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Bruised, Battered, But not Broken - The Climb From Hell

Bruised, Battered, But not Broken - The Climb From Hell

This article continues from the previous Issue where I surmised our 14 day sojourn throughout various catchments in the Southern Alps. The context of this Issue, however, only details one area in particular, the slog from hell, and the little intricacies around how we got our red stags. No mention of where we went is made. However, for those of you familiar with that area, there is probably enough content to work it out.

Picturesque alpine tarn; enroute to deer / chamois country, March 2009. Photo courtesy of A.Alipate.

On with our packs, and off up the track,

The plan was to climb up high...

Five days was the plan, to scout the land,

In quest of trophies to sight...



After revising old maps, and GPS tracts,

This spot had ample options...

There were Benches and basins, where camps'd be made in,

And opposite faces for spotting...

T'was a four hour trek, up river beds,

Before we'd reach our spur...

Which we'd planned to climb, in record time,

Our eagerness far from deterred...

We hurdled streams and flood banks clean,

And tore off into the thick...

We skipped over logs, like a coupl'a frogs,

The going was pretty shmick!


This'll be a walk in the park?, (ten mins had past),

We'll smash this in under the hour...

Yeah, we?ll punch up that ridge, and be there in a smidge,

That afternoon hunt's all ours!...

But the forest was mixed, and at times played tricks,

T'was podocarp and the odd patch of beech...

And the beech where it grew, knitted tighter than glue,

Walls of saplings to say the least!


And the podocarp too, forebode a problem or two,

When it decided to tangle right up...

With nests of vines and supple jack tines,

To which Dre's bow was forever stuck!...


On the map it showed, not far to go,

Cajoling each other along...

"We're nearly there"no longer faired,

"Of all the ridges we could?'gone??!"


By now t'was late, and we were starting to hate,

This terrible route of mine...

We renamed the ridge and called it Blare Witch,

Vowing never again to climb!


Dre's roll mat had ripped, clean half it was split,

And his bow had taken a hammering...

And where it got steep, Dre had to string,

The bow to his pack when clambering...


With the day almost vanished, it was quite outlandish,

Breaking into the monkey scrub...

To commence round three, which so frustratingly,

Was energy sapping enough...


We'd seen no sign, the entire climb,

No animals inhabit Blare Witch...

So we started to doubt, stag whereabouts,

And if they'd used this ridge!


Then to my amaze, we stumbled upon blaze,

Faint dazzle marks every odd tree...

And moments later, some wrappers and paper,

Dating back to the seventies!


And a holster of shells, were rusted to hell,

The usual suspect - three naught three...

Perhaps cullers were here, to keep the lid on deer,

The thought brought hope to me...


For the tops had looked mint, "t'was a perfect pick,

Based on habitat and terrain"...

That thought played over, and over and over,

Completely plaguing my brain!

And at that moment, we broke into the open,

"Thank Christ - a bit of tussock"...

Blare witch was over, we'd finally showed her,

Elated, unbroken, and toughened...

The sun cast shadows, to the valleys below,

Day end was around the corner...

But the priority first, was to quench our thirst,

For all day we'd gone without water!


So we dropped our gear, on a patch that was bare,

Where we'd later sleep the night...

Then down we cut, back towards the scrub,

Down a scree that was free from plight...


Aharh!! at last, fresh sign in the grass!!

Prints the size of a horse...

T'was the first bit of sign, for the entire climb,

Perhaps things were back on course!


Poem ends

Climbing through the saddle where we shot the chamois buck, March 2009. Photo courtesy of A.Alipate.


Up until that moment of relief, Andre and I had been experiencing an unsettling bitter taste of lemons at the back of our throats. The same thoughts from the previous year (Lemons in the Whitcombe) raced through our brains?!


Finally we were onto sign and our day was looking to improve.


After nearly 5 hours bashing through hell on earth without a drink, water was our first priority. The 25-06 accompanied us on the quest for water as there was simply too much sign around to neglect firepower. The obligatory binoculars and camera were brought along too; there are very few places I?d go without either.


We were genuinely impressed at the size of fresh prints. It was clear to us that the deer in this particular catchment preferred to live in the upper margin(s) of the monkey scrub and tussock. My money was on the fact that the impenetrable band of mixed vegetation, interwoven and knitted together below camp, had a lot to do with why they weren?t lower down!!


The descent to water took 10 minutes from camp (thank god for screes), and we had another 40 odd minutes before it would be too dark to see. Eager to clamber above camp towards a prominent vantage point, we filled our water bottles and set off up hill. For the first time all day, we were making good ground. Our swags had been no heavier than normal, but the ability to maintain momentum upwards and not fart-ass around climbing under, over, between, around, and through Hansel and Gretel bush, was a noticeable relief.


We crested the spur and found a comfy glassing position.

