A couple of days roaming the wilds looking at deer makes a pleasant break from farm fencing. My back and knee are still giving me trouble but the Meniers which has plagued me for the last fortnight seemed to have taken a holiday, so I wanted to get away. I may need another back operation and I don’t look forward to that. The knee I hurt looking for moose back in April in the Henry Burn near Supper Cove, Dusky Sound Fiordland NZ (See: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/from-dawn-to-dusky/ & ff. The tyranny of old age really.
This is a new spot for me, so I did not know what to expect, for example would there be few deer as it had been badly burned out a few years ago? It might have been too thick or would it be impossibly crowded being relatively easy to access, and only gentle walking? Usually I would need my pack raft to get across this river to where I intended to camp and hunt but it has been so dry this winter I could simply walk across with Spot the Jack Russell riding on my pack, of course! I guess most people don’t do much canoe hunting (http://www.theultralighthiker.com/you-take-the-high-road-and-ill-take-the-low/) and don’t pay attention to the BOM’s River Heights http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/wrap_fwo.pl?IDV60154.html as there was no-one at all about, even though it was a lovely sunny weekend in the High Country. Suits me!
I was surprised at once by how chewed out the bush was along the river. All the available grass and forbs were chewed right down to the ground, and they had been gnawing at this nasty prickly wattle.
And the many stags are smashing them to bits! Good riddance!
This tiny gully had been thoroughly scoured. There are too many deer here actually. It is wonderful though how the large herbivores create the clearings, isn’t it? Did you realise that tens of millions of years ago grass made an alliance with the herbivores and declared war on the forests? The result is the pattern of great plains and receding forests we see on the planet today. Once the word for world was ‘forest’. Now it is ‘earth’. Grasslands store several times as much carbon (in their soil) per acre as forests do in total. They do this to prevent the trees from having it. They feed the herbivores and the herbivores keep the forest at bay and nourish the grasslands with their dung and dead bodies. A tiny part of that great battle is what we see in this small valley.
I only had a little time to look around as I needed to make camp and gather some firewood. This trip had been a ‘spur of the moment’ decision. I had not decided to go until well after breakfast or started out much before lunch – and I needed to be back tomorrow night! Still, little trips are sweet! I very hastily erected my tent, as it was getting dark. No great wind was expected so I did not peg it out properly. It would still keep what little rain was expected off me. A large tree had fallen and shattered so I had more than a ute load of firewood ready in no time – and I needed it. The night was cold! Spot chased a stag away through the wattles as I was gathering wood. I could hear his antlers clattering against the saplings.
Spot enjoys the fire, and my sleeping bag. Always hard to get him off/out of it and into his own at bedtime.
A fire is such a lovely thing!
It’s certainly warm enough inside though in that lovely warm yellow glow. I hope you like my new Deerhunter’s Shirt. Kathmandu had a sale on these wonderful ‘Tomar’ wool shirts last week for $89. They still do: http://www.kathmandu.com.au/mens/clothing/tomar-men-s-merino-long-sleeve-shirt.html A great colour. So much better, and more practical than all that silly camo! Wool is just great!
Spledid to just stretch your feet out towards the fire and watch the greatest show in town:
Isn’t it grand?
I also finished the fourteenth volume of Poul Anderson’s ‘Flandry’ ebooks on my phone while listening to some soothing music. What a cracker of a read they all are. So long as you love Sci-Fi as I do, anyway. Anderson is a genius!
In the morning Spot’s bowl was quite iced up. It is the container of one of those Sirena Tuna meals, probably the Mexican Beans which are my favourite. It makes for a good ultralight cereal bowl, if you are looking for one! You will have to fight the dog for this one!
I just love watching the mist rising from the river in the dawn when I am doing the dishes:
Like this. Just so magical!
Looking back at my peaceful camp among the wattles. What an idyllic scene! In other countries you would have to pay thousands to find such peace and tranquility. So far in Australia we are still blessed. In Victoria at least.
But, time to take a look around…It is easy and instructive to follow a game trail like this:
It will lead you past preaching trees such as this and deer bedding areas, sometimes a wallow. As you can see, as soon as you get away from the river, the fire regrowth is pretty thick – and already starting to die from overmuch competition. You will not be able to see a deer far off in this sort of country. A telescopic site, (a culler’s tool really) would be no use here. This is the sort of country where the lever action comes into its own. You can carry it unloaded (as you should any gun) but you can quickly throw it to your shoulder as you load for a quick snap shot at a fleeing deer. You must always be aware of what is behind the deer though. There must be solid earth or else you must not fire. A .30 calibre round can easily kill someone a couple of kms away!
This deer path up this small valley is pretty easy to follow. ‘They went thataway’ says Spot. Well, actually they came from thataway. I am hoping they circled around back to where they came from, and will be looking the other way! Sometimes this is a better strategy than following them. There is a cold wind blowing from that way, and the sun is shining from this way, so they will be bedded in a warm spot out of the wind over there.
You can see it gets quite thick. Plenty of private bedding areas, but you will not see a deer faraway. Very chewed out – both a good and bad sign.
Here are a couple of nice fresh rubs. The path between them marks the edge of this stag’s territory. He will prowl this regularly scent marking and thrashing like this to warn others off his hinds. I will follow his line and see where it leads. He is along it somewhere.
