Mick Chapman has formed great memories and everlasting friendships through many years of hunting
My hunting journey began some 50-odd years ago, like many who cut their teeth chasing the ubiquitous rabbit in briar patches in Warrandyte and the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. Sometimes with rifle, other times with ferrets.
In 1971 I found myself in Townsville serving with the 2nd Battalion. The Vietnam War was about to reach its finale for Australians in December of 1972. While serving in the Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR) a few likeminded men and I would occasionally go roo shooting for a weekend’s recreation. Not particularly my cup of tea but it helped to whet my appetite for feral pig hunting.
Fortunately for me, my wife’s father hunted pigs and introduced me to a world that I could only have imagined existed. It was through my father-in-law, Ron Cran, I met the late Graham Skinner, a renowned shooter, hunter and bushman. Not long afterwards Graham bought the house next door and took me under his wing to some degree, teaching me how to shoot and hunt pigs and brumbies.
Around the same time I ran into Col Mingay. Col served in the RAAF and for the next 20 years we hunted regularly ‑ often travelling long distances, due to our varied posting locations. We hunted rabbits in Wagga Wagga, pigs in Queensland, donkeys and buffaloes in the Territory, gaining a vast experience of the wider hunting world.
It wasn’t until I moved to South East Queensland I had the opportunity to hunt deer with Col. It was Col, in the 70s, who opened up the arena of ballistics and reloading. Col, a true firearms buff, taught me much of what I know regarding firearms.
While serving at Richmond RAAF during the mid-80s I met Dave Toohey, a Taswegian, as he would prefer to be known as, a keen deer hunter and fisherman.
Dave’s help was a huge relief to a young man who was having difficulty breaking into deer hunting. Though my perseverance eventually paid off. During a hunt with Dave I had my first opportunity to take a sambar stag, but blew it. This encounter only served to increase my resolve to hunt deer.
Not long after this I was with Dave when he shot his second sambar stag, no world beater by today’s standards but a hard-won trophy. We were miles from the vehicle and it was about 10pm when we arrived after recovering all the meat. Shortly after this I was discharged from the RAAF and eventually moved to South East Queensland.
On my arrival in the mecca for red deer in Queensland, I crossed paths with Markus Michalowitz, a soon to be taxidermist and professional hunter. I spent the first couple of years in the area looking for red deer to no avail. Frustrated but not ready to throw in the towel, Markus suggested I hunt with him. My irritation soon vanished as he showed me the ropes of red deer hunting and the areas to search for permission to hunt. It was during those years I vowed when I cracked the secret code of deer hunting I would share my knowledge by becoming a deer hunting educator or mentor.
In the early days of Markus’s foray into the realms of professional hunting, I began guiding for him. It was quite astonishing to be in the bush with a client keen to learn about deer hunting. They often chose to employ a professional hunter, because mates wouldn’t show them the ropes. It was also while working for Markus I learnt how rewarding watching and showing somebody new to deer hunting was. Their sheer excitement is the purest form of a contagion.
Since those days it has been my objective to assist as many new hunters as I can to become familiar with the hunting sports. It was while serving as secretary of the local branch of the ADA that I met Tobias Turner. Tobias was president of the branch. We discussed ways we could go about introducing new members to hunting without the annoyance we had had to endure.
From this conversation a mentoring program was organised and many new members who were fortunate enough to participate took their first deer. Once again while serving as a mentor on this program I received as much of a kick out of watching a new hunter shoot their first deer as they did. It truly is one of the most rewarding pursuits a hunter can experience.
While Tobias served as branch president we developed a friendship. It was through this link I found out Tobias had never shot a red stag. I invited him out to a place I hunted and while there Tobias took the best red deer stag to be shot on the property over the 10 years I hunted it.
It was not long after Tobias’s venture into the realms of red deer stag hunting that I met Tobias’ father, John. Tobias and I were attending a function in Toowoomba. At the time Tobias lived in Bundaberg and I was near Gympie, some five hours drive for Tobias and three for me. Tobias arranged for us to stay at his father’s home. During an evening meal John and I realised we had gone to school together in Victoria and had lived a short distance from each other.
