By Lucas Hamilton
When my immediate family started throwing around the idea of flying across the ditch to visit for a reunion/holiday here in New Zealand, I saw the opportunity to tag on a five day early Sika rut hunt with my brother and old man at the tail end of the trip. I contacted eli ika as soon as we had some dates confirmed to see what options they had available at such late notice. fter some back and forth, we were lucky enough to secure a landing site on the edge of some remote DoC land in the Kaimanawa Forest Park, and the trip was on!
Before we knew it, the th of pril had rolled around, and we were on our way to the hanger with a truck full of backpacking gear, a newly ac uired electronic sika caller, and a hunting magazine. We had found the mag in the supermarket whilst completing our final preps, and as I was the only one who had any limited e perience chasing these deer and it was my first time chasing them in the roar, we were happy to find a detailed article in the publication with all the tips and tricks we needed to track down a stag. e took the four hour car drive to study as much as possible before being thrown in the deep end.
We finally arrived at the helipad, filled out all the re uired safety paperwork, and before we knew it, we were standing on the open river flats in silence, full of anticipation as the buzz of the rotor blades disappeared down the valley. It was such an awesome feeling, but one we didn t have long to savour because heavy rain was on the way for the evening. e hastily got camp set up as the thunder started rolling around the hills and hit the hay for an early night.
We awoke to patchy rain on the first morning, and unfortunately, this was the theme for the trip. We put on a cup of coffee and sat around camp contemplating a plan. Declan, my brother, decided to break out the new sika call like a kid on hristmas with a new toy, and we were all shocked when the finished echoing, and we received an instant reply from a stag up on the tops. The plan was made for us at this point, and we uickly downed the coffees and started stu ng camp in the packs ready to cross the river and climb high out of the valley. It was hard work with heavy packs and constant rain, but a few hours later, we were in asemi protected section of native beech forest up on the tops and set up camp number two just in time to head out for a uick afternoon scout. e glassed a few open faces and found some water for camp, but only one lonely hind was spotted for the evening with no more responses to the caller.
As we woke to the new day, once again, the rain was coming down steadily, and the wind had also picked up significantly. It was hard to find the motivation to put on wet boots, knowing that our chances of finding a roaring stag were going to be slim in such conditions. e got our kit together and headed out as a trio to find some secluded sections of beech forest out of the brunt of the weather where we could attempt to fool something with the caller. It was tough going, and although we managed to find two fresh scrapes and heard a couple of distant roars down the valley, we didn t lay eyes on a deer all day, and the mood was low.
As the evening approached, we started to make our way back to one of the scrapes found earlier in the day to see if anything had returned. It was a long shot as we had already scented up the area, but we didn t have many options left. We were about 200m from the scrape when we heard a call. There was some discussion as to how close the stag was, and the error that was soon to be made would confirm that he was closer than we had anticipated. We rounded a spur still thinking we had some distance to cover when Declan, who was walking on a game trail to the right of Dad and myself, was startled by a close encounter – he had almost tripped over the stag! The animal let out a little squeal and was swallowed up by the forest. It was the first proper deer sighting for the trip, and we trudged back to camp with our tails between our legs. Lesson learned.
The next day’s forecast was for clear skies, and the weather gods didn’t disappoint. As we left camp together on day three, we were met with a stunning morning on the tops. The cloud was hanging in small pockets low in the valleys, and the red glow of the soon-to-be-rising sun doused the surrounding mountainsides. After two days of constant rain, wind, and wet gear, it was a welcome sight.
We made our way up the ridgeline full of enthusiasm. As the sun began to bathe the faces, it didn’t take long to pick up the first two deer. hind and yearling emerged from a patch of scrub on a distant face, picked up by Dad’s binoculars, and we continued in their direction, hoping a stag wouldn’t be far away. As we crested another rise and poked our way over into a new gully head, the unmistakable sound of a roar had us on high alert. I quickly dropped my pack and started scanning likely-looking places for any animals. A small clearing in between two patches of native beech trees revealed what we were looking for. A nice high-country sika stag was standing on the edge of the clearing 800m away. I quickly alerted the others, and we hatched a plan as the stag made his way across the clearing and back into the bush.
We decided the best option was to get within shooting range of the clearing and hope the stag would retrace his steps at some point. As we sidled around to our chosen vantage point, a scan of the clearing soon revealed a hind had poked her head out and bedded down in the open. This buoyed our spirits as we knew the stag wouldn’t be far away at this time of year. We were correct in our assumption, and 10 minutes later, before we had gotten set up for a shot, the stag reappeared and
took his hind back into the surrounding bush. ugger e finally made it to our vantage point and ranged the clearing at 300 yards – a perfect shooting distance – but we had to decide about waiting for the stag to come back.
Would he come back? Or was the percentage play to try and find something else? It was now midmorning, and the decision was made to be patient and hope that the stag would come back again. It was the first real chance at a stag for the trip, and I was feeling optimistic that this clearing was a central part of his beat. “He will be back,” I proclaimed, hiding any doubts I might have had behind a confident smile, as I knew I had to convince the others to sit it out with me as much as I had to convince myself. The hours began to tick past… still no movement on the hill. Declan sat down, looking dejected, throwing pebbles at a shrub, while Dad took a nap. We continued to wait for another hour before Dad woke up and said he couldn’t take it anymore. He decided to go for a walk with the binos and told us he would meet us back at camp.
We continued to wait, and the time kept ticking. t pm, we got the first bit of excitement as a new character showed himself on the ridgeline. A spiker was making his way through the gully heads and provided some entertainment, but he wasn’t what we were after. It was just about getting too late to make a shot and recover the stag in time when we finally caught movement in the clearing. It was him! o time to waste the rifle was set up on the bipod, and the scope was dialled and ready for the 300-yard shot. I quickly got comfortable and found the stag’s shoulder. As soon as he stopped, I didn’t waste any time sending a projectile in his direction. The connection was perfect, and as the recoil settled, a congratulatory slap on my back from Declan confirmed the stag was down. What a relief! After six hours of waiting, it had all come together.
few high fives later, we were quickly picking our way across the valley to recover the animal before nightfall. We knew it was going to be a late one. As the weather rolled back in and we finished the butchering, we had a few scary moments making our way back in the dark fog and rain relying heavily on the cellphone to guide us to safety. It was 9pm before we made it back to dry sleeping bags with smiles on our faces and a nice mature Kaimanawa sika stag hanging in the trees outside.
We had a helicopter pick-up booked for midday on the last day of our trip. Declan and Dad headed out for one last look while I took care of butchering the stag over a hot brew. o more deer were sighted that morning, and we eventually packed up camp and headed back down the hill to the helipad with one last ob ective. n the first day we had arrived, when crossing the river, Dad had spooked a large trout in the river. ith a fishing rod waiting back at the crossing, catching a high-country trout was the last thing on the list to complete the full ‘Kiwi experience’. In poetic style, on the third cast with a full audience watching on, a big rainbow jack smashed the lure, and it was fish on crazy fight ensued as the trout shot up and down the gin-clear stream, but he was eventually subdued, and it was high fives all around as the trout was released, putting the final e clamation on an epic trip. The only thing left to do was plan the next adventure.
“ ...the unmistakable sound of a roar had us on high alert.