And it leads into very thick stuff indeed with just the occasional small clearing and bedding spot. This old doe had just lain down here and never got back up. She might have starved, died from old age – or worse still carried a bullet all the way from the road perhaps. On this occasion a herd of other deer (doubtless her relatives) had been sleeping contentedly beside her remains. I have seen this before. I canoed down the Macalister after the devastating fires there a few years ago when the river was still full of dead eels as thick as your legs and as long as you are, and the banks still strewn with the carcasses of innumerable wallabies etc which had starved.The place reeked and the river water was nearly one-half mud by volume. I filled an empty drink bottle which stood on our window ledge for many years to illustrate this. It’s no wonder all the fish died.
There is a spot in the bush there (on the true left bank) where there is an ancient quince tree, a reminder folks lived there once long ago – during the gold rushes perhaps. Such wonderfully productive trees can live for 800 years and produce over a tonne of fruit each year. How much better than gum trees is that? Right under the tree was the mummified body of a hind, and camping right next to her were her twins who yelped an raced off as I approached. She had died trying to keep them alive and they had stayed with her body for weeks. I noticed that a few minutes after they thought the coast was clear they crept back to be by her side. And ‘they’ say that animals don’t have souls or (human) feelings! I hoped they would survive to carry on her legacy.
The deer had even been chewing at this inedible stuff, doing a good job of clearing it perhaps, but getting little nutrition. A group of deer was bedded here. One honked at me and several others exploded off in all directions. It was just too thick to see any of them clearly.
This drier ridge downhill provides a little further viewing than the thick stuff. This particular trail is incredibly well traveled. It has a raised edge nearly six inches high! A deer highway!
I wanted to get a good photo of Spot, the rubs and the pronounced deer trail. I was concentrating on that, whilst Spot was looking at something else. I guess you could see about thirty metres through this stuff.
What he could see was a young stag’s legs. After a while I saw them too. By this time unfortunately my back was starting to kill me again (not to mention my knee) so I was not wanting to carry out a mess of dead deer anyway. I thought I would just sling my gun and see if I could get a photo of the bit of the deer you could see for illustrative purposes. If you are looking for a whole deer, you will likely not see one in such thick bush. An ankle, an ear, a nose, a bright eye, a tail going up (How the eye is attracted to movement!). That is what you see.
Unfortunately, as I moved the gun, he saw that movement, and giving me a very loud ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’ he was off. I could have knocked him over with a snap shot chancing that the bullet would not be deflected by such whippy undergrowth, but that is certainly the way to produce a wounded deer such as the skeleton I had found before. He would be there (and bigger) another day. Mostly, for me, deer hunting is an excuse to be wandering around in our wonderful bush. I certainly don’t need the meat – I have a flock of sheep, and I prefer lamb anyway.
I walked back down to the river. I was probably less than 200 yards from it. The deer in this place are not retreating very far at night from their favourite feeding grounds, but they are having to travel more and more each night for a feed. Along the river the going is flatter and it is generally much clearer. Most places you would get a shot up to 100 yards. Ideal country for hammock hunting really: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/hammock-hunting-till-dark/ You could wander along the river flats until just before dark, noting spots where there are two suitable trees (or a flat enough spot for your tent) and plenty of firewood (and access to the river for water for your billy). Or, if you were hunting it regularly, you could mark a route along the river back to your pre-chosen camping spots with these sweet little thumbtack reflectors which would allow you to find your way easily with your head torch in the total darkness: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/hunting-thumbtack-reflectors/
I have all these fences to build at home, so I headed home. Unfortunately, on my way, I saw the butchered carcass of a deer not ten foot off the main road, a road which hundreds of tourist vehicles traveled each day. Obviously shot in the lights! So completely unnecessary. The country is crawling with deer. But how many photos have you seen of guys with whole deer carcasses on the back of their trucks in hunting magazines? How far do you think they could have carried a whole sambar? Of course I was disgusted, and of course I moved it further back into the bush. But you see this sort of thing too often. You have to think what folks who aren’t hunters will think. ‘Expletive deleted Hunters!’ is what. And right after that that ‘hunting’ should be banned! Despite the fact that then there would be a plague of deer, and tens of thousands of them would starve, and the bush be wholly devastated by their presence. We have to eliminate the rogue element.
As hunters we need to be much more careful about the ethics of what we do, or we will lose our sport. People do not need to see hunters wearing lots of camo, carrying great big guns. You can wear much more suitable wool clothing as I do, which will attract no attention. You can carry a take down gun which is in your pack when you leave and arrive at your car so that people will not be the least alarmed. Any bits of deer you bring back can be discreetly inside your pack. And you can give the deer a chance by not using telescopic sights or shooting deer which cannot see you. Your quarry ought to be able to use the senses nature provided it with to avoid being killed. You have all the unfair advantage you need by being able to use a gun instead of a spear or knife. You need to use just your own senses and knowledge (plus hard work) to harvest the deer you take. You should not be relying on any electronic aids such as deer finders, radios GPS trackers or trail cameras. Just your eyes and ears, especially your nose – and your strong legs and back – which I wish mine were at the moment! Still I have had nearly seventy quite good years, and I imagine the neurologist will be able to tweak my back a bit so I can have a few more years wandering around the bush. I must ring him this morning.