Deer Hunt in New Zealand

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footsore

Member
Sep 18, 2017
10
1
Christchurch, New Zealand
Some may recall I posted a story last year about my hunting 'Saddle Stag' -this is part two describing my efforts this year to come to grips with a particular animal that has eluded me for several years.
It's a bit long winded for BUK it seems so I've divided it into two posts....



For the last four roars I’ve returned to the same corner of the forest chasing my nemesis ‘Saddle Stag’. I’ve written about my attempts before, I’ve had many exciting stalks but never managed to close the deal. The area is dense bush, beech forest with a lot of regen and dirty belts of lawyer and supplejack. Consequently the deer are hard to spot and really tough to sneak up on. Typically you hear them, see their sign but don’t lay eyes on them.

I’ve got to know ‘Saddle’, his habits and his territory by piecing together evidence found on each outing.

Essentially when I first came on the scene he really dominated the area. He wasn’t huge [this isn’t an area with great genetics] but was bigger than his neighbours, going by the rub trees, and each night would assert himself with some impressively deep roars.

Over the last two seasons, however, his neighbours were getting more stroppy and would challenge him more freely. I can remember laying awake several times for hours listening to him and another stag chasing each other about. In the fights that I’ve overheard he has eventually been able to hold his ground, but with the with the challenges becoming more common I had the impression that his young neighbours were gaining strength each year, while he perhaps was now past his peak.

This year the walk in is very quiet as far as roaring stags go. It’s hellishly windy and I think the stags just don’t bother competing with the noise. The gusts really lash at the forest and windfall litters the track all along it’s length.

The wind literally breathes life into the forest –tree tops swaying, limbs waving madly and leaves and dust flying about. All accompanied by the creaks and groans of the straining timber. At times I’m left with the impression that, like me, the surrounding forest is on the march.

Between gusts the relative calm is a real contrast, the gentle background hum of wasps punctuated with the chimes of bellbirds or the excited twitter of fantails. Then you would pick up the distant howl of another inbound gust, building in sound before it reached your spot, quietening the birds and setting the trees spinning. It puts me in mind of the earthquakes where you could hear the buildings down the street rattling in advance of your own place starting to shudder. But somewhat less poetically, my thoughts get directed to the concern that I’m at risk of being clobbered by a hefty piece of flying windfall.


Storm damage was evident everywhere and happening all around me.

By early afternoon I’d reached a portion of the route that was more sheltered, the gusts were far less regular and had lost their bite. As the track came up towards a large slip I started to get the whiff of stag. ‘Time for a break’’ I think, and settle down to lunch as I glass the slope of scattered trees and shrubs. With nothing seen, I start to explore the area and let out a moan to see if I can entice an answer. I’m glad you guys weren’t there to hear this effort, I sounded like an asthmatic poodle struggling to let out a growl [in my defence, I was getting over a nasty cold]. I’m not convinced there is an animal present, thinking instead that maybe a stag had just sprayed it’s calling card and passed on through. Enough time wasted here, I too continue on my journey.



An hour or so later I pull up at the hut –time for another break. No one is in residence and digging into second lunch I peruse the hut book and write in my own intentions. Just a couple of hours walk now to my proposed camp, I set off up valley. Highlights of this last short haul were the discovery of several sets of deer prints along the trail [at least one of which had to be a stag] and hearing a couple of distant and very lazy moans. Camp was set up quietly as I’m pretty close to Saddle's territory [too close really] and I demolish my last chicken wrap for tea. As the light was fading, various animals started moaning along the length of the valley- down valley, over on the opposite slopes and finally up above in Saddles territory. “Great someone is home, see you tomorrow”, I think to myself. These vocalisations were lacking any real energy or intensity, the rut, it seems, is at an early stage and yet to really amp up.



My set up is a bivy bag with a light DIY polycryo tarp. I’d noticed on my last trip that a small tear had appeared on one side of the tarp and had resolved to tape it up on my return home. And did I? naaahh of course not. Once I pegged out the tarp it was not long before one of the violent wind gusts extended the tear right up to the ridgeline –‘bugga’. I cursed myself, but in fact it wasn’t a disaster as there was only light drizzle overnight and my bivy bag had me covered anyway.

