A late April hunt in the Kaimanawa mountains.
After a couple of roar trips hunting dense bush valleys, Scotty and I thought it was time for a change. After speaking with Riley, an ex-pilot from Heli-sika, we ended up booking a block that offered more open terrain.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting and exploring new country and after spending some time on Google Earth and pouring over the associated Topo50 map of the area we soon came to learn that this particular block offered a bit of everything; open tops, and bush and scrub-clad gullies that joined together to form a wide tussock filled valley. Beech, Kanuka and Monowai scrub covers the hillsides with large clay pan areas throughout, great sika country!
Beech forest, tussock and scrub – perfect sika counrty.
On this trip we invited long-time friend Phill Ford along with us. Phill had in the last year begun hunting but was yet to bag his first deer, so we thought it would be a great opportunity for him to join us chasing sika. Phill had done a few trips to Lake Waikaremoana and experienced hunting red deer there, so he was keen to see some different country and hunt a different deer species.
We booked to fly in on 24 April and that date couldn’t come quick enough. Phill had offered to take his vehicle on the trip down and at midday Wednesday we arrived at the hangar. A quick briefing and a short flight later we landed at our destination. Settling into the four-bunk hut we spent the first afternoon surveying the main valley, ready for an early start in the morning.
Up early, coffee and breakfast. Scotty and Phill headed down the main valley and up into the Kanuka and Monowai. Roughly an hour into the hunt they spotted two hinds and a yearling cruising through the head-high scrub. At about 120 yards away Scotty set Phill up for the shot but unfortunately the deer had other ideas and made good their departure up onto the tussock-covered ridge.
I decided to head straight out the back and up onto the tops to spend some time looking and listening for any sika stag calling. The previous week had been pretty lousy weather-wise and reports from around the countryside were that the sika roar would be late. With that in mind I positioned myself overlooking a large area of bush gullies divided by open ridges. At around 9am I heard my first territory call. Ten minutes later another, then a second stag joins the party and begins calling – awesome! Working out a way to approach the first stag I headed back to the hut and prepped for a couple of nights bivvying near the area. Back at the hut the boys eventually returned and relayed their hunt back to me, with animals sighted it had been a good start to the trip.
After loading our packs, we all headed up to the tops to do a little more “reccying” out the back of the block. The weather was pretty good although the wind had picked up. Setting up the fly, we headed out that afternoon and spent a few hours glassing the bush edges, open faces and ridges. The two stags from the day before gave a couple of calls at around 4pm and it was three happy hunters that headed back to our fly camp that night.
Scotty, Phill and I up on the tops late afternoon scanning for sika.
Time to get amongst it. Scotty and Phill opt to head around to the other valley, yet unexplored, and slowly make their way back to the hut. While heading down a scrubby ridge, Scotty picked up on a large eight-point sika stag around 260 metres away on an opposite face. Lining up his Weatherby .270WSM he took the shot, it was low and the stag made a rapid departure. While disappointed with the miss, he was grateful that the stag hadn’t escaped wounded.
Having decided to spend two nights under the fly, and after hearing a distant call early in the morning I headed back to the vantage point I’d found earlier, where I was able to listen in on the two stags, both calling now. I begin to let out a few single calls and received a couple of low mews from both stags. Moving further down the hill I let out another call and this time I get back a full call from the closer stag. By this time it was around 10am.
After a bit more calling between the stag and myself I decide to move in. I head down into the creek and up the leading ridge to where I think the stag will have set up his territory. I pass through some beautiful bush and terrain that has all the hallmarks of where a sika stag would set himself up. Taking my time I come across a couple of scrapes and several rubbings. The wind is swirling and after I let out a couple more calls with no response I make my way out into the open and this is where it gets real interesting.
It is just on 3pm and the weather looks to be closing in, temperature dropping and light rain beginning to fall. I am sitting on the edge of a clay pan when out of the corner of my eye I pick up movement – a deer, a stag and a decent eight-point sika stag at that! He is roughly 350 to 400 metres away on the side of a ridge, heading towards a small patch of bush. He isn’t moving fast but he is moving with purpose. At that distance I decide to video and watch him as he moves into the bush.
The big 8 point sika stag that was spotted just before all hell broke loose! The above images are still shots taken from the video footage.
