Expect the unexpected

As Perry Magowan illustrates, anything can happen when hunting deer

Sometimes no matter how well you plan ahead or what you think you know, things just don’t turn out the way they should, could or would. Hunting can be a bit like that, life in general and circumstances as well.

On several occasions some of my hunts have gone quite unexpectedly, some surprisingly well and others on the disappointing side.

Many years ago, I was hunting with a good mate, Ken from Nanango. When we arrived at our area, Ken suggested we stick together until we had checked out a gully. If unsuccessful we could split up and go our own ways. As we made our path over the ridge and investigated the gully, two mature red stags trotted out and stopped side-on halfway up the other incline of the hill.

The lighter one was the biggest red deer stag that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. His mate was a good 10″ shorter at the shoulder than him. Although the smaller stag’s antlers towered over the big stag’s branches by at least 10″, he was a huge thick double-five and the big bodied stag’s antlers were a small double-four. I took the big bloke and Ken took the good double-five. It was the right thing to do. The hunting spot was Ken’s country. Still, it was an unexpected outcome.

Quite a few years later, Ken and I were hunting together in another good location. We had parked the car on top of a big ridge, as Ken decided to walk south into the wind while I strolled with the breeze to the north. We were to hunt for three hours and then return to the car. If one of us had been lucky enough, we would head home. Not long after leaving the car, Ken came across a spectacular big double-five with nine does. Unfortunately, as so often, the wind was swirling around in the rugged hills that day and gave him away. They ran up into a scrubby gully and that was that.

I had walked 1½km and was coming to one of my favourite gullies. The wind was blowing away from me, so I sat down on the ridge and waited. Not long after, I saw movement in the gully floor. Four red stags were grouped together going up to camp for the day. They split into two groups, as the three younger stags came up the gully straight below me. One was double-two, one double-three plus an older double-five which had a broken off left tine as it later turned out.

The two younger stags sparred and play-fought all the way up the gully. About 200m past me, the older stag stopped 30m across the gully and started to eat lantana leaves off a big bush. At that time, I was using a 35-mil battery power camera which made a lot of noise every time the button was pressed down, so no photos were taken of the stags fighting, unfortunately.

A big old double-four was standing on a ridge 250m away looking back down into the gully waiting for his mate to join him, who turned out to be a double-five. This behaviour seemed strange to me; I’d seen a good double-five as they were coming up the gully early before they had split up. I assumed it was the stag feeding across the gully from me. I had counted the group five times and there were four stags every time I had counted them ‑ a 2×2, 3×3, 4×4 and 5×5. So imagine my surprise when I shot what I thought was a good double-five but shortly after he dashed up the far ridge past the old double-four and kept going. He was moving like he wasn’t even hurt at all. I went over to see if there was a blood trail anyway.

On reaching where I’d last seen them, three stags were standing on the next ridge watching me ‑ a 2×2, 3×3 and the old 4×4, but no big double-five. I spent 1½ hours looking for a dead stag that wasn’t even shot. On the way back to the car I walked up the gully that the stag who I had shot at earlier had run down. And there was a smaller 5×5 stag lying dead on the ground. So there had been five stags all the time, not four. This was another unforeseen upshot. The big double-five had eluded me.

But the best unpredicted conclusion came in the midst of another roar. Parking my car in a different berth than normal on one of my favourite properties, I headed out into a gully system at about 4.45pm. This time I had decided to try wearing a lot of camouflage clothes, gloves and head gear. Ten minutes into my walk, there he was standing still, chest-on, looking at me from about 200m across the scrubby gully on the opposite hill. The sunshine was reflecting off his antlers. It was the most magnificent sight I have ever seen.

The glare made his antlers look like they were on fire. I didn’t risk taking a photo as I wanted to take him. Through the four-power riflescope I could see a beautiful, even looking double-five set of antlers. I counted them twice just to make sure. Although I must say I was a bit disappointed as I was hoping for a better class of head in this area. However, I was caught right out in the open, with no cover. There was not a thing to steady the rifle on and it was too far for me for a freehand shot.

It was time to see just how good this camo gear really was. One slow step after another, I made my way around the contour of the hill and down to a big gum tree, while the stag watched me. It took just over 30 minutes to achieve this feat. By that time, the stag had moved into a thin stand of brush on the edge of the thick scrub. I couldn’t see him anymore anyway.

After 10 minutes of constant scanning with the riflescope I finally found his hiding place. It’s incredible how a deer can hide behind just about nothing. It was going to be a shot across the gully at about 140m. Steadying the rifle against the tree in front of me, I took aim at his chest and let a 100g soft-point go out of the .243W. He wheeled around and ran west 40m into the scrub. Seven of his does went with him and two ran down into the gully and up the hill, right past me.

Moments later, seven does were standing and waiting on a ridge 600m away for him to join them. I thought I had taken him and he was down somewhere in the scrub. However, finding him turned out to be a whole lot harder than I reckoned. It took a quarter of an hour, walking up and back on the line he had run on into cover. But when I found him there was a real surprise. He was a double-six, not a double-five like I had thought. What an unpredictable turn of events. He looks just as good hanging on my wall.

On another roar, I was doing my best to take a red stag for my daughter, Naomi. It would be her first red deer though she had taken a rusa spiker a few years earlier with me in the Emu Creek catchment. Because of her work commitments we rarely had a chance to go camping and hunting together. So we took full advantage of our two days.

The first afternoon we saw one spiker and one doe. We also heard another stag roar from a stand of thick lantana which he would not come out of. Later the two of us were 200m from a mature stag carrying a neat double-six set of antlers shaped like a king’s crown. It looked much like a white-tailed buck’s antlers. He was rutting in the top end of a small scrubby gully. There was a huge water-eroded gully in front of us plus a big open flat with no chance of a shot. The wind was wrong and about to give us away. With only three-quarters of an hour of daylight left, we called it quits. Perhaps another day…

To cut a long story short, I returned two days later for one more try, but to no avail. The stag was unapproachable and very smart. Yet a year later my first attempt was successful, as everything fell into place and I downed the stag at 70m. By this time he was starting to go backwards in antler growth because of age and was a small neat double-five. Even though he was five each side and did not have a big set of antlers, he is still one of my best and favourite red heads. Another astounding happening.

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