Tag Archives: New Zealand

Wild Red Deer in New Zealand

1385758_66109213Just over a knoll, we spotted the unmistakable tine tops of a large stag flickering among the brush and ferns as he fed. Judging by their height, it looked to be a big stag making his way up the side of the ridge. Watching, waiting and maneuvering into position for a clear shot was now our mission.

As this “monarch of the glen” bent over to feed, his head was now clearly visible. “Oh, my God,” I thought. “His rack is enormous!” My mind switched to autopilot as I notched the safety into top gear and centered the crosshairs. The stag hesitated for a moment. The wind was in our favour–maybe he just sensed our presence–who knows, but his eyes were fixed on our location, less than 50 meters away.

The shot had to be squeezed off now. This was the moment of truth.

On a Thursday in late April, the Air New Zealand plane from Queensland, Australia, touched down in Christchurch, New Zealand. We cleared customs and then the airport police station where my temporary New Zealand firearms license was issued, and picked up my rifle. I felt a wave of relief pass over me.

In the hotel lobby, Jonathon, from New Zealand Quest, tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you John?” He loaded our gear into the Toyota and after four hours of beautiful Lord of the Rings-style roadside scenery and the snow-capped mountains of Arthur’s Pass, we found ourselves on the far side of the South Island, near the town of Greymouth.

The views from Jonathon’s property are spectacular, with lakes, surrounding mountain peaks and valleys. In the midst of it all was the five-star quality, lovely cabin that awaited my family and me.

My wife had a strange look on her face as she heard me say, “Gee, honey, we could live here!” Jonathon told us we were only the second clients to use the new cabin, located within 50 meters of pristine trout waters.

An hour later, I was donning my hunting gear and cranked the .338 Win. Mag. for a couple of test shots to check its accuracy because I’d had some serious trouble with the trigger. Some clown had played with it before I purchased the rifle. I wasn’t taking any chances after the flight and handling. It always pays to make sure the shot is true. The KS Mountain Rifle was spot-on at 100 yards.

Midafternoon found Jonathon and me headed into the valley and river flats. These New Zealand valleys seemed to touch the sky. I was filled with awe as this was completely different country from any I’d hunted before.

I wanted a big red, and I wasn’t talking about Rutherglen Victoria wines. New Zealand is the home of big, wild red deer. We must have walked 10 kilometers the first afternoon, crisscrossing gumboot-high streams and thick rain forests.

Not a deer was to be seen. Still, I was in good spirits, with a mild adrenaline rush. The weather was moody for my first afternoon hunt. Wearily, we walked out, back to the cabin about 6 pm for a well-earned rest and dinner with the family.

I awoke to the sound of rain and my heart sank. Would it stop? At 5:30 am, after a quick cuppa, the rain eased enough for us to make our way out for day two, into the glimmering rays of dawn filtering into the valley. This morning, the sign was fresh and the red deer tracks were easy to spot in the sandy soil. Every now and then, a faint whiff of deer scent wafted by on the breeze. It was nothing like the strong, musky smell of fallow bucks–more like a wet cattle smell.

“Come on, stag,” I thought, “sooner rather than later.” My mind was racing. But as any experienced stalker knows, you can’t hurry hunting.

The weather changed again. A mist blew up and enveloped us. Then, the rain came down big time. We were ducking for cover by a large pine tree when a big, fresh rub caught my attention. “Look at this,” I said to Jonathon, “only hours old,” the sap was still oozing from the wound.

Jonathon knows the valley like the back of his hand. He’s lived there for more than 15 years. We searched every nook and cranny, I thought. We were close, but no cigar. It was hard on my feet traversing the slippery river stones and boulders. “How much water can one take in a day?” I thought.

Hossack-P4280877After lunch, it was time to hunt again, with a change of species on the menu. New Zealand arapawa rams were the midday special. The weather was briefly kind and provided a window of opportunity to take a nice ram. The one that first caught my binocular and then my scope had good curls, and I took him. We estimated his age at around five years.

