I was sipping down a beer after work on a February Friday evening when I hear a knock at the door. In walks my buddy Sam with a grin from ear to ear ‘We’ve got access through the farmland tomorrow morning, so put down the beers it’s going to be an early start!’ He was referring to a piece of DOC land that is notoriously hard to gain access to, that potentially should a good number of stags roaming around. Access is difficult because it is surrounded by farms but luckily for us he had just sweet talked one of them to allow us to drive through his property; we were very excited to say the least!
I heard the rattle of his trusty Hilux at 5am the next morning and fuelled by coffee we set off for a long drive up into the hills. After many gates and some surprisingly successful navigation in the dark we came to the end of the 4×4 track, it was time to don our boots and packs. After 30mins of stumbling over tussock in the dark the sun slowly decided to rise and give us some much need warmth. We hiked along a ridge and regularly sat to glass the vast valley beside us. The view was stunning, enhanced by the rising sun on the distant mountain range. Unfortunately we were having no luck spotting any animals but the day was still very young. After a thorough examination of the area we decided to move on and climb over the ridge to view the other side. Immediately after cresting the ridge we could tell we were in good country. Deep green guts forked out of the basin and were abundant in feed, it was definitely time to get the bino’s out again! Only a couple of minutes later Sam had spotted a stag and as I was trying to locate it myself I spotted another one only 30yards away from his. They both looked like they had very good timbers and we cursed the fact that neither of us owned a spotting scope as they were too far away to properly evaluate with 10×42’s. The stags lazily fed for 5mins the sat down amongst the tussock and scrub in the warm rising sun. We continued glassing along the basin and within a few minutes Sam managed to spot 2 more stags! We couldn’t believe our luck! From where we were sat they both looked younger than the previous 2 but we knew that the only way to really tell would be to get closer.
So we picked a route that would allow us to assess each one but the hardest part would be getting to past the first two young ones to look at the couple of good looking heads. We set off sidling around the steep basin, periodically stopping to check on the movements of the animals. Halfway around the basin we realised one stag had walked towards us and was now very close. He looked young and only had 8 points but we somehow needed to get past him to get to the others. We sat still for around 30 minutes while he got closer and closer. We were concerned that we didn’t want to spook him in case he alerted the others. Running out of options we discussed various routes to avoid him, unfortunately they involved laborious and time consuming detours. Suddenly, as if the hunting gods were with us a freak cloud drifted up the basin and engulfed us in a grey haze. We grabbed our rifles and hastily continued sidling towards a ridge near the young stag using the cloud as cover. As soon as we reached the ridge the cloud drifted away leaving us with perfect blue skies. Peering over the ridge we spotted the stag bedded down looking very full and lazy.
After taking a few pictures he became aware of our presence but didn’t seem at all bothered, he just continued basking in the sun. We decided to continue walking even though he could clearly see us. It seemed that there had been very little hunting pressure in the area because he wasn’t at all concerned. Shortly afterwards we had reached the far side of the basin where we had first seen the animals. We were now above them and it was time to try and locate the other young stag. It wasn’t long before we noticed his set of antlers protruding from the tussock. Again there were only 8 points but a good even looking head that in a few years would have a lot of potential. Just a few metres further along the ridge we came to the gut where the promising looking beasts had been seen. Again it was difficult to see their bodies but we managed to pick out 2 sets of very nice looking antlers! All we had to do now is work out which one was the best. We argued over which animal to pursue, they both looked great but I was determined which one I wanted to have a shot at. Suddenly that all too familiar sound of a helicopter echoed up the valley, it was heading straight towards us. The 8 pointer in the gut behind us stood up and bolted and within a matter of seconds was gone. The stag I was interested in suddenly stood up giving us a decent view and it was huge! It stared at the helicopter getting ready to run at any moment, I was absolutely devastated. But it just kept staring… the chopper came howling past only a couple of hundred meters away. As soon as the stag realised the helicopter wasn’t going to hassle him he sat back down in the sun to continue digesting his food. Slowly my blood pressure came back to normal and we once again we praised the hunting gods! Now that our hunt was back on we devised a way of getting into a position for a shot at the monster we had just observed. This involved dropping down a nearby gut to try and get at the same height as the stag. We descended to our destination and I tried to find a comfortable spot to lie with my rifle and pack. We soon realised that to get a clean shot we really needed the stag to stand up because he was bedded down low into the tussock. Sam let off a whistle to try and alert him and hopefully encourage him rise but the stag hunkered down even lower. He whistled even louder and suddenly the other nearby stag leapt to its feet and sprinted downhill. It looked like a very nice even 12 pointer, we looked at each other and both hoped that the stag we were hunting was as good as or better?! Realising that our target wasn’t going to make life easy for us I decided the only option was to take a shot while it was still lying down. The way that his head was angled to his body meant that the bullet would have to go between its antlers to hit it in the shoulder. I was fearful that my shot wouldn’t be true and id hit one of its antlers. Luckily for me it went right where I wanted. ‘WHACK’ I knew I’d hit it straight away but I automatically reloaded and kept it in the scope. The 130gr of lead had seriously pissed it off and it was running fast downhill, I reacted and squeezed the trigger again and this one definitely hit the sweet spot. It cartwheeled down the steep slope then slid to a stop. I was elated!!! We gathered up our stuff and hastily headed in its direction. Then we heard it sliding downhill on some loose scree, paranoid that it would break a tine we anxiously watched in horror. Thankfully it eventually it came to a halt near a small creek about 40 metres downhill. Finally we got a good close up look of its head, a very tidy 13 pointer with an extremely well fed body.
After the obligatory photos we boned out some of the meat, the backstraps were covered in an inch of fat! It was obviously getting a very good diet. Now it was time for the fun part- lugging out heavy meat filled packs and large head straight uphill and back to the truck. After a lot of grunting and many pints of sweat, the beers afterwards were well deserved!!!
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