A Poms Deer Hunt to Oz

By John

As anyone on this site will be aware, my deer hunt started with an advert of sorts on the site, asking for help to do some shooting, while on a family holiday to Oz in September 2001. This advert was answered by Les and he offered to take me out hunting sambar. I had never heard of sambar before and had virtually no experience of deer hunting in England , in fact my shooting experience was foxes, rabbits and woodpigeons. Little did I know then that this advert would lead to the finest shooting holiday I have ever had in my life.

After quite a few e mails the time eventually arrived to fly to Oz, and this was not without some trepidation, as it was just after the World Trades Centre terrorist incidents. However I arrived safely, and a couple of days later after I got over the dreaded jetlag, I met up with Les. I must be honest and say that I was apprehensive about this meeting as we had only corresponded by emails and we did not really know each other at all. I think it was obvious to us both however, in the emails that we knew what we were talking about, as regards shooting, and I am pleased to say that we both got on with each other as if we were long time friends.

John at the pub they stayed
at during the hunt.

That day we went round the gun shops in Melbourne and I started to learn about the different cultures we have as regards shooting. Our gun shops are predominately stocked with shotguns and a few rifles while the ones in Melbourne were the opposite in fact I saw lots and lots of rifles there with calibres I had only heard about.

The day for the hunt arrived and Les took me to his house to prepare for the journey to the Victorian Alps. As he loaded up his ute with straps, chains, first aid kit, guns, spare fuel, water and even chainsaws, I said to him, "What do we need all this for? ". He said, "Just wait and see."

On the way up to where we were going hunting I was full of questions about everything to do with shooting, the country and the size of it, the road signs, the history of the place and its people. Les patiently explained as much as he could to me and the journey, through spectacular countryside, passed very quickly. We duly arrived at the motel we were staying at, and stashed our spare gear in our rooms, before heading off into the bush for an afternoons hunting.

I am sure I developed a swivel on my neck then, because I could not take in the vast countryside I was being driven through. Then we went off the road and into the bush. Well that was an experience on its own, being driven along tracks just wide enough for the ute. It was then I started to understand the need for all the gear in the ute. We came across a recently cut tree and I then realised the need for chainsaws etc. If you got lost in there, you needed all the help you could get!

As we pulled up, I was constantly amazed, by all the new sights and sounds around me. Les then prepared his 30-06, and I can honestly say I did not take a Marlin 45-70 with me, just in case (honest).
Moving off into the bush I was very wary about every step I took as I had heard so much about the snakes in Oz, plus I had mentioned this to Les and his wife, and to say they teased me about this was an understatement. However, after a while I did get into the swing of things and duly followed behind Les, my thinking being if there is a snake there, it will get him first! Joking apart, I knew from our conversations earlier that he was very experienced in the bush, and I had the utmost faith in him to get me out of any situation.

After the first day.

It was then I learned I knew nothing about deer hunting and I showed my ignorance by asking Les if some animal dirt I had proudly found was deer. He said "No John, wombat." I then became the expert in our expedition on wombat dirt. I did work out by myself though that you could find deer tacks by the side of pools. We spent a few hours, fruitlessly trying to find the deer and during this my ignorance was shown again. Les told me he was going to show me a rubber tree. Well after seeing all the eucalyptus trees I thought it would be a change to see another sort of tree although why he was showing me it I didn't know. He showed me the tree and I could not see any different kind of tree ahead of us. By now I am sure you have guessed what was happening…..he was showing me a rub tree that the deer use to rub against. Another laugh was then had at my expense.

We then continued our hunt all the while I was constantly being amazed by all the sounds of nature around me. On arriving back at the ute, as it was starting to get dark, I was asked by Les to get some water for a traditional drink of tea, made in a billy. I walked a short way and when I got back I found that Les had started the fire going. I asked him how he had managed it so quickly and he replied," An old bush trick, John. Two sticks". I accepted this at the time, as I was still totally engrossed by the splendour of the scenery around us. The tea was then made and I can honestly say it was the best I have ever drunk. As we were enjoying the tea and a cigarette we had been quiet for some time. Les walked back to the ute for whatever reason and just opened the ute door. There was then a tremendous crashing in the bush about ten yards away from us, which was obviously coming from an animal that we had just spooked and it was wildly running away from us. I looked at Les with a puzzled look on my face and he said " Yes John that was a sambar." He, too, had a look of disbelief on his face, that we had been so close to a deer without knowing it.
Needless to say I was a bit disappointed that I had not been able to see the deer but by then the light had gone and there was no chance of seeing into the thick bush.

