It had been a hot Christmas up in the Naki so hydration intake had been supplemented more than usual, however not so much the electrolyte replenishing but more the barrel aged variety was employed which hadn’t helped preparation for our upcoming South Island tops mission.
Hayden and I had researched a chosen area in Canterbury doc land and planned for an early Feb attack on the freshly stripped Red stags that hopefully roamed there. We had already stocked the freezers with summer veni so were only interested in a decent stag or if we were lucky a chamois buck. With a glorious week of weather forecasted it was ferry booked, bags packed and a fresh load of wilderness meals ordered.
A few coffees and the phone data punished was enough to kill the 3 hour venture across the strait and we soon made our way into Blenheim for the night. An early start and we headed for the sun covered hills but not before a Murchison bacon and egg pie was engaged to battle the Chinese monstrosity meal from the night before. The end of tar seal meant a drop in gear and the use of all 4 wheels were needed to negotiate some vehicle devaluing terrain before we bounced our way to a guaranteed free parking area and the start of human horsepower. Now if you suffer from an efficient internal combustion engine like us then you will understand the effects of heavy packs and steep angles and why Stoney Creek powder dry shirts were invented. All I can really remember was it was nearly dark upon reaching the tops and with the added lack of O2 from blowing up my XL air mat I fell unconscious faintly hearing Hayden’s laughter in the background.
We woke to, well, not much as we couldn’t see more than 10 feet from the tent door and therefore no real rush to roll out of bed. We enjoyed the relaxed start with a Kea joining us for muesli and a cuppa. Once he had finished squawking his broadcast of events in the mountains a light breeze began to clear the fog and so the bino’s were hastily adjusted for the first looks of the trip towards some nice looking faces and the head of the basin. I lost the ice cream for the first deer spotted but it’s always welcome news none the less and Hayden soon had us evaluating what turned out to be a large 8 pointer with good spread and length but not in the class of what we were after. As the day progressed we sidled around the basin and spotted a few more animals but again no shooters but great to video and watch. It had been an enjoyable first days hunting with the only disappointment (and it was a big one) being we had left all our cheese and salami in the motel fridge in Blenheim! The thought of that bacon and egg pie began to fester in our minds making things even worse.
Day 2 dawned the same as the first so we packed camp and moved further along the ridge to look into another basin for when it lifted. The forecast had been for light winds but it wasn’t to be and soon a reasonable breeze had come up forcing us to focus on one side of the ridge. Again we saw younger stags up to 9 points with a variety of family members but nothing of note so by nightfall we were tucking into another Wilderness and mash masterpiece and a few tunes on the Ipod looking forward to another lash in the morning.
Again we woke to clag and again we moved further along to new territory but not before running into a group of young hunters who were chasing the same goal as us. They turned out to be top blokes so we sat and yarned out of the wind for about an hour about previous trips and other shop talk before agreeing on directions to head and wishing each other well. By the time we reached our intended campsite it was lunchtime but there was no excitement as it was dry Panini and 2 minute noodles to encourage down with some dubious tarn water. We headed off at around 1:30pm along the ridge glassing as we ducked in and out of rocky outcrops hiding from both the wind and beaming sun. We had spied animals on the previous day’s mid-afternoon feeding up so were hopeful that we may have something to fill in the time before deer o clock came around. After glassing and signing off on another nice valley it was up and over into another system that screamed deer. It was now 3:30pm and sitting on a high point we once again picked up a young 9 pointer and hind. I was busy videoing these animals when Hayden whispered “now that’s more like it” as he had picked up the antler in the long tussock of a larger animal. The spotting scope was carefully extracted as we were sitting on a nice little drop off and although Swarovski make excellent optics they also come with a price sticker equivalent to a few helicopter rides. On closer inspection we definitely thought he was a worthy stag and after some discussion the plan was made to drop down a rather steep piece of mountain and get as close as we could. We scrambled down rather quickly with Hayden once again showing no respect for vegetation with sharp points which would require uncle “buck” to pry out later back at camp, but you never feel these things in the heat of the moment. The stag was bedded back down on his nice sunny face on the opposite side of the valley and the Geovids told us he was still over 700 yards away. Further evaluation revealed he was missing bay tines and so was not the dream 12 but still a stunning 10 with excellent top tines. We had reached the scrub belt and more angle downwards so we manoeuvred and bashed our way to a small point in the hope off some sort of shooting rest. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of promise anywhere really but with some frantic pruning and landscaping we managed a half reasonable shooting lane and a massively reduced range of 675 yards, so no pressure whatsoever. A game of rock/paper/scissors decided that it was to be my shot but I opted to use Hayden’s rifle as it was a solid long range canon and while the 7mm rem mag hasn’t let me down, at that range the bigger the better in our opinion. The usual setup and waiting followed before the stag offered a decent broadside shot at which I sent one his way and Hayden indicated a solid hit. Unfortunately I momentarily distracted his spotting as his bolt had been playing up and I tried to cycle another round in but found it jammed a tad. In this time he lost sight of the stag as it staggered downhill slightly after crumpling initially. The video camera was replayed back and slowed to show a good hit behind the shoulder and taking out the lungs but as always celebrations would be held until we were standing over it. By now it was 6:30pm and we contemplated the mammoth retrieve however rightly decided to make the 3 hour journey up and back to camp and attack it first thing in the morning otherwise risk a night out. Back at camp we again reviewed the footage to quell the dark thoughts of doubt that creep in and I got a laugh back on Hayden as he was struck by a good bout of cramp. Now I know from experience it hurts like a Spaniard to the old fella but it does make comical viewing.
The next morning was a 7am start and a massive haul back up, over, around and down the head of the valley we shot the stag in with a good amount of “Is my will up to date” moments thrown in. Following a small creek up and then breaking through the scrub and heading up to where the stag was it became apparent why we couldn’t see where he had fallen as the mountain tussock was up to eye level. We both looked at each other and could tell each had the thought of “if he ain’t where he fell we might be up a certain creek” so we spread apart and began slowly work our way up the face to where he last fell. It was with much relief that an antler tip caught my eye and we found him no more than 10 metres from where he was shot, just out of screen on the camera it would appear. A few high fives and a sit down to enjoy the moment was enjoyed before photos, butchering and head removal ensued. By the time we got back to camp it was 7pm and with only a handful of nuts and Black Doris plum each we were feeling the effects of a hard day on the hill but a bloody rewarding one. That brought about a fitting end to our hunt as we were heading out the following day but for the little hunting we actually got to do (due to morning fog) we did quite well in securing a nice stag with more prime eating venison to squeeze into the freezer. We will be back with a new gained knowledge of new country and endless potential.