"Arh, you wouldn't believe it... But I left my bino's back at camp! They're in the top pocket of that pack!!" Andre was without field glasses and we had 10 minutes before it would be too dark to glass. Bummer for him, I thought.


While I scanned a beautiful tussock basin on the opposite face set within a band of scrub and vegetation, Andre proceeded to finish his first bottle of water. This basin looked like the ticket and I was certain that at any moment I'd be saying...

"There's a stag!" Andre spluttered, drowning on his recently opened second bottle of water.

"Are you serious?!"

"Yeah, pretty sure it is, he's just down there between those two rocks!! I can see his head moving in the scub! See, just down there mang, on that spur!"

More alpine tarns, visible from prominent chamois terrain, March 2009. Photo courtesy of A.Alipate.


Sure enough, the binos revealed a stag head down in the scrub frantically feeding accompanied by several hinds. A quick evaluation of his antlers through the rifle scope revealed he was a taker - at least 12 points - and in true companion fashion, Andre offered me the shot. Andre and I have been hunting for many years, and we work on the notion of turn for turn. The last red stag we took together was a 15 pointer which Andre shot in April 2007. And the last red stag that I?d shot (solo) was in early March 2007, so I was eager to make this one count.


The stag was about 350 m on the angle downhill and with the crosswind was working in our favour, so we closed the distance to 220 m. This was as close as we could get without cutting above him across an exposed, open face. And the last thing I wanted to do is spook him in the dark.

Looking North East towards the sunrise, March 2009. Photo courtesy of A.Alipate.


By now it was well and truly twilight, and if it weren't for the two rocks (land reference), I'd probably have struggled to pick him up in the scope. I wound the (weaver grand slam) scope back from 14 to 5 power to draw in more light, and placed the crosshairs on his neck. Andre let out a roar to get his attention, and when he lifted his head in our direction, I touched off. He folded at the shot and rolled down through the scrub for 10 m or so before coming to a halt.


"Eeewwe blaaaardy beaaauty!!"


Darkness was soon upon us and without our head torches (again, left in our packs), we opted to return in the morning to assess and record our catch on film. We meandered our way back to camp reminiscing on the day?s events. Many of you will know this feeling; but there's nothing more satisfying than earning your keep! And we certainly felt we'd done that. What a fitting reward to a grueling days climb through Blare Witch country.

Back at camp (and I can't emphasize this enough), Andre and I poured over maps, rethinking routes and accessibility to the main ridge. We agreed that next time we'd climb up one of the side creeks until we broke out of the bush, and take the edge of a scoured slip to the tops. This proposed route required walking further, but the going would be considerably easier. As in our case, the shortest path was certainly not the quickest!

Fast asleep after a day of battling through Blare Witch country, March 2009. Photo: A.Alipate


Eager to start the day, I was up long before sunrise, preparing food and gear for the day's venture. By the time the sun lit the horizon, we were fed, clothed, and rearing to go. Within minutes from camp I spotted a young 7 point stag pushing three hinds downhill towards camp, with a spiker in tow. They were descending from just under 1600 m asl, and eventually slowed up and began feeding at around 1300 m. Andre decided to have a crack at them with his bow, while I dropped down on the stag to take some photos.


After a few hours of stealth, Andre managed to sneak within 55 m from them before knocking an arrow and letting strip at one of the hinds. But in the midst of all the excitement he'd forgotten to look through the peep (which is like failing to look through your scope), resulting in a shot well low and to the left!!

I owe it all to that guy, March 2009. Photo courtesy of A.Alipate.

We agreed to meet at my stag, which measured around that 300 DS benchmark - my best scoring head to date. He was even and strong in the brows and trez, with well formed crowns at the top. If I was to be picky, my only criticism was that he didn?t exceed the magic 40 inch mark for length and width. Another year or two and he would exceed it for sure, but I wasn't going to pass up a nice stag for the year. He was in excellent condition.

The stag was on the crest of the spur (almost) in the blue background, March 2009. Photo J.Carle.


I boned out the back quarters and steaks, and fleshed out the skull for the climb back to camp. The remainder of the day was spent carting camp from one side of the range to the other (East to West). Enroute we glassed a lone spiker, two hinds and yearlings, and a mature stag with a spiker and hind, in four different watersheds.

Camp is beyond the photo. Photo: J.Carle

Taking a breather, March 2009. Photo: J.Carle


The mature stag (spotted on an opposite face on the East side) which appeared quite heavy timbered. We were able to coax several roars from him before he pushed his hind down into the scrub belt, and fended off the spiker. As the afternoon drew on, we decided to cut up to a knife-like ridge and saddle between two peaks in search of chamois before heading back to camp. There wasn't a lot of sign about, but we came onto a lone buck in the bluffs which turned out to be 9.5 inches.

9.5" chamois buck.

