Timing Is Everything
Glen Stewart gives us a beautiful photographic window into a classic red deer hunt.
As hunters we move with the seasons, we see and sometimes seek the changes, a tinge of yellow on a leaf in the garden in autumn, a hint of green in the lawn come spring, it’s a message, a pointer to the animals, fish, or fruits we may plan to harvest. In some small way it’s a connection to our past, a link, a pathway to the very inner sanctum of a hunter-gatherer's heart and soul…. for some of us the link has been lost, suppressed by the goings on of modern day living, the hurly burly frantic pace of life and progress as it is today. It’s a shame really as connection to country is amplified when you are an active participant in what it can provide for the table. Food and the land that provides it takes on a whole new meaning.
A HINT OF GREEN
It was a hint of green that caught my eye while driving past, just a small patch off to the side, normally at this time of year it would have blended in, green on green for as far as the eye could see. With the extra dry season, it stood out like a sore thumb, a green island in a sea of brown.
I had never seen deer on this part of my hunting block; it was just too exposed, too open, but I knew with the conditions the way they were it would have looked and smelt so inviting. A quick walk around and through the little green island confirmed my suspicions - deer scat and prints everywhere.
The cloak of darkness surrounding them after hours was all they needed to strip away the fear factor of being so exposed.
On my return later in the evening all was quiet, the night was as black as the ace of spades, it mattered little, as it was the start of the red deer roar and I was confident that if the hinds came out, a stag would not be too far away and I would hear him.
The first few low moans and grunts where hard to decipher, you know that feeling when you are not sure if it’s actually the sound you want to hear or just your mind working overtime and wishing you heard what you wanted to hear…besides that the buck kangaroos where making quite a racket as well, so I was happy to write the first few noises off. I had laid back at this stage counting satellites if I recall, the night sky above was so vivid and clear, not sure if I got to a six or seven count on the satellites, when the unmistakable continuous low grunts from a stag came bellowing out across the clearing. There was no point looking so I just laid back and smiled, my work here done.
MOMENTS IN TIME
A few days later I was back in the area scouting but on and eastern facing slope off a long ridge. It bordered another clearing below and, if I got there in time I may be able to catch a stag coming back to bed in the timber for the day.
Walking up high with the breeze coming front on over my right shoulder I knew conditions where perfect. I had hunted this face before many times but this time it would be with a camera, I had a long week's rifle hunting ahead and a mate on route, so this would be a scouting mission for the days ahead.
Toby dog was sniffing hard into the breeze. With two roars off in the distance we closed the gap quickly, the closest roar was now just below us; we sat. Here he comes. I checked with the binoculars a young eight or ten-pointer, to my left and walking our way. Camera at the ready I began to click away - he was roaring and walking and in quite a state. I quickly checked around us for hinds, he was on his own, possibly just a satellite stag.
To my amazement he pulled up straight below us and began to bed … what a gift opportunity! Over the next hour or so I would be witness to some incredible rutting red stag behaviour.
Reading an animal’s body language is paramount in closing a distance gap undetected. I could tell straight away this stag was tired, very tired in fact, his senses where dulled, I was working permanent night shift at the time and totally got it … before long I was twenty metres away, clicking on the camera at will almost, he was drifting in and out of slumber, it was comical at times, it was like watching somebody nodding off on the lounge, head dropping almost to the point of no return then snapping back into some form of consciousness, which was a trigger point for a God-awful roar that echoed through the valley and sent shivers down my spine every single time.
At one stage he dropped his head all the way to the ground and lay his ears back, it was a brief 10 or 15 seconds at the most, but it looked like the deepest sleep.
The whole time this was going on I could hear in the background another stag getting closer….the young stag did not seem to be concerned until the roars and moans got close, he was well awake by this time and showing some signs of concern. I could see it in him, indecision, looking around but still bedded. Good thing he chose to stay bedded because the other stag was much bigger; the young stag did not move a muscle, not a peep, as the bigger stag moved below us. I got one pic of him, just the tops of his antlers, a giant of the forest, truly magnificent.
With 10 minutes passed and the coast was clear the young stag stood, stretched and walked off in the opposite direction with not a whisper, with one last look in my direction I got one more click on the camera, rolled on my back, held the camera high in one hand and punched the sky with the other, what a moment in time!
It was hard for me to contain my excitement when Daz arrived in camp later that evening, but with a few big days ahead of us, we turned in early for some sleep.
TIME TO HUNT
Dawn the next day saw us on the same eastern facing slope as Toby and I were the day before, chasing the big stag, cameras packed away and rifles in hand, the bush was silent, the hunt was over by mid-morning. With only the sight of a few hinds we let move on above us undisturbed, it was still a good hunt and I I was unconcerned. Stags move a lot at this time of year and we could still run into them on another block.
Turned out I was right ... just not the big boy I had seen a day or two earlier. This one was roaring hard though, limping as well. We thought he may have been wounded by another hunter, but after close inspection through the binos we could also see that his genetics where not good in the antler department, so he needed to go. A doe call soon had him on the march coming in on a string almost. Daz made no mistake with the shot - the 9.3 is devastating at close range.
We inspected him closely for other wounds while dressing out the meat, but couldn’t find any. Turns out after talking to a good mate it’s not unusual for stags to injure themselves at this time of year fighting with other stags.
THE GREEN CLEARING STAG
After a pretty serious yarn about our time left and the chances and opportunites we had available, we came up with a plan for the green clearing stag.
We adjusted the plan to two shooters. Murray my son had joined us as well by this time, three of us plus the dog would just create too much noise. Murray had yet to see or shoot a quality stag, so I would drop them off in the morning very early then return later to pick them up. I would try to get some sunrise shots back at camp.
We didn’t need an alarm clock in the morning, a stag had wondered close to camp overnight and roared not 100m away, Daz shot up out of his swag and roared back…..no response, we contemplated hunting him, but it was still quiet early and suspected him to be a young satellite stag we come across earlier in the week, so we let him go undisturbed.
With the drop off complete I set about getting some sunrise shots, it was a beautiful morning one that only the clear mountain air and altitude can give. The text came a little earlier than expected, “A good one on the deck get your backside here ASAP!” wow…..our plan had come together, it actually worked.
To see the joy on both guys’ faces was priceless, the words flowed; they were both talking, then listening to each other, stopping and recounting the hunt, stories of avoiding countless kangaroos, of removing boots to hunt in socks, getting into position, calling on moments in time like so many hunters have done before us for millenia. We set about recording events, not in paintings on rock walls but in pictures on cameras, we all stood together and filed memories away at that time, to share and recount later around fires and tables as we eat the bounty that we have provided for friends and family - the lucky ones.