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crashing blast of sound rang out, echoing and re echoing across the mountains and then suddenly his father crashed to the ground with his magnificent antlers folded under him.  One kick and he was still.  Galvanised into instant action the herd took off across the hill.
 

       It all started nearly seven years ago.  His father was a majestic beast with thick flowing mane and long sharp antlers.  His mother also had good genes and gave birth to him in a grassy glade well back in the wooded hills.  Curled in a small spotted ball while his mother wandered off to feed, he felt very insecure.  But when she came back and suckled him, his anxiety waned as he took down her sweet milk.  When he had finished feeding, his mother licked his anus, causing him to defecate.  After cleaning up after him, his mother moved off so that he would sleep peacefully while she grazed on the lush herbage of the valley.  He had virtually no scent, plus his mother would always clean up after him so there was not much chance of a predator finding him unless it actually wandered right onto him.  After two weeks, he started to pick at sweet grass shoots and after six weeks had gone by, his spots disappeared leaving him a dull brown colour that blended in with his surroundings.

       Nearly a year passed, then, as he became stronger, a pair of long spikes started to grow from his head.  Soon they became hard and itchy, rubbing them on small bushes they gradually coloured up and he spent time sparring with another young spiker that lived with the herd.
Then one day it happened.  The whole herd of about fifteen deer were grazing on the side of a steep hill in the early morning fog.Suddenly a crashing blast of sound rang out, echoing and re echoing across the mountains and his father fell to the ground with his magnificent antlers folded under him. One kick and he was still.  Instinctively he started running, as the rest of the herd were also galvanised into instant action with only their caudal patches standing out as they melted into the bush.  Then suddenly he stopped, turning back to see what had happened to his father.  Walking back, he saw a strange creature dragging his father to a small clearing.  He was lucky, as this was a trophy hunter not a meat hunter, otherwise he might never have had the chance of growing up. As the strange creature turned to look at him, he abruptly ran as fast as his legs would take him to catch up with the rest of the herd.
       Later that year as it cooled off, the bigger stags in the herd moved away from the hinds and the few smaller stags.  It was sort of like a boys group, heading off on their own away from the females and annoying kids.  The rest of the herd browsed on, covering plenty of ground in search of feed.  Some time later, his head began to itch and he was rubbing his antlers up and down a small tree when one fell off.  Getting a fright he ran off, and then the following day his other antler also fell off.  It felt strange to not have that familiar weight upon his head.  The weather warmed up and good rains fell causing the grass to grow thick and lush, especially where the fires had been through.  Now his whole time seemed to be spent eating as much as he could. New antlers started to grow from his head.  Not a pair of spikes like before but heavy new growth.  Between November and early January they grew long and sported two long brow tines and a smaller tine half way up each side.  The tops were starting to fork, as his good genes were coming through.  These antlers were heavy and felt hot with the heat of the blood coursing through them. He had subconsciously been very careful not to bump them while they were growing, but now they were starting to itch and he knew that he just had to rub them on something. Tentatively at first he rubbed them on a small sapling. 
 It felt good so he just about wrecked that sapling and started to rub on another one further along the hilltop.  As he rubbed his itching antlers he also urinated on the ground and rubbed the scent glands below his eyes on the trees.  He was instinctively marking his territory.  He now no longer wanted anything to do with the other stags; in fact he seemed annoyed in their presence.  Soon the first frost fell and a cold snap enveloped the mountains.  He felt great and a low roar came from deep in his throat culminating in a growling roar that echoed around the mountains.  Then an answering roar came from the next gully.  He was angry; this was his territory and his alone.  Running over the crest of the hill he came face to face with another stag.  This stag had larger antlers, as he was much older; his larger body size was more than a match for the well-toned body of this young opponent.  Running straight at the older stag, the young stag pushed and heaved as their antlers locked together. The patch of lantana where they fought was reduced to a trampled mess for nearly thirty yards in circumference.
        Then suddenly, the young stag took off across the hills, leaking blood from a nasty wound in the shoulder.  The old stag followed him for a few paces letting out a rumbling roar before turning back to the three hinds that stood watching in awe.  Rounding them up, he took them over the hill where he mated with them.  They were his girls and he would fight to the death if necessary any intruders into his domain.  The young stag made a nuisance of himself over the next few weeks, trying to entice a hind away from one of the older stags but without success.

       The next few seasons came and went with this big young stag growing stronger and really making his presence known in these wild mountains.  The last couple of years he had been successful in procuring his own harem of hinds, putting his good genes into the mountain herd.  Twice now, hunters had tried to sneak up onto this magnificent specimen of a red stag but to no avail, as he was wily and wise. 
       He knew from past experience that these man things could and would destroy him if they could.  Once a wily hunter calling to him, challenging him on his own turf had lured him into rifle range, it was only a small shift of the wind that betrayed the hunter and saved him.  A scar on his right shoulder from a hasty shot, told just how close he had come to ending up on that trophy hunterís wall. This year his antlers had grown so large that it was a burden just to carry them around and manoeuvre them between the trees and bushes, but his neck muscles were strong so he handled the extra weight quite easily.  The rut came and by the time it was over, he was absolutely worn out.  He had many bruises and holes in his hide from fights with young strong stags, he hadnít eaten properly for weeks and he just needed plenty of good food and rest to recuperate.  Even though at six years of age he wasnít that old an animal, over the previous few years he had put his all into defending his territory and gathering as many hinds as he could.  His genes would flow in this particular area for many years to come, but one wily old hunter had, unknown to the stag, been watching him secretly over the past few years.  This hunter had watched from a distance and waited, hoping against hope that no one else should luck upon this beautiful beast.  He was a true trophy hunter and waited until this stag had reached full maturity.  This hunter knew that from now on the stag could possibly grow a lesser head in the coming years.  He knew the stagís movements precisely and could tell within reason where the stag would be at any given time.  Well most times anyway, except that time of the year when they just seemed to disappear for a while.