Later that afternoon, we walked farther up the river flats. Again we saw red deer sign. It was fresh, but we sighted no deer. Between the rain and the wind, conditions deteriorated, but we pressed on until darkness gobbled us up.

During the walk back to the cabin, I thought I was seeing things. The whole side of the narrow part of the valley was glowing showing us the way. Glowworms lit up like Christmas tree lights were festooned along the overhanging valley walls, forming a fascinating display.

Stories of big deer came thick and fast after an excellent dinner. Looking out the front door of the log cabin, I saw the sky streaked with long, windblown winter clouds. The full moon slid out from behind a cloudbank, and for a moment the tree branches were silhouetted against the sky. Just as suddenly, another cloud covered the moon and everything went black. And the rain pressed on. I kept praying for it to ease before my last hunting day.

Emotionally, I felt stuck somewhere between a rock and a hard place as the rain pounded down relentlessly and red deer roared across the valley flats. An elk bugling near the log cabin woke me. Now, that’s something to get your heart beating fast, no matter what time it is. Jonathon kept two elk as pets. All this action before sunup made me jump out of bed and say, “To hell with it, this has to be the day, wet or not.”

But 10 kilometers later and with the morning long gone, there was not a deer to be seen, only a couple of paradise ducks. “I think the rain must have them bedded up in a sheltered area out of the wind and wet,” Jonathon said. “We will hunt high after lunch.”

My clothes, warm from the dryer, increased the comfort level a bit as we began hunting higher along the narrow ridge where the valley floor met the sheer vertical sides. Waterfalls plunged, swollen from the rain. The scrub was thick and wet. At times, both of us were on all fours looking for a bedded stag under and between the ferns and brush. Talk about close action. At last, just on the far side of the knoll, we spotted the magnificent stag.

Hossack-P4290922The crack of the 338 Win. Mag. Mountain Rifle echoed around the valley as the 225-grain Federal bullet shattered the stag’s neck. The big red collapsed and was mine. We were jubilant.

Jonathon patted me on the back. “One shot, and he never moved,” he said, and shook my hand enthusiastically.

I’d killed a huge red deer. This was my first red deer and the stag of a lifetime, scoring 293 4/8 SCI. The right antler measured 42, and the left 39 inches, with a width of 30 4/8, and front tines over 16 inches, with a total of 16 points.

I was exhausted, drenched and elated, with a grin from ear to ear as the rain peppered us. Then the heavens opened up and unleashed a torrent. Caping a deer and taking photos in the rain is no fun, that’s for sure. Jonathon smiled and said, “You know, last week the sun was shining every day.” Singing in the rain came to mind. Wet but happy, we got on with the job.– John Hossack

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Tahr Straight Up!

Though it was June, I packed as I would for Kentucky deer stand hunting during the really cold, late muzzleloader season, as it was the middle of winter in New Zealand where I was headed. After 24 hours in the air and multiple layovers on the ground, Clay (my brother), Mamaw and Pap (my grandparents, a.k.a. Alice and Sam Monarch), and I arrived in Christ Church, New Zealand, where our outfitter, Ewan Bennie, greeted us warmly. We were going to be Ewan’s last hunters as he had sold his hunting business, Hollyburn Trophy Hunting, to another outfitter, Steve Millard, who would be hunting with us.

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The drive to the “hut” where we would meet our guides was gorgeous with one side of the road being “Iowa flat” and the other supporting beautiful, snow-covered, straight up mountains.  We would be hunting on foot in the Cook Mountains and while I knew they were steep, I hadn’t visualized that they were straight up. I was ecstatic. The chance of taking a tahr on foot with a muzzleloader was slim, but I was excited to be hunting and excited to be a “big time hunter” heading out on foot with my backpack, my “hunter’s briefcase.”

As we pulled up to the hut, we were again greeted warmly, this time by our guides, Don Greg and Greg Maw. After talking with them for a few minutes, I knew we were going to have a good time.

