Monday, 9 January 2012

The hunt for venison

The alarm hardly made its second offensive squeal before I turned the nasty thing off.  I donned my khakis and strapped on the Scarpas.  My Steiners hung tightly against my chest on the Crooked Horn Outfitters bino bra and I strapped a bag around my waist carrying the bare necessities for the morning hunt – a couple of knives and a steel, half a litre of water, a couple of meat hooks and a length of rope.  As they say, the times they are a changin’ – so there was a bit of technology in there as well: a compact Canon camera, Garmin GPS, and for a venison hunt on this block, my Leupold RX-IV rangefinder.

I grabbed a fistful of .300 Weatherby Magnum rounds, slapped on my wife’s cap and headed out the door and down the stony track towards the mountain.  I thumbed three of the big shells into the magazine and closed the bolt on an empty chamber. As always, I had a round in my left and right short pockets and one in my hand ready for action - this one would float from hand to breast pocket to back pocket.  That's the extra shiny one.

Couple of cookies from the batch I made with the girls yesterday went down quite nicely as I crossed the flat before I hit the first slope which climbed very quickly towards the ridge. I glassed the open faces and the boundary fence adjoining thick bush land where the deer tend to hang out.  The boundary fence is dog proof as years ago when they ran merinos the dingoes played havoc with the sheep. There are a few holes the deer have made in the fence to get at the sweet pasture on this side of the fence; the other side is pretty rough country and there is very little grazing to be had.

I followed the boundary - keeping 200 to 400 yards off the fence in case I caught deer moving through.  It was hard going, steep up or steep down.  Very few of the ridges were working for me this morning as the wind was blowing my scent in all the wrong directions.  So I got a bit of relief as I skirted the occasional saddle, but mostly had to grit my teeth and work the slopes.

Having just bummed down some very loose stones into a deep gully, a movement on a plateau above me and to the northeast caught my eye; through the Steiners I counted six stags and three does. I watched them feed away from me so I raced behind them as fast as my legs would carry me to see if I could get the drop on ‘em. In my haste to get up the hill, I didn’t notice the deer double-back and bed down in a thick patch of bracken on my side! No doubt they watched me grunt and struggle before quietly standing and prancing away when I was 50 yards below them. Today I was a meat hunter and there was no way I would be taking a shot at a moving animal, and I was specifically after a spiker – no does or mature stags - and there were no spikers with this lot.

 This herd of fallow were feeding quietly and bedded down in a patch of bracken.

I worked across to the next ridge and got busted by a big-bodied stag in velvet.  He had a lot of length to the beams but the palms and points where not yet developed. I watched him race over the electric fence and continued on.  Glassing the boundary, I caught yet another mature stag sunning himself a few hundred yards away.  I watched him until he turned and moved slowly into the timber.  Down the next slope I had my first opportunity for the morning. On the opposite face was a deer with head down feeding with its rump towards me.  I dropped into a little wash away to get into a better shooting position and came up exactly where I needed to be. Nothing. The deer was gone.

There’s a big hole in the fence and a “deer highway” that leads to a tiny green flat that tends to stay damp and grows the sweetest grass that the deer find rather irresistible. It’s almost guaranteed that when all else fail, green gully will provide!  Sneaky as I may be, there was nothing waiting for me when I pushed the muzzle of the Weatherby ahead of me and peaked over the rise.  Bugger. 

 The deer super-highway leads to...

 ...the little green flat at the bottom of this slope in the shade of a couple of gums.

It was almost 9:00am and I thought I might make the loop back to the sheering shed, passing through one last stand of timber that’s been known to harbor the odd fallow.  I was making my way up a long steep face when a young menil spiker stepped out of the bush below me.  In one movement, I dropped to the ground, pulled down the bipods and cycled a round into the chamber – then I waited. If the animal stepped back into the timber he was gone, but travel up or down the gully between us and he would be out in the open at either end before he could put enough distance between us to be safe…

The deer chose up the slope and raced towards the fence line. I had the rangefinder on the fence line – 195 yards – the 180-grain Woodleigh Protected Point would be 2½ inches high at that range.  As the young stag hit the fence line he paused to consider his leap and quickly glanced back at what had disturbed him – young and inexperienced. I was rock solid behind the .300 and the young stag looked beautiful in the Leupold VX-L 4.5-14x56mm. Holding low on his neck, I squeezed the shot off calmly and the deer slumped to the ground.  Job done.  

I casually made my way up the hill and sat with the deer for a moment.  It was an overcast morning, a fine mist of rain was coming through from time to time and the March Flies and Horse Flies were terribly annoying. A quick swig out of the bottle, a few photos and I set to work bleeding the deer, gutting the animal and hanging him in a tree.  The hanging was quite an effort; I really need to do something about these arms of mine!  I pulled down a pile of eucalyptus branches and buried the deer to keep the flies off.  It was a fair walk back to the cottage and I would come back later with the Toyota to collect the deer.

With all my gear packed away, I headed of down the slope. After a couple of hundred yards I spied another spiker feeding in the tree line ahead of me. Through my binoculars, the chocolate-coloured animal was obviously unaware that I was above him.

For the second time, I dropped to the ground and pushed another big case into the chamber. We had plenty of plans for the venison so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to take a second animal.  I ranged this deer at 289 yards – the bullet would be just shy of 4 inches low at this distance.  I snuggled up to the Weatherby, got comfortable and slowed my breathing.

I have shot hundreds of rabbits like this with my .220 Swift and rather enjoy the challenge of shooting accurately at this range.  The Swift is a mild recoiling cartridge and in my heavy Remington, you can watch the impact on a rabbit as the Sierra 52gr HPBT match bullet connects.

As I lay there on the slope, feet pointing up hill, the rifle felt slightly awkward in front of me.  The butt was very low on my shoulder and I was using my left hand to move the butt and get the elevation right. Without realizing it at the time, I was about to fire my .300 Weatherby Magnum and allow it to free recoil with barely any contact against my shoulder.  This would prove to be a problem.

The deer raised his head and I applied some weight to the trigger.  I was holding level with the top of his skull. I rolled the turret-mounted focus to confirm that there were no trees in the bullet's path as he was 30 yards inside the bush line.  All clear. Squeeze… Boom!

“F#@%n idiot,” I muttered as the scope smashed solidly into the bridge of my nose, slipping sideways and splitting my face open just under my right eye. The headache was instant and I could feel the warm blood on my face and taste it as it ran into my mouth. I left it alone as I my hands weren’t terribly clean. 

Again, I got my gear together and raced down towards the deer. The bullet had entered at the base of the skull, slightly to the right from the rear and exited below the left eye.  It was a perfect shot.

With blood running into my eyes and mouth I wasn’t quite in the mood to field dress the animal.  I knocked off his back legs and hung them in a tree.  I cut out the back straps and took off both shoulders and tied these to a couple of meat hooks I could carry easily for the quick race back to the cottage.

Thankfully the missus and the girls were driving up to the shearing shed for a run with the dogs and they saved me the last 1½ kilometre trek back to the cottage.  It was great to take a couple of deer under fair chase, wild and free and on foot.  We loaded them into the Toyota and hung them in the meat house for a couple of days ready for processing.

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