It’s becoming a bit of a thing this whole velvet stripping stag hunt scenario. The popularity of summer red stag trophy hunting is definitely on the rise and it’s probably due to seeing some amazing results of numerous big racks displayed in the hunting mags, TV shows and youtube clips, where a lucky dude was in the right place at the right time.
The right time takes a bit of working out, especially on public land where some other bloke or chopper could slip in before you, but if you’re too early you’ll be confronted with a soft jiggly stripper and nobody wants a soft jiggly stripper. The time to hardening depends a lot on location, feed availability and the age of the animal, with the big old boys on the best feed hardening as early as mid-January. In most areas it will definitely be all go for mature red stags by mid-February so the race is on to get out in the hills and cover as much ground as your time off work and your legs will allow. At the tail end of the summer stag priming season most experienced hunters will tell you that the big boys just seem to disappear and you won’t see them again until the onset of the rut and they will likely end up in a completely different location. Where they go during the pre-rut is as mysterious as the case of the single sock that never makes it back from the wash-house, but it means you have a pretty narrow window of opportunity each summer.
The right place to hunt summer stags is best kept under your hat because that knowledge comes from a lot of homework and often years of foot slogging to find the “stag fattening zone”. In the South Island back blocks these spots are often in the very high basins and gully heads where the fresh spring growth doesn’t occur until the middle of summer. Wet patches that grow clover and short lush grasses are the hot spots at this timing, whereas the long rank seed heading grasses in the main valley floors have usually gone sour and less attractive by then. So some hard uphill foot slogging and time in the hills will be required, which usually cuts out the “Christmas let-them-self-goers” and all those suckers that chopped out their work leave loitering at the beach.
There is a plus side though because the stags are also letting themselves go. There is just one thing on their minds and that’s eating lots and getting fat before the roar. They are not hanging out with hinds and will commonly be found in bachelor groups with their heads down and bums up, being fairly non-alert which allows good opportunities for a successful stalk. And if you manage to drop a big trophy red in the summer you will now have one hell of a load of very good venison, layered in fat, with none of that rank “seasoning” you get during the roar.
I was very fortunate to get an opportunity at the “right time” and what turned out to be the “right place” when my mate Chief and I ventured into a new spot on public land in the South Island High Country near the end of January 2016. A full video and story from the hunt will be coming soon, for now here is a hint of what went down.