My Search For West

By: Mark Valenzia

I wrote this story about 9 months ago on the Australian Bowhunting Forum and thought what better time to post it here than on West's first birthday today. Happy birth day mate, dad loves you.

The outlook from one of our hunting properties

It’s views like this which make this property so captivating and a great place to reflect.

It was Sunday night and my mobile rang. My good mate Mick was keen to head bush the following weekend to chase fallow. Given my beautiful wife was 34 weeks pregnant with our first child, it was with a little trepidation that I asked if she was ok if I left her on her own for the weekend to go hunting.

I must say I do have the best wife in the world. I’m not just saying that because she was ok with me going hunting, and is also probably reading this. No, it was the fact that she was disappointed she couldn’t come hunting with us. After getting off the phone with Mick our trip was now set. I was so excited I started packing that night. I knew this would be my one and only hunting trip this year, and I was super excited about getting to use my tree stand in the field for the first time. I had only built it a few weeks earlier and had spent plenty of time testing it in the backyard. However this would be its first real test.

Friday afternoon couldn’t roll around quickly enough. With the ute packed, we started the 4 hour trip out west to our hunting property. I must say I do enjoy the drive out of the city and into the country; the feeling of leaving the hustle and bustle behind you is like the fog lifting on a cold morning. The drive was fairly uneventful and we finally arrived out at the property at 11pm. We quickly unpacked the ute and checked over our hunting gear, getting it ready for the next morning. After a quick brew, we set the alarm for 5am and hit the swags for some much needed shut-eye.

Driving The Track.

It felt like my eyes had only just closed when the alarm sounded, but the excitement it represented made getting up easy. I boiled the billy and kicked Mick’s swag to wake him, “Up and at ‘em mate, it’s time to head out”. After a coffee, we loaded our gear into the ute and headed out in search of deer sign. It’s hard hunting a property for the first time that year without doing any scouting first. With work commitments, selling a house, getting ready to build a new one and a baby on the way, life is pretty full-on and my hunting had taken a back seat.

We both know the property well, Mick a little more so than me, so we headed out toward the dam frontage to do the large loop track. The deer sign was scarce and the lack of rub trees was a little concerning, but we pushed on. We knew we were against it as this property held small pockets of deer, but nothing like the other properties we hunt which hold several large herds. The Nissan idled its way around the track and we stopped several times to glass the tops of nearby hills, with no luck.

On approaching the old camp site we spotted a good sized boar which had been rooting around about 150 metres ahead of us. This property gets hammered a fair bit by rifle shooters, so as soon as we spotted the boar, I shut the Nissan off and slowed to a stop. Before heading off on any hunt, Mick and I always decide who is going to take the first shot. As I had the honours, it was out of the ute and off for the first stalk of the trip. I checked the wind and started walking parallel to the big pig as he headed towards the hills. From his demeanour he wasn’t aware of our presence and I slowly closed the gap whilst ducking and weaving between the big spider webs that spring up everywhere around the bush at this time of year. The gap was slowly closing and my heart began thumping harder and harder, as it does with the build-up of adrenaline in your system. The gap was now at 30 yards and I prepared the Bear Motive 6 to unleash it’s fury on the unsuspecting boar. At full draw I slowly stepped around trees and branches to open up a quartering away shooting angle. The boar was still cruising along, heading back towards the hills for bed. I started thinking to myself, ‘How am I going to pull this fella up?’ Not focusing on where I was putting my feet, the inevitable happened. Snap! A stick broke under foot and the pig bolted. I knew he would pull up to look back to see where the sound came from but when he did, he was outside of my comfortable shooting range. ‘Bugger,’ I thought, ‘If only he had pulled up for just a second, it would have been all over for him’.

After making the walk of shame back to the ute, I filled Mick in on the stalk and we decided to head off in search of more deer sign. The rest of the drive around the track was fairly uneventful. Mick got a short stalk in on another pig, but as I mentioned earlier, this property gets ‘shot up’ all year round. When any of the goats, pigs or deer hear a car, they tend to bolt pretty quickly.

On our return to camp, I focused on finding a good tree to hang my stand from. I had seen a good buck with a few does the year before, near one of the dams toward the front of the property. Just off the dam there was a well-used game trail and a good cluster of trees which offered the deer some cover. I found a nice straight tree off to the side of the game trail. It gave me good shooting lanes from 5 to 30 yards. It had a good amount of branch coverage, limiting the chances of being sky-lined by any approaching game. I positioned the stand facing slightly away from the dam but towards the saddle from where the game trail originated. With the set up complete, it was back to camp for a hard earned drink and a late lunch.

