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Southern Red Roar Hunt

By Shaun Hutchings
  •   6th Dec, 2019 Dec 6, 2019, 12:00 AM
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As always the red roar came around fast. Plans were hatched, dates were circled and work was put on hold. March saw Sam, Hayden and myself heading south to the Marlborough high country we’d previously hunted back in 2016.

 

We were on the road at 1am making good time, with the R44 due to be being loaded around 3pm. The flight in was well worth the dollars as a walk in to this area previously was a blow out all round and was not going to happen again!

 

We made camp quickly with distant roaring being heard, then climbed to a saddle above camp with high anticipation of seeing antlers. We glassed into a nice head basin but only picked up a lone 8 or 10-pointer over a km away.

 

Day Two dawned fine and crawling out of the tents we found three hinds and a young 8-pointer down the valley from camp. Watching them for a while and glassing further afield we finally spotted a monster stag who was to become our mission for the next few days.

 

ROARING REDS: Roaring stags out in the open tussock – it doesn’t get much better than that!

 

The wind was terrible and heading in the wrong direction as we made our way down the creek to get a closer look. We knew the hinds were out to our right and we were hoping that if they did spook they’d sidle around the face, but to our disappointment they bolted straight down the main stream and collected the big guy on their way past.

 

They all retreated up the opposite face and out of sight for the remainder of the day. We made a slow trip back, with not much being spoken until camp.

 

On Day Three the weather was bluebird but it was the calm before the storm. We chose to stay up high on the main ridge glassing either side most of the day, spotting a few young stags, a few hinds and a group of chamois nannies. After a snooze in the heat of the day and nothing worth a further inspection we headed back to camp for the afternoon.

 

Looking down valley we picked up the big ole boy that we named ‘’Bruce’’ in the same location as the day before. Dark was closing in and a plan was hatched for the next morning.

 

We woke to rain at midnight as the weather forecast had predicted. By the morning of Day Four it was snowing, and being tent-bound in a two man tent for two days is not great. Day Five was just the same, cold, wet and a white-out making tops hunting impossible.

 

TENT BOUND: High winds and snow kept the team inside their tents for days on end.

 

One last look out the tent in the afternoon was just what we needed and a break in the weather saw us out with binos in hand. I had to look twice when a big 8-pointer was skylining himself on the spur to the left of camp. With no rifles close by and not knowing if he was a shooter or not a lot of hand gestures and quiet swear words were said as Hayden made a quick sneak back to grab his Browning.

 

Sam got on the roaring horn and I set up the camera as we worked the stag up enough to get him to come in to all of 40 yards before he got a whiff of us and took off; a bit of fun after two long days in the tent.

 

YOUNG BLOOD: This young 8-pointer came right into about 30 yards as the team made its way back to camp.

 

The weather packed in again on Day Six, but around 5pm it cleared up enough to get out for a look. We found a good vantage point but I got bored and went for a wander by myself. The wind was howling so I decided to drop down into a head basin over from camp. It was great to be out of the breeze following a small creek.

 

Cresting the edge of the plateau before it dropped into the valley below, four hinds caught my eye. They were 300 yards away tucked up out of the wind, feeding towards me, when a bigger shape made its way out of a side creek to their left. A big stag – lots of white tips were standing out against the golden tussock. I knew straight away he was a shooter!

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I got my Kimber set up for the shot, but as I chambered a round the stag sat down and the next ten minutes felt like a life time. After a lot of roaring, he finally stood up, thrashed the closest bush next to him and with the crack of the .270 he went belly up. The feeling that hit me after all of that was huge.

 

All that time in the tent was now worth it. The lads came down after I yelled over the radio and we made the descent down to the stag. He was a ripper, all 12 points of him.

 

STAG DOWN: Shaun with his absolute ripper, 12-pt red stag.

 

The feeling that hit me after all of that was huge. All that time in the tent was now worth it.

 

The usual photo and butchery session followed, then we slogged back to camp in the dark. The old Back Country dessert never tasted as good as it did that night!

 

Day Seven we woke to, you guessed it, more rain and clag. Another day of waiting. You’d go nuts too if you’d spent 64 hours in a small tent!

 

On Day Eight we woke to a clear, cold morning with the sun making an appearance for the first time in four days. The plan was to drop down onto a rocky knoll at the top of a slip in case “Bruce”, the monster stag we’d seen on Day Two, popped his head out.

