A Free Range Red Stag , By BJ Holdsworth.

February 19, 2016

So this years hunting aspiration was to have another go with the bow for a wild Red Stag, I hadn’t hunted them the year prior with any earnest , the handful of occasions were looking for an animal to cull rather than a trophy but things just didn’t happen, so often the case Murphy was in the road and success was out of reach.

As I have found from experience the best time to hunt Free Range Red Stags with the bow is February, why?–Stags are in their bachelor groups away from wary hinds, often they are in small male groups so you only have to beat sometimes two or three sets of eyeballs to get close enough–Also the biggest thing here is having long grass so when they are grazing they have their eyes covered this allows the hunter to move in and when you crawl you have grass cover which in open country is imperative.

This was my eighth hunt for the year, already I had learnt a few lessons, getting busted three times inside 60 yards just needing luck to close the deal, it had hurt and confidence was low, the climate had not been helping it had been very warm even into the evening, Stags had been coming out from the trees late often only giving me an hour of shootable light to work with, while that sounds like plenty of time its not especially when you might have to cover 150–200 yards of open country on your guts…

My choice of hunting clothing was of course the Summerlite series having suffered in the past from heat exhaustion during a guided hunt  I learnt a big lesson–take lots of water and wear light breathable gear, if you start losing concentration during a bowhunt due to dehydration you will most likely fail, I have been there—it sucks..

So a group of 13 stags grazed 140 yards distant the wind was good an easterly sea breeze had enough grunt to keep me in the game, these stags however we in a very difficult spot to stalk, there was no trees or bushes downwind from them, my immediate consensus was to take some video and pictures and pull the pin, go home– it was valentines day maybe if I bailed and went home early I would get lucky elsewhere.

The stags were stationary not really moving much–they had what they needed, a wallow, plenty of grass and good tree cover behind them,  I remember my Bowhunting coach Simon telling me, “sometimes BJ you have to go make something happen”, what did I have to loose ? if I spooked them it would only be a visual, the wind was good for a straight on assault, I would be crawling so if I got seen it wouldn’t blow the stags too far, as I have learnt over the years when deer see you its bad but when they smell and see you its real bad, they will run further and be more difficult to hunt next time. So my decision was a tough one I would leave my Boundary pack with cameras etc. in it while I had really wanted to self film a bow hunt this would only make things more difficult, I had been busted prior setting up a camera and moving the tripod, it had burnt me, this time the gear would stay behind.

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The other issue was I would have to shoot over a sheep/cattle fence this would mean I would not be able to drop too low thus making it a longer shot than what I would have preferred. I could see a small clump of rushes that I would be able to shoot from these were now 70 yards away. I ranged the rushes and ranged the closest stag–135 yards, a 65 yard shot was too far for me but in time with luck something would graze closer. I put my bow in front of me and began to slide forward 15 cm at a time. I moved hauling my body forward not moving my legs just slight movement with my elbows, it was downhill but I was exposed. It was here the fabric of the Summerlite apparel came out on its own– because it has a slippery nature I was moving with minimal arm motion more sliding on my guts and chest than crawling which helped big time. Slowly I would lift my head looking at the animals in 10 metre intervals at one stage as I did this a stag lifted his head and looked straight at me, I froze he was 90 yards ish and was staring at me, it was a long 30 or so seconds before he dropped his head again my neck was aching sweat left every pore but I had now covered a fair bit of open country unseen however what happened next so nearly cost me. Two Pea hens started around the side of the hill straight toward me, Peacocks have come from the neighbours property and have been here for 12 or so years, they have incredible eyesight– spook them they run, when they run the deer see them and run too knowing something is up–they are pain in the butt and had cost me a hunt the week before. I just lay flat and kept my head down praying they would bugger off, after five minutes I lifted my head slowly, a bird was only eight yards or so away staring right at me, I looked at the stags one stag was transfixed on the birds things could have gone real pear shaped right then but the bird just kept going, no alarm call no running it was a blessing and gave me that ounce of luck I always seem to need to beat the odds.

What had happened was the time spent avoiding an avian disaster meant I had lost some ground ,I checked the enemy my camo G Shock watch told me I had twenty minutes of shootable light left. I had only a short distance left to cover but was now concealed better on the flat section my clump of rushes just ahead I went from snail to tortoise pace and finally sighed with relief when I had made it.

Slowly I loaded an arrow and got up onto my knees, I have practised shooting from this position hundreds of times out to 60 so am confident to 50, I had adequate cover if I was careful not to move too quickly and only move when nothing had its head up in eyeball range. A quick range had the closest stag at 62 yards, bugger–the big stag I had seen was actually now grazing away from me some 85 yards distant, he was a write off, light was now fading quickly. A young stag freshly stripped was going around looking for a fight he walked up to a stag bedded in the thistles I had not seen and hit him on the butt with his antlers he got up and turned to play fight but the younger rival backed off realising he was no match for this old warrior, this was it–the old stag turned and came toward me slowly head down grazing, I watched, my heart hammering away as he came closer before he turned broadside grazing with his head behind a scotch thistle, I ranged him at 39 yards–I could not believe my luck. Drawing my bow I came to anchor really trying to keep it together, I had an animal oblivious to me with his head down and eyes obscured, all I had to do is take some deep breaths and get this bloody pin to settle, lots of things went through my mind but panic quickly subsided, I had this stag-my pin albeit fading was right on him and rock solid–before I even knew what happened the arrow was gone…The stag took off but pulled up quickly before going down his mates all took flight but remained on the tree line looking back, I was overwhelmed with sublime elation but it was short lived the stag got up took two steps before disappearing behind a small mound right where a drain and wallow was…

It was now getting proper dark quick , I was confident with the shot–I knew I had to leave it but it was a bloody tough decision my vehicle was three ks away so it was going to be a nightmare recovery in the dark anyway, I crawled out of there not wanting to lift the other stags, worst case scenario my stag was wounded and if I went blundering in and spooked him adrenaline would give him legs to make recovery a lot harder or worse not at all, that is bowhunting defined sometimes however I remained confident and positive.

Three hours sleep, that was it– when dawn came I had a big breakfast and left, wandering in I retraced my crawl stalk and looked at it, the path still there in the long grass. I went to where I had hit the stag and found the arrow, it was then I started to look over where the drain was ,, nothing— I went further and nothing, I could not believe it. There was no trace of him, an empty feeling of disbelief and wonder went through me, I walked back to the spot I shot from and looked, it was then I realised I had been looking in the wrong spot the light difference had confused me, he had vanished from sight further up from where I had searched, I ran down and found him right there in the top end of the drain he had died quickly 55 yards from where I hit him. I looked at the sky and threw my arms in the air (you do crazy stuff when you are this happy), The elation was like no other and this stag was way bigger than what I had thought he was a giant but not just that he was old, his time was up but he had lived and hard work of  educating neighbours etc to leave young stags had paid its dues. I am incredibly fortunate to have taken this Stag and am so appreciative of the opportunity given and will never forget the events of how this game played.DSC00009

Where I found him, his head was down and he had been partially hidden by the long grass, I could not stop smiling.

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I had a true wild old warrior in my hands, this stag is approx. 7/8 years of age, what a feeling..


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