I’d worked a pretty hard week as an essential service worker and by Saturday afternoon I was buggered. I let my wife know that I was planning on hunting on Sunday; she was happy to see me go and have some R&R in the bush.
I woke on Sunday morning feeling a little undecided: should I go, or not? The feelings of guilt about leaving my family combined with the 2.5-hour drive was making the afternoon hunt look more like a chore than a hobby. I relayed my feelings to my wife, and her words were: ‘The days you don’t feel like going are the days you really need to be out there.’ Wise words, as you will soon see.
I’m forever thankful to have a supportive wife who understands a man’s need for recreation; and with my wife’s encouragement, I got my gear ready.
As I was doing this, I could see my Jack Russell, Radar, was ever so excited, running from the back door to the side door. He knew we were going hunting and seemed more excited than me!
Loaded up, I said my goodbyes and my son’s farewell words were: ‘Daddy go bear hunting. No deer. Shoot a big bear daddy.’ It put a smile on my face as I drove out the driveway. Such a great feeling leaving your family in such happy circumstances.
I arrived at the service track some 2.5 hours north-east of Melbourne as hordes of four-wheel drives were leaving. I must have passed at least 30 on their way out as I drove in.
Once I reached my spot all I could hear was four-wheel drives and trail bikes. With this unusual amount of traffic, I decided to do a little drive around the area I wanted to hunt to make sure no other hunters were parked up. Luckily it was all clear.
I parked up, got my gear out and began my descent off the ridgeline. The thermals and wind direction were favourable and although the ground was nice and soft, there was an abundance of dry forest litter which made it extremely hard to move quietly. About 75 metres below the ridgeline I began gully hopping, looking ahead and below into the thickest parts hoping to see a speck of brown or a hint of movement. Deer sign was minimal.
I spotted nothing over the four gullies I crossed. Even Radar hadn’t picked up a scent or trail. The bikes and cars were still hammering around the forest and there was even someone target shooting in the nearby farm below. With all the noise about, I was convinced that the deer had moved to quieter areas.
With the odds seemingly stacked against me, I thought about pulling the pin a little earlier to get home at a reasonable hour. But I pushed those thoughts aside and continued, moving from the larger gullies I had just traversed to a set of smaller, more intimate gullies ahead.
As I began my climb into the first, Radar began to show signs of something present! I slowed down, keen for any kind of activity … and sighted a small wallaby. Unsatisfied, we moved into the next gully which was surrounded by head-high bracken. Once again, Radar began to show clear signs that something was in the gully. Based on his behaviour, I was confident the prize this time would be a deer.
I stopped and used my binoculars, carefully scanning the opposite face, hoping for a hint of hide or hoof. Amongst the greys and browns of the bush, I suddenly spotted it: an antler! Carefully adjusting a few centimetres to my right, a beautiful sambar stag, partially concealed by a tree, came into view. He was looking in my direction, alert but not alarmed. I knew I only had a few seconds to compose myself, and I made the most of it, steadying my breathing and my rifle. Fortunately, there was enough of him exposed for a clear shot. Lining the dot up on his right shoulder, instinct took over. I squeezed that trigger, sending a 180-grain SST from my .30’06 flying into his engine room. He dropped on the spot but still attempted to stand up and flee. Having previously lost two deer in similar circumstances, I sent two more shots into his neck to put him down for good.
With my prize secured, my excitement built. I walked over, thanked the magnificent animal for its life and made some phone calls to my favourite people to let them know what I had just achieved. Sharing my success helped ease the adrenaline coursing through my body.
It was late in the afternoon and by the time I’d taken a number of selfies/photographs and made a quick Facebook post, daylight was quickly disappearing as I set about preparing the carcase for transport.
After I removed the head and then the back legs, the horrible reality dawned on me: it was now pitch black, I was alone in mineshaft territory, was 1.5 kilometres from the car and 2.5 hours’ drive from home.
I had to make a tough decision. Either attempt the dangerous treks back and forth hauling back the trophy and meat in the dark or take what I could carry and risk leaving the rest to the elements. Reason prevailed and I decided to take the latter course of action. There was no way I could walk back in and carry two huge legs and backstraps out and be home before midnight.
Leaving the meat behind, I said a quick prayer hoping it would still be there when I returned the following day and began the trek out. The weight of the head on my backpack was a challenge; gruelling but also a keen reminder of my success.
When I got home, I was surprised to find my son still awake. My wife had let him stay up so he could see what I’d achieved and so that we could celebrate together. It may not have been the bear he wanted but he was super excited anyway to see the huge deer head in the back of my ute, antlers and all.
I hardly slept that night worrying if the meat would be safe overnight and those fears followed me into work the next day. I told my boss what happened, and he was so impressed he sent me out early to go retrieve the best part of any hunt — the meat! Luckily, it was all there, and I was close enough to another service track to reduce the walkout distance.
Trophy and meat both now recovered safely, I could truly appreciate what I’d achieved.
Had I not taken my wife’s advice I wouldn’t be basking in the joy that comes from a successful hunt.
Every trip is a trip closer to achieving our goals. Get out there and enjoy! Happy hunting.
Contributed by Frank Galea.