Big Days in Big Country

The noise of the chopper faded as we watched its tail disappear over the ridge above us. Then silence, immediate solitude. It’s a funny feeling getting dropped off by helicopter. One minute in civilisation, the next alone in the middle of the mountains. This was the 2nd year I had decided to do a fly in/walk out hunt. Doing plenty of big walk in trips throughout the year I was looking forward to this one to save the feet for the hunting, and of course to maximise time. But I feel I also have to work hard for these animals, so opting to walk out definitely makes you work hard. I had been fortunate enough to already take a couple of nice stags this year, so this one was dedicated to getting my good mate Patty something nice on the deck. We had planned to hunt our way along the tops of a main ridge system over the next 5 days. On the last day dropping off the tops and doing the last push out via a main valley.

So finally we were here. We found ourselves a nice flat spot next to a little tarn at the head of a gully and setup camp. Then decided to check out a few of the smaller gullies close to camp and save some big glassing country for the morning. That night we saw couple of hinds and watched an 8 point stag until dark. Nothing worthy of pulling the trigger showed itself.

Hind on the skyline.jpg

The next morning we awoke to the start of a beautiful day on the tops. We started the walk up the face behind us toward the main ridge to drop onto the opposite side to glass a couple of big catchments for the morning.

Before we even got to the ridge I saw several hinds way up high. We just managed to sidle around and over a saddle into the head of a basin without getting spotted. There were plenty of deer around. A mob of hinds was up on the face to our left, along with a nice long 8 point stag a bit further along with some potential for future years. We picked up another 2 separate mobs of hinds feeding in the head of the basin below us. We watched them for a while but without picking up anything of real interest we decided to move across into the next bigger catchment while it was still early.

 Young stag

Young stag

As we were walking along, just about to arrive to where we would begin glassing through a large head basin. I looked up and 30yards ahead I spied the top of some antlers sticking out from behind some boulders.

I quickly kneeled down and gestured for Patty to do the same. From the quick look I got I counted 4 on 1 top. Patty moved forward and I told him there was a good stag within spitting distance. He quietly chambered a round and crept forward. He popped his head up to see where the stag was. At this point I didn’t want to risk spooking the stag so I just had my eyes on Patty. He then stood, rifle shouldered. “boomfa”.

I stood to see the stag charging downhill, and I got a proper glimpse at his antlers. I was not disappointed. He stumbled and came to a stop, looking back up at the disturbance. Another shot rang out from next to me and down he went for good. A big congratulations and yarn followed and we headed down to check him out.

 Patty realising how much works ahead of him

Patty realising how much works ahead of him

We were both stoked! Especially Patty. He was a very wide, mature 12 pointer. With a nice double set of claws on each top. I was pretty surprised to see a stag of this calibre where he was, he had really slipped up this time. His metabolism had come back full swing after the roar and he just couldn’t resist coming out onto the good feed in the damp creek heads. The usual photo shoot took place and we began the butchery taking as much meat as we could carry for the next few days. Off we charged back up the face to the main ridge dropping over the other side and back to camp. We mucked around camp for a while having some breakfast and then packing up and beginning the walk to the next camp destination.

 Dream result

Dream result

 Loaded up and shifting camp

Loaded up and shifting camp

After a couple hours of walking we found a small muddy tarn which would have to be camp for the night and setup shelter. The evening rolled around and we found a nice glassing point looking into 2 smaller scrubby side creek systems. We glassed all evening and we hadn’t picked up any animals yet which was quite unusual. Then next minute, textbook, on the last half hour or so of light I spotted a stag creeping out of the bush edge. We setup the camera on him and revealed a nice long mature stag. With a rough count of what I thought was 12 or 13 points. We watched him as he cagily walked along the bush edge and slowly wandered a little further out as the light faded some more. Then he caught me by surprise and let out an angry roar! This fella was still trying to rut. He let out a few more bellows and I made the call to try and roar him in closer as the stalk was too tricky for the light we had left.

Stag in the Tussock.jpg

So he heard my roar, turned around and started heading in our direction, stopping and roaring as he went. I dropped some height and tried to close the gap myself as he got closer. I ended up spooking a small 8 pointer on the way down who disappeared into a creek. I setup in a terrible position and the stag had stopped in his tracks, front on at 380yd looking around above him. I could not get him to come any further or to turn broadside. This was the first hunt with a new scope and I just did not feel comfortable taking the shot front on like that on an average rest. I was lined up on his chest, just wishing he would turn broadside. Then next minute he did a full 180degree turn and started running back the way he had come.

He ended up right where he had started and had joined some hinds that had appeared from out of a creek. He was still roaring so obviously he had not been spooked by us.

stag.jpg

We awoke the next morning and began glassing into where he was. The weather was a bit average now and there was a bit of moisture in the air. There were a couple of hinds amongst the scrub where we had last seen the stag, but he was nowhere to be seen. We were glassing for a bit and I finally picked him up crossing over a saddle back into the catchment we were in. He appeared he was semi rutting when a hind must be cycling late, but also back alone feeding putting on lost condition. I have noticed stags acting like this quite often this time of year. Yesterday he was roaring, today he was feeding alone.

