So, an update on all this, now that Ive had time to reflect....
I started out at Silvertop Track in the Orbost State Forest, and pulled into a logging coupe to have a look around. The bush there is very thick, and a local bloke pulled in about 20 mins after me and told me he was spending the weekend hound hunting there. He directed me to another logging coupe off Cooney Ridge Road, which was a bit better but still quite thick (I'm giving locations, because someone might want to hound hunt out that way, but I don't think I'll go back, the fire regeneration is just too thick). The weather was quite warm on the Thursday, and there were plenty of snakes around ( I saw 3), which seriously held up my stalking, as I am only recently married, and don't want to leave a young widow. It was a cold night, and a very still morning, which meant I could actually feel the thermals, so I got a good understanding of how they work, so that's a positive for next time.
Friday was more of the same, quite hot (it got up to 24), and stalking down a north-easterly face was slow and sweaty work. I kept the wind in my face, and stalked down to the bottom of the gully, and while I definitely felt like things were looking right, I didn't see any deer. I'm not sure if the right thing to do is to keep moving, or to sit and wait (newbie hunter), so I sat for about 45 minutes (until 1 o'clock) and kept my eye on the bush, but to no avail. I went into Orbost for lunch, and spoke with some old guys in the pub who shared their advice on locations, and marked down some ideas for next time. Back in the afternoon I walked down the western face of the gully, which was wooded with quite large trees at the bottom, which I hoped would mean more open ground for stalking. I found a couple of game trails, but as there was a storm rolling in, the light failed before dusk truly was upon me. That night there was a spectacular storm which made the temperature drop from 24 to 7 in about an hour. Then heaps of rain, and really strong winds.
Saturday was a very cold, windy morning, and I decided that the bush was just too thick, so I should pack up and try the areas I'd been told about the day before. I was driving out of the forest and on the way I saw what looked like a more clear area that had didn't have the dense bush that I had been dealing with for the last two days, so I pulled over and had a look around. I walked down a couple of logging tracks and just when I was about to give up, I came across a game trail with recent hoof prints (I could tell they were from the morning because they weren't filled with water from the storm). I was tracking along the trail for about an hour, and passed what I'm assuming is a rub tree (see attached photo). The trail went around the base of a small hill covered in Bracken, and I assumed there was deer on top as it was in the sun, and it had been a hell of a night for being out in the open. As I was stalking around the hill, the wind shifted, and I heard hoofbeats, so I can only assume I was sniffed out... I had a brief stalk in another area, but heard shots upwind of me, so I guess the gully was flushed out before I got there.
Things I learned from my trip:
1. Be prepared! I have never in my life been bitten by mosquitos, including all the years I lived in North Queensland, but the East Gippsland mosquitos devoured me, so I couldn't camp like I wanted. In addition to not having mosquito repellant, I also didn't have a day pack, which would have come in handy, as I didn't need my giant backpack for a couple of food items, my PLB, and a bottle of water. It was too big and got in the way constantly. Also, a sleeping bag mat would have made sleeping in the car much better, I was freezing at night, which made the early mornings a hassle, instead of being a joy. My trip would have been vastly improved with these two items, which I had in my house.
2. While patience is a virtue, if an area is not right, just move along. I probably wasted half the time I was out stalking trying to deal with thick undergrowth, and bad visibility.
3. Good optics are essential. I borrowed some binos for this trip which were woefully inadequate, my scope was better at looking into low-light areas, and that was a massive hassle.
4. It takes about 4 times as long to stalk, as it does to walk the same distance.