 

footsore

Member
Sep 18, 2017
10
1
Christchurch, New Zealand
During the night [twice, I think] Saddle let out some roars from above camp, always reassuring to hear. I woke early next morning and breakfasted in bed, washing it down with a welcome coffee, and then setting out as soon as it was light enough to navigate. I was somewhat conflicted about the hunt. Thoughts alternated between being keen to try and get to grips with my quarry and more negative thinking dwelling on how the bloody deer in this forest keep teaching me humbling lessons and aren’t I just banging my head against a brick wall? But I think it was the great Daniel Boone who said ‘you don’t shoot them sitting at home watching the telly’.

As I set out fate handed out several disappointments. First, two minutes into my stalk a deer uphill barked several times. While concerned, I wasn’t convinced that the animal was aware of my presence, the wind was downhill and the barks seemed too distant to indicate that I’d been heard or spotted.

Next I came across a track hacked through the undergrowth by hunters that hadn’t been there last year. The sawn branches raised the question was I too late?, although last night’s roars had confirmed there was a stag still holding this territory. None the less I admit to being disappointed to learn that I was sharing the area. Of course it is likely others have always been hunting here but the track seemed to rub my nose in the fact.

The next thing was, when I started coming across the stag’s rubs it became apparent there had been a regime change. The fresh rubs were all just above elbow height whereas in previous years Saddle’s rubs had reached up to my shoulder. I’d love to know the story, did a hunter take Saddle or had a rival finally managed to oust him. Either way, it’s the natural order-a predator opens up a vacancy for a successor to take over or, through aging, the monarch is forced to bow out.

But, back up the hill I still have a stag to hunt. Or do I? I haven’t heard from him this morning, has he slipped away? There were those barks first thing after all. I continue up towards the wallow and the general area I think last night’s roaring had come from. A neighbouring stag lets out a moan. I pause, ears straining to pick up any reply from Saddle 2 but there is none. On I continue using the other hunter’s trail, which certainly makes progress much quieter.

Then confirmation, a half-hearted roar from my boy high above, “he’s still here and isn’t on to me!” My progress is slow I really concentrate on moving as quietly as possible and stay very alert for any animals, peering through the thick undergrowth for clues. As usual here, as the morning goes on the wind starts playing up. To my consternation gusts periodically switch direction and blow my scent uphill. As this becomes more regular and with my not hearing any more from my stag I worry he has been warned of my approach. I continue but start to mull over what is my best tactic –should I retreat now so as not to disturb the place too much and try again tomorrow or even rest the area and come back the day after. Then I –FREEZE- off to my left, maybe 50 metres away, is the sound of an animal moving about, but with the intervening thicket I can see nothing. It sure sounds bigger than the blackbird’s leaf litter rustling that had had me tense up about 20 minutes earlier. Then a low moan followed by silence.

It was my stag but what is he up to? Is he standing alert listening out for me? –do I dare continue? Or is he still on the move, but in a more open, less noise producing patch? I wait 5-10 minutes straining to hear anything, eyes fighting to penetrate the surrounding vegetation. I finally elect to move on, I can’t move directly towards the sound due to an extensive patch of pole beech. I make some final preparations, wipe the sweat from my eyes and adjust my face mask, check that the scope hasn’t fogged up and throw a mint into my gob to suppress a persistent irritating cough. Then start climbing to the right, heading to the top of the spur line. I recall there is a deer trail here that I can follow along the crest and then drop away from towards the stag.

I gain the spur and slowly, cautiously advance, passing a slight knoll as I head to the openish area near the wallow, down which I hope to descend relatively quietly. I know I’m close now and really worry about the scatty wind revealing my presence to the stag before I even lay eyes on him. Occasionally the wind brings me the stag scent, but I’m not sure if it’s directly from the animal or if it’s emanating from the wallow.

A step or two, scan ahead left and right, scan again take another step. He’s too close for me to try a roar, he’ll have me sussed by the time my first spluttering syllable is out there.

Where is he? What’s he up to? is he on to me?, has he slipped away or is he keeping quiet watching my progress waiting for me to pass? -where the hell is he?

Another whiff of stag, I know I’m close to the wallow now, so angle higher to gain a view down on to it -where the figgen hell is he? Then a roar from a distant neighbour. “Come on”, I pray “answer him buddy, let me know where you are”. Silence, silence friggen silence.

