
The sudden bark from the .243 scattered the bucks back into the bush as the fawn instantly fell over in front of us.
I turned to Dad, who had a smile on his face.
“Well he certainly didn’t like that one, did he?” he chuckled.
We waited a few minutes for everything to calm down. When we stood up to walk over to the fawn, Dad noticed his new lizard mate had done a runner.
We headed over to the fawn and after taking a few moments to reflect on the hunt, I put him in position to take photos. After we’d done that, we began the recovery. Once we’d dressed the fawn, Dad was able to help me get him up onto my shoulders to start the walk back to camp. The following day I skinned and cleaned up the fawn as much as possible.
Looking back on the hunt now, I’d like to think that the hunt was the start of many successful ‘solo’ hunts. I’m really thankful that I was able to take the fawn and learn something from it. A lot of different elements determine the success of the hunt, and sometimes not all those elements will fall into place.
At the start of this year, I went on my first solo and took my first two deer. The first of many solo hunts I’ll have.
I’m not an expert and it’s guaranteed that sometimes I won’t get it right, but it’s these little successes so far and the mistakes I will make along the way that will help me become the best hunter I can be — the type of hunter I’ve always looked up to since I first started hunting.
While COVID-19 has changed how the 2020 hunting season would’ve played out for a lot of us, it’s also given us a chance to reflect on our past hunts and make us appreciate what we have when we have it. It makes us appreciate and think about why we do what we do; and above all, why it’s so important to us.
Sometimes reminiscing can be just as rewarding.
Contributed by Michaela Shirley.