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West Coast Roar 2018

By Nik Maxwell

For many Kiwi hunters, chasing roaring red stags in the South Island rates as a must do and each year hunters from all over the country head south to chase these majestic animals. New Zealand hunting literature is filled with countless tales of epic red stag hunts and since my childhood I have often dreamed of experiencing such a hunt.

So, after a lengthy discussion with my understanding wife, it was agreed that I could enter the Haast Roar Ballot for 2018. Yeehaa! The ballot process is fairly straightforward, choose three areas from a selection of blocks then cross your fingers. With my entry completed all I could do was wait to see if I would be heading south for the roar.

 

Success! I’d drawn a block during the second period. As soon as I found out, the research began. Google Earth is one of my favourite tools for scouting new areas and my initial view of the landscape featured everything you could hope for; large open tops, huge bush clad faces and a river edged with grassy clearings.

 

The trip would involve being away for 10 days, the longest I’ve been away from my family so I was a little apprehensive about it. That being said, it was on!

 

HEADING DOWN

Leaving Tauranga airport on Friday morning, I reached Queenstown at midday, picked up my rental car and began the drive towards Haast. My chopper flight with Fox Franz Heliservices Ltd was booked for the following afternoon which meant I had an overnight stay somewhere along the way. I found a backpacker to stay in at Lake Hawea and chilled out for the night.

 

DAY ONE

My ride in was at 1pm which allowed me plenty of time to make my way to the heli-pad near the confluence of the Landsborough and Haast Rivers. There were a couple of other guys at the pad also heading in for a few days. I chatted with them prior to Scott arriving in the Robinson. After a quick safety brief, it was time to head in and man – was I amping!

 

It was a clear day and the flight in was smooth. The advantage with these blocks is that you can pretty much get dropped off wherever the chopper can land. I opted to position myself right up on the tops and discussed with Scott that I would head down to the river for pick-up. This safeguarded me if the weather turned to crap.

 

I had hired a Garmin InReach which provided direct contact with Fox Franz and Amanda throughout the duration of my trip. This allowed me to check in each night with the wife and confirm my time and place for extraction.

 

As we came in to land Scott spotted a very nice looking mature chamois buck out in the open and only a short distance from where we would be landing. It was awesome to see.

 

It is always a great feeling when the drone of the chopper disappears and all you are left with is the view and the silence of the outdoors.

 

Eager to get going, I quickly set up camp, gathered up my gear and walked about 250 metres around the side of the ridge. There was so much on offer that I thought an evening spent surveying my chosen hunting area was the best option. And it proved to be the right decision, somewhat...

 

“Obviously, I was on the search for a stag, however a hind would also suffice, because if the ladies are around, then so too should be the lads...”

 

The view from my glassing spot was breathtaking. Enormous tussock and bush covered faces, razorback ridges divided by a web of streams and cascading waterfalls. I was in heaven.

 

For glassing, I had on review a pair of Swarovski CL 10x30 binos (NZG&H #170 Jan/Feb). These are superb optics and I was able to use them to great effect on this trip.

 

A red hind and yearling bedded down for the evening.

 

Obviously, I was on the search for a stag, however a hind would also suffice, because if the ladies are around, then so too should be the lads...

  

Moments later I spotted a mature hind bedded down on a grass ledge on the side of a large scrubby face around 700 metres away. It was 6.30pm and the light was fading fast. There was also a yearling with her although I didn’t actually notice the younger deer until reviewing the video footage back at home.

 

“...it was then that I saw the biggest public land red stag of my life! I couldn’t believe my eyes, he was a monster. Huge tops, awesome length and span, and like the hind, he was bedded down looking half asleep.”

 

I watched her for a moment, then began glassing the surrounding terrain... and it was then that I saw the biggest public land red stag of my life! I couldn’t believe my eyes, he was a monster. Huge tops, awesome length and span, and like the hind, he was bedded down looking half asleep.

 

An excited panic set in immediately! I knew I had no time to move in much closer so instead I used the time to recce the terrain for an attempt at him the next day. For the time being I was happy to sit back and admire a true red stag trophy.

 

As darkness crept in the deer blurred into the shadows and I was forced to return to camp. Sleep did not come easily that night...

 

DAY TWO

I woke early, ate quickly and headed straight back to where I’d seen the stag. It was pitch black, but I wanted to be in prime position as soon as the light broke.

 

It was crisp and clear, and the morning was shaping up to be a decent one. I was ready for any eventuality, so it was a hopeful waiting game for the time being.

