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I don’t think I’ll ever forget this day, I was sitting around the smoko table having a cuppa and the phone vibrated in my pocket. I noticed a post on one of the hunting pages on social media that read “the results are up”. Following the link, it took me to the results of the ballot. Scrolling through the periods that were drawn, I couldn’t see my name there and thought “oh well next year” as I have done in previous years.
I almost closed my phone when I thought I’ll check the emergencies and there I was, 1st emergency. And for Snake Island!!
At first, my initial thought was “this can’t be right”, but rechecked it and there it was in plain sight, 1st emergency and for Snake Island. It didn’t take long for the text messages to start with the congrats’ and a few other unmentionables from the boys. I still couldn’t believe my luck. I called my wife and broke the news whoo hoo.
That night the research started, trying to get as much info on Australia’s smallest deer species and where the island was as I had no idea at all. A few days went by and I was starting to make contact with fellow hunters who had been there before trying to get as much knowledge out of them as I could so that I was as prepared as possible. Their help was invaluable and I can’t thank them enough for their advice and guidance. A week later I finally received the call I was waiting for from the BBHDAG, I WAS IN and I almost dropped the phone when Ashley said you’re in ballot period WEEK 1, you beauty.
The following week, paperwork arrived with the list of other hunter’s and their contact details. Straight away I made contact and plans were being put into place regarding the hunting areas, camping areas and so forth (no one in our period had trouble with hunters walking over the top of them, communication was essential). It was starting to sink in now that I was going and the excitement hit a new level. I had now signed up to attend the information weekend away on Sunday Island as I knew I wasn’t going to get the chance to travel to Snake Island early and scout it out due to my work schedule, family and distance (I live 7 hours away).
Matty, one of the blokes I made contact with that was also selected in my ballot period, and I decided to attend the information weekend together. I travelled to Melbourne and organised to catch up for a night with him. After a few froffys and stories of our hunting it was time to hit the hay.
The Sunday Island information weekend was fantastic with plenty of information shared from the ADA, Zac from GMA, Ron Mayze and Rod and Barry from Sunday Island. We even got shown how to skin a hog deer whole.
This was my first time being introduced to these small deer and the habitat that they call home even the sand-flies.
So much was taken away from all of the presentations and I can highly recommend to anyone chosen in the future to go and attend. Meeting other hunters who were also in week one was great and speaking to the previous years hunters getting as much out of them as I could. After many failed attempts to organise to get a boat ride over to the Island, I was lucky enough to get one over with Lance, another hunter who was in my allocated period.
Having never done any remote camping like this, as I normally camp in a shed with other members of a hound crew, this was my next challenge only just having the basics, jet boil and tent so I asked a few boys for some advice in remote camping and to the contacts who had been to Snake Island before and started to make a very detailed list of requirements for the trip. More research was done and the required equipment was purchased or borrowed and with just 2 weeks left to go I was almost packed and ready.
A quick trip out the road to make sure the gun was shooting straight and I was set.
The weekend came around quick, goodbyes were said to the kids and wife and I was off to Mattys again to break my trip up. My last decent feed for a week for tea was cooked by Mattys missus and after a few froffys it was time to get some sleep for the long adventure ahead.
5.30 am the alarm went off, lying in bed I was thinking “this is it, todays the day”, quick cuppa and breaky and we were off for a 3.5 hour trip to port Welshpool for the briefing. It was good to finally put faces to the names and voices of the blokes I had just spent chatting to for the past 2 months. Zac from GMA gave another short presentation and filled us in on some rules and introduced Andrew from the check in station. We received our tag packs, maps and other paper work and it was go time.
The tide was high and we were off. Now, being a country boy and growing up on the Murray river on the Vic/N.S.W. border, I hadn’t had a great deal to do with the ocean and I’m sure the waves probably weren’t that big, but I swear my thumb prints are pressed into the aluminium sides of his boat. I did trust Lance’s driving and as we made it into the gulf and the waves calmed, I felt a hint of relief to be off the open waters and we followed the channel to our anchor point. Thankfully I packed the waders and a raincoat for the trip as I was covered in water but dry, my gear not so lucky as half of it was wet. Matty got caught by the tide but that’s his story for another day.
After a few trips to the boat and back, we made camp and I was able to dry what was needed in the wind and re oil the gun as it was only 12:30pm. After finalising camp, we went for a walk to drop some gear for the following mornings hunt, not wanting to put our scent in the area, we stayed well clear of our chosen destinations.
