“Trips always seem to start the same way, end the same way but the good bit in the middle is always a surprise”
We started with the usual late night, last minute supermarket run and a mad pack up. Climbing into a hot shower, then finally into the last comfortable bed for 5 or 6 days. This all played out for the 3 of us with a few texts sent reminding each other of things we need to remember and checking essentials. As long as I had my sleeping bag and the usual block of chocolate for each day I figured i’d be sweet.
Alarms sprung into life at 3.30am but it’s never an issue rising when you know you’re going hunting. I cruised into town and picked up the crew for the next 5 days, with high spirits and hopes of big stags we headed south into the darkness. After a couple hours heading into colder territory than usual, we were at the 4 Square gathering last minute supplies before going bush. A quick coffee and a pie from the bakery next door, we departed standard society and headed to our happy place.
Big tussock stags was the aim and we were walking in with the intentions of hunting high and hard. The downside of this is carrying everything on your back and to start our mission we had to climb from the valley floor up onto the tops.
We finally met the end of the line for the old faithful ute, and donned heavy backpacks. Jarrod had been doing a lot of training for an up coming marathon so we knew he would be ready to put us in the hurt box on the way up. To top it off the mad bugger had run a half marathon the night before to keep up his training!
Head down arse up we climbed towards a saddle we figured we would camp at for the first night in our loop. We had only climbed a hundred vertical when we heard a roar from the exact opposite direction we had planned to go. Being the middle of the day we dropped our gear and headed towards him. Who would we be to walk in the opposite direction of a roaring stag on day 1. We climbed in his direction and he continued to moan half heartedly for awhile but the wind wasn’t good for us and he shut up when we got closer. We parked up for a bit and saw a sow with a whole mob of small piglets. They darted in all directions and under the watchful eye of mum carried on being pests. Considering we wanted to get some height tonight we left this stags domain without laying eyes on him but our loop involved coming back above him in about 5 days and figured he wouldn’t go far. Back to the heavy packs and we beat the feet up. After a couple hours we were up into our saddle with a beauty camp site set up and couple hours of daylight left. We grabbed the binos and spotters and climbed into a good vantage point to setup for the evening.
A few moans wafted out of the gullies in front of us and we were on high alert. We had timed this trip perfectly by the looks and we were into it. The tussock country kept us second guessing were these stags were and we quickly figured out the stags sounded closer than what they were.
Rousey was the first to pick up the first stag way in the distance and once we got the spotter out we discovered he was the one roaring. It was taking 2 to 3 seconds from watching him in the spotter open his mouth, to the time his roar reached us. The open tops carried the sound well and that threw us into thinking he was closer. We also couldn’t believe our luck as the stag Rouse had laid eyes on looked to be a beauty! He was chasing a few hinds around up in a big gully with a few small satellite stags hanging around on the fringes. He certainly wasn’t interested in these smaller stags getting any part of his action and kept a close watch directing them away from the intruders. We spotted good amounts of deer from our lookout. The only one worth pursuing was Rousey’s stag way up on the face. We were running out of time rapidly and there was no chance of us getting into range that night so we did our best watching the deer for the evening and hoping he would be somewhere around there in the morning.
Clear skies proved for a cold night in the tents but we were prepared. We had hatched a plan to chase this stag first thing in the morning and pull camp in the dark after a quick breakfast. We slept well that night after our climb into stag country.
Day 2 broke and we climbed up into his lair and broke out into a lookout we could see his whole gully from on daylight. We saw a few hinds but there was no sign of any of the stags from last night. Had they gone? We sat for a couple hours and watched the hinds dawdle around but it just seemed weird that they were all unattended? Then just as we were gathering our stuff. Rouse saw some deer on the skyline right on the top of the range. They were going over the top. They were so far away you could tell they were deer but not what they were. The one at the back certainly looked like a stag but was it the one. By the time we had got the spotter out they were gone. It appeared they had gone over the main range and into the next catchment.
The direction they were heading is the way we wanted to go on our loop anyway so off we went. More climbing ahead but spirits were still high. The Stag wasn’t here anymore so we hoped he had gone over the skyline after those hinds and maybe we could catch him in the next watershed. We got half way up our next climb and figured we would stop for some lunch. In true form Jarrod had beaten us up the hill and as he was sitting his pack down he thought he heard a moan in the gully. We sat there for a bit and scanned the gully incase the stag hadn’t followed these hinds over the top this morning and maybe Jarrod had in fact heard him right in front of us. We scanned for awhile but didn’t pick anything up. Then by chance I was looking under a bluff and low and behold there he was! In plain sight. Only 550 metres away across the gut! He was bedded down in the shade of this bluff just resting and was hard to see in the shade and behind a flax bush.
We quickly recognised he was a shooter. So we sprung into action. Cameras were setup and a good rifle rest found for Rouse. Ranges dialled and everyone was ready. We roared at him to stand him up. He wouldn’t budge. Roared again. Didn’t budge again. He had heard us and turned his head but he wasn’t interested. We kept roaring and he kept looking in our direction. He was clearly content sitting under his rock in the shade. After about 20 minutes he finally rocked back and gathered himself. Rouse knew what to do. The bullet found its mark straight behind the brutes shoulder blade. He crumbled beautifully. Dead on his feet. He tumbled through the tussock for about 20 yards then came to a holt. A beautiful death. He deserved it.