Later, as we made our way up a winding, narrow road cut into the mountain, Don spotted a herd of tahr in the tussock (snow grass).  We stopped abruptly, grabbed our binoculars and rolled out to have a better look. Soon Clay, Ewan and Steve were beside us, all with binoculars pointing straight up.  From a distance of 1,000 yards, the professionals were discussing horn length to within a quarter of an inch while  Clay and I were just glad we could see the tahr.

Ewan and Don agreed that the big male would go 12 1/2 inches, but we were looking for a 13-inch bull, so we moved on.  I wondered how we would have gotten to that tahr anyway — the mountain looked straight up, and I could see no way to stalk within 150 yards.  Clay and I hunt with muzzleloaders and we have a self-imposed 150-yard maximum range.  We had practiced at every opportunity and were comfortable taking shots out to 150 yards, but that bull was 1,000 yards away — straight up!

tahr020613dFive of us would be hunting: Don led the way, followed by Clay, then me, with Steve and Greg walking side by side.  We spotted several tahr but nothing that met our minimum. The walking was bearable, and I thought tahr hunting on foot was going to be easy–no serious climbing; we were just going to follow this creek until we saw something big up close. Then, I heard the guides talking about Clay, Steve and Greg climbing the mountain, and Don and me following the creek before going up.

We soon reached an icy waterfall and began our climb straight up beside it. The climb was extremely steep and there was nothing to hold on to. When I finally reached the top and caught up to Don, I spotted a tahr.  I was excited and Don was impressed.

I was seriously hot after the climb, so when we stopped for an early lunch, I shed a few layers. After lunch, Don pointed straight up and said, “We are going up there.”

Don easily stayed twenty feet ahead of me.  He was not even sweating, but I was soaking wet and struggling to keep up.  An avid hunter, Alan Kirschenbaum, had warned me that I should exercise on a stair climber before this hunt, but I thought I was physically fit. After all, I’m sixteen years old, on my school’s wrestling team and run track.

I should have listened to Alan.

The weather was freezing, I was dripping wet with sweat and my feet were squishing in my boots. I shed another layer and when we stopped, I was freezing!

About two-thirds of the way up, we reached a ridge with a good vantage point where we waited to see what the weather would do.  Soon a cloud engulfed us in an icy mist, making me wet inside from sweat and wet outside from the icy mist.  After a while, we decided to keep moving in the cloud.  The higher we climbed, the harder it became and the more I slipped.

tahr-020613bSuddenly, a young tahr appeared right over the ridge not twenty yards away, then two more followed.  Seeing tahr gave me a sense of being on the right mountain, “There are tahr up here,” I thought.

Walking the ridgeline was not as steep, but the snow was deeper, making us work harder to get our feet high enough to clear it.  We continued walking the ridgeline until about dark and at times, snow came at us sideways with blizzard force.  Just as we were about to turn downhill, Don spotted a tahr ten yards below us. I could have jumped on its back!

After Don studied the tahr, he whispered that it was too small.

With that assessment, we started down and I gave a sigh of relief, thinking that going downhill would be easy, but I was wrong.  Walking down was almost as hard as climbing up.

When we met Clay and his guides, their report was like ours — plenty of nannies and small bulls but no shooters.

The next day our hunting parties again split, with Don and me heading straight up another mountain.  I wasn’t slipping as much, but as we moved up, the ridge became steeper and doubled in height.

Ewan had advised wearing fewer clothes, which I did, but I was already dripping wet from head to toe. The sweat made my socks so mushy that it felt like I was walking on sponges.  Snow was waist deep in places but only ankle deep in others; consequently, walking was strenuous, as I never knew if I’d be waist or ankle deep. I didn’t know how far we’d climbed, but I was elated when we reached the top of the mountain and Don turned to me and said, “Only the most dedicated hunters come back this far.”  Don had included me in the “most dedicated hunters” category.