 

A day of waiting and a blown out knee from Hayden passed by and the stag was a no show until late when we spotted his shape a few kms down river. Damn! He’d walked down during the night, spoiling our plan. They don’t get big by being dumb. Another long, slow slog back to camp had us spent.

 

Day Nine was a day we would all like to forget. The plan was to head north to another catchment where we would spend the last three days. Packs were heavy as we made our way up to the ridgeline, but with a howling wind we had to retreat lower and sidle most of the trip on scree.

 

Three unfit North Islanders tramped for six hours up and down steep country. A hind and yearling had me stalking in, as well as a couple of spikers. We finally made it to camp just as it started to rain again. We got set up, had an early dinner, and spent the rest of the night regretting our life decisions.

 

ROAMING RED STAGS: The boy’s spotted this stag out in the open. Sam put him down with a clean shot from his .30-06.

 

Day Ten we were up early, glassing hard. We sat just outside camp to start with, spotting a few hinds and spikers and a young 7-pointer. Sam thought long and hard about whether or not to take him as the days were running low. He didn’t and it was to be good karma later that day.

 

We walked the main ridge, staying just below the top. We saw a few animals but carried on south to a nice sunny creek head where we’d seen deer back in 2016. Sam spotted a stag straight away right out in the open and wasted no time in setting up for the shot.

 

Before I could properly set up the camera the .30.06 Browning rang out and a nice heart shot had the stag slumped over on the spot. Another steep but short climb down and we were standing over a respectable 9-pointer. The pressure was off Sam, but now Hayden had to make it a tri-series.

 

SOLID NINE: Sam and his 9-pointer, taken with his .30.06 Browning.

 

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On Day Eleven we perched on a cliff face with a good view of the whole valley, seeing a few animals but nothing of trophy potential. Then out of nowhere 100 yards below us four chamois popped out. Hayden and Sam set up their rifles and squeezed off at the exact same time – two chamois down for some nice rugs to take home.

 

Hayden and Sam were rapt with their trophies and set to work skinning them both while I tried to locate a stag that was roaring down river, to no avail. A short carry back to camp was then followed by an afternoon siesta.

 

CHAMOIS DOUBLE: Sam and Hayden with the two chamois.

 

Day Twelve was the last, so it was now or never to find a stag for Hayden. Downing porridge in the dark we were off to the top of the ridge by headlight. We found a few groups of deer but nothing taking our fancy. We making our way to the same spot Sam shot his stag, hoping another stag had taken his place. Sure enough, we heard a roar and spotted a nice 10-pointer not 100 yards from where Sam’s stag had been.

 

"...I dropped the camera, picked up the .270 and lined up on the ripper stag hastily running away from us."

 

Hayden got lined up with his Browning 7mm-08 and let rip, hitting him but not putting him down. The stag took flight down valley then stopped for a look back when another shot connected and he stumbled out of sight into the creek. My luck got even better when another stag took off onto the opposite face.

 

Sam had left his rifle behind, not anticipating this drama, so I dropped the camera, picked up the .270 and lined up on the ripper stag hastily running away from us. I let a round fly at 400 yards which hit a bit high, slowing him down.

 

I re-dialled the scope at 430 yards when he finally came to a stop and when the rifle barked he toppled over. Everyone was buzzing with what had just unfolded. Three stags in two days within 200 yards of each other!

 

12-PT DOUBLE: Shaun’s second 12-pt red stag of the trip.

 

Hayden’s was a nice 10-pointer and mine another ripper of a 12. After the photos we decided to head skin them on the spot to save a bit of weight for the carry back to camp. On the way a movement downstream caught our attention – a young 8-pointer.

 

Sam began roaring while Hayden waved his antlers around and it seemed to work as the stag came right into about 30 yards. He then did a half circle around us then made a slow retreat up and over to where he’d come from. It was an awesome last hunt.

 

A TEN POINTER: Hayden used his Browning 7mm-08 to harvest this 10-pointer.

 

The last morning didn’t look promising for the whirly bird. Fully loaded packs, mine with two 12-pointers strapped to it, were shouldered and we made our way to the pickup area. With the weather deteriorating we set up a fly and waited, but the day came to an end with no chopper in sight.

 

The morning couldn’t come quick enough and as soon as we’d finished packing an R44 made its way over the saddle. We all have a love/hate relationship with this spot. On a mint day there is no better place to be but when the weather turns and you’re tent bound for days, you sometimes wonder why you do it. We’ll look for answers next time we go back!

 

Shaun

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