I was contacted by Safari Club International Foundation and informed that a Mr. McGinnis had bid on a hunt in New Zealand and won and was looking for a veteran to donate it to. I consider myself extremely lucky that that veteran was me. Thank you, Mr. McGinnis. You have no idea how honored I was to be a part this. Without question, it is the hunt of a lifetime.
I learned from others who had visited New Zealand to book our flight out of Los Angeles, California, shortening the flight time to Auckland to 13 hours or so. We enjoyed an overnight stay in Queenstown and were picked up the next day by Venator-Cardrona Safaris of Wanaka New Zealand. The scenic drive from Queenstown to Cardrona Safaris lodge was breathtaking, to say the least. Upon arrival at the lodge, we were escorted to our luxurious rooms by the gracious and caring staff.
The first day of the hunt it was my honor to be guided by owner and outfitter Mr. Duncan Fraser. Although I did not have an opportunity for a shot at a stag, I was once again amazed by the scenery that surrounded the hunting area. It was like I was in a different world. I could literally have sat down all day in the same spot, gazing over the high ridges and enjoying the beauty of New Zealand.
The second day I was guided by Josh, a young Canadian man who was well attuned to the red stag hunts. Josh had a great sense of humor. I could not have been with a better person. At 2 p.m., normally the time to head back, we had a maybe ten-second conversation and decided to stay in the bush until we found a stag.
Not surprisingly, at 4 p.m. we spotted four red stags. To get within shooting range, Josh and I had to close the distance with a vigorous stalk. Unfortunately, when I got into position, all four stags were staring at us. As fate would have it, the biggest one turned broadside and my aim was true. I was completely in awe at the magnificence of the stag I took.
The accommodations at Cardrona’s lodge are truly world class. In my travels around the world I have dined at some exceptional restaurants, but none can hold a candle to the dinners and breakfasts we enjoyed during our stay. My thanks to Mr. McGinnis, Safari Club International Foundation – Pathfinder Committee, SCI Lehigh valley Chapter and last but not least, Mr. Duncan Fraser and his great staff. My experience hunting New Zealand with Venator Cardrona Safaris was beyond my wildest dreams. –Paul Spurgin
It all started on February 25, 2008, when my girlfriend of four years, Natasha, and I took a trip to Seaside, Oregon, a beach town about five hours away from our home in Goldendale, Washington. Little did she know that on the trip she would become my fiancée.
It was a beautiful afternoon and we were having a great time together. I had stashed the ring in the car before we left, but found I couldn’t get to the car to retrieve the ring without Natasha asking what I was doing. While we were sitting on the couch, though, she said it was time for a nap before going out to dinner. That was my opportunity to get the ring. I almost messed up, though, blurting out, “Yeah, that is a great idea!” After a surprised and weird look, she headed for a nap. I waited about 30 minutes, headed out to the car, and snatched the ring from the flat tire carrier–the only place I knew she would not look. I dashed back upstairs and hid the ring under the couch. A while later, she woke up, we went to a great dinner, then came back to the apartment and got settled in.
I’d had ankle surgery about five weeks prior, and was still in a walking boot. With her sitting on the couch, I went over to her and tried to kneel down. Much to my surprise, it was impossible to kneel with the boot on, so I had to propose on two knees. After many kisses, hugs, tears and, of course, a “yes,” we were engaged. We set a date of May 3, 2009, with months of planning the wedding and her finishing school in front of us.
Shortly after returning home, we started talking about honeymoon destinations. I had never flown on a plane before and said I never would. However, after a few bribes and a lot of begging I decided I would fly, but in that same breath told Natasha that I was not flying halfway around the world not to be able to shoot something. She said that was fine so long as she could shoot something, too. So began my search for the perfect honeymoon place.
I had dreamed of going to New Zealand for red stag since I was a young boy, so we decided that New Zealand it would be. After many long hours on the computer, I was able to find a booking agent who got me setup with Wilderness Quest New Zealand. We set dates of May 8 through 12 and, after our wedding and a very long series of plane rides, we were standing in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was the 7th of May and after taking in several tourist attractions, we headed for our hotel for a good night’s sleep.
The morning of the 8th was upon us, and Jonathan Christian of Wilderness Quest New Zealand was there early to pick us up. Along the three-hour breathtaking ride through Lord of the Rings country, we learned of the many other animals and adventures that he had to offer. While listening to him talk, I thought to myself, “Jonathan is a great person and is going to be a great guide.” He would also become a great friend to my wife and me.
