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Patience is a Virtue

Patience is a Virtue

Below are three parts to my 2007 Roar with footage taken during our 8 day sojourn through the Southern Alps where we beat the feet for well over 100 km through various catchments amidst the Main Divide. The story follows.

 

As Andre tightened the last draw cord of the two-man tent, darkness was upon us. T’was the beginning of an 8 day round trip through the heart of the Southern Alps, and the walk in had been a long one with several hinds and spikers spotted high on the slopes from the creek bed. All were dotted along the true left (south facing side) of the catchment - seeking refuge from the searing sun. Although it was late March, you would have sworn it was mid January. It was that hot.

The trickling and popping chorus of water as it tumbled over and through the vast floor of alluvial gravels was the last I remembered for the day. Lights out.

At first light we dismantled camp and heaved our gear further up the catchment towards a tight saddle where we intended to pass through. Deer prints were scattered along the creeks edge; and a recently used mud hole was found at the toe of a south facing side-creek. Mud was scattered everywhere, with the culprits accessing the hole from a game trail leading to subalpine scrub.

As we neared the open headwaters, a young spiker broke into view (again on the true left), cutting across a small scree towards us as if spooked from something further up valley. To get a better 2D angle on the upper tussock faces, we downed our packs and climbed the opposite side to carefully glass the area.

Moments later I spotted two promising young eight pointers bedded down in a belt of waist-high subalpine scrub, several hundred meters apart. As expected, they were both missing bez tines but their strong beams, good length, and well defined points gave us hope for future hunters. Given another three years and both would make fine trophy specimens – but not today.

We roared at them for over an hour, coaxing them into thinking we were in their territory. The larger of the two cast out several lazy moans from his bed while the smaller one rose from the scrub and closed in on the other. We were hoping they’d put on a spectacle for us, but they kept their distances and eventually we pushed on further up valley. We still had a fair way to go before our next makeshift campsite.

As we ground our way toward the saddle we spotted another young stag back across the opposite tributary, and two bull tahr roaming through the bluffs above. By the time we passed through the tight saddle it was time to start searching for somewhere to bed down - where had the day gone? A brief descent down a leading spur and we were positioned over a promising headwater where three hinds fed below.

The following morning greeted us with a thin layer of mist hanging far below in the valley. Our campsite was literally at the top of the world with views that were worth every hour that we spent glassing from it. And without even moving an inch, we were able to count six deer (a mixture of hinds, yearlings, and one spiker) on the tussock terraces of the headwaters; eight chamois; and two bull tahr - probably the same two from the previous afternoon. It was the most remarkable campsite for glassing and we didn’t leave the place until well after lunch.

Several hours later we checked into base camp to dump supplies with the other two members of our party (Zane and TJ); strategically located at a fork in the gully. They were both over from Australia for their first times hunting in the South Island and they were in awe of the surrounding country. They’d hunted the tops for the first day, but were without a pair of adequate binoculars for glassing and so found spotting game difficult.

Pointing up river, I told them about a neat clearing, tucked hard up against the toe of a slope surrounded by stunted bush with a small creek running through it. “Watch over that patch for the last 30 minutes of light and see how you go”. On the map I highlighted the exact spot for an ambush and wished them luck. We dumped our week’s load of food with Zane & TJ, our spare tent, and any unnecessary clothing that we wouldn’t need for the next few days, and set off for the tops. Andre led the charge straight up behind camp to a favourite terrace of ours in hope we’d bump into Mr Stag.

I later discovered that Zane and TJ had watched an uneven 10 pointer feed out into the clearing 200 meters from where they were perched. Zane hummed and haaa’d about whether to shoot it, but eventually opted to leave him for another year, watching him until too dark to see. It takes a lot of inner reserve to pass up a stag, particularly if you’ve travelled from another continent, and particularly when many other hunters or WARO operators would simply bowl it on the spot. I could tell he was as proud as punch when telling us the story. And I was chuffed for him.

With half an hour of light to spare, within the “golden hour” as we call it, we broke into the tops, quickly dumped our packs at the flattest available site, and ducked up onto the main terrace to cast out a few roars. Sign was fairly abundant but the wind was all wrong!! Careful not to scent the area, we dropped back to our gear and set up for the night.

The following morning donned cool and overcast, revealing what we hoped were the first signs of Autumn. We quickly packed up camp, slung our bags, and cut back up onto the terrace finding a good vantage point next to a freshly used wallow overlooking a tight gully of cover nearby. Was today going to be our day? Andre cast out a couple of roars into the gully and we waited.