Then a laid back “mmmmaaaaawww”. It’s him, but he’s behind me. I’ve bloody well walked right past him - “****!!” “OK, OK, don’t panic, the wind has dropped down to nothing, for now at least, - just quietly work your way back”

I retrace my steps, still can’t see any sign of the bugga. “That knoll I passed, I bet that’s where he’s holed up" I watch the slope ahead as I close the gap –nothing –windfall, fern, mature beech and regen, a couple of deer trails maybe and some rubs that I hadn’t noticed initially but no animal.

A small flock of greenfiches flit noisily through the tree tops this carefree movement seems to lower the tension that has been building in me. “Take some breathes dude, and continue, you’re doing fine. If he’d taken off you’d have heard him crashing through the bush.”

At the base of the slight knoll I pause for an extended period hoping he’ll sound off again and searching behind every bush with my eyes but to no avail. I then pick out a feasible route to sidle around the knoll and cautiously start out.

Just a few steps into my journey another low moan from my boy and my eyes immediately lock on to a set of antlers hovering above some saplings. “There he is !!”, but there is no visible animal - no body, no head just the top portion of his antlers. Without taking my eyes off his [modest] head gear I work the bolt and manage to do so all but silently, which raises no interest from the stag. I wait hoping he will move and offer me a target but he remains where he is. I then need to move to open up a better perspective -“easy mate don’t blow it this time”- I step out to the right I have a better line of sight between the intervening trees but can still only make out antlers.

I take another s-l-o-w step, “there’s his head”. Seeing his head gives me a better impression of the distance between us and I’m shocked how close he is, certainly no more than 30 metres. He appears relaxed, but glances my way, no doubt having noted some movement. But his suspicions are not aroused and he turns away again in profile.

His body remains obscured, just his head poking out from behind some saplings and windfall. Then he moves – maybe he’d been lying down and then stood or maybe he’d taken a step forward I couldn’t tell, but now I had antler, head and neck.

He extended his head forward a let out another moan “mmmmaaa

BOOMMPHHHHHFFFFF

The shot was good and he collapses on the spot. I recall lining up on the neck but not any cognisant decision to take the shot, it had just seemed to flow automatically. I take a few breaths and watch the spot where he’d fallen. With no movement evident, I go forward, as I close the gap he starts kicking. There is no co-ordinated attempt to regain his feet however and while I was sure he was dead I gave him another just to be sure, in case he was still suffering.



The photo's aren't awesome, but it's tough to create an impressive 'hero shot when your working with a mug like mine and a pretty average 9 pointer.

A sense of relief rather than celebration floods over me. Finally I’d managed to down a stag in the roar after years of failed attempts. It had been a long journey and the stag at my feet was reward not just for this hunt but all the stalks I’d put in here over the last four years. And I felt amply rewarded too, this nine pointer is no record book animal by any stretch of imagination, but he’d provided an exciting, nerve racking stalk that could have gone either way. In the end I managed to shoot him as he was roaring, just 30 metres distant and with no idea that I was there. I could not have asked for more.

I harvest the meat and remove his head. I’m well aware that this modest animal is one that many, more accomplished, hunters would have elected to pass up, but my God to me he is an unquestionably treasured trophy.

 
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C_Claycomb

Mod
Mod
Oct 6, 2003
6,501
1,470
Bedfordshire
Moderator Note:
The new forum software has a limit to the length of posts and number of photos for a post, but one does not need to start a new thread for "Part 2", just make a second post in existing thread. You can make multiple posts like that, as I have done for my trip reports on NZ and the US.

I have combined the two threads so your story is all under one roof :)

Cheers! Thanks for sharing!!

Chris
 

mrostov

Nomad
Jan 2, 2006
410
53
56
Texas
I love that rifle setup. The one area where the US is behind everyone in guns is using sound suppressors for hunting. They still require as much paperwork to get as a machine gun plus a $200 'tax stamp', some states don't allow them at all, and only relatively recently have a small handful of states legalized hunting with them.
 

footsore

Member
Sep 18, 2017
10
1
Christchurch, New Zealand
Many thanks for the kind feedback.
As the stag was well rutted up i took the meat to a local butcher and had it all processed into salamis and sausages etc. He did a great job and I've had a number of feeds now as well as giving a heap away to family and friends.
Cheers all
 

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