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Inhale then exhale, I take the shot. I hear a thud, but my guide didn’t. He was standing behind me and only heard the sound of the shot. My heart is racing; I will never have this opportunity again.
This adventure all started when dad told me we were going rusa hunting in one of the most sought after wild hunting properties in Queensland. I had only ever seen Rusa Deer on dad’s walls, I didn’t really know what to expect.
When we arrived at the house I was amazed there were piles of cast antlers, an abundance of skulls with antlers of all different shapes and sizes, non-typical, cull stags to striking symmetrical antlers, I would shoot in a heartbeat. I was eager to get hunting.
Excitement was an understatement, getting up at 5am was easy when you know you’re going hunting. The morning was cool, but once the sun broke through it started to heat up quick. Within the first few minutes I noticed how dry it was, there wasn’t a lot of feed and its winter, it made me question what happens here in the summer months. It was challenging to walk through the bush without making a lot of noise.
We spotted a group of hinds; they were feeding on the little undergrowth that was visible, unfortunately no antlers. We kept on moving and went into an area that had more feed than the others, we were noticing some rub trees – this was promising. Soon after there was movement in the scrub, four stags were visible all still in velvet, they were still in their bachelor groups We had a little time to have a good look at them, there was a nice stag around 33 inches but didn’t have weight in his antlers. He was a great representative animal and had a beautiful cape. Our guide didn’t want me to shoot the first stag we saw and was confident we could do better, so we kept on moving making our way down the barren track. We managed to see another two stags, they were too quick and bolted the moment we saw them. Afternoon hunts can be difficult as the daytime temperatures are still warm till around 4pm and the sun sets at around 5pm, but were good to scout out where we would go in the morning.
First up on the second morning we saw a group of pigs including some big boars, these were another animal I have always wanted to hunt but rusa were my first priority on this trip. We didn’t have much luck for the rest of the morning only seeing hinds and fawns. That afternoon the thoughts of maybe I should have taken a shot at the nice stag from the first morning, but I always remind myself that if something is supposed to happen it will, after all we still had three more days.
We were up at 5am sharp ready to conquer the day. After a slow start we saw some movement, my heart starts racing, we get a clear view but unfortunately there was nothing worth taking a shot at, all small stags and a cull stag. We kept progressing though the terrain, heading in a direction that our guide had not ever hunted before.
With eyes like an eagle dad spotted something through the bushes, three stags that we could see and another two with their heads down eating. We were a fair distance off them, but it was a good spot to sit and glass them. One was heavy, had length and a distinctive drop tine on the left antler, he was defiantly a shooter but we wanted to wait and see what the two feeding were like. We watched and waited; I had a few good opportunities to take a shot but still hadn’t been able to see what the other two were like. They were onto us, the two feeding finally lifted up their heads all 5 were standing tall, we were able to have a good look at each stag. I found it difficult to assess them while trying to find a good shot with all of them moving around each other.
The one with the drop tine was the best out of the five, but they started to move across the flat, slowly getting further and further away from us as we crept up slowly they continued to moved away from us alert that something wasn’t quite right but not spooked to the point of running off. We got to point about 300 meters away from them, I was nervous and shaking, they were bunched standing in their group with the stag I wanted looking away from me but giving me a clean broadside shot at his left shoulder. I had about 3 seconds to take a shot, safety off, finger on the trigger, exhale…another stag then walked in front of him. They start to trot away from us with not one single pause. They slowly went out of view, I was kicking myself. We knew the direction they were headed and they were still not full on running but just trotting so we were still in with a chance, we made our way over to where we had last seen them before they were swallowed by the vegetation, then we spotted them again at about 600 meters and still walking away but the wind was not in our favour. We had to go right around them and come up on them from the opposite direction and then the wind would be perfect, they were very clever creatures and were wary of any movements and now on full alert.
Dad stayed back, it was just the guide and I. We proceeded to circle around them as planned and found them again, slowly creeping up keeping out of their view every 10 meters we would cautiously check that they hadn’t moved. Luck was on our side as some of the stags were relaxing and started bedding down watching in the original direction that we had been, with this our guide advised that we should do the same and give them 10-15 minutes to think we were gone and relax. The most challenging part of this stalk was that there were five stags, I had to keep my focus on the one I wanted to shoot and not let my vision wonder onto the other stags. After waiting for all the stags to sit down and relax we made a plan and slowly got closer moving one step at a time with me thinking this was the last opportunity I was going to get, the nerves kick in, I have to remember to breath and focus on the one I want. He was facing south bedded down broadside with the other four bedded to the north of him giving me a clean shot. All I had to do now was ease out from behind the shrub I was behind and get into a good shooting position, Just as I knelt down and my elbow came to rest on my knee, he stood, stretched and gave me the perfect broadside shot I was looking for.
I was comfortable with my positioning, I heard that reassuring thud as the bullet hit but I didn’t see him go down.
Then the guide saw him again just long enough to confirm the drop tine and watch him move off about 3 meters through some bushes out of view, but we can’t move as the others are looking around to see where the danger was with no clue where we are, when they moved off we followed, we count 1…2….3…..4 only 4 stags not a 5th coming out of the bush, none with the drop tine. But my guide wasn’t certain as he didn’t hear the noise of a bullet hit just the noise from firing the rifle and no real reaction from the stag to the shot. I wanted to move ahead of them as he was the first to move off but the others had stopped again and were standing there looking back.
It was strange why would they look back? Doubt set in, that overwhelming feeling of frustration and disappointment. The four stags then moved off, we were quickly behind them. We still couldn’t see the fifth stag, where was he, had he bolted or circled back when we couldn’t move and had lost sight of him? The other four then trotted off with no sign of my stag, we then felt confident he had gone down and this is why they were looking back so we walked back to where he was standing when I fired. We both went searching in different directions. I went backwards through the shrubs, it didn’t take long and I see these odd sticks coming up out of the grass. I was so excited I yelled out.
“I FOUND HIM” without even thinking I could of scared him, I hear back.
“IS HE STANDING OR ON THE GROUND”
“HE’S DOWN AND NOT MOVING”.
At this point in time I couldn’t have ever felt more excited as I was then. As we slowly walk up, I had no idea what I had just shot. I could not tell you in inches, but by just looking at this amazing stag he was heavy, solid, and had massive length. His coronets alone took both my hands to get around one. As we stood there appreciating this amazing species I realise this moment is missing one of the most important parts; my dad. My guide went to go back to get dad while I just stood there amazed at the whole experience. They both make their way up to me standing next to this impressive stag with the biggest smile on my face. We all just stood there, no words were even needed to be said but after a bit there were plenty. This stag is one I will always remember and will likely be the best rusa I will ever get a shot at: Sometimes you just get lucky!
I didn’t think it could get any better after I scored the rusa of a lifetime, but we had a few days till we head home, now to find some pigs and attempt some fishing. Boars and Saratoga were the mission. With the three of us pig hunting was a lot of fun; I managed to take my first 2 boars, which was a completely different experience again and one that I will always remember, I say that about every hunting experience and to date remember every little detail about all my hunts, I hope it always will be that way.
Overall this trip was going to stay in my memories forever.