 

The morning dragged on with no sightings of any animals until at a little after 10am when I spotted the stag once again bedded down, high on the same rocky and scrubby face I’d first seen him on.

 

The hind and yearling were with him and looked to be making their way out into the open. I was quickly on the move and made my way down to the bush edge about 500 metres from them.

 

The stag stood and began to follow the hind and as if to mock me, made his way out onto the open tops. What a sight though! He looked absolutely spectacular and in the full sunlight I was able to get a great view of him. I initially guessed that he was a 12-pointer but upon reviewing the images and footage back at home, he was revealed as a 10.

 

The big boy standing proud out in the open and relishing in the sunshine.

 

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The stag, hind and yearling spent a good 20 minutes out in the open before beginning to make their way back into cover. Still mesmerized by the big ol’ boy, I had to snap out of it and figure out a plan of attack. To my right was an extremely steep and inaccessible ravine that looked to make its way right down towards the edge of the face I was on.

 

Below me was a large tract of bush that appeared to drop off quickly and steeply into the same ravine but could provide a shooting position onto the lower clearing where I had first seen the deer.

 

The domain of the red stag Nik saw early on in the trip.

The domain of the red stag Nik saw early on in the trip.

 

Time to move. The deer began their descent as I began mine. It would require a lot of luck and some good timing if I were to intercept the stag on his way back into heavy cover.

 

Moving quickly through the forest I reached the drop-off and found a suitable spot overlooking the clearing. There was a beech tree sitting right on the edge of a 50m+ vertical drop that provided the perfect position to shoot from with the furthest distance only 250 metres.

 

Now for the waiting game. And wait I did, arguably the longest time I have ever waited in a single position for an animal.

 

I had the rifle lying over a couple of branches and the camera set up perfectly to film the shot if one presented. I did hear a couple of low moans but unfortunately nothing showed. After a seven hour vigil I had to call it and head back up to the camp.

 

It had been a great day and just to be in the presence of such a ripper red stag was a reward in itself. For me, he was a lifetime trophy.

 

DAY THREE

Rain began to fall in the night and by morning it was torrential. Tent day, enough said...

 

DAY FOUR

The rain eased off during the night and I woke to an absolute cracker of a morning. The plan?! Well, I couldn’t head straight across due to the ravine, but I was keen to get closer to the area, so, loading up my pack I opted to head up and around the ridge and drop down onto another tussock face that looked right into the valley I’d last seen the stag in.

 

“Animals were a no show until I picked up on a 20+ mob of tahr feeding high up in the bluff country. It was really cool to watch them, and I half hoped to see a mature bull” 

 

The traverse over was straightforward and put me in a fantastic glassing position. I was wary of heading straight into his gully as the wind direction was sporadic. Animals were a no show until I picked up on a 20+ mob of tahr feeding high up in the bluff country. It was really cool to watch them, and I half hoped to see a mature bull as I am yet to take a decent bull tahr.

 

A mob of nannies and juvenile tahr play amongst the rock outcrops & tussock.

 

While I watched the tahr, a group of four chamois also appeared and with that I had my trifecta; red deer, tahr and chamois. Mint! As I was watching the chamois I picked up on another that looked to be a decent buck. He was bedded down on a steep tussock and scrub covered face about 250m away. The buck was down in a gully and I didn’t think a shot would spook the rest of the area – the stalk was on!

 

Covering the ground was quite easy, and I managed to get with 75m of him. He did spook and stand up but only briefly. I was well set up for the shot and placed a 6.5mm Barnes 130 grain TSX just in behind the shoulder, he dropped instantly and rolled down into a small watercourse, sweet!

 

Nik with his 9” chamois buck. The rifle is a Sako M591 chambered in .260 Rem fitted with a Southfort labs carbon fibre stock, Vortex Diamondback HP 3-12x42 scope and Cerakote finish.

 

I reached him and quickly ran the tape over his hooks. I was pleased to see that he pushed just over the 9” mark, awesome, my second 9” buck.

 

After whipping out the back steaks I headed back to camp. It was 6pm now so a late evening glassing period close to camp was the ideal end to a great day on the hill.

 

DAY FIVE

Rain all day, tent life...

 

DAY SIX

A primo morning and my last real chance at the stag. The plan would be to spend a bit of time glassing into the valley and then head in that afternoon for a closer look.

 

There were several chamois lurking throughout the morning who kept me company while I scoured for any sign of the stag. The morning dragged on and I was getting impatient, however, just as I was about to pack up I spotted a hind and yearling that looked different from the animals I’d previously seen with the stag, so, where was he?