Andre rehydrating before another burst in elevation, March 2009. Photos: J.Carle


Note the reddish stain on the antlers ? typically produced from rubbing amongst podocarp forest.


Note the darker, blacker stain on the antlers ? typically produced from rubbing amongst beech forest. While both of these stags were shot East of the main divide, they not only illustrate the two different strains of red deer, but the different micro-niches of podocarp and beech as well.


The following morning dawned dark and gusty. We returned to the same area and opted to bunk down in a sheltered rock cave overlooking the north facing slope, with a bowl of scrub amidst a sequence of short screes / slips. We planned to remain there until the last few hours of daylight until the wind settled down. It was a miserably boring day to say the least, but we were committed to finding that stag from the previous day.


We?d managed to pick up another young 7 point stag on the bush edge below our rock shelter. Our roars coaxed him only so far before he got jumpy and darted back towards cover. He had winded us. Our only entertainment came from a spiker that we caught sleeping flat on his side, tucked away in a patch of bush on a clay pad. At first I thought he was dead!


By 17:00 the wind was still all over the show, and the risk of scenting the area was still too high. Our only option was to cut 600 m down into the sheltered north facing slope where we thought the stag might be holding and this involved more scrub bashing. But there's no rhyme about that this time - it was insignificant in comparison.

Fly camp lower in the valley, March 2009. Photo: J.Carle.


Sidling down through the scrub revealed several fresh rubbings to lancewoods. Was it from the same stag? I decided to hold back while Andre snuck down to a kink in the leading spur. I let out the odd faint moan to coax a response, but the wind was too strong for me to hear anything. We?d agreed to remain in contact via VHF radio.


The scrub was at a height where you could still make your way over it, and if need be, pull off a shot. But if we were to drop any further into the valley, we would be engulfed by a thicker and taller matt of sub alpine monkey scrub. We definitely weren't looking to pay Blare Witch a visit today!


Over the two-way I heard a faint murmur. After turning the volume up, I caught the last part of... "Was that you Jamie??

"Was what me?"

"Did you just let out a roar?"

"Nup! I let one go about 3 minutes ago but I can't hear anything over the wind!"

Andre was within earshot of a stag roaring slightly above our contour (1100m asl), and towards the headwater. It was coming from the sheltered patch of scrub on the north facing slope (mentioned earlier). He'd spotted two hinds in a thick patch of lancewood and a stag with heavy timber. By the time I got to Andre, the time had just clicked on 17.30 and the wind was still shifty.

The stag was ranged at 360 m; a bit of a stretch for the 25-06 in windy conditions, so Andre hatched a plan to close down the distance and get into a shootable position. I was to look after the bow, remain concealed, and keep the stag vocal while Andre bee-lined it for an outcrop of rocks using the scrub line for cover. This would put him within 60 m of the stag - "easy peasy" we thought.

The stag was reasonably vocal, responding well to each of my moans with that typical moan followed by low, throaty grunts. We continued on like this for about 30 minutes while Andre cut through a couple of rugby fields of scrub. He now only had to clamber up one of the short screes to where we'd thought he'd be in view.


Then, as if someone flicked off a switch, the stag shut up. Through the field glasses I could make out the stag's antlers in the scrub, but it was as if he was sitting down, or crouching. He was no longer standing proud and defiant with his head and shoulders above the scrub. No matter how many times I moaned and groaned, he refused to rebel.


I was just about to jump on the two-way to update Andre when he revealed that the wind had shifted.


"Are you serious?!" Perhaps that explained the stag's actions?


Without realize, I broke into a mixture of English, French and German.


"Mate, you need to get your ******* A into G and get to that vantage point asap!! That stag could break any ******* moment and you need to be in view of him when he does!!"


Because of the (almost 2D) angle that I was on, I thought it was simply a matter of Andre getting to the crop of rocks and barreling the stag. But as it turned out, folds in the landscape shadowed the two from being able to make visible contact (at all). This is part of the problem with hunting on the same face as your game. And it proceeded to frustrate the hell out of both of us.


We?d been cooped up in that confined rock cave all day waiting for the wind to settle, and cracks were starting to show in our armor. I think if it weren't for the rugby field distance between us, it would have ended in blues - and I'd probably still be up there in pieces haha!


Andre crested the crop of rocks and took what seemed like an eternity trying to spot the stag in the scrub? and it was just (60 m) in front of him!! After hissing almost entirely French and German at each other, he'd convinced me that the angle was wrong and that he needed to move down slope to get a better vantage.


By now the wind was blowing almost entirely up Andre's backside towards the stag. My main concern still lay in the fact that when the stag bolted, Andre needed to be in a position to see him departing, and get a shot off. I wanted Andre to stay put where I felt he had a better chance at being able to see the stag depart (because I was certain the stag would bolt any moment). But Andre wanted to drop several hundred meters down through the scrub and get on a different angle.

