Stalking a monster stag in southern NSW

IT all started when the boss said he was sending me away to southern NSW for a few weeks of work. At first I was spewing until I found out the job would put me within striking distance of some of my old hunting grounds. I hadn’t talked to the property owner for a number of years and was relieved when he still knew who I was and was only too happy to let me hunt. After a long chat my excitement built as he told me he had recently planted oats out the back and pigs, deer and ever-present kangaroos were giving them a flogging.

A date was set and I spent the next two weeks sorting gear and practising, not knowing what I was about to get into. As I stepped out of the truck in the dark I was instantly reminded of how cold it gets in southern NSW. I started towards a vantage point where I knew I could look over a bit of country. A thick blanket of frost covered everything in sight, and even the dams were frozen over. I didn’t spot any game and it wasn’t until the sun came out and started to heat things a bit that the animals began to move. I decided to walk to another spot to glass (look through magnification) from a different angle but only made it halfway across the open gully before I spotted a mob of red deer making their way out of the timber to feed in the sun.

It was a good size mob of about 15 and held a great 6×6 (six points on each of the antlers), 33” (the length of the antlers on each side of the head) stag.

An absolute trophy of a red deer. The author worked extremely hard to take down this massive stag.
An absolute trophy of a red deer. The author worked extremely hard to take down this massive stag.
The spoils of success.
The spoils of success.
Though I was after something bigger I spent some time stalking the herd and ended up getting in front of them. They were feeding about 30m away and I wished the stag was a giant, but that would be too easy.
After they finished feeding I backed out and headed for the next glassing spot. Once I had looked around from a fresh angle my attention was soon back on the reds. They were a fair way away but I could still see them making their way up the hill through the scattered timber.

That’s when I spotted a smaller 6×6 stag, which got me looking a bit harder. What I saw next was a sight I’ll never forget. He was behind the main mob and making his way up towards them and I remember seeing big antlers with points hanging off them everywhere, including big drop tines that were hooking in the long bracken fern as he walked. I quickly picked my jaw off the ground, got my stuff together and started heading back to my previous location to try to intercept the stag. Unfortunately the deer must have picked up my scent from my original glassing spot because I never caught up with them, but got onto their tracks in the timber and they seemed spooked.

The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful. I spent the whole time looking for the monster stag with no luck. The hinds (females) were indeed hitting the oats but the big stag wasn’t with them in the daylight. After lunch on the Sunday I was driving a track out of the place when the 6×6 and the big boy ran out in front of me. It was hard to believe I’d looked high and low and then boom I nearly ran over him. I fumbled around for the camera and was able to get some good photos as he crested the ridge.

The next day at work was a long one and I managed to pull some strings and get on the afternoon shift, allowing me enough time to hunt in the mornings before work. My mind was going nuts thinking about the stag.I never thought I’d see a red that big running around in the bush. I kept looking at the photos of him cresting the ridge and knew I’d have to put in the hard yards if I was going to have a crack at the big guy. The alarm shattered the silence in the dark and I was on the road by 4.30am and on the hill and glassing as the sun came up.
Once again a few hinds and young stags were on the oats but not the big boy. I still hunted (still hunting is anything but staying still, rather using tracks and wind changes to hunt) the gully out the back where he was on the first day with no luck and then it was time to start heading back to work.

The next day was much the same but at about 10.30am I was glassing on the main hill and spotted the monster stag way out in the open with two other stags. There was no chance of a stalk, with the stags tucked up against the only small patch of trees sheltering from the wind, which cancelled that approach. All I could do was watch the beast and his mates for the next couple of hours until it was time to go to work. Day after day it was almost the same; I’d glass until my eyes were shot then still hunt the most likely spots I couldn’t look into and before needing to go to work I’d set up the target and do some practice. The last thing I wanted was to wait so long for a chance and stuff it up in the moment of truth. When I next spotted the stag I thought I was in with a chance as he was bedded in some cut timber and bracken fern with the girls.

The cover looked good at the start and I moved in to 150m quickly using the lay of the land. My hope started to fade as I planned my next move. The bracken was low enough to mean it was a belly crawl from here on and the timber on the ground just hindered the stalk pace. The deer were positioned on a small bench on the side of a hill, and with a good view and the wind at their backs I was snookered. I tried to back out, go really wide and come in from a different angle but in the end it was a stuff-up. I must have been 400m away when I looked through the binoculars to see the stag staring straight back at me. At first I thought there was no way he could have spotted me from there but my fears were confirmed when he rose to his feet and started moving cautiously off, taking all the girls with him. I was kicking myself for such a rookie mistake and wondered if that was all he needed to do a disappearing act.

Saturday was a big day in the bush. I hunted hard all day without seeing a deer and was set up with the scope glassing in the last hour of light when I spotted movement. It was a yearling trying to get through a fence. One by one the deer started to file out of the little depression until there were over 20 hinds and young stags. I kept watching in hope but there was no big boy. Then about 15 minutes before dark I spotted him standing on the edge of the timber, well away from the other deer and surveying his surrounds. He was looking very nervous, as though he wanted company but was heading in the opposite direction to the hinds. He looked to be moving towards two horses, which were in a stalk-able position. With the light fading fast I raced the 800m or so towards the horses.

