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Summer Hunting Tips & Info

By James Lewis

With any hunting trip it is important to be prepared. In this article I’ll go through the key aspects that ought to be considered before you leave home. These apply to any type of hunting, but this article covers the summer months and the hunting of pre-rut red stags on the tops.


This isn’t going to be a practice what I preach type of article, it’s more a guide for anyone with a bit of hunting experience who wants to take it to the next level and successfully hunt the tops for mature red stags this summer.
I’ll cover researching the hunting area prior to the hunt, looking at the weather forecast, and preparing the contents of your pack.


I’m not going to tell you where to find mature red stags – this knowledge comes only after time on the hill. That part you’ll have to work out in your own time.


Besides the main agenda I will also touch on a few important things that are sometimes overlooked that can make the difference between a successful hunt or just taking a heavy pack and a glorified walking-stick for an armed tramp (not that I condone leaning on a rifle..!)


Late summer red stags offer the hunter a chance at a trophy prior to the rut kicking off.


First, research. Researching an area in preparation for a hunt can be just as important as the hunt itself. This doesn’t just mean scanning over maps and deciding you want to hunt a new area.


For me it means reading old reports and articles from people who have walked the same ridges over the years, and gathering understanding from their experiences about the distribution of animals, and the certain herd genetics that can produce the sort of trophies that I am looking for.


It also means plotting routes in and out of your chosen area that will allow you to safely negotiate the terrain and put you in the right position for the crucial hunting times of the day.


Being at altitude for any extended time can mean that you are constantly exposed to the elements. You will have limited access to water and your body will need to work harder to get the same results as you would down at sea level.


“Sometimes a negative weather forecast may mean having to postpone your trip and wait out the worst of it before leaving the road end.”


Identifying where to find water and knowing your limits can make an otherwise daunting experience more comfortable, and is something that requires proper consideration. This means being hill fit and being able to carry a full pack with all your hunting, sleeping and cooking equipment for a week, as well as all the water you intend to drink if access to water is unreliable.


When I was first starting out I asked a lot of questions from more experienced hunters but 9 times out of 10 their response was to direct me to resources like the Department of Conservation website or to go buy one of those “Spot X” books.


The higher you climb the less water you’ll find, so for summer hunts it pays to plan ahead.


For all intents and purposes these resources are a great starting point, but as most experienced hunters will tell you, no one is going to put you onto their prime spots, it is up to you to do the research and put the footwork in to find your own Spot X.


Canterbury, where I hail from, is renowned for having some of New Zealand’s best red deer genetics in terms of antler mass and length, and occasionally reports come out of hunters who got lucky and managed to land themselves trophies of a lifetime.


However, every effort to prepare for a hunting trip can be undone in an instant if the weather does not play the game. Being able to read weather forecast charts and being prepared for whatever nature throws at you can be the difference between life and death.


Sometimes a negative weather forecast may mean having to postpone your trip and wait out the worst of it before leaving the road end. One thing to bear in mind is that although we are talking about hunting the tops in summer, some catchments have a tendency to create raging torrents from tiny side creeks in a matter of minutes, so keep this in mind when accessing your leading ridges from the valley floor after rain.

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In terms of reading weather forecasts and predicting weather, there can be an element of luck involved. Let’s face it, even ol’ Jim Hickey would get it wrong from time to time. Personally, I use for up to date forecast charts, I have found this website more reliable than Metservice.


Ideally you want to get a weather window that consists of a high over the whole country with spread out isobars (indicating light winds), but, especially down in Canterbury, this isn’t always possible with December to March being the prominent Norwesterly months in the high country.


As a rule of thumb though, if you are feeling miserable on the tops due to the weather then chances are so are the stags. Like us, the stags won’t like being out in the “sh*tty” weather either and are more than likely to have sheltered places they frequent when the weather turns. I guess the message from this is, “If in doubt, wait it out”.



However, let’s say that you find yourself about to embark on a tops mission and there is a high over the country. This means hot days and chilly clear nights. It also means that by breakfast-time each morning the sun will already be putting out plenty of heat and most animals living in your hunting area will have parked up in the shade or have gone bush for the day.


