Nik and Scotty head into the Northern Kaimanawas for some winter sika hunting...
The Kaipo Valley would have to rate as one of my all time favourite places to hunt sika. Upon first visiting the Oamaru Hut back in 1991 I knew instantly that this was a special area and one I would be visiting time and time again. I began writing about my trips into the Oamaru way back in issue #67, which is over twelve years and exactly 79 issues ago!
View across the Upper Kaipo towards the well known and ever popular North Arm block.
The area is significant to me for a variety of reasons but there are two that top the list; first, it is very near to where sika were first liberated into the Kaimananwas, and secondly, it offers some of the best bush stalking I have ever experienced.
Having hunted much of the Oamaru Valley, including the lower reaches of the Ruatea Stream or “Jap Creek” as it is commonly known as, the Otorehinaiti Stream, all of the Lower Kaipo and a little of the upper section, the Tiki Tiki Stream and the Ohaoko Saddle area, all that was left was the Upper Kaipo and in particular, the Kaipo Saddle.
Moving forward to this winter, Scotty and I, with the weekend free for a hunt, hit the Hinemaia Track and begin the easy stroll to the big campsite at the bottom of the ridge leading up and over to Cascade Hut.
We had two objectives for this trip, check the trail cam that I had set up overlooking a wallow (see NZG&H Issue #142 – Blaser Revisited) and, locate a sika stag or two just before they begin to cast their antlers. My previous trip to the saddle had provided me with some intel’ of a nice gully that I was keen to hunt.
Late afternoon in the Kaipo, primo!
Stalking our way up to the main ridge that divides the Kaipo River from the Hinemaiaia Track we hit the summit late afternoon and made camp. The forecast was for high winds with clear skies for the weekend. Scotty has a knack for getting the premium position for his ‘sleeping quarters’ and once again managed to find a cosy little area for his bivvy bag. This time under a ridiculously convenient fallen log that offered a dry area for his bag, what a tin-ass!
Overnight the temperature dipped below zero and we woke up to a frost and although the Southerly wind was still hammering away, the sky was clear, mint. Some breakfast and coffee, then we headed over to a small saddle in the head of a gully we are to hunt.
On this trip I am carrying the Sako A1 Hunter .222, which had just been fitted with a DPT Overbarrel Modular Suppressor, but Scotty has a lot more firepower – his .270WSM Weatherby Vanguard. Scotty is in front and I am in tow with the camera. Despite the wind it’s a cracker morning and we begin to get onto fresh sign straight away.
This particular gulley is steep sided and fairly open, providing great visibility. Sidling down we can easily see across to the opposite face as well as into the small creek. Not more than 30 minutes into the hunt Scotty pulls up.
Scotty with his sika stag. The ol' Weatherby Vanguard .270WSM and Federal PowerShok 130gr SPs proved to be a brutal combination.
“Deer, stag, down next to that log!”
I shuffle up behind him to get a look. About 130 metres below and on a pretty steep angle there’s a sika stag feeding on the bush rice grass.
“Good spotting bro, hold on, let me try and capture the shot on vid.”
Scotty is wasting no time and begins to chamber a round. I fumble about getting the camera up and zoomed in on the stag. As I record, the Vanguard roars and me ol’ mate sends a Federal PowerShok 130 grain soft-point on its way.
“You get him?”, “Pole-axed him!” Scotty exclaims.
We make our way down to the creek, Scotty moves ahead and I follow. As we clamber down the face a spiker breaks cover on the opposite ridge. A moment later a hind bolts up and over the same ridge. It’s great to see a few deer hunkered up for the winter in this gully.
We hit the creek. The stag is very dead, with what can only be described as a huge exit hole straight through the chest and right hand shoulder.
“Good shot mate!”
As Scotty begins to breakdown the deer, I make some coffee. It’s been a great start to the day; we have a winter sika stag on the deck, Scotty’s first from the Kaipo, and the rest of the day to recce the gully. The stag’s shoulders are a write-off, so the back wheels and backsteaks it is.
LATER IN THE DAY
After a brew and a feed, we loaded up and continued on down the creek. We hit a crappy little section and began to sidle up along the face. Scotty was in front and I as I reached him I noticed the very distinctive white rump of a sika about 150 metres uphill and again on the opposite ridge to us. She is head down feeding and the wind is in our face.
I break out the camera and begin filming. It’s interesting to note that we are only about 250 metres from where we shot the stag and the .270WSM is, well, bloody loud to be honest. However, the wind will have muffled much of the shot and a single report from a firearm won’t, generally speaking, disturb an area too much, particularly in dense bush.
A sika yearling feeding on the tips of the Bush Rice grass.
As we filmed the hind, I notice some movement below her, a sika yearling also head down amongst the rice grass. We are in full view as the young deer feeds towards us on the far side of the gully, about 75 metres away. I love filming deer and this wee fella provides us with some great video and photos.
Nik gave out a couple of muffled 'mews' at the little yearling to catch it's attention.
With a destination in mind we move on along the face. The next couple of hours are uneventful apart from covering some fantastic sika country. It’s now mid afternoon and time to find a suitable campsite. The original plan was to spend the night up on the main ridge but that’s not going to happen so a leading ridge off the main one will do.
A sika hind caught feeding in a small side creek.
We drop into a side creek and about 50 metres away is a sika hind. She hasn’t seen us and the wind is in our favour. Cool, another opportunity for some footage, I give out a low squeal and she instantly turns and looks in our direction. Typical of sika, she begins squealing repetitively, nose in the air, front foot stamping. Scotty and I are sitting motionless in the rocky creek bed. At one point she takes a few steps toward us in an effort to see what has spooked her and we end up capturing a great little sequence of footage.
I could film until the cows come home but we need to bivvy up before it gets dark. We stand up and she bolts of into the bush, letting out squeal after squeal. Reaching the ridge top, we find a couple of flat spots with room enough to sleep on, eat, talk crap and then crash out.
The next morning its up onto the main ridge and back down towards the Tauranga-Taupo to check and swap over the Bushnell trail cam with one of Allan Foots’ (A J Productions) new UOVision trail cams we have on review. The Bushnell has plenty of video captures, sweet! After that we make our way round to the Hinemaia Track and slog it out back to the road end car park.
It had been an awesome couple of days, my mate had picked up a stag, we had some pretty cool encounters with sika and the trail cam had heaps of footage.
You couldn’t ask for more.
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