AUSTRALIA: Hunt With Dan Smith

458JCE

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My younger son (Tom) and I started a tradition last year when we hunted Cape York for Bulls and Boars. This year we went to Niall Station with Dan Smith (Master Bowhunter) to hunt our first Chital Deer.
Tom (32) is the younger of my 2 boys and we enjoy participating in the monthly shoot at the Big Game Rifle Club at SSAA Belmont. On the Saturday before we drove to Townsville to begin this adventure, Tom won the Group 1 match with his 338WM, a Sako Model 75, that is his favourite and that he chose to hunt and shoot his first ever deer, of any species. The rifle has recently had the plastic factory stock replaced with a beautiful piece of American Walnut and altough it is a lot of gun for Chital, it is the rifle that Tom is most confident to shoot. I shot my first trophy Red deer on Tom’s 10th birthday, but until this trip I had never had an opportunity to hunt Chital Deer. I was taking my MkV Weatherby in 240WBY, with McMillan Edge stock, loaded with 95gr Hornady SSTs. And I took along my new Bergara single shot in 45-70 to blood it on pigs if the opportunity presented itself.
After work on Wednesday 28th SEP 2022 Tom and I drove the Amarok from Brisbane, through the night, arriving in Townsville at 09:00 on Thursday. Because we had time and I had never been there, we caught the ferry over to Magnetic Island, had a beer and lunch at the Horseshoe Bay Hotel and then walked the 4+ kilometre track to see the forts and gun emplacements that were built during WWII. Tom cunningly devised this test of my new hip (4 months old) to see if I could walk a reasonable distance and check whether he would be carrying me at any time during our hunt (LOL). I was happy to wake up on Friday with no pain and ready and rearing to go.
At 10:00 we arrived at Dan and Helen Smith’s home on the western outskirts of Townsville to sign the necessary paperwork and admire Dan and Helen’s numerous (massive) bowhunting trophies throughout their home. The formalities out of the way, we followed Dan for the 2-hour trip out to Niall Station (Helen was scheduled to come out on Sunday).
We quickly moved our gear into our allocated rooms and Dan suggested we go for a drive in the buggy to get the lay of the property. We had just driven out of the house yard heading south towards the neighbouring Maryvale Station when I spotted a stag and 2 hinds under a tree maybe 100m from the road. They stood up and started walking slowly west towards some high weeds in the gut between 2 minor hills. Dan had a look through his Leica’s and pronounced it a shooter. Tom was first up and baled out with his 338WM, took a quick rest and pronounced the 180m shot good. The stag hunched and ran up the hill beside the main homestead, stopped and looked our way, and turned away from us with his wobbly boots on. A short search and Tom’s first ever deer of any species was found expired – setting the record for the fastest hunt guided by Dan Smith, and prior to the hunt formally commencing. It turned out to be a beautifully formed 28.5” model that any hunter would be proud to put on the wall. The stag was quartering away when the 225gr North Fork entered behind the ribs on the right-hand side and exited through the left shoulder. The carcass was taken back to camp and hung on a new pulley system devised by Dan. While skinning and butchering the deer, Chris arrived, a Bowhunting mate of Dan’s who was to be Dan’s assistant during our stay and was surprised to see a stag already on the ground. We enjoyed a celebratory nip of a very nice 25YO Scotch and informed Tom of the hunter’s tradition to eat the testicles of his first stag (he wasn't convinced).
Dan used a knife made by a mate of mine, the scales made from the off-cuts of the American Walnut used in the stock of his 338WM, to skin the stag. The head was fully prepared and the skin clean and salted for us to take with us at the end of the hunt.

I'll tell the rest of this story as I get time - next installment will be Day 1 of our 4-Day hunt.
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shotgungibbs

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Looks like a great time! Enjoying the story so far!
 

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458JCE

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Day One – 01 OCT 2022
We were up before dawn and after a quick coffee and toast we were on the e-bikes for the 5-minute ride to an area where a “monster” had been sighted a few days earlier. In the pre-dawn light we left the e-bikes beside the fence and scanning the open flat where the stag had been sighted – and there he was with a half-dozen hinds!
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We worked our way slowly through the fringe scrub to the closest tree to the family group. The Leica rangefinder binos told me that the stag was 160m away and I took the time to set the ballistic turret of the Z5 Swarovski 3.5-18x44 scope. I leaned against the tree, rested the 240 Weatherby MkV loaded with 95gr Hornady SSTs on my forearm and the stag leaped into enlarged view. He was facing me, unalarmed, and his girls were off to each side of him, out of harms way. I put the crosshairs on the low centre of his chest and stroked the trigger.
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The stag dropped on the spot and didn’t move again. So about 30 minutes into Day One both Tom and I had our trophy stags on the ground.