After all the adrenaline had worn off we got stuck into some well deserved lunch. The surprise had been well worth the wait and we were only on day 2. We then climbed up toward our next campsite for the trip and setup. We found a decent spot, pitched tents and dropped gear. Jarrod and Rouse were going to go retrieve the stag and I was gonna carry along the top and scoot along a spur to stay out of the wind. I left the lads when they dropped off to retrieve the stag and carried on a couple hundred yards and found a new lookout. It was a fantastic view into our next watershed and the wind was perfect. I had only sat down for 5 minutes and already heard a couple roars float along up to me. I managed to lay eyes on a couple but seemed to be a few scrubbers holding different sets of hinds.
Then right on queue a stag roared closer than these other scrubbers I had been watching. He sounded as if he was 100 yards away. I quickly picked him up about 400 away and swung into action. I snuck in behind a ridge out of sight and closed the gap to a mere 120 yards. He looked a beaut up close and personal. Theres something about being close to big stags in open country. I set up my camera and took some seconds to double check a few things.
“Aim small, Miss small comes through my head”
The shot clattered through the gully and he tumbled. He was dead before he even knew it. How it should be. We as hunters have a duty to not make the animals we hunt suffer. The ladies stood there and looked around. They didn’t know which way to run. A few sniffs of the wind and finally the lead hind charged off down the hill to safety.
I packed my gear quietly and quickly. I now had a full job on my hands for the afternoon, I was alone and had to try move this beast. It was a quick stroll down the hill through the tussock to find him at rest. He probably weighed double me and with a load of grunting and wheezing I got to work. Luckily for myself, I had my Inreach and let the boys know I was sweet and would meet them back at camp about dark. Rousey was due in camp after dark too so was gonna be a late one all round for the crew.
Dinner was welcomed at the end of day 2 and what a 48 hours of action it had been. 2 beauty stags on public land is hard enough, let alone within a few hours. We bunkered down after some hot tucker and checked the forecast. It had worsened and we were looking at a dusting of snow according to the InReach. Guide ropes tightened and into the scratcher to wait and see what Mother Nature has for us.
Day 3 dawned white. The dusting of snow wasn’t quite as forecast and we woke to nearly a foot of snow at camp. It must have snowed consistently since dark and was still sleeting when we woke. It looked bleak for the day but with promise of better things we took it in our stride and rode it out. It broke late evening for some glassing and we relished the chance to get out of the tents. The deer didnt seem to worried about this sudden dump and hadn’t moved from where they were the day before. We observed a few small stags and hinds for the evening but nothing we hadn’t seen already. Back into the scratcher again to see what tomorrow brings.
Day 4 was a shock again. It snowed again over night and was starting to build up on us now. We made the call to pull pin from our ridge top camp and bust along the tops a little further and cut our loop shorter by coming down a different spur towards the ute. We meandered along the snow covered ridges slowly. The deer had dropped lower now as the snow was building up in the gullies. We followed their lead and got just below the snow line and made camp. The roaring had died right off over the last couple days but we were in new country so hopes for a trifecta stag for Jarrod were high.
The evening drew closer and we started hearing some different roars down below us. The trouble was instead of sleeting or snowing, now it was just drizzle or rain. Between showers Jarrod picked up a stag roaring across from us and we pulled out the spotters. He was a huge animal holding a few hinds but unfortunately lacking much on his lid. Short points and thin timber made him safe. We roared at him to try wind him up and he came to the party. He got all flared up and started pacing across the face. His gals had enough of all his carry on and wandered off, he was so content replying he didn’t even notice. After awhile he started waltzing around to where his girls were and realised they had gone. A sniff of the ground and with a final roar he was off in their direction.
With about an hour of light left another stag had heard all the commotion and must have wanted a piece of the action. Jarrod picked him up again. He was a very young small stag and he had come in hot. He strolled towards us with us still roaring at him. Every now and again he would pause and offer up his best roar. He was all by himself and must have been looking for a dust up. The young red strolled right up to us hiding in the bluff and realised at about 5 yards he had been fooled. He bolted, but still wasn’t convinced so circled round to get in beside us. With a snort and a stomp he bolted back down the hill to safety.
We tramped back to camp for dinner and hopefully a warmer night in the tents. The InReach was relaying bad weather coming in tomorrow evening so decided this was our last night out. We had huge feasts and ate as much of our supplies as possible trying to lighten the loads out tomorrow.
Our final day came early as day light savings had duped us.
Just for a change it had snowed over night again and was getting lower by the day. Wet tents were stuffed into packs and frozen socks and boots were thrown on. The mission out was all down hill so the knees were going to take a bashing. Spirits were high though because the last 4 days had flown by and success had been achieved. With our packs filled to the brim we tramped our way back down the valley. Back to society and civilisation. Back to reality which spelt the end of our mission. Sadly just the same as all the other ones.
Cheers Alex Davies