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5 days, One stag, and Heartbreak
Mar 29th, 2013 at 12:34am
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Not a particularly successful report - but a yarn none the less  Smiley

This is the story of 5 days in the wilderness on the hunt for my first Red Deer Stag.
A lot of this is taken from my notes I wrote while away, there is bugger all to do after the sun goes down at 7:30 - be warned it is long winded  Grin

For me, one of the most critical - and enjoyable parts of any hunt is the planning and preparation of it.
Over-prepare; and you will bear the burden on your back the entire trip, stopping you from travelling & hunting effectively.
Under-prepare; and the wilderness will get the best of you.
For a relatively new hunter, such as myself - this is an extremely hard balance to obtain, and results in many unnecessarily heavy slogs on short hunts - lessons learnt none the less.

As I shouldered my bulging pack at the truck and began walking up my valley for the week - these were all thoughts playing on my mind.
I came to accept that I'd put a lot of money and planning into the 2013 roar; and while yes my pack was heavy, I was simply well equipped with nothing extra.
I had spent hours putting together my equipment for what would not only be my longest trip away alone - it would be my longest hunting trip in my short hunting career.

That being said; the South Island of New Zealand is a harsh and unforgiving environment. And I'm sure most hunters will agree that the fact you can never plan or account for everything that may happen on a trip is a massive part of what continually lures us to this remarkably vast backyard of ours.

Day 1
I make my way up the valley toward a hut in the upper reaches. I'm in no rush and it takes a little under 5 hours from the truck.

On the way I spot my first Whio in the wild

I finally arrive at the hut (which is a shitload nicer than what I expected) - well stocked & maintained which is nice to see. Always a good start to a trip, I know I can base myself from here should the weather turn dirty.
I will rest for a couple of hours & hunt one of two main valley systems in the later afternoon.
I had mostly sun on the walk up, however it has now clouded over & turned colder - something I do not protest as it may kick the stags into action.
I've lit the fire to build up a good base for when I return.

I decided to head up the main catchment - mainly to check out access to the tops with my bare eyes. It is possible in a couple of places as I thought, but will be hard yakka with me house on me back.
A bit of sign on the flats, the saddle looks an easy walk & could be promising.

Back at the hut now, the embers were still going so I was able to easily bring the fire back to life.
To me; a good fire makes a good hut. Give me a run down shack any day as long as you can keep a warm fire going. I dry my clothes simply for something to do - I know they will get wet tomorrow, but that's beyond the point.

About to tuck into a coffee and a feed - then dark won't be far off.
Tomorrow I will hunt up the other catchment for the first half of the day - then reluctantly pack up to leave this hut for camping the tops for a night or two.
No roars heard yet, so getting up high is still the plan.

Day 2
Up before light. Rain last night, chilly this morning.
I just got the fire going for a bit & some brekkie, then I'll be off when there's enough light.

Semi successful morning. A half hour up the valley I got a bark from 50m away. I responded, and we exchanged barks and grunts for 20 minutes while the deer tried to work me out.
I sat with the rifle ready behind a tree with an open view of the face but the deer never materialized. Most probably a hind trying to figure out what I was.

Using my GPS to plan my hunt, I came across a nice open ridge where I was able to sit down with the binos and glass the distant tops.

While glassing, I hear a roar at a distance to my left. Looking on the GPS shows it was most likely from the far side of the side creek a few hundred metres away.
I respond, and continue to call but the stag never replies.
I work my way toward the creek, then up through the bush for several hundred metres.
I begin to notice a lot of sign on the ridge running parallel to the creek, then the odd rub - and finally two wallows, one of which used today.

I was able to follow the deers tracks to the valley floor easily because there was mud splattered on the foliage along the well worn trail.
The wind had picked up, so I will return in a couple of days and see if the stag will be a little more talkative.

I'm back at the hut having a spell before I take off up to the saddle for a night or two.
Seems crazy to leave this hut, but the saddle should put me in a better position to glass & travel.
I've packed up all my gear & it has begun to rain, I will read for a bit (I brought along Crump's Good Keen Man & finished it in the time I was away  Tongue ), and see if this rain passes.

Soon after I lay down for a bit of a read I get a knock at the door - bugger it!
In walks a fella with the biggest pack I've ever seen on his back, and a look of absolute agony on his face.
Keg turns out to be a relatively new hunter too - and a good bugger at that.
We yarned about hunting, rifles, work etc - its good to have a bit of company.
He's spent a bit of time in this valley and shows me some photos of deer on his trail camera. We head off for an afternoon hunt on the river flats without any luck.

