Deer Hunting

How to shoot a stag

After getting a beast of a stag last year on the fringe of public land, I was keen to get back to the same area as soon as I had heard that they were going from my local connection down Taupo way. Not expecting too much in terms of a roar on the 18th, the boys were delighted after a night nav up to the ‘listening hill’, and got an instant reply from below.

The next day, after a good ‘roar off’, Brad waded across the river, scaled the difficult bluff (for lack of a better word, a cliff) and got

in for a rushed shot and a clean miss. The boys had to laugh off the fact that he had completely nailed the tree behind the stag dead centre. It was still an epic hunt. At one stage Brad was perched just below the stag and had a nose and long brow and bay, tines poking out above him. A big boy – arrr, bush hunting! While this stag did get chased around a bit by various hunters throughout the roar, we believe he has made it through and this will be one of the first places I’ll check next year, especially because where the shot had been pulled it was also only 20 paces to my pile of bones from last year. It’s hard walking away from a good stag on public land in a handy location, but “Save him for later” was the call.

My mate, Rory, from just down the road is a keen hunter, so we teed up a mission for the following weekend … Fridays just can’t come quickly enough in situations like these, but soon enough we found ourselves on the way, and closer to the hunt. On the way down Rory had explained that his main interest was in getting a true public-land bush stag. “You know bro, not one of these back-of-the-farm ones, just something with a bit of age on him and a solid head”. We weren’t too surprised to find Brad (who, in his own words was obsessed) not far from last week’s stag, building up that relationship, keen for another go.

So we left him to it and followed the 4×4 track as far as it went and waited until light. We then bombed down into a gouged out creek and up the slip on the other side into an area where we had had a bit of action the year before and seen some solid rubs. After letting out a few early roars we went quiet until we were positioned near the targeted ridge on an elevated area with the wind all good…and then let out a hearty roar! A couple of grunts and then another bellow! Nervous seconds went by before the adrenaline kicked in as an angry reply only 100 metres away boomed in. The stag moved quickly below us around to our left but away and dropping. He was making grunting noises the odd time like they would on my folks’ deer farm when rounding up the hinds. Anyway, I guess that’s what he was doing because in no time at all he was back and coming in hot. Rory had adjusted himself slightly for a better shot and … in he came! Straight to the roar … me on camera,

Rory on the .308, and boom! Yeh boy! This was closely followed by various forms of verbal and non-verbal celebration as the hoofs pointed to the sky. We moved in and the boys were delighted to find a huge stag with an even-as 10 points. Six hundred sausages worth and a PB head for Rory, one in the bag and a textbook hunt. Mean!

After a few ‘pay backs’ promised, and some ‘tentative manoeuvres executed, I found myself with a pass and heading down once again the following Friday afternoon to meet my dad, Steve, and plan another assault on the park. Another early start saw us positioned well but listening to a bit of human vs stag roaring followed by a shot early in the day, so we backed up, passed up an easy head shot on a hind and soon located two stags going well. With dad sitting back on the Polaris roaring, I snuck in and got the cross hairs on the chest of a silly eight pointer at about eight metres away and then fifty metres away a bigger-bodied five, and decided not to shoot either one. The freezer space was needed for a much bigger imaginary stag I was going to shoot next week. “What happened?” asked Dad, slightly perplexed.

“I let them walk, we’re gonna get a bigger one tomorrow,” I replied. Not knowing that Dad’s freezer lacked venison.
Sunday saw us back at the same spot, in the same situation, and after a bark/roar off and a clean miss, the silly eight hung around and paid the price. This hunt was of particular significance as dad (a very experienced hunter) is recovering from heart surgery and a leg amputation … back on the horse, pop. Venison situation sorted and two hundred metres from the Polaris meant the whole stag was carried out … sweet!

When your brother has a chopper it just doesn’t make sense to not do a fly-in, and Easter was here. Cyclone Cook was upon us and I was literally foaming at the mouth to get into the scrub as, from experience, the first day after shitty weather can be good for roars. My brother, Chris, at Heli Hires Tihoi base, had recommended a grassy clearing (now a swamp) down the far end of the park where there “may be a higher chance of a better head,” and so, that was us. Brad, Mark and yours truly with a whole six days in new country … yus!

After pinpointing two stags on the first day, and unfortunately finding a dead stag with only the back steaks and head removed, mixed feelings surrounded our damp camp for day two. Just before light I left the boys to the two we had found and headed off in the rain into a likely area that I had found while perusing the map around the fire. As I gained ground and got within earshot of the small valley, two rather dubious roars echoed up from below, but from what direction … upstream or down? Pinpointing roars can be difficult when they aren’t in a direct line of hearing. I pushed my way down the adjacent ridge but nothing was heard so, after an hour, headed back to where I first heard the roars. I pushed my way up and out to where the contour lines were a bit closer together and let out a roar … nothing. Ah well, the rain had stopped at least, and I found a dribble of sun filtering through, took the boots off and rung out the socks … time for some tuna pittas and cheese. This was the first time I had felt relaxed in a long time, slowing down, getting in sync with the bush. I chilled out for about an hour and then, just as I was putting my boots back on, meeeeooooooooo! A moan from about 200 metres away … ‘Got ’em!’ I thought as I pointed the GPS and had a very good idea of where he was, almost sure it was a stag and the wind was spot on. I resisted the temptation to roar and pushed quietly in, the wet forest dripping all around, reducing the smell. I dropped elevation and the bush became much tighter. I could see why the stag had chosen

this area, not a peep from him. At this point ‘anything can happen’ was being repeated over and over in my head. “It’s the roar so anything can happen,” was something dad would say when I was a young fella. Eventually it felt right to test my luck and roar.

There was that feeling again when about 60-70 metres away an instant response was followed by the smashing of branches, sticks breaking, and the odd duf-duf of hooves heading my way. Shit! I found a mossy tree on a 45-degree angle and lay in the saturated moss on it, loaded up and gave another roar. There was an instant return at 20m. By this stage I was just trying to keep my shit together and was feeling like that X-man that can blend in with anything or change or whatever, eyeballing everything without moving my head, which was something I had learned off Arnie in Predator. I remember willing myself not to shoot if it was a small one as it was early in the trip. But when he pushed through about six metres away

without a clue that I was there and I saw the head, there was no doubt. Boom! He ran and stopped. Boom! Another good shot in the neck and he stumbled, and then fell. Boom! And it was done. So close, epic! And a grumpy 11-points … my best stag yet!

After the stoke factor wears off I always feel for the animal and go about justifying my actions by doing my best to make the most of the kill. In this case and this far from camp, I decided to gut the beast and then hang it up using part of a rock-climbing rope and a pulley, rigging up a 3:1. Time was on my side with four days to go and I’d spend the next two days getting that stag back to camp if I had to. Cheers, boys for coming with me the next day and retrieving the lot. Every good stag deserves a good carry. Later I’ll be able to look up at him on the shed wall and be proud of the hunt, and sit at the dinner table with a smile as others comment on how good the sausages are. A lifelong memory and a full freezer.

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