Stand Session 1.

After lunch and a cold beer, I headed out to the stand for an afternoon sit and see. This would be my first ever session in a tree stand and I had no idea how hard it was going to be. I thought tree stand hunting was going to be easy; you just sit there and shoot anything that walks close enough to your stand, right? That’s how it’s done in the hunting videos I’ve seen on YouTube. The mental strength it takes to sit still and stay up in the stand for hours on end is demanding. Your bum and back get sore from sitting in the same position and you get eaten alive by pesky mosquitos. I even got crapped on by a bird.

It does, however, give you plenty of time to think, and my thoughts turned to my wife at home and the upcoming birth of our new baby boy or girl. What sort of father would I make? Would we have a boy or a girl? Does that matter? Would they love coming hunting with their mum and dad? It was hard to concentrate and focus on hunting with so much going on at home. I really want to be in this stand but I also really want to be at home helping my wife prepare for the birth of our first child. It was dark by the time I climbed out of the stand and headed back to camp. I hadn’t seen a thing but was happy to give it another try in the morning.

Fallow fawn hiding in the bush

Where’s your dad little one? One of only a few deer we saw throughout the trip.

Stand Session 2.

It was 4:40am when I got into the stand the next morning and being the middle of April in south east Queensland, the sun wasn’t due up until around 5:45ish. It was cold, and sitting there trying to be still didn’t help me warm up any. I had tried to dress accordingly; I had a merino base layer on, a long sleeve over that, and my 3d leaf suit concealing those. It wasn’t enough to keep me warm though, and I found myself wishing for the sun to come up. If you get up early like me, you’ll know it is always coldest just as the sun comes up, and it feels like the temperature drops a degree or two at this time. Well today was no exception, I could feel the cold chill me to the bone. It didn’t help that I set the stand up at the base of a large hill which encased me in shadow. My thoughts once again returned to my wife who was at home alone and I began wondering what new adventures would be in store for us. Would our little one love camping and hunting as much as we do? Will he or she enjoy the smells, sounds and tranquillity of the Australian wilderness like us?

‘What’s that? Oh it’s just a roo’.

Once the sun finally made its way above the hill, my second mistake in stand placement was apparent. I’d placed it facing straight into the morning sun and this made glassing the hill and the surroundings very difficult. Even though the sun moved position and I was able to glass again within 20 minutes, it highlighted the importance of thinking about where to hang your stand in relation to the rising and setting sun.

The morning session in the stand was cold and challenging. I didn’t see much apart from a loan doe walking across the sun drenched hill some 400m off into the distance. She grazed her way back into the tree line and disappeared from view. It was now 9:30am and I decided to climb down out of the stand and hunt my way back to camp. ‘At least I got plenty of time in the stand’ I thought. It also had given me plenty of time to think about the type of father I was going to be.

Making my way back to camp through the tall grass, with the sun warming my cold bones, I stopped to take in the beauty of this property. Standing on top of a hill overlooking the massive dam, I could hear the fishing boats cutting across the water. ‘I wonder if our little one will like fishing as much as mum and dad do,’ I thought to myself. I hoped so.

I got back to camp, stripped off my hunting gear and waited for the others to return. Once the guys got back, we packed up camp and made the drive back home. We had seen a few pigs and a couple of does this trip, but to be honest I had things on my mind other than hunting. I usually hate the drive home and leaving the bush behind me, however this time it was different. I didn’t mind heading home as I knew my next trip out would be the first for our little one.

Welcome to My Little Mate.

Holding my beautiful baby boy West.

My beautiful baby boy West.

On May 23rd 2013, my wife Alicia and I welcomed into the world our little boy West. Hunting has taken a back seat for the moment as we settle in to enjoy this new chapter in our lives. Hunting videos, forum posts, shooting at my parents-in-law’s place and bowhunting mags keep my hunting urge at bay. To be honest though, I truly can’t wait to get back out so I can share this passion of the outdoors with my little boy. I’m sure that as a family, we will continue to enjoy hunting, camping and the outdoors for many years to come.

Until next time, happy hunting.

Mark Valenzia

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