A sika stag trophy is high on my priority list, yet I haven’t exactly put much time into them yet. The only time I’ve hunted them was on a meat hunt at Ngamatea with Brendan Coe and Jeremy Hanaray, other than that I did spend a couple of evenings poking about in the South East of England looking for a stag. The challenge is to find time to hunt and get to know and understand them as much as anything, especially when there are Red Stags and Fallow Bucks much closer to home, and of course the Chamois and Tahr. It is rather unfortunate that all the ruts are positioned so close together. Idyllically a good couple of months off work/life is required to have a good crack at the species, the idea is there but responsibilities soon put a real halt to entertaining those thoughts too much.
This year, I made the effort to have my first proper go at a Sika Stag in the rut. Simon Gibson was also keen, so we booked a Helisika block rather late in the piece. The block Simon picked from the select few available was Mt Cameron. We had a bit of inside knowledge which was a little off putting, but all the same we were chomping at the bit to get up there and get into it.
My journey started with a flight up to Wellington to meet Simon. Unfortunately neither my rifle nor my bag made it onto the same plane as me which made for a delay of a few hours before the two of us managed to get away for our long drive in Simon’s wife’s Honda CRV to Taupo. We got in late enough, but still managed a supermarket shop and a pub feed before we wearily hit the hay well prepared for the adventure which lay ahead.
We were heading up the road to Porinui nice and early, windscreen wipers on intermittent discussing the probabilities of getting into the hills as well as the rest of the weeks forecast. It certainly wasn’t predicted to be perfect for a week in the hills. We need not have worried though, not long later we were chugging up the valleys in a 44 all the way out to about the furthest block Helisika have from their base at Porinui.
We were supposedly the first to have the block for the year, yet not ten steps from the heli pad we discovered fresh boot prints. The smell of a campfire was pungent as we descended down the washed out track to the derelict hut we were to call home for the next week. The fire was still warm but the hunters had gone, in their wake was quite a mess; a deer carcass and plenty of rubbish. The scene was certainly a little disconcerting. One which was repeatedly found all week! I was amazed at how many camp sites there were in the block, all of which contained an enormous amount of totally useless rubbish.
Our hunting got off to a bad start. It came in thick with rain and cloud. We had a poke about, spooked a deer which squealed off down the scrubby gut below us. We waited the afternoon out on the hill and were rewarded by hearing a Sika stag He-haw and single call over on the next ridge right on dark. We had a plan for the following day!
The hut was warm enough once we got the fired going. I was surprised at how cold it was, I’d been chasing red stags in Arthurs Pass the weekend before and it wasn’t nearly as cold down there! We were at 1100masl high up in the Kawekas though!
We beat the sun up the hill and stood in the dark on the bushy ridge wondering which way to wander. There wasn’t a breath of wind, a perfect morning. Our stag he-hawed, so we had direction!
The morning went from bad to worse. The bush turned to the thickest scrub I’d ever seen, the stag stopped roaring… and we walked straight into a shot and half butchered deer which hadn’t been dead for more than a day or two. It was the only deer we saw that day.
The next day started off much the same. We were finding prints, but no deer. We hadn’t heard a deer roar since the first morning, but we kept on searching. Simon had borrowed an AJ caller from Jeremy Hanaray which was brilliant as neither of us had any Sika roaring experience!
Sneaking along a ridgeline, we put our noses over the crest to discover a fantastic looking albeit quite small scrubby basin. The AJ caller came out of the bag and did it’s thing. Simon snuck back over the ridge to watch a slip, I stayed and watched the basin. A while snuck by, my mind started to wander off, and then out of nowhere a Sika Stag appeared 150 meters away. It took me completely by surprise as 10 or more minutes had passed since Simon had let out the Sika call and there was no warning that there was even a deer near by. The stag wasn’t mucking about, he was coming straight in for a look. I counted six points, but at that stage it was the least of my worries…and the first Sika I’d seen for quite some time, so over it went.
At the sound of the shot Simon came running. The stag had disappeared into the thick scrub, but I was certain I’d got him, even so it was a nervous few minutes before I found him in the thicket. We dragged him up to the ridge to get a photo looking down the Ngaruroro River. It wasn’t the 8 pointer that I was really hoping for, but hey, it was a Sika Stag which was good enough for me.
That really was the highlight of our trip. We saw a few more deer, 9 altogether. Simon shot a Spiker, I shot a yearling on the last evening which I took home to Canterbury. It was a fantastic feed too. We were disappointed in the amount of human sign we saw, in particular the rubbish left along the way, old camp sites, beer cans, black polythene, plastic, plastic and more plastic. Also, we were disappointed by the lack of Sika roaring. We didn’t hear a single one for the final four days, only a red stag roaring a way off in the distant valley looking down into the Taihape to Napier road.
We learnt enough about those cunning little deer to get us all excited about another trip next year! Bring it on!
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