Life is a journey they tell us and I believe it so.
I guess you could say my hunting journey really started with my Dad who had to teach himself to shoot and hunt as his father had died very young. Then my father past his knowledge on to not only my brother and I but cousins and various other friends.
This particular part of my journey I am about to tell is but a snap-shot, a glimpse, a blink of the eye.
It started as much as I can tell in late March when my fiancee and I moved house from Raglan to Tirau.
The first load to the new house was the contents of our garage (my garage). Amongst the fishing rods, hunting gear, tools and paraphernalia was my Deep Freeze with a stack of venison.
Steak, mince and stew, all very tasty Sika meat.
I plugged the freezer in and was content to hear the whir of the motor as it sparked into life. I deposited from the chilli bin my prized venison and walked away knowing it was safe and sound.
Five days later after finishing our horrendous move I enter the garage and notice a distinct smell….
my shoulders sagged as I lifted the lid to smell, see and feel warm, off, meat. Gutted.
Never mind I told myself, the roar of 2014 is almost upon us, I will have no problems restocking the larder.
Trip One to the land of Sika deer:
Tia (my trusty deer hound) and I head to our favourite patch of beech forest, we sidle over a couple of ridges to get above a small terrace where I know a stag should be. As I push through a final patch of manuka at the ridge head, I glimpse some movement out of the corner of my eye, low and behold there is a stag 25 yards away, we are well and truly busted, he bolts before I can even contemplate lifting my rifle.
My attempts to call him back are no avail.
On to the next spot for the last few hours of light. We approach a bench where there is always a scrape or two, set myself up and let out a single call “mmeeeeyaaaawwww” clatter,crack ,crash I hear a deer run off from only fifteen yards away, a few soft mews but again the deer does not return. So I head over to where I heard the commotion and here is a fresh scrape, warm pee and all. I had spooked him right off while he was doing his bizzo!
And so the trip ensued, I bumped deer, I spooked deer and never got a shot away.
Then to top it off in a moment of brain fade I lean my rifle up against the car and nock it over smashing my rifle video cam and when I get home my hand video camera dies on me.
Trip Two the following weekend:
We work our way to a ridge top, the breeze gently blowing in our faces, last weekends mistakes behind us, I start to think of a where to set up for a roar. I settle in, get Tia at my feet and let out a couple of single calls. Within a few minutes Tia is tracking noise and a deer circles us just out of eye sight, until he cuts our wind and ghosts off.
Mumbling to myself about the luck I am having I decide to move us to the next main ridge. Approaching the apex, instead of going down the ridge something makes me want to sidle up into a tongue of manuka, normally I would do a scan with my binos but instead I bowl on up and walk straight into a stag, who proceeds to dive into the scrub yapping profusely on his way. Again I try to call the stag back, again to no avail. Now I am really starting to doubt myself…
Heading back I see a yearling, just fifty yards away, broad side on, standing still…… I squeeze the trigger “crack” goes the .338 I see the deer raise up spin and disappear. With supreme confidence of a job well done I approach where the yearling was standing, fully expecting to see it dead on the spot….. no dead deer, no hair, no blood. I send Tia off to find it still expecting it to be within twenty yards. