Sunday, 23 June 2013

Shoot first, ask questions later

Every hunter's done it.  I thought I had well and truly learned my lesson in 2009 when I passed up a monster Nyala while on safari in South Africa's Limpopo Province.  We had arrived on a property in Thabazimbi on the banks of the Matlabas River, mostly to hunt the Brown and Spotted Hyena that frequent the area, but also to nail a nice Nyala. We had been hunting for three quarters of an hour when my PH, Stephan, pointed out a massive bull patrolling a clearing ahead of us.  Everything was in our favour - the wind was right, we had the element of surprise and there was plenty of time for a well considered shot.

   "No mate, let's leave him. We have plenty of time."

Stephan looked at me like I was speaking in Japanese.  A strong man from a South African farming family, the love of the hunt coursed through his veins and he was dumbfounded by my reluctance to shoot.  In hindsight he was right; I was an idiot.  Nine days later I shot a nice bull, but not nearly as good as the old boy we spotted in the forty-fifth minute of the hunt...

Then the other day I sat down to watch Rob Fickling's fourth episode of Beyond the Divide - North Queensland Chital.  In this episode Rob was hunting chital with Clark McGhie and passed up a beautiful stag, only to bring down a representative animal at the eleventh hour on the final day of the hunt.  Bitter sweet, we didn't hear the statistics.  It happens.

With a prolonged period under the pump at work, I was about to crack when a mate called and asked if I wanted to head up to his place for a hunt. I think so! Plenty of pigs were getting about after a bit of rain, hundreds of goats as always, the fallow still had a firm foothold on the mountains and a couple of chital stags were getting about.  Very nice.

I left home at midnight and drove through the night to arrive at the 10,000 acre cattle property at dawn. I unpacked my gear, not much when I'm hunting alone, pulled a rag through the .300 Weatherby barrel then sat down for a coffee at the homestead. We had a good catch up as the last time I was up, I was getting my eye in for an elephant hunt in August of 2012, plenty to talk about. With our coffees done, we headed out on foot into the hills around the house, in search of an Indian Spotted Deer.

Into the shoulder high grass, we bumped a few hinds on the way before coming across a nice stag prancing up a gully towards the departing hinds – very long brow tines with a great hook, I could see one inner tine very clearly but the other side may have been broken, the tops were okay.  It was the first stag I had encountered on this block so I just wasn’t sure if he was the best I could find.  I let him go.  Stoopid.

We bumped another couple of hinds as we headed back to the homestead for lunch; the deer were laying in the long grass and in the habit I'm used to seeing in feral pigs, jumping to their feet and making a break for it only a few feet ahead of us. On my afternoon hunt I was fortunate enough to bowl over an ancient billy goat with a 32” spread – excellent for the area.  He was built like a loose sack of soggy porridge; loose skin hanging off a gnarly old pile of bones. I was really happy to come across a proper trophy goat.

Later on we spotted a very nice vixen with a well-coloured, thick winter coat.  A shot to the head at 200 yards with the .300 Weatherby Magnum was lights out for this pest.  Our mate Miles was hunting the property at the same time looking for a nicely coloured fox for a full body mount.  Sorry Miles…

Day 2 was very quiet; a great day to be out for a walk.  I was able to get into position on a lesser chital stag but a lone hind in the long grass raced ahead and through the chital herd where my stag was hanging out.  As expected the herd followed the very excited spotted rocket and that was the end of that stalk.

We did find a set of just-cast chital antlers before lunch. Sam found the first antler in the long grass, possibly by feel as it was pretty tough to see anything through that grass!  "Rare as rocking horse shit, a fresh cast antler like that!" When I found the matching antler two minutes later you can't imagine how pleased I was! We had spotted the stag that had just cast yesterday so I figured if we got onto him again I might shoot him and glue these back on... that's not cheating is it?

A late afternoon stalk across a steep scrubby valley provided encounters with goats, fallow and pigs.  Plenty of shot opportunities, but I was only after a big boar or a chital stag, so no shots fired.  Still, a great afternoon stalk.

Day 3 dawned overcast with a vague breeze that strengthened and swirled as the morning wore on.  At first light I headed out on foot from the house, down the creek, stopping regularly to glass every patch of scrub, likely feeding spot and sheltered bedding area. Two chital hinds were feeding in an oat crop.  No stag there. I spotted a few fallow but worked my way around them so as not to send them hurtling up the hills into the country I was going to be stalking for the first half of the day. The chital tend to hang out in the open country more so than the thick scrub, so I headed up a steep face with the intention of stalking back to the house about two-thirds of the way up the face.

I had just negotiated a tightly stretched fence – a high, barbed wire across the top and a hot wire on the other side – hard yards for a short bloke, and was getting my pack and bino’s back on when I spotted movement above and to my right.

A hairy mountain boar, about as ugly as they make ‘em in this neck of the woods, was heading straight up across clear country, almost making a clean getaway.  I cycled the long bolt on the Weatherby and lined the spotted pig up in the Leupold.  The Woodleigh Protected Point entered just ahead of the near hip and came to a stop somewhere inside the heavy hog. He stopped, turned and ran down the steep slope – pure adrenalin.  Quartering towards me I put a second shot into his shoulder and sent him tumbling down the hill.

Plenty more encounters with fallow does and spikers, they were everywhere. In a saddle high above the homestead sits a large steel tank where they pump water to feed the various buildings below. I dropped onto my belly at the base of a handy tree as I spotted a few distinct red-coloured deer.  Six barrel-bodied chital were feeding across the face and heading over the saddle into thick bush – not their normal habitat on this place. Had I been looking for venison or a skin, I had the perfect opportunity to make a very good shot across my pack – perhaps some 250 yards away from the moving herd - but I wasn’t too concerned about meat or leather today, so I watched them skip over the top.

I had a great time away from the reality of life in the city; a healthy dose of escapism.  Having spent a bit of time chasing these handsome deer and with a couple of good opportunities to look over the representative stags wandering these hills, a return trip, my fourth chasing chital on this place, should hopefully pay dividends.

On a return trip, I suspect I won't hesitate so much should I bump a nice chital stag... I won't be spending to much time reading the measuring tape in my mind's eye... but don't know that I'll be able to let rip without counting six complete points; it might have to be a case of shoot first...


  1. It's the old saw, most often muttered in sad dejection at the end of a hunt... "Never pass on the first day what you would gladly shoot on the last."

    Because I'm primarily a meat hunter (if I see game, I shoot it), this isn't an infraction I've committed personally, but as a guide, I've seen numerous clients pass up a shot on an animal that "wasn't quite good enough", only to bemoan that decision at the end of the hunt.

    It's a harsh lesson, and one that's not always taken to heart the first time it happens.

  2. Guilty. It's happened to me a couple of times over the years, and yes, it does seem to effect trophy hunters for the most part.

    This lack of commitment on my part usually shines in new country or when hunting new species. Once familiar with the species and the habitat, I'm rather decisive! Doesn't help on the more exotic hunts, but unlike hunting close to home, that's when I put all my faith in the professional hunter.

    I don't expect to make this mistake hunting chital in the future; problem now it to make the opportunity to get back out there!