Terry Austin

27 August 2023

Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Autumn Issue 220

Words By: Terry Austin

After a night and morning stalking this very vocal 11-pointer, luck was finally on my side when I took him with a clean shot when he suddenly came into some open ground only 60 metres away.

Roaring Reds In The Beech Forest

It was the last day of March as I shouldered my pack and with rifle in hand plodded on up valley with my hunting mate Sean planning to join me at a later date for a few days once he finished at work. The weather was warm, but a cold front was forecast to sweep through in a few days’ time that would cool things down a tad. There wasn’t much daylight left in the day, so I quickly set up camp and looked around the valley before deciding which way to head off to listen for some roaring.

The breeze was drifting down valley so it wasn’t too hard to figure out that I would head upwind. As I moved along the bush edge trying to distance myself from camp, I could see that the odd deer had been out on the flats recently, deer droppings scattered here and there and hoof mark impressions in the soft ground. I crossed a small open creek and entered the beech forest, picking my way through some fallen logs. I slowed down a bit, trying to walk silently and then picked up a deer trail heading deeper into the forest. I followed it for a short distance and saw that it led upwards onto a spur. I decided to let out a couple of roars. I listened for a few seconds and was about to move off when I got a reply from up above. The stag then went off on his own, growling and roaring a number of times. I had about 30 minutes of light left so quickly climbed the spur and had only gone a short distance when I ran into some thick scrub. Realising that it was better to back off and try to pinpoint the stag for later, we traded roars for the next 10 minutes. The stag sounded like he was moving slowly across the hill face and was likely only a couple of hundred metres away. Maybe pushing his hinds away? I decided with the light now fading I would pull the plug and head back to camp. Back at camp it was a Back Country meal for dinner over a head torch, the sand flies were a right pain in the proverbial! As I dozed off a morepork started up not far away.

I was up early the next morning, with a heavy dew on the ground, my cooker cranked up with a brew on the boil while I laced up my boots. Stuffing snacks and other accessories in my pack it didn’t take long before I was back in the same area where the stag was heard the previous night. I let out a couple of roars, but nothing replied. I re-entered the forest and found an area of recent activity, deer marks on one trail sidling, the other in an uphill direction. I decided to follow the deer trail that sidled the hill face taking it slow enough that I could see well ahead and keep an eye on the deer marks at my feet. After a while I broke out into an open gully that led to a patch of native bush that adjoined a ridge that continued high up into the tussock.

The second stag taken on the trip. When I first saw him, he was really close – lying on the ground raking his antlers.

I sat down on a large rock and glassed the area. Nothing stirred. I let out few roars and waited. A sudden reply came from my left, not far away at all! I re-focussed my binos on the ridge where I thought the roar came from. I let out another roar, again a good reply followed by some serious grunts. Then I caught movement on the ridge through the trees, a stag was at a fast trot along the ridge moving parallel to me. I only got a glimpse of his antlers but not the size. I roared again this time using the ‘I’ve’ got hinds’ call. Well that really got him going. The stag dropped off the ridge and appeared to make his way in my direction crashing through the bush in a zig zag fashion. I got my range finder out and took some readings to ready myself. I then moved behind the rock and checked my rifle. With binos up, I couldn’t locate him in the bush though I could hear him getting closer as branches were being pushed aside in a noisy manner. I realised that wherever he came out, the shooting distance was going to be close, likely no more than 100 metres.

The stag roared his defiance to betray his presence and I returned the same defiant roar. This back and forth went on for longer than I thought. It had been 15 minutes since the first roar, I was enjoying this game. It was when the stag roared again that I thought I heard another roar join in further to my left in the bush. I listened for a bit and reckoned another stag was coming so roared back. I was getting two different roars from the same area but the closer one was the more aggressive sounding animal. Well, how was this going to play out?  I let the first stag carry on roaring while I sat quietly, every now and then raising my binos to scan the terrain ahead. I became aware that the first stag, although remaining vocal, had stopped his noisy approach. Suddenly a movement to my right caught my attention. Turning around a nice stag was staring at me from about 60 metres away in open ground. I raised my rifle sliding the bolt forward and squeezed off. The stag stumbled at the impact and disappeared from view. All went quiet. I gathered the empty cartridge case, made the rifle safe and trudged slightly uphill to where the stag was last seen. No blood but the marks on the ground indicated a stag in strife. It actually took me longer than it should have – finally walking onto the stag lying in some tight scrub. A very vocal 11-pointer that one.

The tidy up of the meat and walk back to camp with the antlers over my shoulder was completed as a routine chore after a kill, the heavy slog chalked up another great hunt. Out with my portable meat safe back at camp and another brew as the day wound down.

The next day was very average, a few roars heard but no close action. Sean eventually turned up, spying my antlers sitting in the undergrowth and then my campsite. We chatted about how well this roar might be compared to previous years and settled in for dinner. Overnight the forecast cold front arrived, and we woke to a dusting of snow on the valley floor. We both headed downstream this time, finding some good deer marks in the sand, then climbed a spur that led onto a ridge that would take us to some open country. One thing that we didn’t anticipate as we climbed higher was the powder snow becoming deeper. We decided to trudge on letting out a few roars but never heard a reply. Once on the ridge proper we were finding fresh deer prints in the snow walking in the same direction so kept our eyes peeled. As we approached an open gully, the snow was getting a bit too deep, making it hard to stalk quietly. We turned back. Just 10 minutes later a hind barked and crashed off downhill, probably the marks we had seen in the snow.