The stag isn’t spooked and I begin to move around the ridge I’d been filming from, narrowing the gap to around 200 metres and positioning myself overlooking the small patch of bush. I find a vantage spot, preparing for a waiting game, and let out a single call...
Immediately another stag jumps up out of the Monowai from no more than 10 metres away! He looks around, unsure about what’s going on, then takes off around the ridge to my left. I can see the scrub shaking as he circles around trying to cut my wind. He comes into view about six metres from me, eyes wide, nostrils flared, head back. I count eight points and raise the rifle, but looking through the scope, he is blurred – I’ve left the bloody scope on 9x power!
The stag heads downhill fast toward the same small patch of bush the first stag is in. A gut feeling tells me that this guy is going to make another appearance, he hasn’t winded or seen me and was only alarmed by my single call. More movement below – he runs up and around the very same ridge the other stag had run across and stops, looking over to where all the commotion had come from. He is around 240 to 250 metres away, standing broadside on. I line up on the centre of his neck and squeeze off, he drops instantly. On this trip I had loaded my 7x57 Mauser up with some 145 grain Speer SPBTs that Daniel Friedman from Sportways Distributors Ltd had given to us to test. Checking out the how the projectile had performed proved difficult though, the shot had hit the stag square in the neck, shattering the spine and exiting, leaving very little trace of the projectile.
The second sika stag that burst out of the scrub before heading around onto the ridge, a single neck shot from the 7x57 using a Speer 145 grain Speer SPBT reload dropped him on the spot.
Wow, that was intense. Taking a deep breath and making sure that the stag doesn’t get up, I let a out a “Yahoo” and make my way over to him. He is a small but nicely shaped eight-pointer in great condition – he will make good eating. I dress him out as the weather begins to close in. Making the decision to walk back to the hut that night I hang him in a nearby tree and head towards my fly camp. It is just on dark as I shoulder my pack and make my way back to see the boys, who tell me about the big “8” they’d seen. Condolences and congratulations are swapped and after a big feed dished up by our talented camp cook Scotty, we hit the sack.
After a big day yesterday I take the morning off while the boys head back down the valley to where they had seen three deer on the first day. They spend the morning looking over the open areas above the valley floor. Spotting a couple of deer at a distance that didn’t allow for a shot, they were back mid-morning content with having sighted animals again.
That afternoon we all head out straight up behind the hut to overlook some scrubby north-facing slopes. We reach the crest and slowly sidle around until we have a good spot to glass from. For this afternoon’s sortie Scotty had chosen to use our .222 Rem. Sako A1, which I had brought along as a back-up rifle. About 20 minutes into it, I look over at Scotty and notice his eyes fixated and starting to widen. I freeze, Phill hasn’t noticed as he is glassing in the opposition direction. Slowly bringing the rifle up while simultaneously chambering a round, Scotty shoulders the .222 and takes aim. By then I have slowly turned my head in the direction he is aiming and see a sika hind no more than 30 metres from us and looking in our direction.
Scotty carrying back the sika hind. A clean lung shot from the .222 Rem. Sako A1 using Norma 50 grain Soft Points meant this hind didn't travel far.
Scotty fires and the deer runs off downhill into the thick Kanuka. Scotty looks at me a little perplexed and says, “I aimed right on the shoulder!” Assuring him that the Sako is a tack-driver and I had checked it’s POI the day before we left, we head over to where the animal last stood. Searching the ground for any sign of a hit I notice a tiny spot of frothy blood. Scotty is down in the scrub by this time – “You got her mate, through the lungs!” A couple of minutes later and Scotty and Phill find the hind, hit fair and square through the chest with the Norma 50 grain Soft Points (ex NZ Ammunition Co.) Again I was unable to retrieve the projectile – it had passed cleanly through leaving a 2” exit wound. A quick dress out and Scotty begins the carry back to the hut.
Time to retrieve the stag I’d shot. Phill agrees to come with me and we head off early in the morning, it is pretty windy but we make good time getting up to the tops and over into the valley where the stag is hanging. Breaking the animal down and loading it into my K2 pack we decide to head back via the creek instead of the tops.
Traversing the creek was relatively easy-going and it was good to check out the area for future trips. Along the way we came across a fairly large wallow that had seen some recent use. A quick study of the area and I realised that this was beneath the ridge and face that led up to the other stag that had been calling. Further investigation around the area revealed easy access up to the stag via a narrow ridge leading to the saddle where I guessed he would be in residence.
