Red Stag

by Rod Coleman & Matt Graham

Ka-boom! Ka-boom! The red stag is down on the opposite face, but where is he.? A quick search through the 'binocs' reveals no sign. A hind can be seen through the light scrub as she stops, turns, trots, stops again and then finally heads for the ridge, obviously searching for her mate. So, where is the stag? Did he disappear into the tangled gully below or is he lying dead in the long grass? Let's back-track to find out!

Living in Victoria for much of my early hunting years I had the opportunity to stalk Sambar deer in the high-country. This spurred me to make it to NZ to try for Red Deer and Chamois. A Christmas snow-storm hampered our expedition and although I did go on to take a nice Chamois the fleeting reds that I did see wetted my appetite for more. Since that hunt I have tried to access the red deer of the Brisbane Valley but the 'club' seemed impenetrable.

My luck turned when a mate offered to take myself and my 'young bloke' Hayden for a trip to the upper Brisbane Valley where he had taken good trophy stags. We drove hard for over six hours to get to the property before dark so that we could get an idea of the lay of the land as we hoped to start hunting at the crack of dawn. It certainly pays to have a good knowledge of the ridges and gullies because after all 'Big Red' knows them all like the top of his hoof, so to speak.

The bellow of a rutting red stag, there's nothing quite like it in this country to excite the hunter. Even a big tusker charging at close quarters doesn't do the same for me as the sound of a stag roaring in the early morning. The 'boys' started up that day around 4.30am, just as we were rolling out of our swags. We were camped on a flat by a small stream that ran out from a gorge to the south. From this gorge a big throaty stag was roaring out his dominance, perhaps a mile away. Further up to the north another two were arguing over a prize of hinds.

Mark, my mate was hunting with a compound bow so he opted to hunt the two stags to the north as it might give him the chance to get in close. Lets face it, with girls on their mind they should only be concerned about 'real' opposition. This left Hayden and myself free to hunt south into the gorge after 'throaty' who was giving forth his challenge every ten of fifteen minutes.

The 1996-97 season had been exceptionally good and the dew-laden grass was past our knees. Within minutes our trousers and boots were sodden and the painfully sharp grass seeds were beginning to penetrate the open weave Realtree Camo that we wear.

We were covering the country as quick as we could in the dark, trying to close the distance until the first glimmer of daylight. The hunt then proceeded at a good snail's pace, checking every clump of bush or gully for sign of deer. By now we were getting into the stag's territory and any spiker or doe that we spooked could alert the old boy and possibly blow the hunt. Two more stags could be heard working the hilltops back toward camp. Coupled with the occasional dingo howl we knew that we were in the right spot. Great stuff!

We were our way up and around a north-slope where I thought the stag might be while trying to keep my boy just in sight. Hunting together was great as long as we kept an eye out and watch for the other to stop or indicate something of interest or a change of direction. Talking was definitely out.

I saw Hayden freeze and then slowly raise his 7MM/08 Mountain Rifle. Following his line of sight I found what he was looking at. A spiker with a four-pointed hat rack was coming back down out of the gorge around a cliff face. He was travelling along a worn animal track, obviously away from the bully with his harem.

I stood watching the first stag of the hunt with my son, glassing him through his scope. In fact the first stag he had ever seen in the wild, a three hundred metre shot that I know he could have taken easily. Hayden watched the young buck trot away, smart enough not to be gun happy and spoil his chances at a real trophy. Ah mate, that made me feel warm inside.

We left the young spiky to seek his sanctuary and continued on up the face and onto a saddle thick with lantana, re-growth and ageing gums. Flat country was pretty scarce in this place but better looking deer counry I have not seen. Flitting slowly and silently through the undergrowth like leafy spectres we both stopped on hearing a rustling in the next gully. We stood stock still rifles at the ready, listening hard, full of expectation.

"Come on old mate", I thought, make it over that ridge and I'll nail you, or Hayden will. Isn't it funny how, when in deer country you fully expect every movement to be a big stag. Not this time, as we watched a hind and yearling materialise from the mist and disappear into the gully from where we had just stalked.

