By Aaron Kent – First Published Rod&Rifle Jan/Feb 1996.
For the last month or so I’d been going out after work, looking for sign of any stags that might have moved into the areas where I knew hinds were living. The roar was about to start and I wanted to get to know anywhere a big boy might be marking his territory.
The boss, Jim Griffen, had headed down to Fiordland once again in search of the hard-to-find Wapiti for his 17th bugle, so I was able to sneak in a few early knock-offs.
A good mate of mine, John Kovacs (Russian) was coming to spend a couple of weeks with me, so hopefully the roar was going to be a goody with plenty of noise and a few quiet ones at the local at Te Pohue. Russian turned up, as keen as ever, so we headed to one area for our first look around. I’d seen a Red hind and a yearling in this particular area of bush a couple of video stalks earlier, plus a few trees that had been dealt to by a stag the previous roar, so I thought it was as good as anywhere to start.
We got to the basin in good time, although I had to give Russian a bit of stick about being an unfit bugger to speed him up. Just as the sun started to rise, so did the wind. It seemed to be blowing in any direction it liked, so we decided our best bet would be to head up onto a rock outcrop and watch a small clearing and hope that something might start making a noise.
We hadn’t been waiting too long when I looked through my scope (a Burris I-5x) and picked up a hind standing right at the clearing edge. She stood there like a statue for a good 15 minutes or so until she must have decided it was time for some breakfast. A couple of minutes later there was another hind, a yearling and a fawn all getting the first of the sun; no stags, though. We watched for an hour until we decided to try a roar.
It was a bit of a pride thing trying to decide who was going to roar, as we were both as bad as each other. I drew the short straw anyway. The deer were 400 metres away and the wind seemed to be against us but the two nature hinds put their heads up in response to my big effort. However here was nothing to indicate a stag vas in the vicinity, as there was no noise in reply at all, apart from Russian’s muffled laughs.
Russian, being the keen photographer he is, decided it was a good chance to see if he could stalk in for a couple of photos with the flash looking camera he was carrying. The stalk was on the way back to the hut, so I agreed and we started the big sneak. Luck must have been on our side, as we got right in close to them with a perfect wind. Not wanting to spook them, we got a couple of photos, and backed off out of there so we didn’t leave too much scent around. Not far from the hut I looked up onto relatively clear ridge 600 metres way and saw what looked to be the shape of a deer. As well as a flash camera, Russian had some flash binoculars. It was definitely a deer alright, and going on the body size, a good tag. He looked to be standing in front of a kanuka bush, but when he moved a step and the “kanuka bush” stayed in the same place above his head, I handed the binoculars back to Russian to see what he thought. He expressed some four letter word and we decided that’s what we were after. The stag moved back into the bush, so we carried on back to the hut for a feed and a brew.
Five days later found Russian and I heading up to where we had seen the stag to try to get him to roar or, hopefully, see him in one of the few scattered clearings. The wind had been mucking us around and I hadn’t wanted to try and get in too close without him roaring, as we still had plenty of time up our sleeves without rushing things.
Jim Griffen had given me some good advice about not getting too keen and spreading our scent all around the bush and spooking everything if we knew we had a good stag in the area that wasn’t roaring. Anyone who’s read his book Stags Galore will know he’s shot enough big stags to know what he’s talking about.
A couple of days earlier we’d seen a mob of goats with a good size billy amongst them in the same area as those hinds we’d seen on our first hunt, so Russian decided to go that way to see if he could get something to roar. If no stags stirred he thought he might go for the billies as he’d never shot one with decent horns and I think he was getting an itchy trigger finger.
I was feeling fit and keen, and after a foggy drizzly morning, the evening was shaping up to be a good one. I headed up to the top of the range so if anything roared I’d be above it as the wind seemed to be drifting up out of the valleys. I’d been going for an hour and was looking out over the bay towards Mahia, when 30 metres in front of me there was a bark and two Red hinds jumped out of a gut they must have been resting in. I ran up onto a little knob where I could view most of the surrounding area, when another hind and yearling trotted out into an open patch of tussock, looking around to see what had spooked their mates. I closed the bolt expecting a stag to come into view at any second, but it was not to be. The hinds barked at me six more times so actually stood out in clear view to shut them up. That did the trick, but unfortunately two bolted down into the left basin thought the stag was living in. I climbed up onto some nearby rocks that overlooked the basin and tried a roar.
I like to think that it was that roar that brought the stag trotting out onto a clearing 200 metres away, but it was probably all the commotion that the hinds had made that stirred him us. Anyway, I quickly got him in the scope and old heart sped up when I saw his antler spread. He was on the move, not running or walking, just that pace they go when they’re a bit spooked.
I’m definitely no crack shot, but it was one of those ‘take it now or never’ shots, and I squeezed the trigger of my .308 just as he came out of a little bushy gut angling up towards me.
I couldn’t believe it when he took a couple more steps and stood perfectly side on. I didn’t waste much time giving him another shot in the general chest area. That changed things and he spun around and headed down into the bush.
I remained sitting there for a few minutes and reloaded while going over the last couple of minutes in my head. It took me a while as the crown fern was waist high and thick and I took a few falls in my haste. I climbed up out of a narrow little gut onto the clearing he was on, and spotted his skid marks right away, but no sign of any blood. I tracked them down into the bush and followed a well-used game trail. Still no blood, so I backtracked and got on my hands and knees, starting to feel a bit gutted by this time. Twenty minutes later it was starting to get dark and I was beginning to spew at myself when I spotted a tine sticking out of the fern in a crater-like hole. There is no way to describe the feeling when I took a couple more steps and could see the whole antler and part of the body. “YES” was all I could say. I grabbed the ‘throw back’ like antler and lifted his head, six on this side, five on the other; the bez tine was missing on one side. Not to worry, I was rapt. After gutting him there was still no way I could drag him out of the hole, he was a big animal in excess of 150kg on the hook.
