Hunt For A Winter Wallhanger

“Having not have done years of hunting, some might say “fortune comes to those who wait”

Some stags you fluke it, and some are far harder earned then others. As all people that have had a crack at them will know, these guys don’t get big and mature by being complacent. As the top of the South is not well known for big stags and stags having bez tines, it makes it a lot harder to find the right one to be sent to the taxidermist. However there is still some fantastic stags locally that certainly have ticked all the boxes. Those brutes have ghosted out of my life on a few select occasions, as they so expertly do. Even worse yet I happened to shoot right underneath one this past February, then for him to run up and over the skyline only to pause and look back almost mockingly. These rare moments have made me hungrier to find that special one.

This year I was kindly invited into a stunning spot on public land with a good hunting mate and an even better bloke, Jarrod Mclauchlan. Being winter the weather looked bad a week out and hopes were pinned on it improving. Time was booked off work and plans laid so we were doing rain dances all week leading up to walk in day. The weather cleared somewhat perfectly for 3 days that would allow us to have a proper look into the area and give it the effort it required. 

3AM turned up in a hurry but its never hard to get out of bed when hunting is involved and after a few hours behind the wheel had us parked up shouldering heavy packs. We had a planned route in and a rough idea of where we wanted to base ourselves. So head down arse up, we smashed it as anticipation had us frothing to get into it. Good numbers of hinds were seen on our walk in but no stags were present. After about 5 hours we found a pearler spot for the tents and went about our work and constructed our camp for the next couple of nights. The snow was fresh and the sky was clear. We figured we may as well get the pins moving and look into some promising stag country for our first evening. A lot of glassing produced a few chamois all sporting that beautiful black winter coat, so out with the spotting scope. With a quick look, was obvious to us that they were young bucks and since they were not up around 10” they were safe where they were. 

Young chamois.jpg

We wound up punching up a spur between two promising looking gullies and decided this would do us for the evening and see what appeared over the course of the next couple hours. After a good amount of time glassing and finding only a couple Chams had us getting ready to settle in. Jarrod stood up to grab something out of his pack behind him and after he turned back all I heard was “Don’t F##king Move”. Unbeknown to us, there had been two stags sitting less then 250 metres away from us only a tiny little bench in plain view! Now they had stood up, and how we had missed them I still don’t know! Man these beasts looked impressive standing there in all their glory unsure of what to make of these foreigners. Jarrod slowly tried to get his rifle off his pack and I slowly reached for my camera. In a matter of seconds they had sidled out to 400 metres and didn’t look like stopping. It felt like De Ja Vu as I hadn’t even had a chance to look through the binos but I could see that they were what we had come here for. The heart rate increased when the closest one decided to have the trademark Red Deer look back and if we were ready things could have been different. The furthest one obviously knew we were bad news and hurried the more curious one away. My camera finally found focus as they kept going and going, by now they were well out of range. Jarrod jumped to have a look at the view finder as we still didn’t know what we were actually looking at. Some colourful language and heartbreak came out all in one motion and broke the silence. We could clearly tell one was a stunningly even Royal that had everything going for it. He was probably the nicest stag Jarrod or I had seen on public land before. The other was a beautiful shape and just us big and maybe a fraction longer but lacking the Bez tines and third top. 

 Spooked and gone

Spooked and gone

After watching a few replays on the camera and scratching our heads on how we hadn’t noticed them, we decided to pull back and try punch up further. They didn’t seem to overly spooked and definitely hadn’t winded us. We hoped they had just sidled around the face and maybe climbed up the gut and out of sight. We had no idea if this would be the case and there was even chance they had just climbed up and out of our lives like many other stags. 

We took our time, sent it up and snuck a look into where we hoped they had headed. We managed to pick up a couple smaller stags higher up but not the desired ones. With just 15 minutes of light left the big 8 showed up about 400 metres away and we hoped the 12 was near by. He unfortunately made us and disappeared into a fold. Jarrod put all his marbles in the kitty and straight lined it up while it was out of sight. With a matter of minutes before it was to dark to shoot Jarrod found them at 200. Now the issue was not shooting the wrong stag! With a solid rest and seconds ticking by, he found them in the scope. The were about to head through a saddle, but Jarrod pulled the trigger and sent the pill down range. The stag looked hit he thought, but it had gone up through the saddle and again gone into the unknown. We gathered ourselves, packed the gears up and donned head torches. Heartbreak was waiting for us at the saddle. The hoof prints went through the snow sitting on the ground and there wasn’t a spot of blood to be seen. We followed the prints methodically in the snow. Scratching out old ones as we found new ones. Then maybe 50 metres through the saddle, it looked like one had stumbled a bit and headed down while the other one had carried on sidling.? Maybe this was a good sign. And then there he was. Jarrods stag. Lying in a little snow shoot. Metres from falling into Never Neverland. 