Arriving back at camp at around 3pm Scotty had a wicked grin on his face and teased me that room in my portable meat safe was at a premium. He’d left in the morning to check out an area he had been keen to investigate and bagged himself a sika spiker no more than 1.5 km’s from the hut! Always the meat hunter he was back having a coffee by 9am! Good stuff!
The last day, time to check out the other stag. I made my way to the bottom of the ridge. The weather was looking good and the wind had reduced to a light breeze. The scrub was quite thick as I headed up the ridge but thankfully opened out about halfway up allowing an easier ascent. Nearing the top a territory call rings out from the stag about 200 metres further along. It was about 9am when I reached a point where I could work out my approach. While I was sitting there he singled called –perfect. I let out a call and he immediately replied, even better. After a bit of back and forth calling, I began to sneak in. Sidling around the spur I noticed he had gone quiet, indicating to me that he was moving in to investigate.
Finding a suitable spot to await his approach I sit down and let out a couple of soft mews, he mews back and at this point he is no more than 20 to 30 metres away... Then I see him, less than six metres away now and walking in a straight line parallel to me. I have the safety off by this stage with the rifle butt tucked into my shoulder. He is behind some trees and I can see that his antlers have good length. I notice decent brows, but can’t see his trez tines or whether or not he has inner tops. He is a good-sized stag however, and I instantly decide to take the shot if it presents itself.
A couple more steps and he’ll be in full view; then he stops, turns, and walks straight into where I am! His pushes his head through some branches and eyeballs me at three metres. His neck and chest aren’t in view so I hold fire. He bolts and I get a decent view of his rack, a nice six-pointer.
I sit there and laugh to myself about what has just happened. It doesn’t get much better, or closer, than that and in hindsight I am glad a shot hadn’t presented itself, he hasn’t reached his prime yet and another year or two should see him develop, perhaps gaining those inner tops. As I sit there trying to lower my heart rate, he begins mewing for a further 20 minutes, silly bugger. I begin sneaking in on him with just the camera, but catch up with a nearby hind that gives up my presence and rapidly departs with a flurry of squeals. Carrying on through his territory I find several recently visited scrapes and antler rubbings.
Back on the tops I head up the ridge to take a look into the big valley at the northern tip of the block. Some great looking country reveals itself and I make a mental note to check this area out on future trips. As I walk along the ridge I spot a sika hind out amongst the scrub – she sees me, lets out a couple of squeals but doesn’t appear to be bothered by my presence. Out with the camera and I manage some great footage and a couple of stills as she bounds away onto the next ridge. Eventually she settles down and I enjoy a pleasant 45 minutes just watching her as she slowly moves away. By the end of it all she has calmed down enough to begin feeding again this time about 500 metres away.
A sika hind captured out in the open on the last day of the hunt, after an exciting morning stalk involving a very close encounter with a big six point sika stag, this was a great way to end what had already been a fantastic trip.
It was a brilliant ending to an extremely enjoyable morning. I was content, and not wanting to disturb the area any more than necessary began the walk back to the hut. The boys had seen a couple of hinds but had left them to it. Coffee and lunch was made and we sat back for the afternoon, enjoying the scenery. By about 3pm the weather started to close in and light rain began to fall. Phill and I decide to give it one more nudge so we headed up the valley for a look along the creek bed but nothing was seen. Just as we got back to the hut we heard a call from over the other side of the main valley, Scotty was already on the move and he and I made a dash over the soaking wet tussock towards the call. By the time we got there though he has gone quiet, all good, it was a nice little end to the day.
Scotty, Phill and Nik at the "meatsafe" just prior to flying out. Though the steely looks on their faces may suggest otherwise, they had throroughly enjoyed their trip! All the deer they encountered and harvested were in great condition.
It had been a fantastic trip, some great country had been explored and Phill had experienced a little bit of what hunting sika is about. The chopper was scheduled to pick us up at midday and when Tony Orr (Helisika GM) swung in with the new Squirrel our flight home was made that more comfortable. On the flight we spot a sika hind standing in the middle of a small clearing that Scotty and I had been looking at from the hut but not managed to get over to, another neat little end to the trip.
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