Day 3
Awake to bloody rain again - it is forecast to pass so hopefully it does by this arvo, Keg reckons it will and is a self proclaimed 'Jim f*cken Hickey'  Grin
I'm off to explore some more of the upper main valley while Keg heads off on his own mission.
I find some fresh sign, great bush and new rubs but no replies to my roars.

I climbed hard into the head basin of the valley, found a lot of Chamois sign and surprisingly deer sign too.
I like to imagine a time before WARO and deer culling when you could climb high into a basin like this and stags would be scrapping over a harem of hinds.
I made a cairn which hopefully someone will come across one day.

Again I'd planned to head off in the afternoon to camp the tops, and again that plan was foiled by f*ckin rain!
At 4pm there was finally a break in the weather & it looked like the arse end of this bastard system hanging around.
Keg was beginning to wonder if I had a mental issue and why I was pissing about and not after the stag I'd heard the day before. I had plenty of time, the rain would have hopefully washed my scent away and a couple of days could only bring him into the roar more.
I packed up my gear, said goodbye and good luck to Keg - and set off to make camp closer to my mate up the river.

Not a fun walk in the wet bush with all my gear on my back, no tracks here apart from the ones made by the 4-legged locals - which by the way, were often a shitload better maintained than the bloody DoC track in  Roll Eyes
I found a tiny clearing which wasn't swamp just before dark, opposite my stags creek.
I set up and am now lying on my sleeping mat, with light drizzle pricking away at my tent fly.
I haven't heard any roars tonight, although the creek is fairly loud.
I hope tomorrow dawns a fine day, I plan to explore this valley with my remaining time here - the weather has pushed a lot of my options back.

Day 4
What a morning!
The full moon kept me awake in my wet wee pocket of the country.
The day dawned still, and when there was enough light I could make out the blue hue of the sky - Finally!
I had a feed, slipped back into my sodden & cold hunting clothes and set off after my boy.
I had his territory marked, two wallows and a track which was part of his beat.
I crossed the main stream and made my way back up to the clearing on the ridge I'd marked.
No responses to my roars - I made my way through the soaking bush toward his track & the side creek.

A couple of hundred metres from the creek and I let out a roar.
A low, guttural response echoes back through the still morning.
Too hard to pinpoint over the sound of rushing water, but I guessed above me across the creek.
I quickly closed the distance and let a roar off his track - now the fun begun. He was f*cked off and he was after me!
We tried to position each other using our frequent roars to pinpoint the other - he was now across the creek below me working his way up.
He was close, I could almost feel his roars. The creek was only about 10m across but had steep cliffs either side, and thick bush concealing my view on my side.
I stopped replying and tried to find a break in the bush to get a view of the other side, and hopefully call him into view, he was literally 20-30m away on the opposite face. I loaded the rifle and tried to wipe some water from the scope.
I ducked under a branch and poked my head up around a dead tree - I had a view of the other side and was shocked to see a wild Red Deer stag standing on the opposite face staring up at me.
It all happened so fast, he was a beautiful animal, he looked reasonably young, his antlers not super long but wide with about 10 points I was sure.
He stood front on staring straight at me with an 'Oh shit' look on his face. I could only see his neck and head above a bush in front of him.
The last thing I remember thinking was how good he was going to look as a euro mount on my wall, and what a ripper first stag.

I slowly and carefully raised my rifle, propping it against the dead tree I was next to.
I lined up half way up his fat wide neck and fired.
f*ck, not the reaction I'd hoped for  Embarrassed
I gave a roar and saw him standing at the top of the face between two trees, he stopped for a few seconds but I couldn't get a bead on him because of the water on my lenses - I would have been firing a pop shot at his arse if I'd fired.
He moved off.
Confident still I'd have a good blood trail to follow, I marked the shooting position on the GPS. I had to drop down the ridge 50m or so to a spot I could lower my self down and climb the other side.
I made my way back up to where he'd been, it wasn't long before the stink of him hit my nose.

I grid searched the area for two hours with no luck. I followed the smell, various fresh tracks, and scouted hard for any sign of blood - absolutely nothing.
The shot had felt good, it was only 20m and surely should have dropped him?
Had my scope been knocked out? Had I pulled the shot that badly? Had I nicked the side of his neck?
Absolute Heartbreak

I decide to carry on hunting the valley, I head 2.5km upstream to the head of the river, plenty of fresh tracks and sign - several more freshly used wallows, but no roars.