       He had decided that the stag had passed his good genes on within the herd over the last few years and there were a few good young stags starting to show promise in the area.  These young stags would be able to take on the servicing duties that the old stag had been performing.  Now was the time to pit his skill against the wily old stag.  Keeping an eye on him from a distance was one thing, but getting to within rifle range after the rut was finished would take all of his skill. 

       There was a slight zephyr at play this morning as the hunter sidled along the steep ridge.  A cool mist wisped amongst the gullies as the sun started to peek over the horizon, lighting up the land in all its splendour.  Keeping high, as he knew the fickle mountain breezes would waft upwards as the sun rose; slowly he topped a small spur.  Suddenly the twitch of an ear alerted the hunter, there not more than 200 meters away was a hind.  Looking intently through his Ziess binoculars, nearly twelve more hinds became evident.  Most were hidden from view at first behind a small patch of scrub.  It was only the twitching of an ear that had alerted him; otherwise he might have stepped out into the open and blown his chance at the mountain monarch.  This was where experience came to the fore; a lesser hunter might have been looking for a whole deer and missed that ear twitching entirely.  He was in a perfect position and in full camouflage so sitting down he watched the herd through his binoculars.  The big stag was nowhere in sight.  Where was he?  Surely no one had shot him since the last time he had seen him three weeks ago?   
       Maybe his principles were a little too high; maybe he should have shot him while the rut was still on.  Then the hunterís heart gave a little beat of joy, for there he was in all his majestic splendour.  The great stag moved slowly out from a small stand of box.  Walking stiff legged he circled his harem, going out of sight for a while behind the small clump of scrub.  Then, content that everything was as it should be the great stag put his head down to feed on the lush green shoots.  Looking through the lens of his powerful Leupold scope, the hunter marvelled at the sight of this majestic animal.  His finger was on the trigger of his tried and proven old 30-06 Mauser, as once again he counted those points on the great stags head.  At least seventeen long points.  For three years now the hunter had watched this stag grow; now the time was right to take his well-deserved trophy. 

       Slowly the hunter lifted the bolt on his rifle, his mind in turmoil.  Maybe just one more year, what was one more year to this hunter?  Maybe the stag would grow a better head in the next season if the season were better than this one?  What was happening to this hunter was something that eventually happens to all of us if we are true hunters.  We start to care more for the animals we hunt. 
 The love of the bush and the love of being able to watch such a great animal in its own environment is something that eventually gets to you in such a way that often you will take a photo turn around and leave the animal in peace.  That is what this man did.  Shouldering his rifle he took out his camera, took a few photos, then turned his back on the trophy of a lifetime and started for home.

Ted Mitchell Snr

Photo of large stag was taken on a large game estate, even so it took four days to get this photo.

 

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)

 

The male of the species is called a stag, while the female is called a hind.

The rut or roar usually starts 101 days into the year, which coincides with the full moon in April.  It usually takes a cold snap to start them off properly, but if you wish to arrange a trip ensuring that the roar has started, then arrange it for the week starting on the 11th April and you canít go far wrong.

The oestrus cycle for the hind is approximately 18 days.

The gestation period for hinds is approximately 240 days.

The offspring are called fawns or calves and are born with white spots that disappear after approximately six weeks.  They start eating grass at approximately two weeks of age supplemented with motherís milk for many months.

Older stags tend to move away from the hinds in bachelor groups in winter.

Stags start to lose their antlers each year toward the end of September.

They are usually fully grown out again by January when they start rubbing the drying velvet from their antlers.

The colour of the antlers is dependant upon the terrain the stags live in and the types of trees they rub on.

A somewhat rarity is a full grown stag with no antlers; these are called Hummelís and should be culled to stop their bad genes entering the herd.  In saying this though, sometimes a hummelís offspring will grow antlers as normal.

Hinds can bark at you or some other form of danger at any time of the year.

Stags only roar during the rut and are mainly quiet the rest of the year.

The ginger coloured patch under their tail around the backside is called their caudal patch and stands out when they are running especially as the sun hits it.

The red deer unlike other species does not use its tail as a warning signal.

A red deerís hearing is excellent and this along with their excellent sense of smell and good vision make them a challenge to hunt out of the rut period. During the rut a red stag has only one thing on its mind and will readily come to a call from a hunter.  At this time of year the hind will be the one to give you away as they are ever vigilant.

Hunt safe, hunt smart and be a conservation hunter.

Good hunting

Ted

 

ďThis is a fictional story, but in saying that, the photos are real photos of real deer and this scenario could be played out in many theatres of the bush.  We should all strive to be more like the fictional character in this story and be more conservative in the way we hunt.  If we shoot all of the immature animals, well, there just wonít be any big ones out there, as they wonít get the chance to grow out.Ē

Ted Mitchell Snr

Australian Hunting Net ©2011