Don spotted a mob of tahr about 600 yards away, slightly downhill.

tahr020613fAs we moved along the ridgeline, the winds picked up and blew yesterday’s snow in our faces, but the nearby tahr kept me focused.  When we reached a good vantage point, we discovered dozens of nannies with a half-dozen bulls mixed in.  We crept down the face of the mountain to get a closer look and got within 25 yards of a nice bull, but he wasn’t a shooter.

As it was beginning to get dark, we began to work our way down.  Soon, we came to what appeared to be a huge gravel slide or “shingle scree.”  Don stepped next to the scree and said, “Just dig your heels in and lean back and you’ll slide right down.” And with that, Don stepped in and was gone.

A feeling of insecurity — no, panic — hit me.  Don was gone and I had to follow. As I stepped into the scree, I clutched my rifle in front of me and said a little prayer.  I was externally composed, but internally, I was losing it.  I slid about 10 feet and came to an abrupt stop.  I had leaned too far forward. As I leaned back, I discovered that if I did a sliding into home baseball stance, I moved quite nicely and soon caught up to Don.

Day Three was to be a true spot-and-stalk day with both hunting parties: Ewan, Mamaw and Pap glassing for tahr in a new area. We glassed the crevasses and rocky spots for a couple of hours and saw several tahr, but no shooters.  As we rounded a bend, Ewan stopped abruptly, grabbed his binocular, and began looking straight up.  Steve, Don and Greg quickly joined Ewan and I could hear the excitement in their voices. They were looking at a tahr they thought would go 12 3/4 inches with good bases.  I quickly gathered my gear as it was decided that Don, Greg and I would go on the stalk.

We continued along the mountain and glassed to see what we could find.  We soon spotted another herd of tahr and the stalk was on again.  I opined that we should go low as there was intermittent cover, but the guides echoed an earlier comment by Ewan, “Tahr look down for danger and they rarely look up,” so we took the high route.  When we reached the top of the ridge, we spotted a nice bull, but it was too far for the muzzleloader and we were stuck.  We couldn’t get any closer because the rock face was too steep, and we would be busted if we moved in the other direction.

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Severe weather was in the forecast, so on Day Four, Clay, Greg and Steve headed back to the first mountain, while Don and I went after the big tahr from the day before. Some time later, we located him and the stalk was on.  We walked up the same creek and made our way through the same woods.  I was excited and had high hopes that today would be the day. Except for the blisters on my feet, my body was adjusting to climbing and we seemed to move faster than the day before.

As we worked into range, we heard one of the nannies whistle so we set up quickly.  The range finder read 194 yards and the big bull moved another six yards.  When The tahr was broadside and my muzzleloader fell steady, eight inches above his back.  When smoke filled the air, I knew it was a good shot. The tahr moved to the left and I saw him fall.  I was relieved.  I was proud.  I had taken a tahr on foot in the mountains with the muzzleloader.

Don was excited, too.  He immediately radioed Ewan, “Tell Sam he was right!  You have to hold 15 inches high at 200 yards.” Don confirmed that it was a big, old tahr. It had a beautiful long, blonde mane that faded into black down his back.  He had big, thick bases that curled back, with one horn having a “kick” on the end.  The tahr was breathtaking.

The difficulty of the two-hour climb down was overpowered by the elation of taking my tahr.

When we reached the bottom of the mountain, I was greeted warmly with hugs and smiles from my grandparents and Ewan. I could see the pride in Pap’s face as he told me, “You and Clay are hunting tahr the right way.  You are hunting them on foot.” The hunt had been very difficult, but it was very rewarding.

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As we headed to the hut to meet Clay, the anxiousness of whether he had a tahr was growing.  Clay and I went back and forth.

“Did you get one?” Clay quizzed.

“Did you get one?” I responded.

After the third exchange, I said, “I got one!”  The smiles on their faces told the rest of the story.  Clay had a tahr.  We were overwhelmed.  We had gone in different directions, climbed different mountains, hunted with different guides, and both tahr were magnificent.–Tom Monarch