He was very slowly making his way down through the tussock, feeding as he went and constantly looking around. Then he stopped in one spot for quite a while, just looking around and winding. I decided I would head off and try and put on a stalk. Leaving Patty behind with the camera keeping watch. I moved around a bit and looked back to check on him, he was still standing in the same spot. I moved again for no more than 1 minute, looked back and he had vanished! I could not find him anywhere. I sat there for quite some time glassing into where he could have gone or popped in and out of. But he was nowhere to be seen. I went back to Patty to ask where he went and he also had no idea. He just vanished into thin air. This boy wasn’t silly. By this point the weather was pretty average so we headed back to camp and came up with another plan. We were originally meant to shift camps further down the ridge today but because of the weather and the fact there was a good stag in this area we decided to sacrifice some hunting ground and just shift camps slightly further up the face where it was a bit more sheltered. We jumped into the tents and waited out the storm.

It didn’t clear for the rest of the day and we spent the whole day and night tent bound yet again. The morning came around and to be fair I was pretty grumpy. All my gear was soaked from the day before, it was still raining and very windy and I thought my chance of getting a stag now were gone. I was also now kicking myself for deciding not to pull the trigger on him a couple of days before hand. Also because we had not shifted camps the last couple of nights meant that the last walk out was going to be a bloody big one and we would miss out on quite a lot of hunting country.

Sitting in the tent swearing to myself, I forced myself to head out into the rain “just in case, you never know”.

camp.jpg

I chucked on all the wet gear, boots and headed off into the storm. I had grabbed Patty’s raincoat as it seemed to survive a bit better than mine so this time I was doing a solo. I sat down on a good glassing point we had found and once again got behind the bino’s. Despite it still raining it wasn’t exactly claggy and I could still see across to the other side of the basin. I searched around all the scrubby creek heads once again, and then… there he was. I was actually quite surprised to see him out feeding in this terrible weather, and especially with how strong the winds were. I wasted no time and straight away I was up and heading up the ridge I was on so I could sidle around the main basin. I was pushing hard and trying to move fast but I kept checking on what he was doing as I moved my way around. There was another smaller stag a bit further up so I had to be mindful of him too. Once I got a bit closer I sat and watched what he was doing and thought about my best approach.  I decided to go right around the basin and over the next ridge and sidle my way back toward him into the wind and try to cut him off, it would be a big push. But this ended up working perfectly.

I just crested a small rise and I saw him still slowly feeding his way around. I was still a bit high though and it was blowing a gale so I gradually stalked my way down the face to close the gap a bit more. As I stalked closer he very slowly moved closer too. He was still very alert looking around so I had to slide across the scrub on my ass very carefully dragging my pack behind me. I finally got to a spot I was comfortable and I got setup. I can’t remember the exact range but it was around 300 yd. He stood broad side, I allowed a decent amount for wind and squeezed off. He was hit hard and he took off on 3 legs with his front leg hanging and disappeared behind a drop in the face. I knew he was hit well so I slowly sorted my gear and headed down the face to where he had disappeared. Working down the face I spotted an antler sticking up from behind the scrub. I walked up to him and was pretty stoked when I saw he had 5 on each top, and a total of 14 points. He had a nice shape to him and pretty decent brow tines too. He was absolutely soaked to the bone, as was I. This stag ended up being a bloody cunning bugger and would have to be one of my favourite hunts I have done. After him giving me the slip on 2 other occasions I was absolutely stoked to of finally taken him 3 days later.

12 Point Stag.jpg

I did the tricky solo photo shoot and butchery. Loaded up as much meat as I could and headed back off around the basin toward camp. By the time I got back to camp it had eased off slightly and Patty was eagerly awaiting my arrival outside the tents. I shared the story and the rain arrived again so we sat in the tents discussing our options. We decided we would pack up and do majority of the walk out today, off the tops and spend the last night in a hut on the valley floor with a fire to dry our gear.

 Arriving back at camp completely soaked after a successful stalk

Arriving back at camp completely soaked after a successful stalk

So a quick breaky and we were packed up once again and heading off back along the ridge. We had to finish the walk along the steep ridge system before we could drop down into a big side creek and then walk out to the hut. On the walk out we battled with gale force winds, almost unable to stand at some points. Rain, and even snow for a while. Which was actually a lot more pleasant than the rain. Finally we made it off the tops, down through the bush and onto the main track toward the hut. Doing the last 3 or 4 hours in the dark we arrived just after midnight in the pissing rain. That hut was a very welcomed site. From the start of my day to arriving at the hut I had been walking and on my feet for around 19 hours. I definitely felt like we had worked damn hard for these animals. We cranked the fire, hung out our wet stuff to dry, had a late dinner and went to bed.

 Back in the valley floor drying out

Back in the valley floor drying out

The next day we had a nice deserved sleep in and a leisurely morning around the hut. We got all packed up and began the last stretch out. Another 6 hours later, we were back at the truck.

It is always a great feeling of accomplishment arriving back at the truck after a big tops hunt, and that is probably my main reason for alpine hunting. The mental and physical push. Constantly pushing further, harder. Your body can do a lot more than we think, but it is the mind that we need to strengthen and condition beyond anything else.

What a great trip, but I was already thinking about the next one.