Winter Stags FiordlandBy Adam McGrath
- 11th Aug, 2020 Aug 11, 2020, 12:20 PM
- 1 Comment
I had spent the last moments of my shift dreaming of being in the hills chasing winter red stags in Fiordland as they fed to put on the much-needed condition before winter really sets in.
Checking the weather forecast before my long drive home, I saw that the next 3 days were shaping up to be sunny and clear. This really put a put a smile on my face as I contemplated where to go.
I decided to head into an area that is very dear to me. It is an area that suffered hugely from the floods in February where much of our great walks were damaged. With access into the area now difficult, there would have been little hunting pressure so it was with high hopes and much excitement that I packed my gear ready for whatever Fiordland had in store for me.
I made an early start walking in as to try my luck at some nice grassy river flats I knew of. There was a stiff Sou’ Easter wind blowing down valley making it difficult not to scent the area out. After stalking through and seeing little sign but from a few old prints here and there, it was time to find a camp site where I could dump the majority of my gear.
After finding a suitable area on a nice grassy clearing and having lunch in the sun, I decided to hunt the bush and work my way up through some dense beech forest slopes onto some nice sunny terraces that I had done well at in previous roar trips.
The hunting was hard going and stalking quietly through noisy crown fern is difficult at the best of times. I climbed high hoping to find where the deer were bedded and as I crested a small brow a red hind and yearling jumped to their feet and disappeared into the dense bush. “Bugger” I whispered to myself “Oh well that’s hunting” I thought as I made my way back to camp.
“After finding a suitable camp site on a nice grassy clearing and having lunch in the sun I decided to hunt the bush working my way up through some dense beech forest slopes onto some nice sunny terraces that I had done well at in previous roar trips.”
It was now late afternoon. With still an hour or so to kill before my evening hunt, and getting rather sick of the thirsty sandflies, I climbed into my tent for some relief of their bites.
At around 4.30pm, I donned my gear and headed down the river to another spot I knew of. Slowly stalking along I was puzzled as to how little sign there was, other than some old prints there wasn’t much happening on the flats and after a couple of Paradise ducks gave the game away I decided it was time to head back to camp and re-think my plan of attack.
Climbing into my sleeping bag I made sure to rug up as it was going to be a chilly night. I lay there thinking that maybe I should hit the tops. There’s little snow about and always the chance of a chamois. My mind was made up, I planned to wake early, pack my gear and head high.
The alarm startled me at 5.30am and I was rudely awaken from cosy nest. I climbed out of my tent and readied myself for the big day ahead, little did I know what was to unfold on the hills. It did not take long for me to start peeling off layers as I pushed on through the dark cold morning breaking the bush line just on dawn.
“...out of the corner of my eye I saw some movement… as I turned my head I saw a stag, hind and yearling on the move, heading to a distant saddle where they would disappear into the scrub.”
With the sky slowly lightening and the kea’s awakening in the distance, I was greeted to a stunning view. Distant snowy mountain tops glowing in the low light overlooking frosty grassy river flats some 900m below. I made sure to pause and enjoy the moment. Climbing into a shadowy basin where I have seen the odd chamois before, I settled behind the binos for some glassing.
After a short time, I was ambushed by several young kea who decided to torment me by pecking at my gear. I grabbed my camera for a cheeky photo when out of the corner of my eye I saw some movement. As I turned my head I saw a stag, hind and yearling on the move, heading to a distant saddle where they would disappear into the scrub.
I dived behind the gun, loaded a round and found the first available rest. As I watched the stag through the scope, he paused one last time to look back and “BOOM” as the Tikka Aspire barked! I sat down to settle my nerves “Did that really happen?” I thought to myself as I recalled the event, but needless to say I was rapt.
I climbed over to my prize, finding a 9-point red stag lying there amongst a pile of jagged rocks. After missing out on the roar due to Covid-19, I was stoked to not only fill the freezer but also get some bone for the shed. Spending some time enjoying the moment and taking all the necessary photos, I set to boning him out.
Upon making it back to the track I still had some time up my sleeve so I decided to cut across into a different basin and try my luck for a chamois.
Finding a suitable glassing point behind a rocky outcrop of bush, I once again grabbed for my binos and before they even made it to my eye I spotted another group of deer feeding high on a ledge above me.
Pulling out the camera and getting some footage until a passing plane spooked them and they ran for cover. I lay in the warm tussock enjoying the last of the sun reflecting on what had been an amazing three days in the hills.
Driving home I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face feeling as though I’d been touched by some holy spirit. With everything that has been going on recently it was a much needed recharge that reminded me that New Zealand is the safest place to be.
Check out Adam's video of the hunt below:
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