Being a hunter and electrician in Marlborough is not a great combination. The busiest time of the year for me is during the roar right when the grapes are coming off the vines.
The annual grape harvest pretty much falls at exactly the same time as the most exciting time of the year for many hunters. Normally, we would head out for the roar about the second week of April, but this year, due to work commitments, an early trip was planned at the last minute.
My hunting mate, Josh, rang me on Thursday night to see if I was keen for a quick overnight trip leaving early Saturday morning. A bit of sweet talking to the wife and it was locked in. Joining Josh and I would be another good friend, Mike. The three of us are all sparkies and have hunted together now for a number of years.
Away we went on Saturday morning at 4.30 a.m. and headed to our hunting patch about an hour south of Blenheim. This is a place we have only recently started hunting and usually has a few animals floating around. Upon arriving, we quickly loaded our gear onto the quad bike and made our way up the hill as far as we could go, and then walked the remaining distance under cover of darkness to our observation point.
We probably had about 20 minutes until we could start to get the binos out and start glassing up the surrounding hills. To be honest we were not expecting to hear any roaring as it was pretty early on in the piece, being the 18th of March. As the dark turned to light we started to get more of a picture of our surroundings and it didn’t take long to spot a couple of hinds right across from us.
Finding the stag
About another 5 or 10 minutes later we heard our first roar to our left. All three of us looked at each other with big smiles on our faces and a little bit of disbelief as well. We were hoping we might see a stag, but hearing a roar really got the adrenaline pumping; now to find where it came from. After a bit of glassing, a stag was spotted. Mike got out the spotting scope and evaluated the animal. It was a fair distance away and was not really the one we were after. From memory, it was a young six-pointer needing a few more years to reach a worthy rack size.
Not long after this stag was spotted, we heard another roar, this time to our right and a lot closer than before and it had a nice throaty sound to it. It didn’t take long to spot this one and it looked good! It also had a number of hinds with it and was pretty muddy, so it must have had a bit of an early morning mud bath. We actually found his wallow later on.
By this time the wind had changed to a cold southerly and was quite gusty at times. It was not blowing in a great direction for us, so we decided to make the call to move from our original position around the back of the hill and pop out in a more favourable position. The stag just disappeared over a small spur as we started to move. It was only about a 10-minute walk to reach our new destination and get the binos back out again. We managed to watch the hinds for a while but the stag seemed to be hiding. After a while, the hinds moved into some scrub and didn’t seem to want to come back out again. While all this was happening, Josh spotted a really promising stag about a kilometre away, so our attention turned to this area for some time and the occasional glance still went back to the original stag to make sure it had not reappeared.
While glassing this new spot we made a very disappointing discovery. Bloody poachers with pig dogs! As this was a private farm, we were the only ones allowed in this area. These mongrels managed to walk themselves and their dogs over a massive area and scare off anything we had already seen. Mike had the spotter out and managed to get his phone onto it and take some pretty close-up pictures of their faces, which we happily passed onto the farmer!
This basically screwed everything up for us and our excitement very quickly turned to disappointment.
We probably sat there for about another hour glassing up the original stag spot, but nothing was appearing. By this time it was about 10 a.m. and hope was fading. Josh actually said, “Oh well, we might as well bugger off then, it’s not looking good.”
Pretty much as he finished his sentence Mike said, “Look, the hinds have come out of the scrub!” About 30 seconds later the stag wandered out behind them … action stations! Mike already had the spotting scope out and, after a quick evaluation, decided it was a shooter.
I was lucky enough to have my gun handy so I quickly got my bipod in position and made myself as comfortable as you can when lying across the side of a hill. The stag and hinds disappeared from view as they crossed through a small patch of scrub before they appeared again. Mike ranged them and whispered the distance to me, 270 metres (basically 300 yards). I waited in anticipation for the stag to turn broadside and offer a shot. I was watching through my scope and trying to control my breathing. The moment it made this fatal mistake, the crosshairs settled and the suppressed .270 with 130 grain hand-loaded Hornady SST projectile sprang into action. The first shot was a hit but a tad low from where I wanted it to go, due to the strong crosswind. I quickly reloaded and put another one into him and that did the job for sure. He fell out of view but we were all pretty sure that he would be stone dead.
I was buzzing with adrenaline but the excitement was not over yet. The hinds were a bit confused and didn’t really run far at all. It was time for a nice meat animal.
Mike lined one up and let rip. Venison for tea! Now for the hard work.
After crossing the creek and making our way up the hill through bush and scrub, we finally reached the stag. He was a cracker, a real character rack. He was 11 points. The common feelings one has after shooting an animal washed over me, these being elation and remorse as I cast my eye over this majestic beast.
When we found him he was nose deep in a boggy waterway, so hopefully he didn’t drown! Not likely.
We had a quick discussion and decided things had gone rather well. We had plenty of meat and didn’t want to be greedy so decided to walk back to the quad bike and head back to Blenheim. The weather had turned to custard so a warm bed and a cold beer started to gain some appeal.
This was a great day’s hunting. It was different from the high country stuff we usually do and a shorter trip than usual, but a great result nonetheless.
Damn those grapes, but at least we made the most of our limited time. A day I won’t forget.