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From Rivers to Ranges to Sika and Shops

My sika trophy: mid-30s in length with a 192 Douglas Score

It feels like a lifetime ago when Brendan Coe, the then editor of NZRod&Rifle, rang me and asked if I’d go to Ngamatea to hunt sika deer with Jeremy Hanaray and himself. I jumped at the chance – the perfect place to trial my new custom Hardy-built 6.5X284 that Brendan had organised for me.

The first deer I managed to knock over was a sika hind at 350 yards across a gully where she was quietly feeding away on the famous golden tussock faces. My friendship with Jeremy Hanaray – ‘Jem’ – was cemented on that trip. I fondly remember the yarns we had whilst carrying my cull sika stag up the Rangitikei faces to the truck on the ridge where Brendon was waiting for a look at our prize.

I rang Jem a few years later and asked if he’d be able to take my mate Malte and me on a trophy sika hunt. I’d travelled to the North Island for three sika hunts since that first trip to Ngamatea and I hadn’t found a chance for a nice stag. I did see a few, and I shot a 6-pointer in heavily hunted country; I even saw a nice 8-pointer on DOC land, but I never managed to seal the deal! I kept thinking that the opportunity to hunt a free-range sika stag in a prime spot with someone who knows the breed well and would certainly give me a good experience wasn’t something that was going to last forever; so I made the call – one I can honestly say has changed my life forever.

Challenges and Expectations

Unfortunately, not long before our trip, Malte had a nasty motorcycle accident which put our plans in jeopardy. Some hard work with the physio and sheer determination saw Malte – with his leg containing more steel than bone – man up and commit to the hunt. Just to add to the challenge, we had a weather forecast that included an ex-tropical cyclone to keep us company.

Spirits were high when we drove through the familiar gates of Ngamatea in Jem’s old Hilux with another tagger-onner – Andrew Sturt from Hunters Element – who was there with his camera to record the trip and test out some new garments.

Malte and I put the pressure on Jem with an expectation of some big Douglas Score numbers; I specifically wanted to try and find a stag with serious length and good tops – Malte wanted a typical mature stag with a nice cape.

A Worthy Stag

On the first day, we saw a couple of mature stags; Jem’s expert eye told us they’d have some ground shrinkage, so we kept our bolts shut on empty chambers. It wasn’t until late on the second morning sitting on a lookout knob that we found a stag that made Jem quite noticeably excited. He was a big old stag, very long; a look through the spotter showed us he had the tops I was after – this was a beast worthy of much closer inspection.

Malte stayed at the lookout and manned the spotter and radio whilst Jem and I snuck across the valley to close the distance between us and the big boy. We had to head into the weather, which was closing in, and we had a challenge ahead of us to sneak around a handful of other animals – including a couple of satellite stags – to get within range of the big boy. There was a large open gully between the lookout and the stag who was in thick tea tree and would occasionally pop out into a clearing.

Lost and Found

The stalk was by no means an easy hunt, and we didn’t do a good job of getting over there undetected. A young 6-pointer whistled at us which halted the advance; we tried to hide behind a kanuka bush for half an hour or more to let the deer settle. The only animals we saw from there were hinds and a spiker vacating the place – the big boy had disappeared.

It was more than two hours since we’d left Malte, and no one – including Malte on the spotter – had seen the stag since we’d left the lookout. A bit down in the dumps, we pressed on up a clear creek into the tea tree where the stag had been but still nothing showed.

We’d all but given up when the radio crackled with an energized voice; the stag was only 50 yards from us! Stopping in our tracks, we searched the wall of scrub to no avail; we were on the same side of the creek as the stag, looking up hill into scrub – not ideal. Malte reported the stag was edgy and seemed to know something was up, so Jem and I retreated to the creek to try and find a vantage point on the other side.

A Good Result

We were crossing a small grassy clearing in the creek when I spotted the antlers towering above the kanuka. We still couldn’t get a shot, but it didn’t take us long to find a spot 150 yards from him where we could get set up for the waiting game.

The stag was tucked up, only antlers in view, but our luck was in when he started to make his way to a clearer bit of scrub – he stopped and offered me a nice clean shoulder on which to land a 140gr Berger VLD. I had my stag! The only deer I’ve ever paid to shoot – but that didn’t take anything from my experience. It was an honest and good hunt.

The stag went 192 DS, mid 30s in length and had the tops I was hoping for. Vern and Louise Pearson did a wicked job of mounting him, too – a nice reminder of a superb hunt which, incidentally, didn’t end there. In fact, the story of Malte’s stag is a hell of a yarn – one for another day. We both accomplished what we’d set out to achieve … and so much more!

An Idea

We spent our evenings in the hut talking with Andrew Sturt who was following us around with his camera like he wasn’t even there. We chatted about Hunters Element and Jeremy Hanaray’s Rivers to Ranges store. We talked in depth about what Jem offered in his shop, and somewhere along the line, we started talking about branching Jem’s brand out to my neck of the woods in North Canterbury. Many an idea is birthed on a hunt, most of which stay on the hill or in the hut – but this one was revisited over and over again until I committed, just over a year after I shot my big sika, by buying a hunting shop and rebranding it to Jem’s brand.

My wife, Anna, and I are now the proud owners of North Canterbury Rivers to Ranges in Rangiora, North Canterbury under the guidance of Jeremy Hanaray. We’re up and running and offering the same services to hunters and fisherman that Jem does in Hastings; services such as sighting in of rifles, and most importantly, enthusiasm and passion.

A shout out must go to Brendan Coe who gave me so many opportunities. Cheers, Ed.

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