After arriving at the lodge and meeting Zion, Jonathan’s cousin, cameraman and also a guide himself, we got a quick bite to eat, shot our rifles, and headed out for an evening hunt. Our main goal was a bronze stag for my wife and a gold stag for me. I had learned that Wilderness Quest offered wild boar hunting, too. I have always wanted a big boar and told Jonathan that if the opportunity presented itself, I would really like to take one home with us.
We got to a high vantage point where we could see a good distance. After spotting several fallow bucks and some arapawa rams, we located a stag. The stag was estimated to be in the bronze class so Natasha was first up. After a long stalk that had us out of site of the stag, we were able to get above him. Natasha got set up on the shooting sticks, with the stag bedded 100 yards below us. She took her time and squeezed of her first shot, hitting the stag right behind the shoulder. He managed to rock to his feet as she chambered a second round and placed it perfectly behind the shoulder again. With a few sways back and forth and only going about eight steps, the stag piled over into a creek below him and our screams of excitement began.
We made our way down to the stag and he was a beauty. He had 18 points, great crowns and large mass. What a trophy! We knew he would be a top bronze, but after Jonathan scored him, he went into the silver class, scoring 313 5/8. We caped him out and decided that with an hour or two before last light, we would head farther back up the mountainside. Hearing stags roaring in the distant hills was all the motivation I needed to keep going.
As we came to another vantage point overlooking a valley, Jonathan said to me, “Matt, there’s a big boar.” Man did my eyes light up! After finding him in my glasses, I saw he was a big, jet-black boar in the range of 250 to 300 pounds. While we put together a stalking plan, another boar–the wild boar of my dreams– emerged from the cover and walked next to the first boar, dwarfing him in size. This one was a massive silver and white boar with huge white tusks gleaming in the fading light. The boars were heading toward a valley with a creek, so we quickly took off down the hill.
After getting a glimpse of them in the brush a mere 60 to70 yards away, we moved down a bit closer to a gap in the cover where we anticipated the boars would cross. As we got there, I pulled my shooting sticks out and went to sit down. While still in motion, I saw a black head pop out about 50 yards away and quickly found the crosshairs in my Leupold. The black boar chopped his teeth, spun and headed downhill. As soon as he did, the silver boar followed. With a hard quartering away shot, I let my Sako .300 Winchester Magnum bark, striking the boar through the vitals. I chambered another round as the boar dashed for cover, and took off on a run after him. I saw the boar a bit below me, cutting through the cover and going straight away. I took a running shot off-hand at about 60 yards, striking the boar through the back hip, with the bullet continuing forward into the vitals. The big silver and white boar turned toward the other boar, and I quickly chambered a third round. The boar was about 60 to70 yards away and on the move, but I got the crosshairs on his vitals and sent my third 180-grain Nosler Partition right through the top of his vitals, breaking the opposite shoulder. The boar buckled with the impact. I had done it–another one of my dream animals was now mine.
After some great pictures showing the boar’s six-inch-long tusks, we headed back for a wonderful dinner and a good night’s sleep. The second morning started great with many animals seen but no gold stags. As morning became early afternoon, I got a glimpse of a stag going through cover ahead of us that sent my heart racing. The chase was now on. Jonathan got a good look at the stag as it passed through an opening and declared that it was one for me.
The cover was so high that every time I set up for a shot, I could not see a clearly to his vitals. After three or four attempts, the stag started going downhill, headed for an opening. Knowing that was my golden opportunity, I got setup for the shot. With a roar from Zion, the stag came to a stop at about 150 yards and the 180-grain Partition was on its way. The bullet struck the stag through the lungs. With a jump and a kick, the stag turned and my second 180-grain Partition was sent with deadly accuracy to the point of both shoulders, instantly taking the stag from his feet. With many very loud war hoops and some fast running to my trophy, I had my gold medal stag in my hands. He scored 336 inches and is everything I dreamed of in mass, width and height, with huge crowns and 22 points in all.
Natasha and I had come for two stags and we had them, plus a boar and several days of hunting left. During the next two and half days, I was able to take a management fallow buck with my Sako at 168 yards and Natasha took an arapawa ram with her rifle. I switched to my trusty PSE X Force set at 75 pounds and with Easton FMJ arrows tipped with Innerloc broadheads, took a trophy arapawa ram, a management arapawa ram, and a feral goat.
We came for two animals and left with eight. I also bagged five pheasants, eleven hares, a pair of paradise ducks, and several other pest animals. Our time at Wilderness Quest New Zealand will always be remembered–not only as our honeymoon, but also as some of the best hunting in our lives. They’re first class people with second-to-none accommodations and awesome trophies. We booked again with Jonathan. Thanks, guys, for the perfect honeymoon!– Matthew Wilkins