The following morning I had trouble finding him once again, and Russian, equipped with the video camera found it quite amusing as I started to stress a tad. However, when he saw the hole the stag was in, he reckoned I was lucky to find it at all.
After a bit of a photo session we cut the stag in half so we could drag it up onto a decent area for dressing out.
Six days later saw Russian and I once again heading out to one of my regular hunting spots in my derelict Subaru ute on a clear Saturday morning. It’s an area of good native bush on a tributary of the Mohaka River.
Russian had been there three days previously but had not luck in shooting a stag, but reckoned it was the best hunt he’d had as the stags were roaring had and I’d got within 20 metres of two hinds. He didn’t shoot after listening to some more good advice of Jim’s about not getting a good stag if you bomb up every deer you see.
I had been drenching lambs all week so was pleased to get into the bush once again, this time with the video camera.
The 1 1/2 hour walk in was hard as we’d stayed a bit longer at the local than we’d planned, so we decided on an early smoko while we waited for something to roar. The theory of stags needing wet cold weather to get really going was blown away that day because at about 9am the sun was high and stinking hot and we could count about six different stags roaring in the watershed we were planning on hunting. The ground underfoot was dry, as well as our mouths, but we made our way quietly up a gut (where another mate Shaun and I’d shot a couple of stags in during previous roars) towards a stag that was moaning regularly. There was hardly any breeze so we took our time, stopping every 10 minutes or so to let him roar and give us his whereabouts as we made our way through patches of onga onga and hookweed. We got into a big area of tall kanuka with plenty of visibility and decided to try and set up a bit of an ambush. We sat on the right so what little breeze there was would be on our side and the stag couldn’t move around to a downwind position of us because of some bluffs. He was still moaning above us somewhere, 200 metres away, so I got the funnel out and did a couple of moans of my own. I’ve hunted this area for the last seven roars and generally even I can roar up the stags, but this one hardly paid any attention and just shut up.
We were just having something to eat when he roared to our left. Russian was getting rather anxious to get up there and shoot him, as it was his second to last day on holiday and he hadn’t fired a shot yet, despite seeing a few deer and having them roaring all around him.
I knew the area where the stag seemed to be fairly well so we headed up to the top of the narrow gut to see what would happen. We had to go through native bush and then it opened out into big kanukas, with thick pungas on the left and a ridge of bluffs, mingi mingi and manuka on the right. Once we got near the top the wind picked up and changed direction, coming from over to our right mso if we continued on up to the tabletop our scent would be taken across to him.
A roar over to my left confirmed my suspicions that he’d probably pushed his hinds over to a point. The only way we could approach him was through the tall open kanukas with the wind against us or up through thick pungas and ferns which were as noisy as hunting on cornflakes.
The latter was our only option though, so we cut back down to our left to come up downwind of him.
To improve our chances I should have kept back, doing the odd roar while Russian stalked in on him. However, I was dying to get a close up of a roaring stag on the camera, so kept in behind Russian.
We started getting close to him and seemed to be going fairly quietly, but watching the video later you could hear nearly every step we made quite easily. The noise we were making stirred the stag up even more and he started letting out good crazed roars every minute, 30 metres from us.
The adrenaline was really pumping, there’s no other experience like it, but even so I was amazed how relaxed Russian seemed to be as he looked through gaps in the pungas for a glimpse of the stag.
I could hear the stag walking towards us, so tapped Russian on the back of the leg and indicated for him to stop and listen. The next roar sounds amazing on the video, so you can imagine what it was like in the flesh. It seemed unreal, a Red stag so close yet we couldn’t see it. I didn’t have much hope, as normally when you get that close to a deer the old sixth sense kicks in and they sound like a D4 taking off through the bush.
I looked through a little gap and saw a wet nose and two eyes glaring straight at us. Slowly I indicated to Russian “just there” and he nodded and raised the rifle.
Russian: “I was trying to figure out where the hell he was when he took a step and I could see his whole head. He was looking up over his shoulder to where his hinds must have been when he turned and looked right at me. What an amazing sight. Why he didn’t bolt I don’t know, but I slowly brought my rifle up (a Sako 7mm-08) and aimed at the base of his head.”
I counted seven tines on the first antler but only five on the other; a smart-looking trophy all the same.
Russian was over the moon as it was only the second Red he’d ever shot, getting a 7 pointer the last roar, and it wasn’t a day too soon either.
We had a 2 1/2 hour carry-out but tried to get as much meat as possible, as we don’t like wasting venison. With Russian carrying his Huntech bag full of camera equipment, his rifle and 12 point trophy, I started carrying the back steaks and hindquarters over my shoulders, with the shoulders in a meat bag.
This stag had obviously been rutting for quite a while as he was skin and bone compared to the one I’d got a week earlier. I hung the shoulders on a cabbage tree as I knew Shaun was coming up there for a hunt in a couple more days. It was 1.30pm with the sun high and hot, yet straight across the gully from us another decent stag was roaring spasmodically.
“Next year, mate” I said to Russian, and we went back to see a man about a certain well-earned jug of Tui.