He looked better then we thought and had that big sweep that you hope for. It was pretty choice to able to share such a brute of a stag with a good mate. After a few High 5s and yahoos into the darkness it started to sink in. We had managed to locate a big mature stag and then beaten the odds to first spook it and then shoot it just before darkness. He taped out at 40 inches long with 12 good points. With a quick photoshoot in the head torch and camera flashes, we had some serious work to do to get ourselves back to camp. I’m not a huge fan of leaving meat on the hill and would encourage people to carry what they can, but the size of the stag only allowed us to carry what we could manage with the rack firmly slung over Glocks shoulders. We finally hit camp well into the evening. After a quick feed and a hot brew to warm the hands, we dived in the scratcher head first. Safe to say we both slept well that night but both woke eagerly in anticipation for the next day.

 Jarrods stag

Jarrods stag

Jarrod Stag#3.jpg

We woke to frozen boots and another clear day. We sent it up past yesterdays gullies, into new territory in the darkness and got into fresh country at day break. We parked up on the magic time when the animals just seem to appear and quickly picked up 4 stags not that far away from us. They were feeding and having a few sparring matches between themselves. One definitely looked a bit more promising then the others and the spotter confirmed. He looked to be an 11 point specimen and unfortunately missing one Bez tine. With some of the strongest tines I’ve seen on a stag before, he definitely got me excited. I hummed and Ha’d for awhile weighing it up and decided to take the chance of not pursuing him now. We decided to push up valley in search of something better and hope he could be the make shift ‘insurance policy’ for that evening if nothing better could be located. 

Being only early in the morning still we climbed into a good vantage point for the morning glassing so we could cover some good country. We managed to locate some chamois on the dark side of the hill low down. It was good viewing watching how curious those young Chams can be. They ran away, ran back, whistled, stared and jumped around the face unsure what to make of us. The deer sign was abundant so they had to be somewhere. We managed to locate a skinny looking 8 point stag way way up in the snow. He looked to be by himself and pretty content perched up high on his ridge. 

 Young stag on the ridge

Young stag on the ridge

The rest of the day proved reasonably fruitless apart from a few hinds and the chamois to keep us entertained. I made the call with a few hours left to head back down to the stag from this morning. As we had given the rest of the country the chance to produce that oh so elusive brute, I was going to be more then satisfied with the animal from this morning assuming we could find him.

 Another close encounter

Another close encounter

After trudging back towards where we had found them this morning, we pulled up short and started glassing where they had been. It took all of about 2 minutes to find these guys bedded on the exact same spur they had been hours ago. We hatched a stalk from there and dumped our packs. The short climb to our snipers nest was a steep one however and had us red in the face when we got there. After taking a minute to set up the cameras and sort the shooter out we peered over the spur and sure enough there he was. He was sunning himself in the late afternoon watching over his winter domain. After a few checks on the range finder and made sure the camera was in focus we just had to stand him up now. Jarrod gave him a roar, and the poor stag didn’t know what to think. He slowly rose to his feet but was standing straight onto us. I wasn’t about to take a risky shot on a beautiful stag like this and now that I was looking through the scope he looked even better. I almost couldn’t believe that id passed him up earlier this morning. 

 Sweating our way up to the snipers nest

Sweating our way up to the snipers nest

With the cameras rolling all I had to do was wait for him to hopefully slowly turn and then squeeze off. He slowly quartered away and I found the crease. The rifle spoke and the damage was done. He faltered and careered down hill and collapsed within 10 yards. What a rush it was. No matter how many times you pull the hammer it doesn’t seem to get old. Then out of the blue the other stags that had been milling around on the face also, started heading straight toward us. The suppressor obviously works in this big country and they didn’t know what way the danger was. The stags funnelled straight toward our saddle and came to within 50 yards before they knew something was a miss. The stopped and stared with eyes bulging until they decided enough was enough and bolted in the opposite direction. 

After all the action had finally died down, we gathered the gear and sidled over to the beast. I was wrapped with my winter stag and he was a brute of an animal. The stags here seemed to be in such good condition perhaps from a mild winter mixed with a whole heap of feed in the area. With some quick photos and butchering we had successfully completed a dream hunt. We carried what we could and trudged our way back to our camp. I had snuck a few beers into the bottom of my pack incase we had tasted success. These were fantastic with our warm meals that evening and we sat outside looking back at our action packed 48 hours. The stars were out in force that night and it got to cold to sit around any longer. We dived into the scratcher eagerly that night. Sleep came easily for two happy hunters.

 Alex’s stag

Alex’s stag

4 AM came to soon, but we still had a heck of a mission to get ourselves, our gear and our stags back to the ute. With tents stuffed into bags and everything stuffed tight into packs we were ready. All we had to do was strap those awkward lids on the tops of the packs and time to beat the feet. We planned on trying to get as far as possible before the heat, and it worked perfectly. After about 5 hours of hard yakka grinding back to the ute, it was a welcome sight. With packs dumped we had done it. The search for that wall hanger had been a success. However my stag wasn’t quite the one to send to the taxidermist, it made me hungrier then ever to stalk and shoot the elusive big reds next year with their new sets of antlers.

Huge shoutout to my good mate Jarrod Mclauchlan for this mission. Definitely one Ill never forget and I look forward to the next one.