Last week Kathy and I camped at a favourite spot on the edge of a large billabong. After a hectic few weeks, with a house full of visitors to attend a funeral and provide support, we felt we needed some time alone, camped in a serene location.
The added advantage of the trip was an intention to harvest some venison. The property has a population of wild Chital deer. After days of fruitless stalking, suddenly a gift opportunity presented itself.
It was mid-afternoon and we were foot-weary after a long morning stalk in rough country. After a late lunch, Kathy elected to have a siesta while I sat in the shade and watched the collection of waterbirds before me.
When you have glassed terrain on many occasions you get a feel for what is present. Across the billabong, on the far shore, I spotted what looked like just another large termite mound; one of many on the ridge that cradled the lagoon. It was just on 400 metres, according to my Leupold rangefinder. I turned my 10×42 binoculars onto the object. It looked like a termite nest. However, maybe it was only the moving shadows, but I thought I detected a slight movement. I kept the binoculars trained on it.
After what seemed a long time, a stag raised its head. It had been grazing along on the lush green grass, just 10 metres from the water’s edge. I would not have expected to see any deer grazing at that time of the day, but there you go! The stag was big-bodied but had only a single deformed antler. Here was a chance to get a good haul of venison and improve the gene pool at the same time. A good sweep of the area revealed no more deer. The stag looked to be a loner.
I shook Kathy awake and told her what was happening and asked her to stay in the tent until she heard a shot, or I returned. I collected my rifle, knife and binoculars then pulled on my boots. Keeping a good eye on the stag, I only moved when he had his head down. I did not want to risk losing him by moving while he was looking about.
It took ten minutes to cover the open 200 metres to the forested edge of the lake. I another 200 metres, or so, to stalk before closing with the deer. The wind was perfect, blowing steadily in my face. The water on my right meant I only needed to concentrate ahead and to my left. I proceeded as quietly and cautiously as I could, stopping every ten metres to scan the bush ahead. I have learnt from experience with stalking chital stags that, very often, the does are scattered ahead of the male. I had not seen any other deer, but that did not mean there were none there.
It was lucky I did so. Still about 100 metres short of the stag, I detected a movement in the scrub on the ridge to my left. I froze, then slowly brought up my binoculars. Through the undergrowth, about 30 metres ahead, I could make out the shape of a doe. She was unaware of me and was grazing slowly down toward the shore. As she passed behind a bush, I moved slightly and took up position, using a tree to lean the rifle against.
I could not risk trying to shoot through the intervening scrub with my high-velocity 257 Weatherby Magnum. I scanned the direction she was moving and determined that there was a narrow gap she would cross that provided the only chance of a good shot. She seemed to take forever to reach the gap but then paused just before it. She raised her head for a prolonged sniff and look all about her. I worried that she may have caught a hint of my scent.
After an agonising wait, she took the fatal last step and I fired. I bled her then walked the few metres down to the shore to wave to Kathy. Soon, she joined me with the backpack of knives and plastic bags. After taking the front and rear legs, and backstraps, I dragged what remained down to the water’s edge.
There were plenty of wild hog tracks, including some big boar prints, in the mud of the shoreline. There was a good chance the carcass would attract the pigs and they would be within range of the 257 Weatherby Magnum from camp – but that is another story.
On returning home we processed our haul of venison. The fridge is full of cryo-vacced bags holding venison steaks. I will age them for three weeks before freezing them. The trimmings we minced, bagged and mostly froze for later use. We have used some of the mince already, for hamburgers, sausage rolls and rissoles. The front leg and shoulders, along with the rear leg shanks, I froze before taking them to an old mate, a retired butcher. He kindly cut the block of frozen meat and bones into chunks. Today, using half of that, Kathy and I made an Osso Bucco inspired meal. I will post that recipe after we have tried, and approved, the dish.