Young stag, March 2009. Photo: J.Carle.


Each option presented pros and cons, and after another volley of French and German, I managed to convince Andre to climb back to where he was and stay put. Every minute that we sat in anticipation only fuelled what was already a blazing furnace! And to add another dimension of complexity, we were now running out of time. It was twilight (18.45).


In a moment of desperation, Andre leapt up and started clapping, yelling, whistling, and literally screaming in French and German at the stag. This was to spook the stag into a visible position, but unfortunately the cunning bugger only bunkered deeper in the scrub. Both hinds cut up and into view, but not the stag. He stayed put.


Time was literally up and Andre made the executive decision to drop down through the monkey scrub to get a 2D view. It meant pulling off a longer shot crosswind, but it was his only other option. By now I couldn?t even see the stag - it was too dark. While Andre cut down, I decided to bolt up the main spur and sidle above the stag. I too, started yelling and screaming and making a hell of a racket. We were desperately clutching at straws now.


I had just made out Andre's blaze orange bini several hundred meters below when some crackling and scratching came over the two-way, followed by... "the stag... I see the stag!"


BOOM - a shot rang out from below, followed by eerie silence.


Amidst all the commotion, the stag had spooked down towards Andre in the creek. As the stag came crashing down through all the scrub and fern, Andre was able to draw bead, but only for a split second before he was engulfed by bush again. The shot was literally taken while the stag was in mid flight across the side creek, the last open section before endless cover.

Brothers again, March 2009. Photo: J.Carle.

After the obligatory photo session and a blow by blow run down of the evening's chaotic and now somewhat humorous events (narrated mostly in French and German), we climbed back up to camp by head torch - Brothers again. For the second time that trip, we reminisced on the afternoon's events and critiqued what we'd learnt and would do differently next year. The stag turned out to be a 10 pointer which measured a fraction longer than the stag taken earlier in the trip. He was heavier in timber but unfortunately was missing his bez tines. We did a rough measurement and estimated he would score in the vicinity 275 DS.


In retrospect, given the gusty conditions we should have returned another day when conditions were more favourable and approached it from the opposite face. But we all seem to have 20/20 vision in hindsight and I guess that's how we learn and revise our plan of attack for next time...


I hope to get back to Victoria, Australia to chase sambar (again) later this year, so that should be a bit of fun! Also, I recently purchased a compound bow so I'll be spending a bit of time trying to get the hang of that!


Til next Issue, MM out.

Votes: 111


sikaddictionMonday 3rd August 2009 - 04.00am
awsome bro, great read!
george fechneyWednesday 5th August 2009 - 02.11pm
hi im a keen young 13 year old form mid canterbury i shot my first deer to weeks ago iv got a few pig iv bin in ti o hunting since bin 4 my biggest pig to date is 145lb he had 3.4 inch tusks hopping to get a blr 243 next year in do a bit of bow hunting myself i got a bowtec for my last birthday chairs talk to you some other time.
MountainManMonday 10th August 2009 - 01.15pm
Hi George,

Great to hear of such a young, keen fella out getting about the hills!! Congrats on the first deer and the good boar tusks! If you're getting those sorts of animals at 13 years, then just imagine what you'll be getting onto when you're in your 20's!!

Keep at it, you have your whole life ahead of you and a great piece of NZ to enjoy hunting in! Canterbury is a great place to grow up.

All the best,
carlos sumnerMonday 17th August 2009 - 09.29am
not bad boys but dre you need to work on your guns they are to small
huia Wednesday 19th August 2009 - 02.29pm
what was the score of the two heads have to measured them with the tape yet ?
Mountain ManThursday 20th August 2009 - 05.28pm
Rough measurements, but not officially scored. I left the heads in Chch before I flew back ot Perth. Dre's stag was about 275DS and mine was around 303DS
William AgnewTuesday 15th September 2009 - 06.08pm
Hey I Iove your nz hunter articles and your website.I am 11 and I absoulotly love deer hunting. I shot my deer in late feburary and went on a couple hunts but seen nothing.I live in Southland.
Jed VercoeWednesday 23rd September 2009 - 05.17pm
sup fella's, been checking the website every few months to see what you an dre been up to. Good to see the boys doing the hard yards an getting results, if only the choppers would beat eh.Sumner cuz, low blow on Dre's guns man! He still hasnt come to grips with having blurple nuts so go easy, hassel Mank instead.
william agnewThursday 1st October 2009 - 05.28pm
what is WARO ?
Mountain ManThursday 1st October 2009 - 08.52pm
Wild Animal Recovery Operations (WARO)... The aerial shooting of wild deer for the feral venison industry.
AnonymousSaturday 5th January 2013 - 03.33am
I would love to see your head on a wall

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