Summer SikaBy Harry Stam
- 28th Nov, 2019 Nov 28, 2019, 12:00 AM
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As you may have read in my earlier sika hunting article in NZGUNS (NZG&H), Zac and I had narrowly missed getting a sika deer on our first trip into the Kaimanawas. However, if anything we were even more keen to give it another go. We now knew the topography and remembered the spots we’d seen deer in last time.
It was early January, and after recharging from New Years, we both had time to head into the Kaimanawas for a few nights to explore the country we been into the previous year. We left Tauranga at 10am, aiming to be at a campsite on the tops before dark. My car had other plans though and decided to over-charge the battery just outside Taupo, putting a halt to our ambitions!
A quick phone call to relatives however, and I was soon in Taupo sorting out a new battery. We were back on the road within an hour or two, and at the road end an empty car park was a pleasant surprise.
After walking up the valley for three hours we decided that it would be dark well before we made it to our intended spot. After a quick stop and a scan of the map, I suggested we head up to the open tops earlier, making our way up a new spur and reaching a catchment that looked like it could be promising.
“We wasted no time in moving along the tops to find a good spot to set up camp, eventually finding one in a small saddle that overlooked the main valley out towards Ruapehu.”
There was an abundance of sign in the beech forest as we picked our way up the spur, which was much longer and steeper than we’d anticipated judging from the map. It took us an hour and a half to reach the bush line, and time was creeping on towards 7pm – prime time to be glassing.
We wasted no time in moving along the tops to find a good spot to set up camp, eventually finding one in a small saddle that overlooked the main valley out towards Ruapehu. From here we could also see into the main catchment, and Zac voluteered to set up camp while I did some glassing.
No longer than five minutes later I picked up a big sika stag out in the open. It was an awesome sight amid the dynamic landscape of mountains and valleys – a stag feeding contently well away from the safety of the bush. He was easily the biggest stag either of us had seen on public land, and we decided to have a crack at him.
As the stag was a good 300 metres away and the wind was right, we took our time to watch him through the spotting scope and snap some pictures. By this time it was around 8pm with less than 45 minutes of shooting light remaining, and we still had to close the gap to around 200 metres, the distance we both felt comfortable shooting from. We identified a knob that looked like it would be within our range, but it was in open sight of the stag and required some slow stalking.
“No longer than five minutes later I picked up a big sika stag out in the open ... He was easily the biggest stag either of us had seen on public land, and we decided to have a crack at him.”
We ducked over to the other side of the saddle and made our way around the catchment towards the knob. All went to plan until we came into view and saw the stag looking directly at us. I whispered to Zac, “He’s on to us!” and we both locked up. It was the longest two-minute motionless stare off of my life, however the stag couldn’t smell us, he could just tell something wasn’t right. To our relief he eventually lowered his head and began feeding again, turning slowly to face away from us.
We seized this opportunity to drop down towards the knob, but before we made it the stag began staring directly at us again. We were roughly 230 metres away and slightly above him across a large gut, so with the light fading fast we decided to shoot from where we were. We set both our rifles up as comfortably and steadily as we could in our position.
Zac was using his Tikka T3 7mm-08, and I was using my Sako A7 .243. The stag was still looking in our direction, although eventually he turned broadside. We both lined up on the crease of his back, taking time to slow our heart rates down. “3..2..1”, our rifles rang out in sync, and through the scope I saw him take off over the side into a gut without showing much sign of a hit. “Did we miss?” was the question. As soon as the echo rang out around the valley a sika hind burst from the safety of a gut that was obscured from our view, allowing us some more good photo opportunities.
Thinking it back, I had heard the reassuring “thump” of the bullet making contact and we both felt good about our shots – only time would tell. As it was almost dark we decided to go back to camp and get up early the next morning to try to find him.
We were up early before the sun gained too much heat, full of anticipation of what we hoped to find. It took just under an hour to traverse the top of the catchment and then we had to drop a few hundred metres in elevation to get to the spot where we’d last seen him.
No blood was evident, however I looked into the gut he’d disappeared into and saw a patch of deer hide through the thick sub-alpine scrub. We both got down there and were absolutely rapt to find him – a big-bodied seven point stag in hard velvet. After the mandatory photos I butchered him up and we began the hike uphill and back to camp. It was only 9am by the time we got back but we were buggered, with a good 30 kilos of meat between us.
The beech forest below camp provided some good areas to explore and mess around in while we waited out the middle of the day. At 2pm I decided to have a quick scan of the whole catchment and managed to pick up a lone sika spiker at what we estimated to be a kilometre away.
We contemplated pursuing him but it would be a big mission to get within shooting distance, and the recovery would be even more so, so we decided against it. Instead, we made the decision to pack up our campsite and tackle the first half of the walk from the tops down to the river. We could walk out of the river valley the next morning instead of having to do the whole tramp in one day.
The walk down through the bush was somewhat frustrating as we accidentally dropped off the side of a spur into a gorgy creek, getting bluffed and having to clamber back out with heavy packs. However, once we did hit the river and found a good campsite, we had a swim, made a fire and all was good.
“The memories of the hunt are just as good as the trophy in my eyes, and we couldn’t ask for a better team-effort than this.”
The next morning we were up early and heading for the car before the sun was up, managing to spook a deer off a large river flat on the way out. It was in no danger though – our packs were already heavy enough. We both came away from this trip with a good trophy.
Although not the ideal “8-pointer”, he was the biggest stag either of us had shot. The memories of the hunt are just as good as the trophy in my eyes, and we couldn’t ask for a better team-effort than this.
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