John had been interested in deer hunting but as a self-employed contractor, opportunities had been scarce. John accepted an invitation to hunt on the property where Tobias had shot his deer. Once started we were chasing roars until eventually John took a great double four. It was an excellent hunt and a real thrill for me as I had now been able to help both father and son fulfil a dream.
During this course of events Tobias had been blessed with a son, Angus. He was all of a couple of weeks old when I met him, wrapped in a baby blanket and the proud arms of dad. I have watched Tobias’ family grow up, spending time with them in the bush as dad and children hunted. As Angus grew, you could see the need to hunt becoming stronger, though in a young body the stamina wasn’t quite there.
As with most of us, hunting doesn’t just happen. It grows steadily until it becomes a passion or some may even say, an obsession. Well young Angus, though only a couple of years into double digits in age, might already have reached the obsession stage.
During one roar, which was badly affected by the drought, hinds were obviously down on condition preventing them from cycling. Consequently stags weren’t roaring during daylight hours, though were loud throughout the night but stopped, as though the switch had been flicked, at daybreak.
We stalked the hills looking or listening for the sounds of forlorn stags serenading the local gals, all to no avail. The morning of our last day of the hunt came all too quickly, yet we hadn’t heard a call all night. Having chased an elusive stag on the property next door and thinking it best to go where we knew there was a stag, we headed to the lair.
As we stepped from the vehicle a lone roar bellowed out from the hill above, not more than 150m away. From the sound of the roar, it was mostly likely the same stag we had chased on several occasions that week.
This time we thought we could cut off his retreat if we headed west along the creek before climbing the precipitous hill, enabling us to mount a challenge. Tobias set the pace, which was not for the faint-hearted. I am sure it was purely the excitement of hearing the stag roar that had Angus’ little legs pumping like pistons while keeping pace with dad. Along the creek we travelled with the stag roaring above us, all the while paralleling the deer as he moved through the bush. We only stopped when we found a suitable venue for the showdown.
Though the country was in drought, enough rain had fallen for the grass to be at least waist-high, prohibiting a prone shot. During the previous evening Tobias had fashioned, from a sleeping mat, a rifle rest to fit his camera tripod. With tripod extended, the fore-end of his rifle was on the rest, waiting for the deer to make its first mistake.
As the stag climbed we had glimpses of its silhouetted form, vaguely disguised by the tangled undergrowth, moving through the scrub. Occasionally he would roar his dominance to the world. Without offering a clear shot, we moved stealthily to a more open lane of fire. Our quarry proceeded to a rocky outcrop, standing statuesque for seconds, mirroring the painting of the Monarch of the Glenn, before roaring his final serenade. One well-placed shot saw the stag poleaxed by the 6.5mm. Young Angus’s reaction was priceless.
He turned to dad and without a thought blurted out: “Wow, dad, did you see that!” Angus threw his arms around his dad, waist hugging him with all the enthusiasm the young fellow could garner. If that was to be the last deer I see shot, it was worth it just to monitor the young fellow’s reaction. It wasn’t until sometime after that I realised I had been involved on three generations of one family helping to introduce them to deer hunting. Money can’t buy that.
I have been mentored and been a mentor and I can, from experience, be certain there is no better experience than to watch somebody take their first deer. If we want this magnificent pastime of ours to continue for generations to come, we need to encourage the next wave of hunter, by guiding them. Teach them how to hunt but most of all how to enjoy the hunt. To me there is nothing more rewarding than being in the bush with children. To observe their innocence of discovery, is like capturing moments from your own childhood when you learned something for the first time.
Don’t just tutor children, as some of my best friendships have developed from sharing my knowledge of deer with adults. Hunting is not about killing; it is about the whole experience. The joys of a gut-busting carry-out seem far away while you’re undertaking the task. But those hard times soon turn into some of the best memories forming the foundations for everlasting friendships.