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Look around the next corner

Frank with his eight pointer.

By Jeff van Driel – First Published Rod&Rifle Jul/Aug 1990.

One of the most fascinating aspects of hunting I find is the uncertainty of what lies around the next corner or over the next hill. This is just one of the factors that keeps me so keen on my chosen sport. This article is about a trip made into the Kaimanawa Forest Park after the ever unpredictable Sika deer and illustrates that the chance of success on a trophy s is well within the reach of anybody, as long as you are prepared to put in the time and are willing to look around that next corner.

For the past 3 or 4 years, around the roar we had spent our time chasing the whitetail of Stewart Island, or hunting the Southern Alps for thar and chamois with reasonable success. We have always been keen sika hunters and spend most of our weekend trips after these wily little deer, so after a little discussion it was agreed that we would spend 9 days in early April chasing the japs.

Although a little early for the Sika to roar we prefer this time rather than later in April when things begin to hot up and the number of hunters increases.

On a fine April morning four intrepid hunters, Ron, Andre, Frank and myself left Auckland bound for Taupo. As usual when heading for the bush, talk turned to past trips, the successes and the failures, what this trip held in store for us. Maybe a classic eight pointer? Whatever we ended up with we were all sure we were going to have a great time.

Andre and Ron were planning on being choppered in, while Frank and I were going to walk in, both to save us a bit of money and as there was always a small chance of getting a deer on the track.

After being dropped off at the starting point of our tramp, Andre departed bound for HeliSika and the chopper. Our tramp in proved to a bit longer than expected but when we finally did arrive at the hut we were to find Andre and Ron waiting for us, instead of being at the prearranged dropoff point about an hour and a half further on, Apparently DOC had recently changed their policy on helicopter landing sites within the park and limited them to outside huts only, as an attempt to prevent the leaving of rubbish throughout the park.

The result of all this was that we had to lug all our over two trips to our campsite which entailed a three hour round trip. Finally with camp set up and all our food stored safely away out of the reach of possums and rats we got down to making dinner as we had eaten since the morning. There was not much day light left so we decided to leave our first stalk until the following day when we all would be feeling a bit more energetic.

We certainly had a terrific night’s sleep, the only hardship being the following morning when we had to get out of the warm sleeping bag and after the deer. Having hunted this area once or twice before proved to of some benefit to me in that I knew exactly where I was heading. Following the river upstream for about half an hour or so I started to climb out of the valley headed for the top ridge The higher I climbed the more plentiful the sign became, until when climbing out of a narrow gorge I found myself in the headwaters with three guts fanning out from the creekbed. In these there was an abundance of food as was evident by the amount of prints and droppings. I was certain that there were deer nearby but after half an hour observing my surroundings and seeing nothing I decided to move on. After having taken only a few steps a hind bolted from the creekbed. She had been feeding right below me and I had started moving again had obviously heard me and taken fright. I raced down the hill to where I had sitting previously as this was the only spot where I could cross the creek. Suddenly there she was, on a slip about two hundred metres away. Realising I didn’t have much time to get a shot away I took a quick aim at the hind and let rip. She bounded away showing no sign of a hit, but as I’ve found over the years this does not necessarily mean a miss, and as always I crossed over to check out where she had been standing. There was no blood and on tracking her she seemed to be heading uphill, an almost sure sign of a miss. Then she told me she was all right by emitting a high pitched squeal, characteristic of the sika. Giving up for the day as evening was approaching I headed back to camp to find the other guys were back and had also no luck in getting deer.

Tomorrow was another day and with it the chance to solve the problem of getting some camp meat. However the day came and went and with it so did our luck was proving to be all bad so far.

It wasn’t till late on the third day finally had my chance. I was stalking a very promising looking gully when there was a bad windshift causing my scent to drift uphill. Almost immediately I had a stag screaming at me from 50 metres and then hinds whistling from the other side of the gully, I seemed to be surrounded by deer. Knowing the odds were not in my favour any more I carried on until I was just below the top ridge. Opposite me was a beautiful ferny clearing and just as I was thinking to myself “there should be one here somewhere”, I spotted an ever slight movement by a what I thought was brown fern. Hitting the deck I peered through the scope to see I was looking straight at a sika hind feeding away quite happily, unaware my presence. Taking a minute to regain my breath and composure I took careful aim and sent the .308, 150 grain projectile on its way. The hind dropping immediately, the bullet striking her cleanly through the heart. Soon after the shot another deer whistled at me close to where the first on lay. Peering with the scope into the gloom of the bush I could make out the form of yet another hind. Knowing that I had enough meat to last us for a while I let her trot away to safety. Crossing to the clearing proved to be rather difficult due to the steepness and loose rock but eventually I made it and after a few anxious moments found the hind in the waist high fern.

