The Valley of the Deer

I guess every hunter dreams of some secluded valley where it feels like you are the first person to have ever trod – at least where the deer are as plentiful and tame as rabbits and there is no competition from other hunters. Where you can arrive at your camp after a couple of day’s hard slog getting in and notice at once that no-one else had been there. For years this was ‘my’ such valley deep in the Gippsland mountains. I guess it is a wonder I had it for so long undisturbed.

But, one should be very careful who you tell about such a magical spot. And perhaps even more careful of making a path in which is easier for you to follow without stooping with a pack on. I confess my bad back has made me guilty over the years of breaking a branch off here and there so that I can smoothly thread my way through the tall timber.

Other sharp eyes are ever looking out for such give-a ways, so that one day I arrived to find my usual pile of wood burned (I always leave a pile against a late arrival), rubbish strewn everywhere, bones left near camp. Toilet paper! Some people really annoy me. Can’t they carry a 12 gram trowel? For that matter don’t they have heels? I quietly vacated a spot where I had watched countless deer over the years.

My new spot is way down that very steep hill. Nearly a kilometre vertically in only about the same distance horizontally! There are very few ways through the tangle of precipices. I want to hunt the other side of the valley, and you can’t get to it from the other side – or from this side without a pack raft.

There I go again leaving signs to show me the cleft in the rocks where I can clamber down. At 70 I don’t think I will have many more years I can make it there and back again anyway really.

I have always chosen steep country (because others eschew it), but this country is steep by even my (young) standards, and a hard fall at my age could be very nasty indeed! Still, I think I would rather someone find my beached bones underneath some grass tree on a steep mountainside somewhere in the Victorian mountains than die in bed incontinent and incoherent.

Stupidly (I know) I have broken off the odd branch to ease my passage. This time I found my way down in half the time because of it, and annoyingly where I have been others are bound to follow. This (along the river) stood out to me like a beacon – because I did not carry a machete either time. It could have been canoeists. I will hope so. No other sign of hunters.

This time Della could not come and I did not get bluffed out (like last time – poor Della!)

At least no-one else had come along and shared our precarious camping spot (below) since I was there before. Does Spot remember? Of course he does.

I carried this little raft (now US$110 – Sept 2019) to get me across the river. Under a kg and this half kg paddle. I forgot my 282 gram life vest. I am still here so it clearly would have been a waste of effort carrying it! Photo below was taken in the farm dam, but you get the idea. They are not a great craft. But they do the job. Just. I will make one of my own of these folks light weight models:

There were a couple of swans at camp to greet me – the first I have ever seen on a white-water river. Migrating perhaps?

I set up camp for the night. My new tarp arrangement (610 grams) needed no pegs or a pole to erect. Spot and I were as snug as bugs in there,

and so cosy with that delicious warm fire out the front.

Right behind my camp was this beautiful brachychiton – with pittosporum understory. There are some beautiful sights in the Victorian bush. These Brachychitons are hundreds of kilometres from where they are supposed to grow. Don’t they know? Climate change perhaps? Get real. I have had a rare enough resident of the Northern territory travel all the way to my back fence to die. Australia is an island after all.

Next morning all we had to do was paddle across to where that creek joined the main river. Over there. Downstream of the confluence the creek had changed its course over the years creating a flat nearly a kilometre long and as much as 300 metres wide. Further up that very long remote creek are other magnificent flats – to be explored on a later trip. As I mentioned it is just about impossible to access from the other side of the river.

We are across the river and looking back (upstream) at our tent amongst the manuka opposite. I can just make it out – but I know where it is. You would never spot it from the river. I like to have my camp invisible from the river, as you never know what kinds of two-legged snakes will came along and maybe even steal your paddle (as happened to me once!) I had found a way down between the two cliffs centre. As you can see it is extremely steep, such that you can only just stand up on it.

The view downstream from the same spot. That ridge looks much better and leads to the other end of the flat (and another flat downstream). I will explore it on a future trip. I could not find where the ridge started at the top on this trip. You can get around that vast precipice near the top (I think), but there may be others!

This shot shows better just how far this flat extends along the river.

There is lots of grass to eat. If I was sheep farming there I would ‘carry’ about 3-4 ewes per acre – and this flat is at least a couple of hundred acres! A sambar deer eats 2-3 times what a mature ewe needs, but you get the point. There are lots of deer here. Hundreds!

It is a very beautiful creek – and has trout.

With its own small grassy flats

Well grazed pasture on the main flat here.

And here.

A high traffic area.

Along the back of the flat is a string of billabongs, each containing many wallows as in the foreground. I was able to see this from Google Earth – and the deer tracks going to and from them. Spot sees something at the far right end of the photo.

He knows not to go for these fellows. We have blue tongue lizards in the garden he was trained not to chase, and then moved on to not chasing red-bellied black snakes (as shown here). I have not trained him not to chase sambar deer – quite the reverse. Hence the shortage of photos of deer. He sees them off before I notice them usually – but we are here to both have fun! And I prefer eating lamb anyway. My sheep farmer prejudices showing there.

The billabongs are quite extensive – and beautiful.

Stretching downstream underneath that ridge. I naturally expected that the deer would be bedded along the ridge and not on the flat itself, but I was quite wrong about that. The deer here are quite undisturbed and have no reason not to be lazy. Spot and I may give them reason in the future to be a bit more wary!

Lots of ‘preaching trees’ along the flat. Lots of thrashing, rubs etc. Lots of stags hereabouts.

This is the bottom end of the flat looking across at another flat downriver. If I can get down the gentler ridge (right) to here this will make a better base and camp. It is also easier and closer to get across the river here. There is a good screen of bushes opposite behind which I can set up a camp.

That is the same precipice seen from the bottom of the flat. As you can see there is a way down the ridge behind it. There may be other unseen precipices as one ascends. One foot after another and I shall find out in the future.

And where are the deer, you ask. The flat positively reeked of deer. I have never smelled such a strong scent of many deer except where there is a plague of red deer in the leatherwood fringes of the snowgrass tops in Fiordland (where I go sometimes to hunt moose). And there were groups of deer sleeping all over the flat. Unfortunately the flat had suffered from a bushfire not so long ago and there was much regrowth that did not show on the Google Earth photo. Visibility was only a few yards.

A dozen times Spot put up groups of deer who leapt up, honked at him and crashed off – with him yapping in pursuit. No time to get a photo. Precious little time to even get off a shot – had I wanted to anyway. I will need to clear a few walking trails though the flat so that I can creep along without stooping under thick vegetation or making a noise if I want to shoot any. The deer will have cleared up the fire regrowth in less than ten years, but will I still be able to hunt this spot at 80? The grassy clearings here and there and wallows would be fine places for ambush hunting (if you did not have a dog with you!) but which I prefer not to do. Unsporting for the deer I feel. As I said earlier I prefer lamb anyway. And i really prefer to just see the deer nowadays. I would not enjoy hauling bits of them up those steep ridges anyway. Perhaps if i make a permanent camp down here – a drum with an Intex raft, paddle, shelter, cookset etc, so I don’t have to carry so much stuff in – and out. I might be able to canoe this river during the summer and drop one off.

The only other thing to report was that as I was driving down the precipitous 4WD track my rear brakes let go. I had spat out a brake pad as one of the pistons in the caliper had seized. You should never drive in such a manner that you cannot stop without brakes. I had a long drive back (over 50 km) without any other brakes than the hand brake (and engine) to somewhere my lovely Della could bring me a spare part to fix it. 50 years yet she never ceases to delight me!

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