Words by Matt (Tex) Walker @patriothunteraustralia
- Remember, everyone starts somewhere. You don’t need all of the gear and the best of everything to make a start. Think of the phrase ‘all the gear and no idea’. You can have the very best equipment on the market, but if you have no knowledge of how to utilise it then it is of little use.
- Use your network, it is more than likely that someone you know hunts. Could be friend, extended family member or someone you haven’t spoken to for a while. But chances are if you have a good rapport, they will be eager to take you out for a hunting experience. It is a passion and people with passion resonate with each other.
- Be prepared to cross borders, the opportunities for hunting are not the same everywhere. You may need to travel to hunt specific game and that could involve a lot of highway time and jumping states. Don’t let it deter you.
- Your first hunt, even your second or third may not be successful. This is hunting, just like fishing there is no guarantee you’ll catch something every time you head out.
- There won’t always be a herd of 30 Fallow deer. Enjoy the moment and being outdoors, put the work in and I promise you that you will appreciate that first harvest so much more.
- When you do hit gold, and you will. It will be a great moment and a life high. Don’t let the excitement and adrenaline override safety. Follow through, ensure your quarry has expired humanely, clear your weapon. And then soak up the experience
Getting started in hunting can be challenging.
I didn’t grow up hunting, however I always had a curiosity for it. My introduction to the lifestyle was whilst spotlighting with some mates. From there it exploded into an obsession of relentless pursuit to discover more and get to the next level. Firearms licence, first rifle, YouTube vids, Podcasts, TV shows, researching gear and game species.
At that time, I had no idea how hunting would change my life for the better. I started hunting more and more within the limits of my network. I had an old set of army-issued boots, a day pack, couple of water bottles, a compass, and not much more in the way of gear. Being posted in South Australia with the army, I did not have an established network of people that I could hit up for access to hunting properties and I quickly discovered that there was no public land hunting. So, I sought out opportunities and began spotlighting, fox calling, small game hunting, networking and looking at what was possible outside of SA.
The journey was slow and difficult to navigate at this stage. It didn’t take long to discover the deer hunting meca of Victorian public land, and even less time to start making the drive over there. I learnt quite quickly that deer and medium-big game hunting was what I was ultimately destined to pursue. I will never forget my first deer hunt (no one does). I had contacted an old army mate living and hunting in East Gippsland, Bryan; he could not have been more eager to take out another mate and I for our first deer hunt. We set off on the 12-hour drive, passing through Melbourne and out into the Gippsland region. The adrenaline had already found its way into my veins, watching the lush Victorian high country scenery fly by and sensing the possibilities; all the while knowing what lie within the mountains and trees – I entered a state of euphoria.
Bryan was full of enthusiasm; his passion was infectious, and it was evidently exciting for him to be taking us out.
It was a great reunion, having last seen each other in Afghanistan years before. Over the course of the next five days Bryan took us to many of his well scouted hunting spots. He wanted us to succeed, which is a value in other hunters that I admire.
One cool early morning we made the two-hour trip to a prime spot where Bryan had previously taken a Sambar Stag. With this knowledge, our anticipation was peaking. It was a muddy, rocky climb in our 4WD up a mountain. We pulled up around 13-1400m elevation in the bush atop a saddle to setup camp. Taking a short stroll to the ridgeline we had just crossed to catch a view. We were greeted by sprawling High Country mountains in clouds, bushland and farmland.
I remember taking in a deep lungful of cool dense air and gazing upon the magnificence in front of me. I knew I was meant to be there.
Bryan knew the lay of the land and he already had a game plan. It was mid-afternoon and the wind was in our favour. Making our way North along the ridgeline allowed for unobstructed views of all the land around us, farmland to our left and a deep narrow valley to our right separating us from the mountain which continued on above us. We began spotting fallow deer almost immediately scattered along the low-lying farmlands. This was real, this was happening. I had no binoculars at this point. Bryan would glass, move forward, glass and move forward again. The valley opened up and he turned with a look of eagerness passing over his binos, gesturing at a point further down the gully. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust and pick up the colours; a herd of fallow deer numbering close to thirty. I can still remember my heart rate increasing in that moment and inciting with an overwhelming rush.
The decent was steep, sharp and slippery shale. Slowly and deliberately, we stalked our way down. It was a treacherous and slow. The slightest slip would have sent rocks tumbling and blown the hunt. After the better part of an hour we had closed the gap to just over 200m. We observed patiently – two of the herd were picked out. One grazing and the other bedded – both broadside. It was decided, we would attempt a synchronised shot. Not something recommended for novice shooters; however, the crossover skills from military service gave us the edge in the situation. Going prone was not an option because of the
terrain; therefore, we had to shoot from a seated position.
We steadied ourselves and Bryan initiated a five second countdown. Five, four, three, two, one, fire.
The shots were perfectly in sync and a unified echo rang out through the valley. The report of the bullets impacting their marks was apparent and the bedded doe keeled over instantly; whilst the one standing made a short dash, stumbling in a wombat hole and expired quickly.
I will never forget the intense high and satisfaction that came with pulling it off and ethically harvesting my first fallow deer – it was totally surreal. The remainder of the herd were alarmed and confused; majority took off south, whilst others scattered randomly. Containing ourselves, we enthusiastically made our way down to retrieve our quarry. Taking time to soak in the experience and nab a few photos. We had no packs either, so the next challenge was getting the meat out.
As we looked up the cliff like ridgeline we had just come down, we realised it would be no easy task. It was at least a kilometre to the top and then a few kms back to camp from there.
The sun was starting to fade. Our only options were too hang them overnight and come back the following day, or carry them on our backs. We took the ‘hard road’. Not the wisest choice, however we were wired with adrenaline and optimism. Nothing would stop us! Donning our harvests, we charged up the incline, but only a couple of hundred metres in it was pitch dark. We didn’t even have headlamps! It became a potentially dangerous situation, but we’d bought a one-way ticket.
The climb was extremely demanding. We made frequent pauses to suck in a few breaths and re-center our balance to ensure we did not fall backwards due to exhaustion.
The pain shone no darkness over the high. I don’t recall how long it took to reach the top, it seemed like forever, but short at the same time. A couple of hours wouldn’t be exaggerating. Finally, I reached the crest, dumping the carcass on the ground and collapsing against it in relief. My mate was not far behind. I heard him approaching and called out to guide him in. Bryan arrived shortly after; his first words were, “you lads are f****** crazy!”
From there we were on the home stretch, though of course tired from the climb and the adrenaline beginning to taper off. Finally back at camp, the weather was cool enough that we could leave the gutted animals on the ute tray with the hides on. We removed a backstrap, sliced it into fillets and threw them on the hotplate straight over the fire and washed it down with a few tinnies.
Mission accomplished, life goal achieved and shared in good company.
I am not advising new hunters to go out and scale cliffs or take unnecessary risks. I am simply telling the story as it was, the raw experience and my personal introduction to deer hunting. Everyone’s path is different, and experiences will vary. What I’d like people to take away from this is not to procrastinate or be deterred, even if you’re inexperienced or poorly equipped. It takes years to build up an inventory of advanced hunting and outdoor gear. The only way you become an experienced hunter is by hunting. Get out there, do what you can within your means, ask for advice, approach other hunters, join a hunting club, start now and don’t wait for the perfect time. A rifle or a bow, an old backpack, water bottle, a map and compass plus your own two feet and willpower are all you need to begin hunting.
Start today, even if you’re not ready.