The dates were set in stone for a late august stag mission months in advance, with work scheduled off all we now needed was the weather to come to the party. The week got closer and closer and everything seemed like it was against us yet again. Being mid-winter nothing is certain in the NZ backcountry, you need to hope for the best and expect the worst, I like to see the bright side in these situation’s however as nothing worthwhile comes easy. Jarrod and I had the green light for 4 days, and we were going to get stuck in while we could. There’s something to be said about a bloke who puts you in the hurt box on the regular, sometimes I wonder if he just likes pushing his rig to the limits more than the hunting. Would I be considered an idiot for somewhat taking joy in doing the same?
I picked up Jarrod at midday and we were packed to the gunnels full of plenty of warm gears as there had been a good dusting of snow, and with clear days ahead with a southerly forecast we were going to be cold. Wet boots are one of the last things you need in winter and we made sure to absolutely balls up the river crossings on our way in, just to ensure we saturated them good and proper for the days ahead. Camp was pitched in record time as it had started snowing for the last hour of our walk and we were ready to hit the scratcher, figuring we were right in the snake pit so would hunt from camp in the morning.
The morning dawned cold and calm and enthusiasm was running high as it couldn’t have been any more picturesque. Putting the binoculars into overdrive we scanned the faces that were going to collect the sun, with it only taking about 5 minutes until we saw the first animal of our trip and a good-looking chamois buck to boot. He wasn’t quite in the bracket of what we were after and we were hungry for stags. A further 5 minutes had us looking at another young buck, so things were promising, carrying on another 20 minutes and finally we picked up some deer sunning themselves. Out with the spotter as they were still miles away and to our absolute disbelief, they were stags and absolute beauties.Three stags stuck out in the mob as being special and with them a few scrubbers mooching around in the sun. We quickly picked the wind and it wasn’t too bad for us, with a route figured to a shooting spot we thought may take us an hour to get to. We were grinning from ear to ear because this was all too easy, having pretty much sussed the whole purpose of this mission in the first couple hours of the first morning. That’s when I should have pulled back and remembered the unwritten hunting laws! I mentioned earlier that nothing good comes easy, and clearly this was way too easy. To be honest I have to put my hand up and take credit for this disaster, as I vaguely remember asking Glock what he wanted to do tonight to celebrate!
We had no sooner loaded our gear and put our packs on our backs and disaster struck, a deer had walked out 200 metres in front of us, he was a stag but had no antlers. I was unsure if he had already dropped or he was a Hummel, either way this wasn’t ideal and all we could do was sit down and wait. There were probably about 6 different ways he could have run, of course choosing the worst possible option. Off he bolted out of sight, and in the direction of our mob of stags. We had no other option but to just wait and see what was going to happen, no more than 2 minutes later and it got worse still. This antler-less stag had run into a mob of about 10 hinds and yearlings, and now the whole lot was bee lining for the face which was holding our stags. We watched them run in single file darting and weaving along but we knew where they were going before they did. The stags we had all but shot and carried out, we’re now about to be passed by a stampede of deer. All we could do was sit and watch, it was somewhat comical to be honest. The stags watched the deer heading straight up the creek underneath them and instinctively joined the conga-line and up, up, up they went. It was a flashback to this time last year! I turned to Glock and almost honestly cried. We now couldn’t see a single deer.
With some quick discussion we pulled pin on this lot and carried on to fresh ground. The mood had darkened a bit, as you’d expect. We carried on seeing a few deer parked up as the day was getting hotter and we decided to do the same. After some lunch we found a lonely 10 point scrubber and plenty more hinds soaking up the sun, after some more quick discussion we decided to carry checking out some new ground, then head back to look for the original stag party in the evening.
Jarrod is always good at keeping spirits high and offered some encouraging words as we moved around a corner “It can all change in a heartbeat”. We rounded the corner into a new glassing spot and went to work. There was a young stag already watching us, unsure of our danger. He moved and then another stag appeared, being bit better and older. His lid still wasn’t quite what we were after and he quickly led this young gun away from our danger. Walking another 100 yards and then I heard Jarrod hiss behind me “get down and get the camera out”. I did as I was told and looked at him for some form of information. He lay down and set his gun up facing towards the hill face these stags were walking away on, had he decided he wanted to take one of those stags now? Then I saw what the hiss was about. There it was, standing, a mere 250 yards from us.
A stag had stood up, ranging him and relaying the distance “240 yards”, he made the adjustments and checked I was filming. A simple thumbs up and the stag’s fate was sealed. The WSM roared and whopped him off his feet, the silence after the shot was satisfying. We didn’t say much, we didn’t have too.
Jarrod deserved this stag, the culmination of events and circumstances leading to him pulling the trigger was nothing short of impressive. We quickly scampered up the hill to the stag and he was an absolute rocket, sporting 11 points with enormous length and long tines he was a true beauty. We soaked it up, it’d been a real ride of ups and downs for our first day hunting, but what a high this was. After a quick session for photos and butchery, Jarrod was loaded to the gills and plodding back to camp. I left Jarrod to make his way back and shot back to where we had seen these stags run off this morning, getting there with about half an hour worth of light left and sitting way back so as to not have any chance of spooking anything else. As the light was fading I picked up a couple deer on the face so I pulled the spotter out and went to work. I couldn’t believe my eyes, standing there exactly where they were this morning was 2 of the 3 big stags! The carnage of the morning must not have bothered these two lads but there was one missing. I wondered if the lid that Jarrod was lugging back to the tent was the one that was missing? I hoped it was, as it would have been a fitting result for him. I watched these two stags feeding till I could barely see them in the binos then packed my gear silently satisfied I walked back to camp in the dark with a grin on my face, something told me I might have another chance at these stags. Sleep came easily that night, with a big lid propped up in the tussock 24 hours after leaving the ute, the mission was half complete. It was brutally cold that night with boots frozen stiff and drink bottles evens stiffer and frost had formed on the inside of my tent. I looked forward to the sun rising and streaming onto that hill face, knowing we would be there at sparrows to wait and watch, in hope they had stayed put.
