I started to think about hunting in the Pacific shortly after my wife purchased a New Zealand hunt for me at the Michigan Chapter’s 30th annual fundraiser. I was happy to be going to New Zealand but it seemed a shame to be so close to Australia without including a little sport there. The itinerary had been carefully laid out and there seemed to be very little wiggle room if we were to accomplish the modest goals we had set for experiencing this vast part of the world. Just weeks before leaving, the fates smiled on me and I was able to arrange a couple of days shooting with chapter supporters Debbie and Jim Diekman of Hav-A-Go Safaris in Australia, while my wife visited her cousin in Melbourne.
Jim and Debbie live about a 3-½ hour drive from the Brisbane Airport. Jim won’t waste any more time than is necessary in the big city and soon you are over the “great divide” and heading for camp. In the delightfully named city of Toowoomba you can make a last quick stop for necessities like Scotch, and an hour later you’re in camp. “Camp” for most will be the very comfortable home that Debbie and Jim share with their son Patrick, and one “inside dog.” Outside are a couple more dogs and two caged parrots. There is also a “rustic” camp on the property for those of you who want to get back to nature located in a lovely glade where the fishing is great.
On this hunt, Debbie was away attending a jewelry show, and we men were left to fend for ourselves. As it turned out, both Jim and Patrick know their way around the kitchen; the fare was good and the portions were large. The men admitted that Debbie is a better cook and the dishes served while she is in residence are much fancier and more varied, but we didn’t suffer much. Hav-A-Go is a working ranch, producing cattle, sheep, and wild goats for market. They control about 12,000 acres and the hunting area covers about half that. You will encounter fences but it doesn’t distract from the hunting experience. Most of the fences are to keep dingo’s out and don’t really restrict the movement of the game animals. With an area this large you will have a fine “fair chase” hunting experience.
My hunt was to be for a fallow deer, and after an unhurried breakfast we loaded their hunting vehicle and set off. I liked the fact that I was staying right in the middle of the area we were to be hunting, and a short drive put us in a location suspected of housing several shootable bucks. On the way in I saw my first groups of wild kangaroos. In fact, the place was jumping with eastern grey kangaroo, wallaroo, and red-necked wallaby, while the skies were alive with flocks of sulfur-crested cockatoo and galahs along with many birds I didn’t recognize. The land is varied and beautiful, with gum and iron bark forests interspersed with open grasslands. Some climbing was in the offing, but it wasn’t difficult.
The hunt started in a wooded area with many deep ravines and I thought the likelihood of my getting off a shot in there not very good. After about an hour of climbing through the thick stuff, we broke out into a grassy plain that had a sparse covering of bushes. As we proceed toward a waterhole, we saw a group of four bucks lying at the waters edge. They were too far away for a shot and we couldn’t get any closer without spooking them. Jim glassed the group and told me that one of the animals was exceptional. The only option was to double back and try an approach from a draw some distance away. Luck was with us and we were able to approach within 240 yards before the animals stood and stared to casually move away. Jim, hurriedly got me into position, identified the proper animal, and I scored a lung shot with the borrowed Winchester 7mm-08. As we approached the magnificent buck, we realized just how good he was and how lucky we were to be able to make the second approach undetected.
With just two hunting days, I was very lucky to connect with this fine buck on the first morning out. While Jim was caping out the fallow deer, Patrick and I decided to see if I might be able to score on a feral goat. You can’t believe the number of goats running around this place. I decided that with such a large number of animals that I would hold out for a 30in. black billy. Patrick is an excellent guide and I saw a number of excellent animals that afternoon but having an extra day remained selective. As the day faded towards evening, we came upon a beautiful Rusa stag. I had never seen one before and we just stopped and watched as he beat up the bushes with his magnificent rack. After about 20 minutes of viewing, I told Patrick that it would really be a shame to leave that animal behind and we set up a stalk. As often happens in situations like this, the opportunity had passed. The deer moved out and we ran out of daylight. That evening we showed Jim the video we had taken of the stag and he nearly fell out of his chair. After letting us know how nuts he thought we had been to delay acting on this opportunity, he started to formulate a plan of attack for the next morning.
Morning arrived with high expectations and plenty of optimism. We sighted the big stag early on and spent the morning in pursuit. Plan B followed plan A and we remained optimistic as the day wore on. During this stalk we saw several fallow deer, a really nice red stag, and several smaller Rusa stags along with any number of goats and sheep – there was no shortage of game! Late in the afternoon we finally found our stag bedded up and we were sure we had him. As it worked out, we couldn’t approach him from an angle that presented a shot. Finally Jim “barked” him up, but I couldn’t see him clearly enough to pull the trigger. This day went to the stag, and as far as I know he’s still there.
Jim and Patrick are two of the nicest people you could ever want to hunt with. Both are good judges of trophy quality and they have a special bond to the land and animals. They charge a flat trophy fee for the animals that is very reasonable. I like the fact that you don’t have to worry whether the animal is gold medal or silver. Jim also offers trips that include buffalo in the Northern Territory along with fishing. For details contact them at www.havagoaustralia.com.au. I hope to go back and settle a score with a certain Rusa stag. Should you havago? Why not.