I'm now sat at at the base of the basin writing this, preparing to walk back to camp.
I fired a shot at a tree, 20-30m slightly downhill and it hit spot on the knot I aimed at - blowing a 3" hole out the other side.
My determination to find my stag has returned and I'll spend the next bloody day grid searching for him if I must.
The shot had to have hit, maybe missed his spine but surely caused trauma to arteries in his neck - maybe he ran 50m and keeled over.

I walked back to camp, got some food in me then set out on another unsuccessful tracking session for the remainder of the afternoon. No blood where I'm certain the shot took place and I thoroughly went over all tracks local to the area. Gutted  Undecided

Today has been one of the best days and worst days all in one. Something I'll never ever forget is that half an hour duel will the stag, and seeing him standing there looking up at me. I'll also never lose all the regret of not finding him. I wish so much I had my trophy to take home - or even if I'd managed to take a photo like I'd considered on the spot.

Tomorrow I will spend the morning continuing the search.
I've just had dinner, its about 6:30pm - bugger all to do at this time of night but read & write.
I brought a can of Speights up as a success or failure drink - well no better time than now, I didn't expect to be drinking for both reasons! It went down real easy!
Frustrated. Tomorrow is another day but I've not got high expectations - I've explored a good portion of this valley today and the way all the tracks and stag sign are interconnected, it looks to me that my boy reigned this wee valley and had a beat which spanned several K's.
All I hope is that I find him, and if I dont - I hope I missed the shot and he lives to be king of this valley again.

Day 5
Sleep didn't come easy. The bright moon tricked me into believing it was morning all night.
Over and over my confrontation with my stag played through my mind. Imagining him fallen nearby in a bush or down in the creek, or that I was looking in the wrong place all together and he'd dropped on the spot.
Today will be my last day here, I will head up the side of the creek from which I took the shot and pinpoint the area.

I slip on my wet gear for the last time and stumble off after breakfast.
I make my way to where the GPS mark is, it takes some time but I find the exact spot I took the shot and take some photos of the view of the other side.
I hang some flagging tape in a tree and hunt my way up to the basin of the side creek. Another beaut - again, silent.

I head back down to where the stag had been, all familiar territory by this stage!
I manage to spy the flagging tape in the tree and replay the whole scene from my memory, I search hard again - and again I find no blood or clues. I felt like I was in CSI! If only I had a dog huh?

I pack up camp, say goodbye to the annoyingly curious robin who hung around - and slugged my way back to the hut.
I made the hut in good time with only one bellyflop into the river  Grin

I left a note to Keg hoping he got on better than I did, I told him my tale and left my cell number.
I ate the rest of my food, had the last of my coffee, spent half an hour enjoying the sun and began the long walk out.
There was a tail wind the whole way, unfortunately I was a pack-horse and not a sailboat

As the sun burned away on my back, and slouched lower in the sky - I reflected on my week alone.
I wondered how Keg had got on, I wondered of course about my stag, I thought about how little I'd explored in the time I had and how easily I could have spent another 5 days in there.
Most of all I thought of all the things I learnt and all the confidence I'd gained by thrashing around in the bush for days and slogging up to basins. And by tracking an animal, by giving it time, by getting to see my first wild stag. Everything coming together except that one last piece of the puzzle.
A frustrating end to the story, but an incredible experience I'll never forget.

I came out at the right time as a party of 4 headed in, as hundreds of cars swarmed from Christchurch toward wherever they were going, with boats, 4WDS, trailers, horse and families.

The next 4 days are rest for me, and then it all begins again with 5 days hunting Red Stags somewhere else in the South Island  Cool


Whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua
Man shall disappear, but the land always remains
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Re: 5 days, One stag, and Heartbreak
Reply #1 - Mar 30th, 2013 at 1:24pm
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Really enjoyed that read mate, sounds like a great trip into the outdoors!
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Re: 5 days, One stag, and Heartbreak
Reply #2 - Mar 30th, 2013 at 2:52pm
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great read mate, I really like the style you've written it
cheers Smiley

ive lost enuf brain cells, they are now at a managable level.
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Re: 5 days, One stag, and Heartbreak
Reply #3 - Mar 30th, 2013 at 7:17pm
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Great yarn and awesome pics  Smiley

Kimber W/S 243 85gr Barnes & Tikka T3 7mmRemMag LRXd
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Re: 5 days, One stag, and Heartbreak
Reply #4 - Apr 1st, 2013 at 7:19pm
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Magazine material, excellent yarn, sorry to hear about the bad luck and better luck for next time!
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Re: 5 days, One stag, and Heartbreak
Reply #5 - Apr 3rd, 2013 at 9:08am
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nice read mate
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