Our friend roared again fairly loud but on the other side of the gorge. The two other stags back above camped sounded in return, so it was difficult to decide which was easiest to get to. We could get back and above the others which would be a distinct advantage and relatively easy to do whereas the closer fellow appeared to be closeted in a dense gully on the other side of the gorge and hard to even get a look at.

We were sitting shielded by some bush where we could watch out for the 'big guy', trying to pinpoint his exact location when he roared again. We sat for another fifteen minutes glassing the gully and surrounding cover where we thought he was without another sound. Meanwhile the other two were really kicking up a fuss.

Hayden was all for trying to get above these two before they made it back up into the tops. It was now about 7.30am and the mist was starting to cook-off in the growing sunlight. Heading along the saddle we came across some saplings that had copped a caning from a decent stag. There were also fresh dropping and tufts of grass ripped up here and there. You could just smell stag on that magic little ridge. Don't you just love it? Being in deer country and being able to see and smell the signs of your quarry, now that's hunting!

Big guy let forth again with a mighty deep throated roar. Man that sound really warms up your blood. So I said to Hayden, " If you want to get above those other two you go ahead but I'm going to find this bloke!". Hayden agreed and slipped back down the saddle and away.

I worked my way back to the rocky bluff and sat down to glass and wait for another roar. He let rip twice more in the next fifteen minutes or so. He was difficult to pinpoint but I felt that he was further up the gully from my position. For some reason I happened to look over the top of the ridge and on the next rise over I spotted a stag and his doe quietly feeding. He looked to be at least a big double four so I thought I might as well take my chance with him.

It took me over half an hour to work my way down the gorge side through a tangle of lantana and scrub into the creek and up the other side where I thought the stag was. I had planned my ascent from the other side to come out on the ridge behind some cover.

The day was starting to really warm up and I was soaked with sweat. I made myself climb as slowly as possible. My old lungs were flat out dragging in enough oxygen to keep me going and I could feel my heart fairly thumping. I peered over the ridge to check that the deer were still there.

My pulse rate was so high from the exertion of the climb that I dared not attempt the 200-odd yard shot so I forced myself to sit down and regain my composure. I never stare straight at an animal for more than a second when stalking because I reckon that their senses are keen enough to feel when they're being watched. So I just sat quietly and kept them in my peripheral vision.

The grass was too high to take advantage of any rocks or stumps for a lean so I took the shot from my shoulder still breathing a little too hard. The 270 Remington Mountain Rifle bellowed out across the gorge and the stag hesitated for a second and then bolted. I rammed in another round and fired at the stag now in full flight. This time I was sure I saw him go down.

I sat still glassing the area but could find no sign of the buck. I was sure that both shots were good. It took half an hour to get to the spot were I thought he was. Searching for over an hour I was starting to get that sinking feeling in my guts. Have I wounded and lost the animal, now that would really burn me off, I thought.

I made it back to camp to meet the boys by 11.30, not feeling very smart. We cooked up a feed and the three of us headed back up the gorge for another look. We searched for three-quarters of an hour but the landmarks that I had picked from my shooting position now looked quite different. I opted to walk back to where I had shot and call Hayden onto the spot where I thought he should be.

Hayden was looking around for the source of a loud buzzing noise that I had discounted as native bees. He walked about five paces and called out " Here he is!". Boy what a relief. We had searched under, over and all around him but at least we found him in the end, already with a bunch of blowies gathering, thankfully.

He was a heavy eight pointer with fairly big mains measuring 80cms and now my beaut trophy lay before me. One broken trey tine spoilt the antlers but I was more than happy with my first genuine Queensland Red stag. That trip Hayden did not take a stag but enjoyed the hunt all the same. He howled up a dingo to within fifty yards but when he raised his rifle the dog bolted before he could get a shot away. Mark managed to stalk up close to a heavy double five with his bow but was also unsuccessful.

It is quite an experience to hunt these mighty red deer in the 'roar' and I know that I'll get back whenever I can. Just to be in the Brisbane valley at that part of the season would be enough for any real hunter and if you can bag a trophy it's certainly a bonus.

Rod's Red Stag.