The roar reverberated throughout my nervous system, triggering flashbacks of Jurassic Park as I viewed the monstrous red stag through my binoculars. I was having an out-of-body experience as outfitter Mike Wilks and guide Hayden Dreaver carefully planned the stalk. Surely I would awaken from a dream and the experience would have been only a fantasy. At one time or another, every hunter dreams of hunting New Zealand and of the majestic red stags that roam the rugged and spectacular countryside. I was living that dream, thanks to Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures and South Pacific Safaris New Zealand.
It is only fitting that my surreal experience began in search of tahr–a mystical mountain goat with a lion-like mane. My dream-state quickly turned into reality as a bachelor group of tahr bounded across the rocks and scattered tussock grass.
Although bull tahr can weigh more than 300 pounds, they are very similar to a rabbit in that they will crouch down in any available cover to hide from perceived danger. I found out very quickly that tahr hunting is very much a cat-and-mouse game instead of a straightforward spot and stalk.
Outfitter Mike Wilks and I knew full well that a mature bull was hidden in the thick tussock grass alongside a dry creek bed. Accordingly, we set up the shooting sticks and began the waiting game. It took more than two hours for the wary old bull to slowly emerge from the tall grass. As he slipped down the creek bed in our direction, I aimed for his left shoulder and slowly squeezed the trigger. Relief swept over me as the old warrior dropped like a rock — the 180-grain Barnes Tipped TSX bullet from my .300 Winchester Magnum had once again performed flawlessly. I was filled with a sense of reverence and awe as I approached the rare and beautiful trophy.
We posed the magnificent animal against a beautiful backdrop and took photos from a variety of angles. Back at Glencree Lodge I walked around as giddy as a schoolboy — even though I am a senior citizen. This amazing adventure was an anti-aging tonic and I was briefly transformed into the body of a young man once again.
I was full of anticipation as guide Hayden Dreaver took me to a remote corner of the 4,000-acre Glencree estate for the afternoon red stag hunt. Just before we arrived at our destination, an enormous bull briefly stood frozen on a nearby hillside. Hayden slowly stopped the truck and I was stunned in disbelief at the sight of my first red stag and the massive tangle of horns on his head.
Hayden calmly began to drive off, mentioning that the stag “was only in the 450s.” I was aghast as we passed on the huge bull in search of even a larger one. Secretly, I was grateful for Hayden’s calmness, as I would have surely been looking at this bull through my riflescope were it not for Hayden’s first-hand knowledge of the trophy potential in this land of giants.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent glassing grassy hillsides next to heavy cover. Hayden critically studied four more bulls through the spotting scope before giving me a peek. All of the stags had incredible mass and scored well above the 400 mark, with one true monster closing in on 500 SCI. Letting that bull walk was a strong test of my willpower and faith in Hayden’s experience with the magnificent animals.
I slept little as visions of giant red stags had my imagination running wild. How would I perform if and when I was confronted with the bull of my dreams? Morning finally arrived and outfitter Mike Wilks and guide Hayden Dreaver began our hunt by cautiously slipping up to the crest of a grassy hill. A nearby guttural roar reverberated across the countryside and then down my spinal cord. I secretly thought to myself, “What kind of beast were we hunting?”
Mike and Hayden each took turns looking through the spotting scope and I was doing my best to keep my composure and not embarrass myself in front of such seasoned guides. I focused on my scope setting and paid careful attention to my surroundings in order to keep focused on the task at hand.
Hayden excitedly waved me to the spotting scope and I carefully approached as if in a trance. I realized that this was THE stag and that my moment of truth was near. Luckily for me the monster stag was more than 600 yards away and I did not fully appreciate the enormity of my quarry through the spotting scope.
My guides carefully led me for several hundred yards through the brush of a rugged ravine before slowly raising their heads to look for the stag over the crest. Mike set up the shooting sticks, and I once again did my best to concentrate on the mechanics of the upcoming shot rather than get excited.
I rested the rifle firmly on the sticks, planted my feet, and found the feeding monster in my scope. Hayden whispered “240 yards,” and I settled the crosshairs on the bull’s left shoulder. Mike talked to me very calmly and I did my best to become situated for a steady shot. Mike said in a low voice that I could shoot when I was ready, and I caressed the trigger as if in a dream.
The stag buckled at the shot and began to stagger. Mike instructed me to shoot again, and I placed another shot into the stag’s left shoulder. Excitement filled the air as the old monarch fell to the ground.
As we approached the bull, it was one of the few times in my life that horns actually grew instead of undergoing the infamous “ground shrinkage.” I watched carefully for Mike and Hayden’s reaction as they studied the horns. For me it was like trying to judge a forest of heavy timber on the head of an animal.
Mike carefully examined the massive horns while Hayden and I hurriedly counted 24 points on the left beam and 26 on the right. At that point I was pretty much in shock — having taken a 50-point stag was far beyond my wildest expectations. When Mike said that it was one of the best looking stags ever taken on his property, I was on sensory overload. Apparently most 550-plus stags are not evenly balanced on both sides, and this huge stag had everything that I could possibly hope for — mass, length, width and points.
The following morning, Hayden and I were in pursuit of a fallow deer with split beams nicknamed the “caribou” buck. Although we glassed several impressive bucks, we could not find “our” deer. I still enjoyed the beautiful countryside and the abundance of game that was well distributed over the vast estate.
That afternoon, we spotted the huge fallow buck feeding with another nice buck. We anticipated their travel route, and set up on the crest of a hill. The other buck briefly appeared, and we caught only a glimpse of part of the “caribou” buck before they disappeared in the same direction from which they came. We continued to glass the thick cover, but both bucks had unintentionally given us the slip.
We left for a while to scout another part of the ranch, and when we returned to our original spot, the bucks were feeding up a steep hill. I grabbed the shooting sticks, and Hayden and I began to carefully stalk the distracted bucks. Once below the bucks, I had to look almost straight up to spot the deer behind some thick brush. Hayden had me set up on the sticks and focus on a clearing just ahead of the slowly moving fallows.
As soon as the other buck reached the clearing, he looked down and spotted us. Both bucks spooked, and ran farther up the hill. The “caribou” buck paused briefly to look at what had caused the disturbance, and I was able to squeeze off a shot. The buck dropped instantly, and I was grateful that Hayden volunteered to climb the steep hill to retrieve the huge deer.
We carefully posed the unique trophy for photos and I took time to relish the moment while looking at the distant Pacific Ocean from our high vantage point. Hunting in Jurassic Park was not that bad after all…–Jim Shupe