The whole world is talking social distancing like it’s a new thing. But social distancing for hunters is something we have been actively practicing for years. Forget 1.5m distance; when I head out bush, I prefer to keep at least 1.5kms between me and the nearest person. There’s no better feeling than being alone out there with nature, far away from the maddening crowds.
When Covid-19 hit and governments around the world started forcing people to stay cooped up in their homes, I’m sure there were plenty of hunters, just like me, who thought their worst nightmares had come true. Thankfully here in Tasmania, unlike other states and countries, hunting has not completely been taken off the list of allowed activities. We can still hunt and fish, as long as we abide by all the new rules and regulations – the main one being that we have to return home the same day we go out.
While the rest of the world was stockpiling loo paper and dried pasta, I’d been busy getting as much meat in the freezer as I could. But with two days left in the stag season, I still had my stag tag to fill, and I was determined not to miss out.
To abide by the new ‘home the same day’ rules for hunting, I had to start my day at 4.50am. I woke up, packed the car in the pouring rain while the rest of my family remained asleep, and then took off for the hunting property.
I’m not going to lie. I was praying for an easy kill so I could return home early.
By 7am, I was out in the bush, starting to hunt. It was cold (around 10 degrees), wet and, with the sun completely blocked, still dark. Within half an hour, I was drenched through to my skin and freezing cold. And there wasn’t a deer in sight!
Instead of easy, I walked for hours, trudging 6kms in the rain, on sodden ground, up and down gullies with no paths. But at least I was socially distancing. For all intents and purposes, I was alone.
I finally made it back to the car at 11.30am, pulling my waterlogged boots off and turning the heater to full. As I sat there shivering and trying to warm up, I wondered where all the deer had gone, praying I’d get an opportunity to put some more meat in the freezer for my family and friends during these tough times.
Hunting in such bleak conditions takes perseverance to push through. It would have been far simpler to just accept that the rest of the day was going to be more of the same, and to give it up as a bad joke – just return home. I may have even had a bit of a whinge in the car, but there was no one to hear me whining about the cold or my sore legs or no deer, except the big fella up stairs!
But rather than give up and head home empty handed, I decided to start my afternoon hunt early, setting off at 2pm. I put on my soaking wet boots and shouldered my sodden backpack, grabbing my rifle and binos, deciding I’d just keep walking until I couldn’t walk anymore. I made a plan to climb the highest, rockiest hill in the area, knowing it would be the best vantage point, praying this wouldn’t be a waste of time and energy.
Every step up that hill I cursed myself for not working harder in the gym, knowing every extra kilo counted and added to my pain.
By the time I reached the top, it was 5pm. I was already 4kms and 3 hours into my afternoon walk. And I hadn’t seen a single deer. Sunset was supposed to be at 6.29pm. It was 9 degrees and the temperature was dropping fast. To say I was cold was an understatement.
I walked around the top of the hill, contemplating my next move. Just below me on the steepest portion of the hill, I saw a young spiky. My tag only allowed a full grown male deer, and even if he was a shooter, it would have been impossible to get him out on my own. But that doesn’t mean my trigger finger wasn’t itching as I watched him slowly move away!
Looking on the bright side, at least I had seen sign of deer. And for that I was thankful.
I set off down the hill – heading even further away from the car!
About 300 metres down the hill, I started to see plenty of signs of a male deer – scrapes in the ground where he laid, several small saplings rubbed of all their bark where he had sharpened his antlers and removed the outer skin from them. And it was all fresh.
I was freezing cold… and knew the journey back would be long and even colder! But there was no way I was turning back now.
I followed a well worn track that showed further signs of the stag and I knew this was leading to the very back of the area I was in.
I had seen several stags in this area the previous week, but the morning when I walked through nothing… I was now unsure it was the right move.
I climbed to the top of another plateau above were I had seen one of the stags and hid among some bush. I was now another 2kms in and another hill away from the car. It was 6.20pm. I had nine minutes left til sunset and about another 15 minutes after that where I’d still have enough light to shoot. I had almost resigned myself to having to come back the next day – which was also the last day of the season and the last chance to fill the freezer with good meat.
As I contemplated how sore my legs were and the long hike back to the car, I noticed a few does walking towards my position. Over the next five minutes they came to within 25 metres of me.
While doe meat is damned good, I knew I couldn’t shoot them as I’m restricted to a male stag only in this area. I also knew if I spooked them, I would also lose any fleeting chance of getting a stag on my return hike.
With a sinking heart, I watched the sun start to set, and then I noticed the herd of does spook.
My first thought was that they had caught my wind. But then I noticed they weren’t looking towards me. They were looking away. Something was coming.
At that moment, a stag broke through the bush and ran at the does, trying to assert his dominance.
I only had a split second to act. Raising my rifle, I checked the stag through the Burris scope, pulled back the bolt on my .300 Win Mag, and gently squeezed the trigger.
The does took off at a pace and the stag dropped straight down! It was a perfect heart shot and he was dispatched in seconds.
My prayers were answered but there was still plenty of work to do. In fading light, I had to field dress the deer and drag him a good 500 metres to a point where I could get my vehicle to.
He was really heavy. Even field dressed, he was around 80kgs. But looking on the bright side, the physical exertion was keeping me warm (it was now 7 degrees and I was still soaked to the skin).
Once I had him to a spot where I could get the car to, I started fast tracking it back to the car, stumbling through the dark and trying not to get lost.
I finally made it back to the car at 9pm, drove to where I had left the stag and then started the heavy task of lifting him into the back of the SportsCat. Thank God for all those deadlifts and squats!
I pulled into the driveway at home at 11pm, with an hour to spare on my ‘same day hunt curfew’.
It was a tough day. The process was not simple, the weather was unforgiving, the terrain challenged my fitness and there was no guarantee of success. Even once the stag was down, the workload was heavy and until I returned to my car, my comfort level was a big fat zero!
But that’s hunting! The reward of being able to feed my family and friends for many weeks makes it all worthwhile, and for that, I thank God.
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