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We took the obligatory photos and Chris arrived with the buggy to transport the carcass back to camp. Like Tom’s stag the day before, the skin was carefully removed and salted by Dan. The backstraps and tenderloins were taken and put in the fridge and the hindquarters of the carcass hung in the coldroom (not functioning, but a cool shady spot), to set.
Because it was still early, and while Dan and Chris were attending to some camp maintenance chores, Tom and I drove to the western boundary of Niall (at the grid into Maryvale Station) and hunted along the Maryvale Creek looking for pigs for the rest of the morning. On the drive out we saw the largest dog that I’ve ever seen in the wild, crossing the track in front of us. Unfortunately, he melted into the scrub before we could get a shot on him (always be prepared – we learnt a lesson). The Bergara BA13 in 45-70 loaded with 270gr Atomic29’s was blooded - accounting for 2 medium-sized sows – no boars were sighted.

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When we returned to camp we butchered the 2 carcasses and vacuum-sealed the meat into cryovac bags and chilled the meat in the fridges – to be transferred into the 80L Engel in the Amarok when properly chilled.
Dan took us to an area that “always has deer” to see if we could get a cull or a meat deer, to no avail. We arrived back at camp in the dark and Dan cooked up a big feed of chicken schnitzel for dinner. We toasted the day’s success with a 15YO Benromach Scotch.
 
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458JCE

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Day Two
We got up at 4:30 because Dan’s phone (alarm) had switched to Daylight Saving time (LOL).
The stags had been roaring (screaming better describes a Chital Stag's Roar) all night from the other side of the creek to the homestead, so we mounted the e-bikes and headed to the source. We glassed several mobs near the old yards and headed towards one of the groups. Evan was bringing up the rear and had just taken his Canon SX50 out of the soft case and slung it around his neck to take some photos of live deer, when his bike disappeared into a sinkhole with long grass on the fringe. Some minor injuries were sustained (I don't survive any sort of incident completely unscathed at my age) but nothing that would stop me hunting – I told myself to HTFU and get on with it. The Canon camera was the only permanent casualty – it sustained a dent in the housing around the lens that fits exactly the silver mark on the end of the barrel of the 240WBY – one was around my neck and the other over my shoulder - go figure. This is an endorsement of the e-bike - if I had been riding a standard motorbike I would have been going faster and would have done some real damage. The e-bikes give old, fat, unfit hunters like me the ability to cover ground quickly and quietly to get into a position to start a stalk from the best point of the compass.

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We carried on and Dan pointed out a Spiker that I could take as a meat deer. Dan had remembered the “sticks” this time but as I lined up the deer at 200m with the 240WBY the young deer walked a few paces and then lay down, with only his head visible. I took my time and squeezed off a shot that centre-punched a fine dead branch that was out of focus in front of the deer!

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We returned to camp and ate lunch before an afternoon siesta (the Europeans are onto something here) in preparation for the afternoon hunt.

Dan took us to another part of the property and we shot 3 sows near a dam – Tom with his 338WM and me with the Bergara 45-70.

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Again, lots of deer were sighted, but not where they could be approached. We sighted a mob of pigs on a flat, fast-walking to a watercourse. When we got to the watercourse, they had done a Houdini and disappeared.
We headed back to camp to watch the Australian NRL Grand Final (no mobile/internet reception but free TV is a goer) and enjoy a Bolognese dinner that Helen (who arrived in camp this morning) had prepared for us.
 
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Congrats and thanks for sharing!
 

Bob Nelson 35Whelen

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Australia
Day One – 01 OCT 2022
We were up before dawn and after a quick coffee and toast we were on the e-bikes for the 5-minute ride to an area where a “monster” had been sighted a few days earlier. In the pre-dawn light we left the e-bikes beside the fence and scanning the open flat where the stag had been sighted – and there he was with a half-dozen hinds!
View attachment 494495
We worked our way slowly through the fringe scrub to the closest tree to the family group. The Leica rangefinder binos told me that the stag was 160m away and I took the time to set the ballistic turret of the Z5 Swarovski 3.5-18x44 scope. I leaned against the tree, rested the 240 Weatherby MkV loaded with 95gr Hornady SSTs on my forearm and the stag leaped into enlarged view. He was facing me, unalarmed, and his girls were off to each side of him, out of harms way. I put the crosshairs on the low centre of his chest and stroked the trigger.
View attachment 494494
The stag dropped on the spot and didn’t move again. So about 30 minutes into Day One both Tom and I had our trophy stags on the ground.

View attachment 494497

View attachment 494498

View attachment 494502


We took the obligatory photos and Chris arrived with the buggy to transport the carcass back to camp. Like Tom’s stag the day before, the skin was carefully removed and salted by Dan. The backstraps and tenderloins were taken and put in the fridge and the hindquarters of the carcass hung in the coldroom (not functioning, but a cool shady spot), to set.
Because it was still early, and while Dan and Chris were attending to some camp maintenance chores, Tom and I drove to the western boundary of Niall (at the grid into Maryvale Station) and hunted along the Maryvale Creek looking for pigs for the rest of the morning. On the drive out we saw the largest dog that I’ve ever seen in the wild, crossing the track in front of us. Unfortunately, he melted into the scrub before we could get a shot on him (always be prepared – we learnt a lesson). The Bergara BA13 in 45-70 loaded with 270gr Atomic29’s was blooded - accounting for 2 medium-sized sows – no boars were sighted.

