Just as an aside - I sent the Coolah cocky a photo of my best fallow stag to date, shot nine years ago. I've not taken another stag since. Not for lack of opportunity, its just that on my patch there hasn't been a better stag for near a decade.
"Couldn't shoot one that small on my place," he says.
Granted, my stag won't win any awards; the beams are a bit light and the brow and trey tines both a bit short with no real hook to them, and far from splendidly thick. Bit clefty on one side and the palms, well, while lovely for the area, they're nothing to write home about.
But he was an old animal, born in poor and rugged country. A real wild deer.
It was early April, the rut of '03. I had found his scrape before he was troating and that morning the urine was wet on the leaves and distinctly musky. I had spotted his huge harem and knew he had to be the big one in the rough patch where I was hunting.
In the previous year's rut, he had staked his claim in a wash-away at the edge of an undulating flat. I had stalked to a spot directly opposite him with nothing but a clear depression between us, but buck fever got the better of me and the branch falling out of the tree behind him was testament to a shot that was too high. The top three points on his left beam where all in line which made that palm look distinctly square, unlike some if the New England stags I had shot in years gone by.
Back to '03. Three days later, on the last afternoon of the last day I'm in the gully where I found the wet scrape and I hear him in the distance "...rrrrrroop, rrrrrroop, rrrrrroop..." And so it begins.
I must have covered a couple of clicks racing through the bush before he was loud enough that I could decide on a spot to start climbing towards him. I got below the stag's position on the steep face on my hands and knees. His girls were prancing around while he half-heatedly chased them with a stiff gait, neck out stretched, head bobbing up and down as he made small figure-eights, "...rrrrrroop, rrrrrroop, rrrrrroop..."
Easy to get hooked on this stuff!
There was an ancient fallen tree above me and as made his way down the slope his body would was obscured by it - no shot. Then he'd troat his way up the incline and drop into a small hollow so that all I could see were his palms moving up and down as he continued chanting - troating deeply as he moved in confused circles - "..rrrrrroop, rrrrrroop, rrrrrroop..."
Those three points squaring off that left palm. Same stag.
I must have been there for 20 minutes; by this time I was on my feet, the Featherweight firing .308 cal, 150 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips was clamped rather unsteadily against the side of a sappling, swaying. The Leupold VX-III 1.5-5x20mm is an outstanding and versatile hunting optic, however make no mistake, when it's all but dark, a big 56mm objective is the way to go. I would be able to take the shot, but only just, and it had to be now.
I willed the stag to bring his dance towards me. The hinds got restless and made short sprints away from the stag and he increased his circle to gather them up and push them back where he wanted "..rrrrrroop, rrrrrroop, rrrrrroop..." Closer, closer, closer... and then he was out in the open!
My heart was racing. I could feel my pulse in my head, almost affecting my vision with every beat. Physiology can be a funny thing; as my heart raced my breathing got short and noisy. I could feel the heat and sweat around my collar and I held my mouth open to deaden the sound of my adrenalin induced breathing.
It was instinctive at the time. The stag was quartering away when I squeezed off the shot; everything that should have happened did happen as the stag dropped to the ground, tucked his legs up close and kicked briefly before laying still. The rich, red blood indicated a solid lung shot and the bullet busted up the bottom half of his heart. There was a splash of blood along his flank where the flop of organs forced blood out through the entry wound when he fell.
Walking the short distance to the stag, I sat beside him and placed an open hand across his back, till I was sitting in pitch darkness, enjoying the night sounds. This was a wonderful moment to just enjoy.
I field caped the beautiful menil stag and removed the back skin. I was deep in heavily timbered country and it was a very long walk back to the Toyota. I had my old Princeton Tec headlamp - the 1997 model, long before the LED came along - casting a soft and fading yellow light on the obstacles at my feet as I trudged back to the car.
I had my precious stag across my shoulders; life was good. He was a well earned trophy and the hunt a priceless adventure that had cost me nothing other than the willingness and the effort to get out into the hills.
Let's hope that this new country lives up to expectations; maybe I can end the fallow stag drought inside a decade? I don't care much for points or inches, but the hunt for a bigger beast is a demon I have yet to conquer; a strong instinct that compels hunters to get out there. I'll be on my way shortly.