By tea time, all 3 of us were all set up and sitting around sharing a few stories of our past hunts, a final gear check for the following morning and off to bed. I had trouble sleeping that night not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring in this unknown terrain and the mounting excitement that I was there and could possibly shoot my first hog deer.
Day 1 – Monday
I woke at 6:30am, had a cuppa and breaky and got organised to leave by 7 as we had a fair walk ahead of us. Lance and I head off and after a few kilometres we parted ways and I continued on 300 meters down the track. After rounding a corner not 30 meters from me was a beautiful stag feeding. I quickly crouched down behind some tussocks and watched on in complete awe of this beautiful animal. After 5 minutes and taking 30 plus photos, I decided to move on as this was Lance’s area he chose to hunt and I was not going to shoot a deer in his area. After getting up and making noise, the stag at that stage was not interested in what I was doing and continued feeding, but after a few more steps and more noise, the stag lifted its head, stopped chewing and let out a bark at me then took a few steps and vanished into the tea tree jungle. I took a minute to take in and process my thoughts on what I had just seen and then continued on to my chosen destination.
On the way to my area, I spotted 2 spikeys and a doe.
When I arrived I found the clump of trees I was informed about and got some good elevation. I glassed all day in an almost 360 degree radius and didn’t see a thing as the tussocks were long and nothing was sighted. 4:30pm came about and the 5km walk back to camp begun.
Arriving just on nightfall I couldn’t believe the amount of bats that were flying from the island to the mainland, there would have to be thousands. That night we sat around and shared our stories and photos of the day. After a quick dinner it was time for bed. Lying there, we slept to the faint barks of deer in the surrounding bush.
Day 2 – Tuesday
One of the boys was successful on the Monday and broke camp Tuesday morning to go check in, he mentioned I could go and hunt the area from the day before if I chose to. He gave me a quick mud map and I was off.
The day was perfect, slight breeze, sunny but no deer were sighted at all although I did manage to find 2 casty’s. Taking the opportunity to photograph some birdlife as at this stage, that was all I spotted apart from a few kangaroos sighted just on dark but no deer. The shot from Monday would’ve upset them for sure even though it was a large area so I decided to give it a break for the day and headed back to camp.
Making it back to camp well into the evening meant a hot drink, meal and a change of socks was very welcomed. After discovering a few blister on my toes from the warm February weather, this was not ideal on day 2 but I managed and along with the welts from sand-flies, I was thankful that I wasn’t itchy at all. We exchanged how our day went and decided that we would hunt together in the same area the following day. Another night listening to deer barking around camp at night.
Day 3 – Wednesday
We were greeted with strong winds from word go and checking the weather forecast for the day was 45 knot winds and rain. This was not ideal for a day of hunting, however we decided to set off and see what the day brings. Arriving at our destination, we went our separate ways. I kept thinking about Monday morning and started to wonder if I would be lucky enough to even see another deer let alone a stag. We sat for 10 hours in our spots only sighting a doe. Unfortunately, mother nature was not on our side and the weather continued to be horrible with howling winds and rain. It was at this point my mental state was now struggling by having never hunted like this before and the weather did not make it any easier. As it was starting to get to me, I decided the best decision to make was to head back to camp early. This was a hard decision for me as I am so used to punching out plenty of km’s chasing hounds or stalking. In hindsight, a book would have been handy although I’m not sure how well I would’ve kept it dry.
After arriving at camp under headlamp, a doe was not 30 meters from our setup and boy did she take off followed by a bark as she made the cover of the bush. My feet were now covered in blisters, so after a quick wash and dinner it was time for bed. Thankfully we moved camp before our hunt that morning to thicker cover due to the wind predictions for the day. Laying in bed that night listening to the wind howl, I planed my final days hunt, packed the daypack and got some much needed rest.
Day 4 – Thursday
I woke at 7am and checked the weather straight away. Thankfully it wasn’t going to be as bad as the day prior, 20 knot winds and showers. We gave our intended locations, had a quick feed and we set off going our separate ways. Upon arrival to Tuesdays location, I was greeted with a bark in a nearby tea tree patch. It lifted my sprits, the showers came and went and so did the kangaroos and birds. More photos were taken and by now it was lunchtime and Matty managed to find me, he mentioned he was successful so after a congrats he decided to stay with me for the rest of the afternoon.