View attachment 494500

View attachment 494501

When we returned to camp we butchered the 2 carcasses and vacuum-sealed the meat into cryovac bags and chilled the meat in the fridges – to be transferred into the 80L Engel in the Amarok when properly chilled.
Dan took us to an area that “always has deer” to see if we could get a cull or a meat deer, to no avail. We arrived back at camp in the dark and Dan cooked up a big feed of chicken schnitzel for dinner. We toasted the day’s success with a 15YO Benromach Scotch.
@458JCE
Those SSTs are a great bullet with exceptional performance on deer sized game in the smaller calibers.
It's a pity more 6mm owners didn't use them instead of the 87gn VMax.
Beautiful dear to go with it.
Bob
 

458JCE

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Day Three

Today we explored a part of the property on the Clark River that Dan had never been to before. We covered a lot of ground in the buggy and arrived at the river around 08:00. As we roughly paralleled the river, we drove into a deeply shaded grove that had been recently ploughed by pigs. As the small mob of medium-sized pigs exited stage left Tom and I both took one, Tom with the 240WBY now and me with the 45-70. When I shot a running pig at about 100m and I regained view of the battlefield after recoil, the pig had disappeared! I thought that I must have missed, but Dan assured me I’d connected – he said the meat shower was awesome to watch. I walked over to where I had fired on the pig to find it had been on the edge of a 25 foot (about 8 metres for the younger members here) drop into a watercourse and my shot had blown her off the edge. We didn’t attempt recovery and took photos with the one Tom had shot.

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A group of 4 stags in velvet was sighted in a clearing as we resumed our Recce and Dan gave Tom the nod to take the smallest as a meat deer, explaining that “stags in velvet are the best-eating venison you’ll ever taste”.
Tom and Dan stalked in to 170m from the target animal and had now attracted the attention of a stag that will be a monster when he finishes growing. Dan positioned the sticks and then repositioned them when the target stag moved. At the boom of the 240WBY, the target animal dropped and the other 3 ran off. They look magnificent when they run – it’s such a fluid motion. The obligatory photos were taken (with only mobile phone cameras now) and then we dropped the guts and loaded him into the back of the buggy and continued the Recce.

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A couple of kilometres further on Tom pointed out a pig on the track ahead of us. Tom took the shot with the 240WBY and the boar fell onto his right side and didn’t move again. Tom had aimed between his eyes but the pig turned to his left as Tom squeezed the trigger and collected the bullet through his right ear. We took photos and the jaw from the boar and headed back to camp.

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The deer was skinned (and salted) and sawn down the backbone and hung in the coolroom ready for later processing.
After a midday siesta (I could get used to this) we headed off again at 15:00 to find another meat deer. But the wind had got up and Dan said he rarely sees deer when it’s windy. We checked a dozen different promising areas, to no avail. Just on dark we drove down to “Poachers Dam” and found a good boar at the far end of the dam. Dan followed me as I closed with the Boar, keeping some trees between us. When we could get no closer (90m), I leaned against a tree and with only the head showing behind the tree under which the boar had been sheltering, I shot him through the side of the head with the 45-70. It was fully dark by the time Dan had taken the jaw. We headed back to camp for steak and veges cooked by the indomitable Helen.

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458JCE

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Day Four
We were up at dawn again, first looking for our second meat deer and then hoping to complete the Grand Slam for Niall Station with a dog. It was overcast and threatening rain all day, so much cooler than previous days.

Tom spotted a family of deer from the road, not far from the homestead, and following Dan’s instruction on which animal to take, steadied himself and neck-shot a Hind at 260m. The Hind dropped on the spot when the 95gr Hornady SST from the 240WBY connected.

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The deer was gutted and taken back to camp to cool in the coolroom and we continued on the buggy in search of a dog. We stopped first where Tom and I had seen the big dog on Day One. Dan tried a few different calls to no avail and we tried again in 3 different spots (and saw some more of the property), before calling it a day and returning to camp to process the meat from the 2 meat deer. We filled the 80L Engel and 2 large Esky’s with meat.

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We then set off to a prearranged meet with one of the farmhands where he was working on the front-end loader near the western boundary. James is a fellow hunter and was thoroughly pleasant company. We saw the property owner unloading a truckload of cattle on the way back and arranged to have prawns and beers at the main homestead when we got back. James joined us for a pork dinner and tall stories around the fire and our hunt was at an end.
 
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