I was sucking in the big ones when I spotted one of the horses through the timber. The next thing I knew there the big stag was, feeding at 45m and quartering away. I was bracing for the moment, which seemed so close, and quietly closed the gap on the feeding monster. I was under 40m and ready to go, all he needed to do was steer clear of one last tree. The afternoon’s silence was shattered by the second horse getting a nose full of me. They all spooked and ran about 50m and the big stag was on full alert, strutting around until he caught wind of me too. He just about turned inside out as my scent hit him and in a flash was gone. That hit me hard. I felt as if I had blown my chance and was starting to think I’d never get him. He was a smart old boy who had been around the traps and no doubt beaten hunters before.

Even though I was seeing him quite a lot he was getting in the right spots to be safe and staying in the open where I could see but couldn’t get to him or hitting the big timber and disappearing. I travelled through the night and spent Sunday with my beautiful and tolerant fiancee Courtney. Come Tuesday I was back on the hill freezing my butt off. My mate Troy came out for a few days but each day was much the same, with no sign of the big stag. I was really starting to think my close encounter with him would be my last. This was the longest stretch without seeing the stag and no doubt our run-in had sent him into hiding. Friday was particularly cold and blowing a gale with icy rain.

I still hunted the back gullies and was setting up to glass when boom we spotted deer on the oats. I couldn’t believe it – we had looked high and low for him and his girls and here they were, bedded in the open and tucked up against the timber out of the wind. But this day was no different as they had every angle covered and once again all we could do was watch them do their thing and wait until they made a move. We watched for an hour or so and Troy got some great footage of the big stag through my spotting scope.
We roared to get him to turn his head for the camera, which he didn’t seem to like much as he got to his feet and started to move off with the hinds. Once clear of the trees sheltering them from the wind they started to panic and we watched in horror as the whole mob raced across the open paddocks for about a kilometre before dropping out of sight.

I was thinking what a stuff-up, I’ll never get him now, but at least he was still with the hinds. The next morning I was on my own again and found everything covered in a blanket of fog, so I didn’t worry about still hunting as I didn’t want to push him again. As I waited for the fog to lift I fell asleep in the frost. Obviously the big days and running on only four hours’ sleep were knocking me around. When I woke I saw a few deer in the same area as the day before. I kept glassing and soon enough caught a glimpse of the big stag in a gap in the fog. I was jumping out of my skin and so happy I’d found him again. It was the same situation as the day prior, so with no chance of a stalk I settled in for what could be a long day. This day was different though because at about 9.30am they started walking off into the wind. I ghosted them for a kilometre or so and it surprised me to see the big stag rutting over one of the young hinds. He was doing everything deer do in the rut, just not roaring.

When they entered the timber line I knew I was in with a chance. I made my move and started closing the gap quickly. I nearly got busted as the big guy came tearing out of the timber chasing a small stag that must have been annoying him. Eventually the little stag followed the mob and so did I. When I got in the timber they were nowhere to be seen but the damp ground showed good tracks. Now in super slow-motion stalk mode I followed the tracks. After about an hour and a couple of hundred metres I caught movement up ahead. It was a hind, and as I slowly closed in more and more appeared in the timber, some bedded and others standing. I kept closing in, thinking the stag would eventually appear in a gap in the timber at close range.

But it never happened and finally I got so close to the hinds that I felt like I couldn’t move. Eventually one of the hinds got a little edge and started to carry on, making the mob nervous.
They moved off but thankfully weren’t too badly spooked. The big stag wasn’t with them and I was racking my brain thinking about where he could have gone.
I decided to get on the tracks and try again. About a hundred slow-motion metres farther on I lost the tracks. As I surveyed the area to see where they went I caught movement below me. My heart skipped a beat when I realised it was him.

He was standing quartering away and looking down the hill towards the hinds, which were walking across the gully floor. Moving to my left to get a big tree covering his head I closed in. The stag was nervous and as soon as the range finder said 40m I braced for the shot. Moving slightly to my left to clear his vitals from the tree I was surprisingly calm as I settled in to full draw. Before I knew it the VPA-tipped axis zipped through the big stag, clipping the point of the shoulder on the way. The stag struggled to maintain his footing as he ran and crashed to the ground with his feet still under him. I quickly closed to 25m and put another arrow through his lungs.

He rose to his feet for the last time and could only manage another 15m before blacking out. At this stage I was a total mess. It was 1.30pm and the adrenalin and lack of food and water for the day had taken its toll. So I just sat and looked on in total awe at the giant that lay next to me. I’ve always been a lucky bugger when it comes to red deer and never thought I’d get a bigger one than the 6×7 I shot, but this guy took the cake. I’m very privileged to have even seen a deer as big as this in the wild, and to be able to take it was just awesome.

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About Robbie Austen

Robbie Austen
Robbie got his first bow when he was 11 and has remained totally interested in bowhunting since. He is out hunting during every spare minute, is one of Australia's elite bowhunters and writes for the mag on behalf of Apex Hunting.

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