After cleaning the camp area we started to make our way back along the tracks to the main road. I was expecting to see all sorts of wildlife in the lights, but all we saw was a couple of bloody rabbits!
At the motel we freshened up and I was then introduced to a local brew of brown ale. In fact it was a lot like our Newcastle Brown ale, which is infamous for its potency, and there is supposedly a hospital ward at Newcastle for hardened drinkers of it. This stuff had just the same kick to it, and after a couple of beers, and some delicious food, I was feeling very mellow. We were discussing the hunt, and the prospects for the next morning when one or two of the locals obviously heard the strange accent I had, to them. I then became the centre of attraction and there were various comments about our rugby team, which I suitably fended off by saying that rugby does not interest me, only shooting. I had heard previously that Australians are well known for their straight talking, and as a Yorkshireman, who also have the same trait, it was easy for me to fit in and the conversation flowed for some time, as did the local brew.
I am not sure what time we got to bed, all I can remember is that we agreed to set off again at 5.00am the next morning to continue the hunt and be in position before daybreak so I duly set the alarm for 4.45am I woke up at 3.45am and was wide awake. I can only presume it was the excitement of the prospect of the next few hours that woke me. After getting ready, having some tea and toast and a cigarette, then some more tea I had not heard any movement from Les's room so I purposely made a bit of noise and sure enough it worked. I was stood on the verandah outside his door, when a bleary eyed face appeared said " What time is it?" I told him, and he could obviously see the look of excitement on my face, so after a quick bite to eat we were off again up the tracks into the mountains.

John in the creek,
check the smile out.

It was still pitch black, all the way up into the mountains, and we parked up, after a hair raising climb up a track that looked like the side of Everest to me.As we parked up I was not sure of the countryside around me, all I knew is that we were in the bush and we were a long way up.

I was then treated to one of the most spectacular sights I have ever had the pleasure to experience. Through only a few trees in front of us I was starting to make out the land around us. I then saw we were indeed high up as I could just make out the double valley below us, where the cloud base was. The whole view around me was one of trees stretching away for miles down deep valleys and high mountains. The sun then rose. Words cannot explain how I felt on seeing it, the only one that comes anywhere near is awesome.

We then continued our hunt for the sambar, along tracks that were a little easier to negotiate than the previous day. After about an hours walking, for some reason, Les turned off the track and we started to walk into the bush. We were walking along the side of the hill sloping down to our left and it then rose up again in front of us. I then heard a tremendous noise from what was obviously a deer straight ahead of us but down the left side of the hill. Everything then seemed to happen in slow motion. I looked over to the area of the noise and there saw a magnificent sambar stag, partially hidden by low bush. Its head turned toward us and I could have sworn it looked me in the eye before crashing away down the slope away from us. It was as if it were saying to me that I could look at him but I had to put a lot more hours in before I made him a trophy. We have a phrase in Yorkshire which is "gobsmacked" which means to be totally astounded and speechless. Well I was well and truly gobsmacked, by the sheer size and majesty of this noble beast. After a quick, quiet discussion, when Les explained there may another around we patiently waited. But ,alas, it was not to be. However I came down that mountain a very happy man.

On making the way back to the ute the idea of tea was suggested. It was then I learned the trick of two sticks to light a fire, or should I say the modern version…..firelighters. Another laugh was had at my expense.
After the tea we made our way back to the motel and gathered our gear together. It was then I had a pleasant surprise as I had said I was paying for the accommodation and I found it to be so cheap. At home it would have been double the price. As we were leaving I managed to scrounge a VB sticker (which now has pride of place in my den at home)
The ride back to Les's place took us through some more beautiful countryside. The first part of the journey was filled with recollections of the hunt and the second part was rather quiet, but it was the quietness I like to enjoy between mates, and I am reminded of the phrase " Sometimes the best conversation between friends is silence"
Back at Les's a barbie was held in my honour and I was introduced to some of his friends. The conversation was all about guns, shooting and hunting. Just my sort of evening. As I explained to them that I had in fact seen a sambar on my first hunt, all of them said I was very lucky, as some people search for years without seeing one. I felt very fortunate and honoured. But I could not keep up the pace that evening, after the early start, that day, and all the VB's I had at the barbie, I had to make my apologies and go to bed as the festivities were still going on.
The next day was taken up with a visit to a local clay pigeon club, a local rifle and also a pistol range.

After a good nights rest, and I needed it, it was time to get back to my sisters. Les gave me a lift all the way back and we arranged to meet later in my holiday, for a meal, which we subsequently did, aboard the ship that he works on. The food was delicious. We then had to part company but it was not before Les gave me a Zippo lighter, with a sambar deer on the front, and an inscription on the back, as a momento of our hunt together. Again I was gobsmacked.
Honestly I had the best shooting holiday I have ever had.
I can't wait to get back.

P.S. There is no way this pom can be accused of being a whinger. I thoroughly enjoyed all the company I was with in Oz, the people are so genuine, honest and friendly, plus the local beverages are so likeable (all of them that I tried and that was a few) as I said before the countryside and its sights defies description. There is nothing at all I had anything to whinge about.
On second thoughts, I have a whinge, why does your Australian television have so many adverts and why do the programmes never stop and start on time???

John and Les right on top of the mountain they
stayed at on the second day