We both dozed off for an hour or 2, waking in a panic realising what I may have missed. After a quick look around, only the kangaroos were still feeding so we decided to sit again and have a bite to eat and a drink. We still continued glassing constantly thinking about Monday but I was happy with my decision although it still chewed away at me. Another hour had passed and checking the time, it was around 4:30pm and that’s when it happened, a stag walked out to start feeding and I couldn’t believe it. It was a fair distance away and I wasn’t confident in a long shot.
Breaking from my hide, I snuck through the tea tree tunnels to a better position. As I approached the edge of the bush I had a thousand thoughts going through my head and not to mention a touch of stag fever now, I couldn’t see him at all. Thinking its all turned pear shaped, I discovered he had actually fed out in to the open away from the bush edge. Having a better look at him he had 6 points and this was my last chance, I thought; it’s now or never. Chambering a round into the A bolt and finding him in crosshairs I controlled my breathing and waited for a broadside shot to present itself, it felt like minutes but I am sure it was only seconds.
The opportunity presented and I took my shot and he spun and took off like a rocket and man can they move fast for a small deer. At this point I was thinking I had missed just as he was on the bush line waiting to be swallowed up for good by the thick shrub I chambered another round and sent it to its mark. It was now I was shaking and thinking about all the possible scenarios. After grabbing my pack and made my way over to the first shot, I found a good trail of blood and was relieved following it up to where it went into the bush.
There he was just inside the bush line. A whirlwind of emotions came over me and I couldn’t believe what had just happened. It was one of the most mentally and physically challenging weeks in my hunting life. I unloaded my rifle, applied the tag and took a few moments to go over what had just happened. Both shots found their mark, they certainly are one tough little deer that’s for sure. By this stage Matty had made his way over to me and congratulated me. We sat for 5 minutes, had a drink and took a heap of photos. We loaded the stag into the cart and I headed for camp arriving well and truly into the darkness. I was wrecked by this stage and waited for Matty to arrive to help hang the stag. After a hot meal, it was time to call it a night.
Day 5 – Friday and Home time
After a well earned sleep in, we had breakfast and started to cape our stags as we had till 12:30 till it was high tide. With capping done and salted we packed up camp and made our way to the shoreline. Matty loaded up and took off and I waited for Lance to return. About an hour went by and I was just sitting there staring at the 1000’s of crabs on the beach and reliving one on the most amazing and challenging experiences I have ever done.
Once Lance arrived, we loaded up the boat. It was a little windier this time and I was taken back to how good the boat trip over was, so at this thought I found myself hanging on for my life again (jokes I am sure it wasn’t even that bad). After leaving a matching set of thumb prints in his aluminium sides, we arrived at Port Welshpool an hour later. We loaded the boat onto the trailer and called Andrew to check in our deer. We were the last 2 hunters for ballot period one. Andrew was out of town for a few hours so we took advantage of a couple of pots and a parmy at the port Welshpool pub (highly recommend it if you’re down that way) while we waited.
After checking in with Andrew and getting our paperwork, we broke our deer down and got them in the Engel and it was time to part ways and make the 7 hour trip home. I decided to drive straight home with a few stops along the way and arrived home at midnight. After unloading what was necessary and locking the rifle up, it was time for a shower and straight to bed. The next morning, I was greeted by 2 very excited little kids and a big plate of bacon and eggs. Saturday was spent Dropping my deer off at the taxidermist and taking the kids out for the afternoon.
My stag measured 9×9 inches and although we put our names in the ballet in the hopes of a chance to come face to face with a hog deer, it was, at the end, only a bonus of this amazing experience. I walked a total of 44.6 kilometres for the week according to the Astro.
There are no words to explain this experience and what I was able to learn and take from it. Lifelong friendships were formed and I have memories that will last a lifetime. I am looking forward to going back one day and sharing this beautiful island with my family.
I’d like to thank my wife for her support and patience in my pursuit for wild deer, Scott, Will, Lance and Matty for the gear and advice. The Australian Deer Association, the Blonde Bay Hog Deer Advisory Group, Game Management Authority and everyone else trying to get this over the line. I hope this is something that will get to continue in years to come for other hunters to enjoy.
I’ll never forget this awesome little island and hopefully I get to come back one day.