Despite the unseasonably hot weather my son Mick and his mate Tim had both secured a nice buck each; it was Tim’s first after two years of hard hunting and mishaps along the way. I duly rang my friend Alex and as it turned out he had cracked a thumper the week before, but I’ll leave that story for him in a future issue.
Alex asked if I’d like to head up his way for a hunt, as the bucks were chasing does and on the move. It was quiet at first due to very warm days and the dry terrain made stalking very noisy. But on day two a late afternoon storm bought widespread rain and a welcome cool change. There was no doubt in my mind that both these factors would change the game plan for tomorrow's hunt, so we planned an early start.
Up at 4am and we drove to our hunting area. A wet night and a cool 10 degree morning would have those bucks vocal again I thought. We parked the vehicle and stood listening in the stillness of the night and my theory was confirmed by the distant grunt of two different bucks. Grabbing all we’d need for a day in the hills we headed off in an effort to hit the tops for a little glassing at first light.
With head torches on we slowly picked our way up the steep slope stopping from time to time to listen for any movement or grunting close by. The rut was back in full swing and walking was also a lot quieter, as underfoot was still wet from the previous night's rain and a gentle breeze blew in our favour.
Reaching the tops with only a matter of minutes to first light we both settled in to do some serious glassing. Directly below us, a deep, scrubby gorge rose to our perch on the tops and dropped away over the other side of the hill; a fence line along it’s spine separated both sides.
Within minutes of first light a young spiker rounded our hill and dropped into the gully below. The grunting had stopped as Alex and I searched for deer nearby, but nothing. A few minutes later Alex spotted a mob of pigs heading up the hill towards us. As they briefly stopped at the fence line, I took several photos at less than 100 metres, letting them cross and disappear down the other side.
Seconds later a large black solitary boar was spotted following their path. Catching a glimpse of him only a short distance away I knew he was big. Just below us and nearing the tops, I could see tusk and plenty of it. Would I spook a potential buck nearby if I took the shot, was he as big as I thought?
Normally, when deer hunting I wouldn’t dream of taking a shot, but this boar was huge and with nothing else spotted or heard, I decided to shoot. Lining him up at 80 metres, I dropped the boar where he briefly stopped to cross the fence line below.
At that moment a buck began grunting to our right not 200 metres away. “What The….” I thought silently. “Leave the boar for now and lets check out that buck,” I whispered to Alex. Dropping down about 50 metres we spotted him. He was thrashing a bush in the gully below but didn’t have any does with him. Assessing his headgear, we both agreed he was too young, so we backtracked to the boar. The big old warrior was indeed all I thought he’d be, with over two inches of tusk protruding and a live weight of more than 140 kg. What a monster! We decided to hunt on and come back for the tusks later in the day when all would go quiet.
Continuing along the ridge-top fence line, we cautiously looked and listened. Glassing at regular intervals we travelled cautiously until we heard a buck voicing his dominance well ahead of us. Nearing the cover of a large tree we both glassed across the opposite face and it was Alex who spotted him first.
The black-bodied buck was holding four does and continued to run round them in an effort to hold the harem together. The buck was at least a kilometre away and the open hills were going to make it a mission to get within shooting distance. Cautiously dropping down into the lower country we closed the gap to some 600 metres. As Alex had taken an even bigger buck two weeks prior he nobly offered me the shot. “You’ll have to go alone from here though,” he whispered. So Alex sat in what cover was available and I headed off to try to close the gap for a shot.
From here on in, the whole valley was open with the odd scattered tree at distant intervals. The buck and his harem were just below the opposite top and in full view of the terrain we were in. A deep wash-way snaked its way across the valley and half way up the hill to our quarry, so I dropped down into it, thinking I could use the shallow gully for cover and close the gap a little, but the deer were up high and could see right into it. Proceeding along as quietly as possible and using what cover I had, I stopped to glass the deer at regular intervals. Finally, I sensed they were nervous, as one of the does had started to head for higher country. The others were peering down in my direction. I knew that any attempt to move forward from here would spell trouble, so I cautiously removed my back pack lying it on the crest of the wash way and decided it would have to be now or risk them disappearing.
Laying the Blaser 7mm Rem. Mag. over my pack I produced my Swarovski LRF binoculars for a reading on the distance. Thankfully I’d practiced this scenario many times when paper punching and had become accustomed to calling the distance and knowing where the bullet drop would be, but could I make it happen on the real deal, I thought to myself.
The distance was 344 metres, slightly more than I was confident at. By now the buck was facing the fleeing doe and the others seemed restless for some reason, although I was sure they hadn’t seen or scented me. Laying the cross hairs right on the bucks back line, I knew at 340 plus metres the bullet drop would be about 6 inches as it was sighted in 2-inches high at 100 metres. Taking a deep breath I slowly squeezed the trigger, allowing the recoil to surprise me. The buck leapt forward and at that moment I knew I’d connected. Running a short distance across the hill, the buck expired and rolled down the steep open face, coming to a halt on a flat bench up high. I could hear Alex shouting success from below and I thanked him for the opportunity.
Gathering his gear he soon caught up to me and congratulated me on the shot.
Slowly picking our way across the open valley and up the adjoining face, the buck came into view. A handsome trophy with an excellent cape and no broken points were more than I expected for this time of year. In fact my mind was made up to cape him out for a shoulder mount. After many photos, I removed the cape and packed him out.
Halfway back up the opposite face another buck started grunting, now only a few hundred metres from where I’d secured my trophy. Stopping for a quick glass, Alex and I could see him with some dozen does frantically gathering them together and chasing off a smaller spiker who’d overstayed his welcome. Although not as good as the one I’d taken we did spend a while admiring his tactics and eventually left him and his harem for another time.
Following the ridgeline back we eventually reached the big old boar I’d secured earlier that morning. With plenty of time now, we managed lots more photos and some time to admire his size and weight. Featuring a good set of tusks, I decided to take the head and proceeded to pack it into an already full backpack together with cape and antlers of my buck. The hike out was slow and heavy but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Alex offered to carry my rifle, but the bitter-sweet nature of it all made the hunt an even more enjoyable memory I won’t forget for the rest of my life.
Most of my hunting trips are never fruitless, regardless of success or not, as I tend to learn more about the outdoors and its creatures every time I venture there, even after almost 50 years of hunting. In the coming weeks I’ll be out again with the boys from my camp to look for that other big fella my son is chasing. But will carry little more than the camera and an empty pack.