 

It was now 12.45pm and I figured this was my best chance for a close up look at the area. The breeze was beginning to shift uphill which allowed me to sneak in with the wind in my face. It took me about 15 minutes to reach the bush edge before I pushed out onto a large tussock clearing. There was a small stream running through it with plenty of cover; the whole area felt like the domain of a master stag and anticipation began to build.

 

“There were several chamois lurking throughout the morning who kept me company while I scoured for any sign of the stag.”

 

The two hinds were nowhere to be seen so I crossed the stream and found an elevated spot to sit and wait
for a while. At around 3pm I decided to get amongst it and stalk the large rock and scrub face I had first seen the stag on. It was a crazy spot with tiny little head height “ravines” interlinking the many smaller clearings. I could see a couple of active wallows and deer sign was prevalent.

 

Nik ventured into the stag's domain for a last ditch attempt at locating him...

 

I let out several roars but received no replies... the sun was beginning to dip and time was running out. I headed back to my lookout in the hope something might cross the clearing, and crazily enough, something did! A yearling broke from cover and ran along the bush edge for 50m before ducking back into cover.

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My heart raced, could the stag be nearby? I sat motionless in the hope he would appear, however, it was not to be and with the shadows lengthening I had to call it once again.

 

A late evening view towards the head of the block.

 

I hit the open tops on dusk and made my way up and over the main ridge, giving me an amazing view of the upper section of my block. So much fantastic country, offering years of premium hunting.

 

With one more full day up my sleeve I contemplated one more 'Hail Mary' effort to chase the stag...

 

DAY SEVEN

Opening up the tent flap I was greeted with some very ominous looking clouds heading in my direction that sealed my fate and meant I would need to head down to the main river in prep for my extraction the next morning. Bugger!

 

The rain began to fall as I packed up and headed towards a leading ridge that looked to offer an easy walk down. The forest was still relatively dry, and a slow downhill stalk for several hours sounded ideal.

 

With the whole day at my disposal I took my time and stopped often to drop the pack and recce any likely looking spots, letting out roars as I descended in the hope of getting a response. It took about four hours to reach the river and although no animals were seen it was a really enjoyable stalk.

 

“...and that’s when I happened to look across the river and see a red stag standing on the riverbed at the edge of the bush, what the hell!”

 

I reached the river at around 2pm. There was just a light drizzle and plenty of options for a campsite and a landing spot for the chopper.

 

I found a big log with an overhanging tree where I could park up for a bit and have a bite to eat... and that’s when I happened to look across the river and see a red stag standing on the riverbed at the edge of the bush, what the hell!

 

He was 150m away and facing directly towards me. I quickly loaded my Sako .260, lent across the log, saw that he had some antler and then let rip.

 

Boom! He dropped instantly. Awesome!

 

With the stag on the deck I was able to get a better look at his antlers though the scope and could count nine points all up, not too bad at all. I decided to cross the river and make camp near where the stag lay.

 

The 9-pt red stag that Nik secured on the last afternoon of the trip.

 

Even with only a small amount of rain falling in the past few hours, the river had a little bit of discolouration, and I was certainly wary of ending up as a statistic. I spent some time locating a suitable spot to cross and found myself a sturdy stick for support. The water was swift and at one stage reached my waist, however, my support stick did the job and I made it across safely, phew!

 

Upon reaching the stag I was happy to see that he was a somewhat mature animal. His rack was by no means impressive though, I guess you could call him a “Scrubby Westland Red”, however, he was my first Southern red stag and I was absolutely stoked with him.

 

I whipped out the back steaks, boned out one of the back legs and whipped off the head. He wasn’t in the greatest condition and it seemed he had already endured a tough rutting period.

 

With the deer sorted, I pitched the tent and spent what was left of the day hanging by the river, swatting at the clouds of sandflies that had homed in on the activity.

 

HEADING HOME

James Scott (Fox Franz Heliservices) was due in at around 8.30am the next morning and although I was eager to get back home to my family, I was reluctant to leave also. A feeling I hadn’t experienced in a while since becoming a father. Such is the draw of the South Island.

 

My first real West Coast roar trip had been everything I had hoped for and more. The terrain is absolutely stunning and the opportunity to observe red deer, chamois and tahr within a single valley is something special.

 

Yep, it is fair to say I was a wee bit disappointed on missing out on the big boy but I took solace from the fact that I had managed to film and photograph a true Southern red stag trophy.

 

Just that experience alone was trophy enough for me.

 

Nik

 

Check out the video of that hunt here:

 

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