In the meantime I opted to glass the other side of the tributary through wafting cloud. Some nice fingers of tussock and small ledges were tucked in amongst large belts of alpine scrub; exactly the sort of place I’d hideaway if I were a stag. And after a few minutes of glassing, I picked up a couple of hinds with (another) young looking stag feeding through a broken gut scattered with scrub and tussock. The group were well higher than I had anticipated, feeding below bluffs at about 1300m asl.

As is often the case when hunting deer, take note of what elevation band your first animal sighted is at, and then proceed to scan the rest of the catchment at about that same contour. It is amazing how many animals share similar tendencies even though they may be bloody miles apart from each other. And any experienced stalker will give you the same advice when bush stalking… As soon as you hit that belt of fresh sign, that’s the elevation you want to hunt for the day! Stick to that “band”.

It was clear that we were still a bit early for the hinds to be cycling, and that the mature stags were still marking their territories on their own - letting the younger stags hang out with the hinds. But given another week or so when hinds began cycling and mature stags come rocking in, those younger stags would be left roaming the hills anxiously looking over their shoulder for fear of another bollocking. Nature has its own pecking order, and come crunch time, younger stags sit somewhere near the bottom of that hierarchy.

As the cloud finally lifted, a whole other world began to emerge. Ridge after ridge after ridge could be seen all the way toward the Main Divide. And we eagerly glassed for hour upon hour, spotting another dozen or so deer scattered throughout various pockets – none of which interested us much. So much country, and yet, so little time.

In fact, I’ve often said to my wife that when I die I want some of my ashes spread in this very spot I speak of. At least then, a part of me will be free to explore every nook and cranny for eternity, which would be about the length of time needed to do it properly!!

As the day wore on, we dropped into another watershed. I knew this particular system well enough to navigate it blind folded. As we descended down a boulderous side-creek, I pointed out to Andre where I’d recently taken a beautifully symmetrical 12 pointer which went 46 inches in length on his longest beam (43 inches on the other), and where I’d seen a promising eight pointer and a heavy timbered 10. Most stags in this general area miss their bez tines, but given time, their length and width can be most impressive.   

Once at the bottom of the catchment, we dumped our gear and set off up the opposite face to shoot some camp meat. Three deer fed within half an hour’s stalking distance of camp and the yearling had an “expiry date” branded on its rump. There’s only so long one can handle freeze dried food and tonight venison would feature on the menu.

Andre dropped the yearling on the spot and we quickly took to butchering it. In true form, Andre whipped up a helluva feast back at camp where we looked over maps and revised our route for the following day.

At first light we sidled straight into the headwaters and cut up to the true right; an area I shot for flat meat during my Uni days. We took a spur right up to the main ridge and then glassed for as far as our eyes could see. More clusters of deer were spotted, but again, they were mostly hinds and younger stags – some of which we’d seen the day before.

Andre pointed out a group of chamois that came into view and for a bit of entertainment we played tricks on them, walking four-legged across the skyline, whistling and carrying on like right lunatics doing handstands and clapping like a couple of kids. They stood motionless glaring at us for well over 30 minutes before they departed in the opposite direction. 

Andre picked a difficult route down through a set of bluffs for which I reluctantly followed. On several occasions I lost all confidence and felt my guts sink into my shins. A misplaced foot would result in certain peril and no amount of cursing helped my cause even in the slightest.

With no mature stags seen in the catchment, we packed up camp and fled for base. Zane filled us in on the story of the 10 pointer and we filled them in on the 50 odd deer that we’d seen to date.

That night we tuned into the radio forecast which predicted a Sou’Westerly front bringing low cloud and heavy showers to the high country. There wasn’t much point climbing into good alpine country if visibility was next to nothing, so each of us chose a bush terrace from the map for the following morning.

As expected, the next day brought wind and rain but clouds were higher than expected. Andre set off downstream along the true right while Zane and TJ went upstream on the true left. I ducked straight up onto a bush terrace on the true right where unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of fresh sign. Eager to climb higher, I followed a leading spur, casting out roars as I went. Eventually I stumbled onto a fresh (prominent) game trail that led me out onto tussock within an hour. Back into God’s country.