I was super excited to get up and into em the morning of day 3. I snuck to the turkey’s nest and setup in the soft dawn light, scouring the entire face from every angle. I honestly think I covered every square metre of that sunny face, and I didn’t turn up a single deer. Nothing moved, not even a bloody bird flew across the face. Branching out I started covering the rest of the catchment from different angles.
After several hours of scratching my head I found a lone stag, an absolute rubbish 8 pointer parked up in the shade of a rock sitting in the snow. I had committed to these stags for the entire morning and that was the only deer I could see, what an absolute disaster. I still had a few options, so it was time to hedge my bets. I had guessed the stags had climbed up and round into the next catchment for whatever reason, so I pulled pin yet again and kept wandering in the direction I was betting on. I carried on for a couple hours and started getting into the vicinity I was hoping these lads might be. I parked up and had a late lunch which consisted of a muesli bar to start, and pulled my binoculars out just encase. Just as I was halfway through my muesli bar I spotted some stags, lunch was going to have to wait. I managed to scope out a few stags but none of them were much good, they were tucked up in a gut though and I couldn’t see much of it so I needed to get closer and open up the angle. Problem was I was going to be in view to close the last couple hundred. The stalk was set as best as it could be, and feet were in motion quick smart. I didn’t have much hope of not being seen within 400 metres, but I had to make sure they wouldn’t smell me at least. We got the wind right and closed the gap. I belly crawled the last 100 through the tussock but a young stag must have caught the movement. He didn’t know what to make of me, so I lay and wait. His interest waned eventually and he turned his attention away from my direction, I slipped my binoculars out and started scanning. Spotting some tops behind a little fold had the heart rate soaring, I could just see his antlers but no stag. This was a stag worth shooting and I was in his zone, now I just needed to actually be able to see the rest of him.
I quietly and slowly got set up and got the range, 300 yards on the dot which I’m comfortable at. Everything seems to slow down when you’re siting, waiting for your opportunity. It was probably only 10 minutes, but it seemed like hours and the stags were stirring. Perhaps they knew something wasn’t right or it was just time for them to get up. The young stags in the group I had been watching got up together and stared in my direction. Had the wind changed? Had they in fact seen me get into the shooting position and now decided something was astray. Nevertheless, they were up and the bigger stag was still staying put. These young stags certainly weren’t happy about something and were walking towards a rocky outcrop away from my position, when the bigger lad finally got up.
He was a sight for sore eyes, enormous body on him and a beauty of a lid, I was convinced id finally caught up with one of the stags from the first morning. Then another brute appeared right next to him, this had to be the 2 from last night! Heck id fluked it again. Both big lads were up now and mooching in the young gun’s direction. The one I liked the look of had heavy dark timber and good shape, I waited for him to come from behind a rock for my chance. The faithful 6.5mm spoke and the stag faltered, he was hit hard, straight in the smoker. The bullet had hit its mark from 300 and he slumped into the snow, sliding briefly in a snow chute and coming to rest at the bottom.
I smiled briefly to myself in a bittersweet moment, the goal was to take a good old stag and I’d finally done it. I wandered over to his final resting spot and soaked it all up. He was my best stag id taken yet and what a hunt, with timber thicker than my grip and a cracking shape to him. He held 10 solid points and fantastic length. I took some photos to honour him properly and sat back and enjoyed the feeling of it all. There was a certain elation I felt about taking this brute, up in the snow by myself and I wanted to remember it. I eventually got to work after a while, getting stuck into some butchering and rack recovery. All loaded up the pack was looking pretty comfy, but reality wasn’t quite the same. I donned the straps and headed for camp, wandering along taking in the sunset content, with a heck of a result after some absolute grinding the last couple days. There was certainly nothing easy about this after all.We eventually managed to get our stags, but it certainly wasn’t how we had envisioned on that first morning. I eventually managed to make it back to the tent and finally get my late lunch, even if it was now dinner time and a couple hours after dark. The pack was tossed on the ground and I slumped into a tussock, ready to jump in my sleeping bag with a hot meal and a hot dessert that I had managed to stuff into my pack couple days earlier. We didn’t mess around and I eventually got to sign off on a mammoth of a day, one I won’t forget in a hurry.
Our last day dawned early as the job was done, there was no way we could lug anything else out of here even if we wanted to. It was going to be a mission to get our own rigs out of here. Camp was pulled in the dark and we stuffed our feet into cold boots yet again. With everything crammed into the packs and lids slung on the top we were ready to commit to getting out of here. We hoped for 4 hours with these packs and figured we would need every minute of that time, and some. The knees were telling me it was time to head home and I think Jarrod’s were saying the same. We covered at least 80km’s for this trip and my feet knew about every single one of them, we were a couple of happy lads, however. The hunter’s laws had rung true yet again, nothing any good is ever easy. We figured these stags were a decent testament to that.
I’d like to dedicate this recount of our hunt to Jarrod’s father
May he Rest in Peace