The light began to fade fast so I quickly began butchering the animal. I made it back to camp after dark, walking the last ten minutes by torch. Mine was the only success for the day with Ron being a bit unlucky in missing a stag which had taken off just as he fired.

One morning I decided to try a new area on a different river not far from camp. Having crossed the river at a safe place I began to stalk upwards. Sign was abundant, and when after only minutes I found a fresh marker pad I realised I had stumbled by chance onto a stag’s stand. Due to the nature of the terrain the only way I would be able to get onto the stag would be to do a full frontal approach. It took me a full hour to cover the first 50 metres. Although having seen nothing yet I could feel it in my bones that he was there somewhere. I slowly carried on until I found a fresh wallow, still muddy from its owners bath. As I moved on my pulse rate increased as I knew the stag as yet had not twigged my presence. I had covered only a few metres when it happened, a short sharp squeal from about 15 metres and the sound of hooves pounding the ground. I ran as hard as I could for about 10 metres. Breaking into the clear I saw the body of a deer from the front legs back protruding from the pepperwood.

Thinking it was my stag I fired a quick shot angled into the lung region. The deer bolted immediately but I was confident that my aim had been true and I had my first stag for the trip. In a wat I was right but I was more than a little surprised when after tracking the animal I found I had shot a spiker which must have been one of the master stag’s pilots. I realised on recollection of the events which had just occurred that I had seen the fern shake up above where I had shot the spiker, obviously the boss making a hurried exit. As it was, we now had some more meat and a beautiful skin.

We had managed to get a few more hinds and spikers in the last days so Frank and I did a trip to where the chopper was to pick Andre and Ron up, to lighten the load for the following morning. We reluctantly broke camp the next morning having had fine weather over our whole stay. Leaving Andre and Ron at the hut Frank and I headed off up the track for our long tramp out. The time passed quickly, talking about our experiences of the past week and a half and I happened to say to Frank “that you never could tell when an eight pointer might come your way, there may even be one just around the next corner”. Well, surprisingly there wasn’t, but half an hour later as we started to walk through a likely looking spot there was a loud squeal right in front of us. As I looked up I saw the head and antlers of a stag running just off the side of the track. Frank was in front but he hadn’t seen the animal but I had seen the direction it was taking and the fact that there were two tines on top, almost certainly an eight pointer. Yelling to Frank to drop his pack and telling him that it was a large stag I told him to run straight down the track. Sure enough, as he came around a corner in the track the stag had stopped, unsure of which direction to take. Frank fired off a quick shot at which the stag jumped and after much crashing came to rest in a steep rocky creekbed 30 metres below the track. Frank let out a whoop of delight as he realised he had succeeded at last, getting an eight pointer. While he inspected the deer I returned for the packs which had been discarded back down the track. The stag’s antlers had beautiful long white tops but with fairly small brows and trez’s. Heads like this aren’t shot every day and in fact some hunters never get a reasonable one, so although the stag was not in top trophy class it would still be well worth mounting.

With the photos over we got into the job of headskinning and removing the meat. This amounted to a sizeable load but we had already completed the worst of our trip out and before we knew it we had reached the carpark.

We were a bit bewildered when we arrived as Andre was not there waiting for us. According to our plans he should have arrived there about two hours prior to our arrival after being flown out by the chopper. We figured the only thing we could do would be to head to HeliSika and find out what had happened. This entailed about a 15 km walk, not something to look forward to after already doing a five hour tramp. Lady Luck was smiling on us as some other hunters were leaving for home at the same time and kindly offered us a lift right to the chopper pad.

Approaching the pilot we found there had been some misunderstanding and he had booked them for the following day. As soon as the chopper was available the pilot went in for Ron and Andre who had nearly given up hope of being picked up for the day and in fact were into a feed of deer liver when the chopper arrived.

HeliSika were very fair about the mistake that happened even though it may not have been their fault and gave Andre and Ron a discount on the price of the trip.

At last they arrived and the look on their faces when they saw the antlers was priceless. We celebrated the end of a great trip with a cold beer then we were off for home and a nice soft bed.

The chance of a trophy is there for any hunter, with just a bit of luck and the curiosity to have a look round the next corner.

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