Deer tend to avoid bright sunshine, you’re more likely to encounter them at dawn or dusk.


Meanwhile you will be spending large parts of your day out in the sun and trying to remain hydrated. You will find that you won’t see anything moving around the hunting area until the sun has lost its heat and has started to offer up some shade.


“You will find that you won’t see anything moving around the hunting area until the sun has lost its heat and has started to offer up some shade.”


It is at this time, usually the last hour of daylight (or the first hour either side of sunrise if you are hunting the beginning of the day), that you will start to see the hillside come alive with animals looking to quench their thirst and begin a long night of feeding out from the safety of cover.



In terms of the contents of your pack, light weight is essential if you want to find yourself up on the tops with energy to burn. The first thing to consider is whether your pack itself is up to the task. I use a single compartment 75 litre pack and a decent dry-bag pack liner.


I went with a single compartment out of personal preference but you may have a suitable pack that you find comfortable and is capable of carrying a sizable load. Ideally your summer hunting clothes need to be quick drying and wind resistant.


As the evening shadows lengthened this mob of red deer came out into the open to browse.


The trick is to be able to regulate your temperate so that you are not overheating, but at the same time the clothing material needs the ability to wick away any sweat so that you are not affected by wind chill. The thing to bear in mind is that for every 1000ft of height gained the air temperature drops by two degrees, so although we are talking about summer, it can still get very cold at altitude at this time of year. 


Personally, I don’t like taking any more clothes than I actually need, so besides a couple of change of credits I only take a good wind breaking/rain stopping parka, a beanie, a set of thermals and my puffer jacket for around camp at night. I have found that if I pack any extra clothes they just find their way to the bottom of my pack and remain there until the end of the trip.


“I don’t like taking any more clothes than I actually need ... extra clothes just find their way to the bottom of my pack and remain there until the end of the trip.”


Another way that many experienced hunters cut down their pack weight is by carrying dehydrated food organised into daily rations (plus a bit extra for emergencies). By limiting the total weight of whole food being carried uphill you create more room in your pack and can save a lot of energy that can be put to use elsewhere.


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In the past I have taken pre-made dehydrated meals with me to the tops and they have “served” me well, but the flip side is that you’ll need extra water for cooking/rehydrating your meals each night.


Nothing but the essentials can still mean a heavy pack.


When water is scarce or only accessible by dropping downhill a few hundred metres each day, cooking dehydrated meals soon becomes a chore. I guess the trick is to plan ahead and work out what you are likely to eat. You don’t want to take anything with high sugar which only gives you short-lived energy and makes you thirsty.


I like to take scroggin with me to snack on as nuts release their energy at a slower rate than most other foods.


I guess the message to take from this is that after every day on the hill your energy will be depleted so you need food with real sustenance and nutritional value to keep up with the demands of life at altitude.



It is up to the individual as to what they take in terms of actual hunting equipment. For me, once I am on the tops I tend to let my eyes do the walking. I used to think I needed to walk everywhere and cover every square inch of an area but nowadays I have come to realise that you are only as good as your optics so a decent set of binoculars is a must.


Being able to identify a stag from one side of a valley to another is one thing, but being able to assess the trophy potential of a stag from a couple of kilometres away is another thing all together.


That is why I also carry a good quality spotting scope and tripod so that once I have located a potential stag I can let my optics tell me what I need to know instead of having to close the distance to assess its trophy quality. 


A well-chosen campsite is a must, although most don’t come landscaped with rock walls!


Another thing that I consider an essential item in every hunter’s kit is an EPIRB, otherwise known as a locator beacon. This along with a compact but comprehensive medical kit can save your life.


Not only can a EPIRB help you out of your life’s darkest moments alive to tell the story, but they give you and you loved ones at home peace of mind in knowing that not all is lost if an accident happens. Avoiding accidents in the first place comes back to knowing your limits and not taking unnecessary risks.


Hunting the tops is not for the faint hearted and can sometimes be almost as dry and hostile as living in the desert. I hope these tips serve you well but remember a part of every trophy is the memory of the experience and the effort you put in to get there.


Hot barrels!




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