Back at camp, we mulled over the events of the day, knowing the weather forecast meant we should see fine days ahead. However, the next morning dawned cold and blustery, not what we had been hoping for. We planned to explore further up the valley and try some new country. We made good time getting into an area where exposed screes reaching the valley floor were covered in a smattering of snow. Sean let out a few roars as we stopped at various spots glassing the slips and screes. It was one of these stops where finally a stag responded to our roars. We traded a few roars and reckoned we had his location sorted so closed the distance which involved crossing the valley floor.

The stag appeared to be on the cold side of the valley with the bush dripping wet and terrain looking slippery and steep. We let out another roar and the stag went to town answering back. He maintained his position on the side of the hill, refusing to get closer to us. We glassed hard trying to catch movement on the edge of a narrow scree slope with misty cloud drifting through and our fingers half frozen by the cold wind. But nothing showed, well not until a hind stepped out of the bush giving us little time to quickly assess whether the stag was with her. She walked across the narrow scree and was gone within 20 seconds. We were hopeful the stag would follow so Sean was ready with his rifle, but again, nothing! We decided to wait the stag out. After an hour or so this was getting in the too hard basket! Sean was wearing his waterproof gear and took up position by a small tree having ranged the approximate distance on where we thought the stag might pop out. I offered to enter the bush from the left without my rifle and spook the stag onto the scree as the wind was blowing from left to right. Sean and I both had a two-way radio to allow us to remain in contact. It didn’t take much effort to move the stag along – later Sean said the stag and another hind crossed the scree just as the mist rolled back across. He waited for it to clear with just enough time to squeeze off a shot at about 250 metres before the mist returned and all went quiet. We spent some time scrambling across the scree checking the forest beyond but there was no sign of blood. Some deer marks were obvious for a while, but nothing stirred. We spent some time searching in ever bigger circles in the bush, but our luck was out. Sean wasn’t so sure his shot had been good on the moving target. With heads down we descended the hill, conditions still blustery as we re-crossed the valley floor heading back to camp. While cooking up a hot meal of Back Country, Sean explained that he would have to head back out in the morning as he still had work to catch up with. There was no sound of a morepork that night as we hit the sack.

As always, plenty of glassing and listening is key when hunting stags during the roar.

The morning dawned clear but frosty. With hardly any wind to worry about I decided to head down valley following Sean on his way out. It took a bit to warm up my hands, but the day looked promising. As we parted ways, I climbed up away from the river onto a small terrace and checked out the bush edge. I could see some really fresh deer marks in the long grass with splatters of wet mud which raised my hopes of getting onto another stag. As I followed the marks through some soft swampy ground, I came upon a nice fresh wallow just inside the forest. The wallow was obviously stirred up and so I let out a couple of roars and listened. Nothing replied. Still very hopeful, I entered the bush following a well-used deer trail with fresh marks. It led me up a short steep spur and eventually opened out onto a nice wide ridge. Wet from pushing through the bush lower down the slope, I took stock of the situation, checking the breeze was in my favour and shaking out my wet fleece jacket. Another roar was made but still no reply.

Checking my scope was clear, I slowly stalked up and along the ridge peering ahead and looking for any movement. Checking the deer trail at my feet, the large hoof marks of a stag were obvious, and I knew I was on the right pathway. After about 30 mins I got a whiff of his scent and found the first of three scrapes on the forest floor where it looked like he had raked his antlers. Further along I came across a fresh-looking tree rub and had a feeling I was getting closer. I kept my roaring up every 10-12 minutes and was expecting a reply any second but still the stag appeared to be holding back. Concentration levels are tested in these situations so I made sure that every time I stopped to let out a roar, I would glass ahead and not push myself too fast. Time seemed to slip by, and the morning grew but I felt somewhat confident that it was just a matter of time.

The beech forest was quite open in places, so I had to look hard to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Virtually all the snow was now gone aside from the open tops which I could see through gaps in the trees. It was while these thoughts were going through my mind that I got another whiff of stag and instantly came to a stop next to the base of a large beech tree. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of some movement to my right, so took a step back and knelt. It was a stag, and he was really close – in fact I had caught him lying on the ground raking his antlers. I readied my rifle and stood up, slowly peering from behind the tree. The stag sensed me and got to his feet. We were separated by about 20 metres. A glance at his antlers showed at least an eight pointer as he walked closer. I took aim, squeezed off and the stag dropped onto the forest floor. I took a breath and walked slowly forward to check the kill. The hills were silent – not even bird song or the sound of other deer running off. That is how it is sometimes.

The noisy 11-pointer where he ended up.

I went about dressing out the stag which was in good condition for a rut stag and allowed the meat to cool while I ate my lunch. After resting, I proceeded to bone out the deer and had my 40-litre pack chocka. It was while slowly lifting the pack to my shoulder that the sound of stitching ripping away from the mainframe was heard and I quickly lowered it to the ground. Bugger! Not to be outdone I had enough nylon cord to reinforce both pack straps and eventually made my way off the hill in a somewhat awkward manner, stumbling and staggering with the load including antlers until back on the valley floor. You just cannot beat red stag hunting in the beech forest during the roar.

I came upon a nice fresh wallow just inside the forest, recently stirred up and with its occupant not long vacated I reckoned.

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