While having lunch I caught a faint roar echo from up valley. I gave a roar back which was answered shortly after, and within a matter of minutes I picked up a stag through the bino’s. He was a well developed nine pointer with a completely missing left brow tine. And it looked as though it would never grow. He had excellent length (approx 40 inches) and well developed top tines, but with such an obvious malformation I wasn’t interested in pursuing him. In fact, he was so heavy on the hoof that I think he may have been an old bugger going backwards? But I never got close enough to find out.

I returned to camp to tell Zane and TJ of this brow-less stag. At first they seemed disinterested, but after emphasizing his 40+ inch beams, and how it would do the genetics of the area good to remove such malformation, they obliged to try their luck the following day. And Andre decided to join us.

It was hosing down the following morning and wasn’t likely to ease up either.  We climbed further into the headwater through unrelentingly thick (and extremely wet) cloud, roaring as we went. Eventually we found ourselves amongst some of the most intense stripping of lancewood that I’ve ever seen. There were literally hundreds upon hundreds of meters of freshly stripped lancewoods! We immediately assumed it was Mr Brow-less and joked about finding his brow tine next to a tattered shrub.

As we broke out of the last section of mauled lancewoods, I cast out several challenging roars. A faint moan drifted down from further up valley and at that instant we all caught movement of a stag high up the slope through misty cloud. Through the spotting scope I counted at least 12 tines to begin with and then re-counted 14 the second time just to be sure. This wasn’t Mr Brow-less – this was a trophy.

We’d agreed back at camp that Mr Brow-less was to be Zane’s or TJ’s pick but that any trophy would hinge on a game of scissor’s, paper, rock between the three of them. I was intent on sitting this one out and assisting wherever possible.

Andre won with rock and asked if I’d come with him. Zane and TJ stayed back, keeping a close eye on things as we cut up into the tussock and sidled hard against the hillside. Wind and rain drove into our faces as we pulled our way up the wet, slippery face. And the higher we climbed, the less visibility we had.

I let out a roar, hoping to coax the stag down into view, and he replied soon after. Rain really started to set in. Then he roared again. “He’s coming towards us; get ready” I whispered… Moments later a break in the cloud gave Andre a clear shot.

At the rifle report the stag crumpled and rolled down hill at a helluva rate nearly taking one of the hinds with him. We found him several hundred meters below with one bez tine completely broken off, and the other all-but missing. He had 15 definitive points, but would only score on 12 of them due to unevenness.

By now it was pouring rain. A few snaps and a quick butchering later and we were scampering downhill towards the others. We reached camp just after dark, drenched and hungry, and had one of the more basic meals available – tuna on meal-mates.

The following morning greeted us with more rain and swollen rivers. We should have packed up and left the valley, but we were intent on sticking out the full eight days. Too keen or too stubborn. TJ and I shot up a side creek while Andre and Zane ducked up another. Today was our last day before the big walk out.

TJ and I came onto a young chamois buck with one horn, but TJ opted to leave him incase Mr Brow-less was around the next corner. In spite of this, we searched high and low without any such luck and eventually retreated for camp empty handed.

The other two climbed back into the tops for one last scout due to cloud lifting in their valley. Andre spotted a group of hinds bedded some distance away below a pass - with one large antlered stag in attendance. And on closer inspection identified him to be Mr Brow-less. Zane snuck into position and fired several shots, but unfortunately missed on all accounts.

Later, when revising maps back at camp, it appeared the shots were fired at well over 300 meters – a distance Zane wasn’t familiar with. The stag had retreated into another watershed altogether, and I later discovered that a close hunting friend took this animal the following year as a 40 inch long seven pointer (still missing his left brow tine).

Due to severely flooded rivers we were unable to return to our vehicle as planned and the Aussie boys subsequently missed their flight to Auckland.

All in all though, it hadn’t been a bad trip with a total of nearly 70 animals’ seen between us, and just over 110 km covered on foot. Despite the large number of young stags seen, we were hopeful in that they may someday develop into the 40 + inch trophies that the area is renowned for producing. The key to this, however, is remaining patient, being selective, and sustainably harvesting animals from your hunting grounds.

Until next Issue, good luck this roar, be safe, and be selective. MM out.

Rate: 
Votes: 39

Comments

Scott HamiltonFriday 15th July 2011 - 12.37pm
Very enjoyable.You get to see what the southern alps is like.
Thanks Guys
Wilhelm obrienMonday 23rd April 2012 - 10.07pm
shot bro mean read!!!

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