A couple of caveats up front-
make it risky to hunt in the winter in New Zealand. We got very lucky and only had one day of heavy rain. A couple days after we left, more heavy rains hit and some roads have been closed for multiple days. The best time to hunt is during the roar (MAR-APR). For us, work considerations dictated that June/July would be our only chance to go. Despite all this, other than lots of mud, the weather was great for us. Chilly in the mornings and warming up to a comfortable high 50s during the day.
- apparently very easy to do. Since we're living in Korea right now (all firearms are illegal), we borrowed one of BJ's loaner rifles- Suppressed Sako 85 chambered in 7mm Rem Mag with Leopold glass on top and a bipod. Its a tack driver that's perfectly dialed in. It served us well, with every animal going down after a single shot.
- Comfortable farm house. BJ has a couple of rooms built above his garage for hunters. He also has a separate building with three more rooms for bigger groups. BJ's wife Annabel and daughter Georgia prepare delicious, home-cooked meals every day.
Day 0 - Arrival
We toured around the north island in a rental car the week prior to our hunt (more on this at the end). Our final stop was Napier, a quaint town on the eastern coast. We drove up to Gisborne and turned in our rental car at the airport. BJ picked us up in his truck and drove us out to his property, about 30 minutes from town. We got settled into our rooms and then enjoyed a delicious venison casserole. Then off to bed.
Day 1 - Stag Fever!
Our group consisted of my wife and I, my mom (dad wasn't able to make it due to work), our host BJ, and Tim the cameraman.
We set off in the morning to recon the property. Its all beautiful rolling hills, ponds and rivers, forests, and animals everywhere. BJ has sheep and cattle on the property along with timber on many of the hills. Not even 5 minutes from the house and we've already spotted some young stags silhouetted on a hillside. They're young, so they haven't figured out that its a bad idea to stand in the open looking at us. The older ones... the ones we're after... will not be so easy.
BJ uses 4x4 UTVs to get around the property- some of the hills are pretty steep! We get to a fairly high vantage point and start to glass. We spot some fallow deer on a distant hillside, but much of our view is obscured by the thick fog flows in and out of the valleys.
As the fog lifts, we spot some fallow deer, then more, and more. Over 100 fallow deer are relaxing on a hillside, warming up in the early morning sun. They are arrayed all across the hill, about a mile away. There are a decent amount of fallow bucks mixed in with the does, but many have damaged or missing antlers. BJ actually has a few too many bucks in the area, which leads to more fighting and more damaged antlers. The good news is they still taste delicious! Then we spot something interesting... a young buck is fighting with something laying on the ground... as we look closer, we realize he's fighting with a dead buck's corpse! We also spot a few more stags, but no shooters.
We jump back in the UTVs and head to the range. After a couple shots, we determine that Mrs. Scarlett (BJ names all his rifles!) is shooting straight and true. She won't let us down in the days to come!
A quick lunch and we head out to a different area to see if the stags might be hiding out there. Driving down a hillside, BJ stops and looks through his binos. He's spotted some stags in a treeline about 1.5 miles away. We pull out the spotting scope and scan the group. There's a bunch of stags relaxing and eating under the shade of the trees. They all look like shooters to me, but what do I know?!?
BJ draws my attention to another line of trees, a bit closer. There are about 5-6 stags in the area. Mine is there. He's laying down in a slight depression and we can't see his body- only his antlers. They look like an overturned treestump, roots pointing in every direction. Then I see the roots move and I know- that's no stump, but a monster stag!
Spotting him is all great and good, but how are we going to get to him? There's no avenue of approach along the direct route- far to open, no cover. And there's cows and other deer in the way that will surely spook our old boy. We decide to go the long way, driving around to the backside of a big hill. We'll stalk along the ridgeline and will hopefully be able to get within shooting range.
BJ and I discussing our plan...
After a bit of a drive, we leave the UTVs behind and begin hiking up the hillside. It's quite steep and I'm glad that I've been running all those hills in Korea with my Soldiers. Its paying off now! Luckily, the hillsides are covered in terracettes. The sheep marching back and forth create little steps known as terracettes. They're still muddy and rough, but better than just a steep and slick hillside. As we get to the hilltop, we head back towards the stags. We spot some red deer with a couple of young stags in a treeline to our front. We'll have to try and get around them, so we skirt the edge of a small forest and come to a low fence line (of note- our cameraman Tim actually works as a fulltime fence builder on the farm). We're staying just below the ridgeline, out of sight for the deer.
As we make our way to a gate, BJ indicates to freeze. We have a bit of a problem on our hands. just on the other side of the gate, a large group of cows are starring at us inquisitively. We're trapped. We've got deer to our left, cows to our front right. We need to get past all of them to get to our stags. To make matters worse, the light breeze is starting to swirl.
Our only option is to spook them. We're going to spook both groups and need to hope they run away from our stags rather than towards them. To do this, we first move towards the cows. They take off at a gallop, moving down the hillside, away from both us and the stags we're pursuing. Then we hike up towards the top. As we crest the hill, the other deer spot us and take off... also away from us and from the direction we're going. Our plan worked and we're back on track!
We start to head down the hill, hunched low to avoid silhouetting ourselves. About two thirds of the way down the hill, we have to stop. I can see the treeline where our stags were relaxing before. They've now moved under the trees and are enjoying a late lunch. A group of cattle are feeding near by, so we can't get any closer.
Our range is about 300m. I can make out some of the deer, but their antlers are obscured by the trees. I see one stag that looks pretty good and ask BJ if that's the one. He tells me no, the one to his right. I can't see this guys antlers at all and he's not presenting a good shot. So we begin to wait. The cattle are moving a bit too. One cow in particular is grazing towards the deer. The deer see him coming and begin to move to our left.
As my stag comes into the open, I can immediately tell that his rack is bigger than the others. As he walks, he seems burdened by his antlers, each step heavy.
About 15 yeards from the treeline, he stops and begins to graze.
Two young stags begin to fight behind him.
He's slightly quartering towards me.
I line up the crosshairs and squeeze the trigger.
The gun jumps and I loose sight of the stag.
I look to BJ for confirmation and he's just smiling. A good hit!
We head the rest of the way down the hill. The last we'd seen of the stag, he'd run about 15 yards and disappeared into a ravine. As we approached the edge of the ravine, I spot my stag! The ravine was actually pretty deep, maybe 60 feet down, with a stream curling its way through, large trees on its banks. My stag had run over the edge and tumbled down to the bottom, where he'd expired.
Each step down the decline brings me closer to the stag, and he's not getting any smaller! Once I get to the bottom, I take his antlers in my hands and take a moment to reflect on this magnificent animal.
His antlers are amazing, almost symmetrical on both sides. Each antler has a very unique 4th tine before splitting into the crowns at the top. I count 29 points - 14 on the left and 15 on the right (the unique 4th tine splits into two points on this side). Later, BJ shows us how to measure antlers and this guy stacked up at an impressive 433 sci - in large part because of the unique 4th tines and the extra length that adds. Awesome!
It was a great way to end our first day. Now that the pressure's off, I'll get to enjoy the rest of the hunt! My wife will be chasing fallow starting tomorrow... this will prove to be an epic, multi-day stalk! More to follow soon!