Easter weekend was fast approaching, and I was yet to make a decision whether to go fishing for the long weekend or go spend a few days in the scrub chasing sika stags. Late Thursday afternoon arrived, and I decided to go hunting; I quickly packed all my gear and waited for my mum and dad to pick me up in their campervan – they arrived fashionably late as usual.
Dad and I have been hunting the Kaimanawas for the last 11 years; while doing this, we’ve brought home a lot of meat for our family and friends. I first started hunting the Kaimanawa Ranges with my koro – he helped me shoot my first deer which got Dad keen on the idea of trying to shoot his first … Dad had shot and lost or missed a few animals but never actually put one on the deck. I was lucky enough to be there when he finally shot his first deer which was when he and I caught the bug of chasing around these cunning little sika.
We finally left Tokoroa at 8pm and arrived at our Clements Mill Road campsite at 10pm to find it completely empty. Dad and I discussed where we’d go hunting in the morning then hit the sack.
The next day, I went up the road behind our camp and cut across a main ridge I’ve had plenty of success on before. I stalked along the ridge for 20 minutes with next to no sign of any animals being in the area. Suddenly, out to my left, I heard a stag single call about 25m away in the thick pepperwood – he then came right in. Seeing a flash of antler, I thought I was in luck, but he stopped just in behind the root system of a big beech tree that had fallen over some years ago. I tried to stalk around the windfall only to see the animal disappearing over the side of the ridge.
A bit annoyed with this outcome, I headed back to camp for lunch to find that Dad still hadn’t been out for a hunt; he’d decided to collect firewood instead as the temperature was supposed to drop that night.
The next two days were quite uneventful with neither a single roar heard, nor any deer seen.
The Other Side of the Valley
Sunday morning, I was late out of bed at 8 o’clock. I put my boots on, grabbed my hunting bag and rifle and headed back up the road to the main ridge where I’d seen the stag on the first day. This time, my plan was to cut around the base of the ridge, come back up further around, then hunt back towards where I’d seen the stag. I gave a few roars on the way around the base but had no replies; continuing on, I slowly made my way to the top. I found a few old scrapes on the way up but nothing to get me excited.
As I approached the top of the ridge, I caught the tail end of a single call up over the other side towards where my father was supposed to be hunting. I pulled my walkie talkie out of my hunting pack and gave him a call to see how he was getting on – while still listening out for more stags. After a few attempts to get hold of Dad, he finally heard me and told me he wasn’t down that side. So, I decided to head down the other side of the ridge to have a crack at this roaring stag across the other side of the valley.
On my way down off the ridge, I found a few fresher scrapes and decided to give a few roars only to have the stag across the other side respond to me. Every 10 metres or so, I found fresher and fresher scrapes; I gave a few more roars but had nothing reply. This time I stalked another 60 metres and stumbled across a nice clearing with a fresh scrape in the far-left corner. I called again, then continued on stalking and found more scrapes.
I heard the stag across the valley once more; I was slowly closing the gap and getting more and more excited. I gave a few more roars with my piece of PVC pipe … then suddenly, out to my right, a few sticks snapped. I glanced over to see a stag coming through some thick pepperwood as he charged in towards me.
Pulling up my trusty old Sako 243, I followed him with the crosshairs; I gave a couple of half-pie mews, trying to get him to stop, but this only made him charge through faster!
I moved the crosshairs onto an open spot, waiting for him to step into it – and he did. Aiming just behind his shoulder, I squeezed off the shot; he bolted off down into the gully I was walking the edge of … and then everything went quiet.
Finding the Stag
My first thought was to get over to the open spot where he’d been when I’d taken the shot to see if there was any sign of blood; but I decided to sit and wait 10 minutes before trying to track it. Who would’ve thought 10 minutes would feel like 10 hours!? I quietly snuck forward to where he’d been when I’d shot at him to find a massive pool of blood with bits of lung and blood clots in it.
The feeling I got knowing I’d hit him was quite overwhelming; I wanted to scream out, “WOOHOO!” But then I thought, “No, there could be a chance he’s still kicking, and I don’t want to spook him and have to track him even further”.
Every step I took, I found large amounts of blood. I tracked him for about 40 metres before I made out some movement through the thick pepperwood – it was his antlers moving backwards and forwards; I could make out one good top on the right side and a smaller top on the other.
I tried to sneak around him to get a shot at him to finish him off but he heard me coming and stood up. I quickly chambered another round and smacked him right in the base of the neck – he collapsed on the spot. I finally let out a big, loud “WOOHOO!”
I moved forward to find one of the biggest, nicest heads I’ve ever seen in the Clements Road area – a big, 9-point sika stag. I must’ve counted each point three times over … I couldn’t believe I’d shot a nice big 9! Full of excitement, I pulled out my walkie talkie and tried to get hold of my dad, mum and my mate Mike who’d arrived the day before. Dad finally answered, asking if the two shots they’d heard from camp were mine.
“Get in here – it’s a monster!” I replied. With that, Dad and Mike came in as fast as they could; they could hear the excitement in my voice. I decided to meet them halfway and guide them in.
We finally got back to the stag and there were a few handshakes and photos taken before gutting him. We decided to carry him out whole as the road was only 600 metres away – carrying a stag with its head still on is very awkward!
We got him out to the road and put him in the back of Mike’s car – man, did that look impressive!
After arriving back at camp, Mike showed me how to cape it out, as I’ve never done that before.
I’m glad I decided to spend the long weekend out in the scrub chasing around the elusive sika stag. Note to self: don’t salt the skin and put it in the freezer as salt doesn’t freeze ….