Hot & Dusty Deer Hunt IV
On our last day of the hunt we did an early morning stalk but, again, heavy mist shielded our quarry. After giving up on the dawn deer, we did more photography and sat awhile by the river, catching and releasing feisty Black Bream.
Our plan for the afternoon was to explore the rough corner paddock, seeking to photograph some interesting rock features, and water birds, on the river. After that, we would do a stalk near sunset and have one last try for a second deer.
Stalking Deer in the Stony Gully
It turned out to be a pretty hot day, so our timing slid back. It was too hot to be out and about in the early afternoon. We got moving after 3PM with a modified plan. We would check out access to the spot on the river, maybe take a few photos, but plan on a full day campaign there on our next visit.
The back corner paddock is not used much compared to the rest of the property. It has some river frontage, and river flats, but much less than the other paddocks. Most of this block is harsh and stony, low hills, with little grass and plenty of scrub. The owners have a few steers and bulls in there. From previous trips, I knew that there was more than likely a mob of deer sheltering there as well.
Kathy had trouble opening the gate. The chain and hasp were rusted tight. There was also very little in the way of a vehicle track either. Mike and I had explored this spot in his ATV buggy last year. A deep, dry, erosion gully ran close to the boundary fence. It came out from between the low rocky hills, meandered across the small floodplain and joined the river. I knew there was only one spot where we could cross the gully and some care would be needed for our vehicle.
We drove carefully through long grass, for half a kilometre, hoping there were no stakes or large rocks hiding there. I recognised from the tree line along the creek the location of the crossing. Engaging low range, I edged our car forward and over the lip. I had no sooner said to Kathy that she should look back up the gully to our left, because there were often deer there, than she said, “Deer. Lots of deer!”
It was the biggest mob we had so far seen and, no doubt, the source of the great many tracks past the hay stacks. I watched about 30 Chital stream out of the gully and up onto the scrub on the hill. Surprisingly, they were not highly alarmed and just trotted off. Up on the hill, a few hundred metres away, they slowed to an amble and percolated leisurely over the crest.
“There’s a change of plan, we’ll put in twenty minutes on these and might just get one,” I informed my wife. “Another small mob went straight up the gully,” she told me. I had not seen those. We quickly grabbed the rifle and backpacks and set off to the right of the hill, walking with the wind. Our intention was to get well ahead of them and then cut up onto the crest and try to stalk them.
Given that we were strictly speaking on a photographic mission, I had not yet fully prepared for this hunting foray. A few hundred metres into our hunt I realised that I had left the binoculars in the vehicle. There was no time to go back for them. I was not happy about that as I greatly rely on my little Swarovski 10x25 CL compact stalking binoculars for finding Chital in the scrub.
I also realised that I had not put my headlamp and torch in the backpack either. Still, the day was young and that should not be a problem. We stealthily worked our way up the rocky slope, trying to make no noise amongst the loose rocks, dead sticks and dry fallen leaves.
We caught a few fleeting glimpses of the deer moving along through the thick scrub to one side of us. There were no shooting opportunities, but the deer were clearly unaware of us, so we had the advantage. We came to a more open area of the scrub. It was about fifty metres diameter. I was reluctant to cross it, but figured it was worth the risk, given we were still undetected.
Halfway across there was a husky yelp. Kathy looked at me questioningly. I leaned close and whispered, “That’s the alarm call. Somewhere straight ahead, with a hundred metres, there is a doe watching us. She has just told all her buddies to beware.”
We stood still and strained our eyes but could not see the deer. A few minutes dragged on. If I had my binos I would almost certainly have been able to see her, or one of the other deer, and get a shot. I decided to take a few very slow steps to my left to better see behind a patch of thicker brush. An apple-sized rock rolled under my foot and I had to scramble to get my balance.
Deer seemed to explode from everywhere. I laughed out loud. I got a severe look from my hunting buddy (I must say she is taking this hunting business very seriously!) and was asked, “What are you laughing for? They’ve all run away!” Well, anyway, I thought it was funny, but could not satisfactorily explain why to my better half.
We had prescribed about half of a circle in our stalk so far. It figured we might as well keep going on the circle back to the car because there was a very good chance of finding the second mob. Once again in stealth mode, with a light breeze mostly in our face, we carried on over the crest. The scrubby brush on the top of the hill was particularly thick and it was slow progress weaving through it with a minimum of noise. We found numerous cast antlers from spiker stags, but nothing of any size.
As we moved down the other side, and back into the big gully, the trees thinned out somewhat. Kathy gave me a nudge in the ribs. A few hundred metres away she had spotted a movement. I used my rifle scope to have a look, something I normally do not do. I work to the guideline that you should never look at anything through a scope that you would be unwilling to shoot. However, I figured that I met the criteria in this case, and in the absence of my binoculars.
A mob of eight Chital were grazing along slowly, heads down, across on the other side of the gully. I wondered what they were eating. The slopes of the hill had a great crop of rocks, but very little in the way of any grass. We watched them for a while. They were moving very slowly and, to me, seemed to be lacking the normal caution you would expect. They must have been feeling pretty relaxed, based on familiarity. Clearly, it was rare for them to be disturbed here.
The conditions meant that we could try to stalk closer for a shot. The best approach though, was to sit right where we were and let the deer get closer. The wind was still excellent for us and so we just sat on the ground behind a couple of small termite mounds. I deployed the bipod legs and quietly chambered a round in my Vanguard 257 Weatherby Magnum then engaged the safety.
They were certainly in no hurry and time dragged on. I glanced to the west. The sun was getting low in the sky. We had already been on this stalk for a lot longer than I had expected. We needed enough time to butcher a deer and backpack the meat down a kilometre or so of rough gully, to the vehicle. Doing that in the dark without a torch would not be a lot of fun.
If the deer kept coming in the same direction they would pass us at about 150 metres, through fairly open forest. The 257 Weatherby shoots the 110 grain Nosler Accubond flat and accurately, so I made a decision to take the first shot I could at 250 metres rather than wait any longer. I changed my position slightly in anticipation of that and used my range finder to confirm distances to a few landmarks the deer would pass.
They were keeping tightly bunched and I watched a few fat does that were my preferred targets. Once they were past the 250 metre point I got ready to shoot. I tracked the does, waiting for them to take one of their occasional stops. This they did, but it was behind a screen of tree trunks. I briefly thought about slipping one through one of the narrow gaps, but I could not get the aiming point I sort.
A plump, one-antlered stag, wandered out into the open and obligingly stopped. A split second later the gully reverberated with the roar of the Weatherby Magnum. The stag toppled and the rest of the mob fled. We made haste to our kill, took a few quick photos in the last rays of the disappearing sun, then laid out the knives and bags.
I worked fast, leaving the lower legs on to be dealt with back at the car. Kathy commented, “That was quick, less than ten minutes,” as I helped her put on her backpack full of meat. She then helped me with mine, the two rear hooves of the stag poking out of the flap.
Rather than follow the looping erosion gully, we scrambled over a few low, rocky ridges for a shorter path to the vehicle. Along the way, we startled a lone stag with a good set of antlers and watched him prance elegantly past us at forty metres. As it turned out we had about ten minutes grace with the light. Having been caught in unfamiliar country in the past, after dark, without a flashlight, it is an experience that I am keen to avoid.
It was also a good reminder about not leaving the car without a full set of necessary gear in the backpack.
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