By Alister Bradley – First Published Rod&Rifle Mar/Apr 2009.
When my cell phone went off with a text message at work one day I just thought it would be another joke from my mate but how wrong was I. Another mate had just informed had been lucky enough to draw a Wapiti Block, we had the Lower Glaisnock for the first period; excellent. This was third try for the ballot and my hunting mate Bryce was over the moon with the news. A week or so later the Fordland Wapiti Foundation’s info pack arrived. I contacted the other block holder and organised transport across the lake for the five of us and found out what parts of the block they wanted to hunt. Food was organised and mainly consisted of Back Country meals which proved an excellent way to go being light and easy to cook. The briefing at Te Anau was quite informative with the Fordland Wapiti Foundation showing photos and video of wapiti type annals to show the differences between wapiti and red deer and informing us of what the foundation had planned for the future. With permits and mountain radio picked up and a time set to the boat in the morning it was off for the last real meal for a couple of weeks.
We made to Te Anau Downs by 8am where we were to catch our boat and with all gear stowed and people on board it was only a 45-minute trip across the lake to our drop off point. Those sandflies definitely are impressive; at least they make you unload fast. With all the gear inside the security of the hut we sorted out our packs with a week’s supplies. My 90l Huntech pack was bursting at the seams, but did the job. Since it was only 9am and with the weather looking settled for the next few days we wanted to get up valley ASAP. By mid-afternoon we had made it up the main valley and halfway up into the side creek we wanted to hunt for the week, based on good information from previous block holders. We reached the first flats by 6pm and it only took 10 minutes to find the camping spot I was told of, a nice dry spot in amongst the crown fern just off the creek. We set up the tent and put a big fly over the top then had a feed and a brew. Having about an hour of light left we gathered daypacks and headed up stream for a look around. The first animal we saw was an impressive looking 6 point wapiti bull. He saw us first but just stood there watching us for a few minutes before heading back into the security of the bush. Right on dark I spotted three animals further upstream, two were small red stags but the other was a wapiti bull, as pure a wapiti as I thought I would ever see. His cream coloured body really stood out compared to the reds. We could easily make out his antlers and he looked huge to me but we couldn’t count the tines because of the lack of light but he was at least a 10 pointer. We just hoped we would see him the next day to judge his head properly. Sleep came pretty easy that night but we were still woken several times by bugling from four or five different animals with one bugling only 150 metres from our tent.
We awoke to a fine day and with one bull still bugling we hastily ate some porridge before making a beeline for him. We closed the distance pretty quickly but his bugles weren’t getting any louder and he appeared to be heading up to the tops fast. Changing our plans we headed up valley exploring new country and by mid afternoon we had seen another six animals up high but hadn’t heard any replies to our bugling. We were back at our lookout early to see if the big bull we had seen the night before was going to show again. There was a group of seven cows and calves but the bull didn’t show himself until late again and caught us off guard. Bryce saw first off to our left about 150 metres away but he then headed straight back into the bush. Bryce bugled at him but got no response. He reappeared 400 metres the fiats but this time he answered our bugles every time. We got some video but again couldn’t count all the tines. We back and forth for about 20 minutes until it was too dark to see him.
That night he bugled off and on for most of the night and with another fine day ahead and the bull still bugling we had high hopes. Approaching the area he was in the night before we soon spotted him. We could now easily count 12 points so stalked in as dose as we could to about 250 metres. At this point we couldn’t see him but knew roughly where he was. He was still answering our bugles but wouldn’t come and see what we were. Every time he bugled we answered and after about 10 minutes he appeared again, this time coming towards us. He stopped about 200 metres from us and what a sight he made tearing up the ground every time we bugled. All this time Bryce was videoing and got some great footage of him in action. I found a rest and waited for him to turn broadside. He started walking away so I quickly let out a red roar to which he immediately spun around and bugled back. With that I had the Blaser lined up on his shoulder and at the shot he spun around and ran 30 metres before collapsing. We made our way slowly over to the bull and man was he huge. I’ve never seen a body so big and he was in perfect condition with really creamy coloured skin. I couldn’t believe it, my first trip to Fiordland and I’ve shot myself a good head. He was a 13 pointer 41″ long by 38″ wide and had the typical wapiti throwbacks. My shot had been spot on, right in the middle of the shoulder and the 7mm 160gr Barnes was resting under the skin on the opposite shoulder. I was really kicking myself for not having any salt back at the hut for the cape. After the usual photos we removed the head and went back to for a brew. The evening weather report for the next day was excellent so we decided to climb up on to the tops for the day. We had seen several animals from camp in a small basin so that was our target. The weather report was spot on and we made the snowgrass within 2 hours. It didn’t take much glassing to spot the first animal, a red stag sitting about 300 metres above and opposite us with three wapiti cows. An undetected stalk was out of the question so I let out a roar and got an instant reaction with him standing up and roaring his lungs out.
He was slowly making his way towards us so when he was hidden by the contours Bryce started to stalk him and after 20 minutes had closed the distance to about 50 metres. The stag was still roaring back at me but had spotted this intruder just as Bryce’s shot took him in the shoulder. Once over at the downed stag his size was apparent. He was a huge bodied red with a big 9 pt head and quite different in appearance to my wapiti bull and man was Bryce rapt. We left the head there for our return that evening and then sidled up and around to the next basin glassing as we went. This country was fantastic to be in, we could see animals in most basins on the other side of the valley and saw mainly wapiti type animals but no big bulls and we had no answers to our bugling. I spotted a group of six cows and a bull high up in some bluffs above a big lake, they just seem to be right at home in this environment. I couldn’t believe they were in such steep county; tahr country if you ask me. With time getting on we retraced our steps, picked up Bryce’s stag and headed down a ridge to camp. Our food supplies were running low and with the weather report not very nice we decided to head for the hut the following day. We broke camp early and made our way slowly down the valley and by late afternoon were finally back at the hut, it was great to finally shed heavy packs just as the rain set in. Soon the other block holders arrived, most had seen a few animals and a couple had taken nice heads. We all decided to radio the boat to pick us up early.
For my first time in Fiordland it had been a fantastic couple of weeks exploring and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to draw a block in 2009. The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation is doing a fantastic job in the Wapiti Area and I hope they continue to get the support from hunters, they will certainly get mine. The bull I shot was later scored at 283 6/8 DS and was second at the NZDA Nationals.