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SOLO FOR SIKA

For many years now I have hunted the central North Island for sika both on public land and on numerous fly in trips to private hunting blocks. Private hunting blocks have a certain appeal because they are in remote areas presumably with more game, they offer greater safety as your party has the block to themselves and there should not be the same hunting pressure that there is on popular public land. However, this is not always the case as these blocks generally get a continuous thrashing from Feb to May and in the spring, especially around the huts. Hence the best hunting is obtained by fly camping away from the huts, which you are still paying good money for whether you use them or not, which is self defeating.

Looking back over the years I have not enjoyed any greater success on private blocks as opposed to public land. So a few years ago I decided to test the theory that it you are prepared to put in the extra effort to pack in a few kilometers back from the road end, hut or track on public land, even during the roar, you are likely to find more game and less hunters. There is nothing new about this, as this is how I started out deerstalking and how serious hunters have hunted for decades. Perhaps our lives are getting busier and we don’t have the time or may be we are not as hardy and adventurous as our forefathers, but this is still a great way to hunt and recent successes have proven this.

This year I planned a roar hunt in the Northern Kaimanawas off Clements Mill Road, the week after Easter when the place is normally crawling with hunters. You would have to be mad I hear you say. Perhaps that why I ended up going on my own maybe ? I know it’s not generally good form and certainly not recommended for the inexperienced, but going on my own doesn’t worry me. I always carry a map, compass and GPS and had a PLB as a backup this time, but I have never had a serious accident in the bush …. although there is always a first time I guess. I always leave detailed intentions at home and wear plenty of blaze orange clothing, plus a patch on the back of my pack !

The original plan was to go for 6 days but this was reduced to 4 to avoid the wet weather at the time. Amazingly there were only 2 cars in the Te Iringa Track car park when I headed in, but I wasn’t complaining.  The pack didn’t feel as light as I would have liked as I started the steady 1 hour climb to the ridge before the old Te Iringa Hut site (the hut was burnt down many years ago), but as I got into a steady rhythm things felt better. Just before the highest point of the track at 1,100 m (about a 400 m climb) I rounded a corner and disturbed a sika hind lying down right in the middle of the track about 10 m ahead ! She was up and gone in seconds, but my rifle was not loaded for safety while on the track – a promising start though. After a 5 hour walk a second deer was spooked in heavy cover as I was descending off track to my campsite, down towards the Kaipo River. I heard a few sika roars late afternoon as I was setting up camp, which was pleasing and the effort of the walk in was quickly forgotten.

I set off at daybreak the next day with high hopes after hearing a few stags roaring during the night. Before I knew it, only about 200 m from camp, I spotted a hind and a yearly briefly on a terrace below, no time for a shot but plenty of promise for the day ahead. Another 100 m or so I spooked a third deer but couldn’t get a sighting, so I tried to zero in on a roaring sika stag above me, but the wind was light and difficult to judge and as I was closing in he shut up for the next 2 hours ! I headed higher listening for roars and was treated to one of those entertaining hunting moments while having lunch. As I crunching through my salami and cheese crackers (not the quietest tucker) I heard a loud piercing whistle just to my right. I looked around quickly to see a sika hind about 20 m away looking over a log at me. We eyeballed each other for a second or two before she disappeared in a flash whistling her head off for about a minute, alerting all the deer in the vicinity of potential danger. She must have heard the noise and sneaked in quietly to investigate, which is not uncommon as sika can be very inquisitive. Great to see at close quarters though. As I headed back down towards a nearby stream I was busted by another sika hind some distance away across a gully. I just spotted her bounding away, but she must have heard me coming and after getting a visual decided it was time to get the flock out of there. So by the end of the day it was deer 4, hunter zero, but I was still pleased with my first day and there was always tomorrow.

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The following morning I crossed to the other side of the valley trying to home in a roaring stag I had heard during the night. After finding a fresh scrape, I knew I was in stag territory and I gave a few roars (or at least AJ did on my behalf). It wasn’t long before I got a reply and some vocal rivalry ensued. First the stag appeared to be coming towards me before things went quiet. I waited rifle at the ready for 40 minutes and nothing. I packed up and moved away about 20 m planning to cuts back and get above the stag, when I heard a twig snap and a caught a movement back by the scrap where I had been sitting. There was a stag sneaking in quietly within metres of where I had been sitting. Instinctively I dropped to a knelling position, rifle up, bolt closed and it was pure luck that I had a clear line of sight through the tight pepperwood. It was a stag all right and he was looking start at me as if he was going to bolt at any second !  Unfortunately I couldn’t see his antlers clearly but knew it was now or never, so I placed the crosshairs on his shoulder and fired. He bolted to my right with almost no sign of a hit, which was a worry. I reloaded, bolt open and moved to where the deer had been standing but couldn’t find any sign of a hit. With no apparent blood trail I set off through the dense pepperwood in the direct the stag had departed, with less than 100% confidence that my 260 bullet had found its mark. Then within 20 m there was the stag stone dead and my confidence was restored ! It turned out to be a small 8 pointer which I probably would have left under different circumstances. After a few photos to capture the moment, I gutted the animal and removed and hung the hind quarters and back steaks to cool while I had lunch. The bullet had narrowly missed the right front leg and passed right through the chest causing severe internal damage.

I took the meat and the head back to camp and deliberated about bring both out. However with 8 kg of extra venison in my pack and knowing I had a gut-busting climb the next day, I decided the head was not good enough for the extra punishment. It had been a good trip with 6 deer sighted in 2 days, some fleetingly and not shootable and 2 others were spooked in thick cover. I only bumped into one other hunter on the way and his party of 3 from Tauranga had also walked in over Mt Te Iringa

The climb out was a real grind as I had expected, with pack and rifle now weighing about 34 kg / 55% of my body weight, but I surprised myself, motoring down the other side from the old Te Iringa hut site to the car pack in 1 hour ! There were only 3 other cars in the car pack, but 4 vehicles drove past in the time I took to pack up and departed. A memorable trip and the back steaks were delicious.

There are still deer on public land but you have got to make the effort to walk a bit further than most and get off the beaten track, to improve your chances.

Frank Ferguson