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Hunting for the Future

By Brad Marsh

Something I try to encourage as a hunter is to leave young stags that show potential as future trophies. I went into the 2019 roar with high hopes of securing a mature red stag, something with age, character, and with any luck over the 300 Douglas Score mark. Stags of that calibre are few and far between on public land in the central North island, but they do exist.

 

On our first hunt we came across a young, even ten-pointer grazing in a small clearing. I aged him at between three and four years old. Perfect form on brows, bez and trez, good length for a younger animal. He had the potential to grow into something really amazing given the chance.

 

I know some people hunt for meat, others for trophies. I like to do both. Well prepared venison from an older stag with a trophy head can taste almost as good as meat from a younger animal! I do say almost… Rather than shooting the first animal I come across I have learned to be selective, doing my best to age the animal and determine its trophy potential on the hoof. Let’s face it, whether you’re a trophy or a meat hunter everyone can appreciate a good head.

 

Like all the other hunters and huntresses, for me the weeks leading up to the roar were filled with anticipation. Several scouting missions had seen good numbers of deer in the area I intended to hunt, along with a brief glimpse of a rather large antler with five points on one of its tops - could this be the stag I’m after?

 

“Rather than shooting the first animal I come across I have learned to be selective, doing my best to age the animal and determine its trophy potential on the hoof.”

 

Finally it was the 12th of April and joining me on this hunt was a friend and her up-and-coming little indicating dog, Mac. Tracy had shot an amazing 14 point, 287 Douglas Score red the year earlier in the same area. She also laid eyes on an impressive stag that year that rivalled the previous animal for size. Anticipation was high!

 

The alarms went off at 5:30 and after a quick cup of tea we were in the ute and heading across the farm. The property borders the stunning Pureora Forest, situated in the middle of the North Island. I’ve been lucky to have access to this particular block, adjacent to public land, and in the past 15 years I’ve never come across another soul.

 

Across the farm and into the public land... the hunt started at dawn in heavy mist.

 

We parked the ute, shouldered our rifles, and set off to a ridge that looked down into a grassy basin bordered by native trees. The area has a history of holding a good number of animals. I had managed to roar a stag, with a good mate John, aka ‘Wild Passion’, a week earlier. On that hunt fading light meant we couldn’t get a good look at the stag so he was left for another day.

 

This morning Tracy and I reached the ridge on daybreak and made the decision to sit down and listen to see if we could get a fix on a roaring red stag. Ten minutes passed, then another ten, but no noise apart from the awakening dawn chorus.

 

“We parked the ute, shouldered our rifles, and set off to a ridge that looked down into a grassy basin bordered by native trees. The area has a history of holding a good number of animals.”

 

At that point I let out a roar and see if my ol’ mate from the other weekend was still in the area. I gave my best impression of a sick cow down the roaring horn and we waited. Ten seconds or so passed and no reply. I was starting to question my roaring ability when we heard a long low moan from the ridge at the opposite end of the valley.

 

The feeling you get when you hear that response is why I’m sure, we love this time of year. I waited a few seconds then let out another roar mimicking his. He followed up immediately, letting out a more aggressive and deeper response which gave us a better idea of where he was or, where we thought he was.

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Either way the wind had started to blow from behind us so we made the call to go the long way around. Our plan was to jump a ridge and follow the river down, then reassess from there, that way we would be in a different gully and he shouldn’t catch our wind.

 

Brad and Tracy heard the first roar 200 metres away through thick bush.

 

We headed off full of excitement. Taking a track down to the river we stalked along at a pretty good pace, our focus on the stag roaring up on the ridge about 200 metres to our right. However, I was quickly reminded why you should always be alert….. Mac, Tracys’ dog, stopped dead. He was staring at a grassy clearing beside the river. I looked up to see the young stag I referred to earlier in this piece (this guy will be a nice head in a few years if he makes it).

 

I let out a roar but he was not interested, instead he casually walked off into the scrub. The response I did get was from ol’ mate up on the ridge. We carried on downstream for another couple of hundred metres, roaring as we went. He was fairly revved up by this stage - we were getting closer - but he would not leave that ridge.

 

Our best option was to take a small spur leading up to where he was. By now he was roaring every 30 seconds or so, but as we got within 100 metres he went quiet. We thought we’d blown it!

 

Suddenly, Mac stood and stared straight ahead. We caught a glimpse of a red/brown body coming towards us. As it came into clear view we saw what it was - a spiker!

 

Surely this wasn’t what was making all that noise? He walked to within ten metres of us, slowly circling around until he caught our wind, then taking off in the direction he came from.

 

We sat there in disbelief for a couple of seconds... surely he’s just a satellite stag…?

 

“At that point I closed in, using some large trees for cover, moving when he roared...”

 

I let out another roar, hoping he wasn’t what we had spent a couple of hours stalking. I was met with a very angry roar still about a 100 metres from us. I gave a reply in the hope it would bring him closer but he would not leave his pad. We slowly crept in, getting to within about 50 metres. Now we could catch glimpses of him, strutting back-and-forth roaring as he went.

 

We sat there exchanging roars for a good 10 minutes, trying to get him to drop down off his pad onto the ridge 30 metres above us. That would give us a clear shot, but he just wouldn’t take that extra step.

 

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At that point I closed in, using some large trees for cover, moving when he roared, until I got to about 25 metres of where he had been strutting.

 

I let out a low moan and down he came staring straight at me. I could see he had good length, large brows, bez, trez but I wasn’t sure how many points he had on top. I raised my scope’s crosshairs to his chest and squeezed. He dropped on the spot, legs crumbling underneath him.

 

As I walked up to the stag I was filled with mixed emotions. Did I shoot the right animal? Is he really what I was hoping for? I was unsure, and that went against what I stand for as a hunter. I got within a couple of metres of him and could see four points on one of his tops. Heavy timber for this area. A sense of relief washed over me, we did it!

 

“We all love venison but I’m pretty sure we also appreciate a nice head, and that means leaving the smaller animals to be hunted in the future.”

 

I probably should have been more excited than I was. Lying in front of me was a large 13 point red stag, good length, fairly mature, just slightly let down by the lack of a 4th point on one of the tops.

  

It took a moment for it sink in, to reflect on a stalk that for once, had gone our way. Those moments are the ones I look back on and really appreciate. Although he didn’t break the magic 300 Douglas Score this still ranks as one of my most memorable hunts.

 

Taking the back steaks – Brad says venison from a mature stag is fine to eat if it’s well prepared.

 

Every March/April we head to the hills in the search for our own trophies, whether it be a first stag for someone, or huge antlers for another. It’s the same thing that gets us up in the early hours, in all weathers, but we love every minute of it.

 

So next time you guys and girls are out walking the hills doing the hard yards in search of your own trophy I encourage you to take the time to evaluate the animals you come across.

 

We all love venison but I’m pretty sure we also appreciate a nice head, and that means leaving the smaller animals to be hunted in the future.

 

Brad

 

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