Red stags roaring brings out the hunter in me. There is nothing more surreal than sitting high on a mountain ridge watching several stags challenging each other in the thick bush on a foggy morning.
Some years ago, three of them were doing just that within 800 metres of where I was sitting waiting for the fog to lift. When that happened, I would finally be able to hunt these stags.
Mountain bull grass is not the best feed for deer, but it seems to provide enough pick for the hinds from under the dry hard tussock.
The 1000 metre altitude also provides cover and spring water and gets them away from the browsing cattle.
As the sun warmed the air and created thermals to lift the fog, I knew that the deer wouldn’t scent me while I waited. Two hours after daybreak saw me glassing a spiker, an eight-pointer and a respectable 13-point stag. There had been another one roaring but I couldn’t see him. Maybe he was the dominant stag, maybe not. No hinds showed, but they must have been close.
Threading my way through the sunning kangaroos and wallabies without disturbing them was a slow process, but I was now within shooting range and took the 13-pointer with one shot from my .300WM.
Two-hundred-and-twenty metres is not a long shot for this calibre from a steady backpack rest.
His antlers didn’t make the 300 Douglas point score I had hoped for, but they were a good trophy nevertheless. The head is now hanging in my garage.
That was 18 years ago, towards the end of the secret hunting society era. Prior to that time many heads were taken but were not generally displayed, and the locations where red deer occurred were closely guarded secrets. Times have changed and the stories of some of those trophy heads can now be told. The secret society is largely a thing of the past as there are now more opportunities to hunt magnificent red deer stags.
Ross hunted a roaring red deer for a full three days before finally catching up with him. This stag changed his routine every day which made him difficult to get onto. He used the wind and bush to evade the hunter but, in the end, he lost the battle.
The head is now hanging in a rack in Ross’ shed. The trophy scores over 300 Douglas points and Ross hasn’t taken a better one since.
A keen and secretive hunter that I know had access to cropping country that held red deer.
The deer lived in and around the sorghum but always left, come the roar.
This hunter knew he had to take the big stag he had been watching grow its velvet antlers before the animal got lovesick.
What was surprising about this stag was that he had been shot in the mouth some years before by a local kangaroo shooter and had survived. How he’d survived and still managed to grow a great rack is a mystery; I have read many articles that state that a male deer with an injury to one side will not grow even antlers.
This head scored over 320 Douglas points and is also hanging in a shed.
The hunter told me that he was after a bigger one! Even though 400DS is the new 300DS, the hunter has not found one bigger.
Norm was a beginner when Peter and I got him onto a respectable red deer stag that he missed at 50 metres due to buck fever and an inability to handle heavy recoil.
We had to start at the beginning with hundreds of shots from a .22 to cure the flinch. Then, over the next couple of years Norm used a .243 while hunting goats before graduating to a .308 on pigs.
Four years later, with me staying back and keeping the stag busy, Peter took Norm to the stag which Norm then shot. The 15-pointer is a magnificent rough head that most hunters would be proud to own.
John asked me where he should go to look for a red deer stag, and I suggested that right out the back where we had shot a big boar a couple of months previous was as good as anywhere.
He went, and up walked two hinds followed by two stags.
John leaned on the gum tree growing out of the dam bank and took the shot at 40 metres.
I was surprised that he had never dressed out a large animal before, as he had been hunting all his life. I helped him with the head-skin and to break the stag down.
John’s trophy scores over 300 Douglas points and is displayed in his office.
Another trophy that never sees the light of day is one that features what Bruce Banwell described in his book The Royal Stags of Windsor as the Windsor throwback tine.
There is a story, but I shall keep it to myself.
With 13 points and a Douglas score of over 300 points, this head now hangs in a country shed.
From time to time, new hunters ask: ‘Is this head any good?’ Often, they have heads that score over 300 Douglas points and do not realise what they have.
Most tell stories of the other one that got away that was much bigger!
These are interesting times with many bigger heads being taken.
There is a popular saying amongst old-time deer hunters: ‘When you get a big head you get a big head.’ This applied to many of the group that started to benefit from the improved antler growth amongst wild deer that resulted from genetics coming from farmed deer. Much of this ego has now disappeared because of the greater distribution of these quality red deer.
The advent of deer farming also resulted in many red deer heads now looking like Christmas trees — they certainly don’t reflect the traditional style of Scottish highland stags.
Years ago, hunting was all about the antlers, but nowadays we see the whole carcase being utilised — shanks for casseroles, fillets and back straps for steaks with the rest for roasts, sausages and mince.
Australia has a favourable climate for red deer, and they come out of winter in far better condition here than in Europe with its harsh winters.
Often great heads are taken during drought conditions which shows they are good browsers and foragers too.
Many hunters love the sound of hound music but give me the sound of a red deer stag roaring anytime!
Contributed by Martin Thann.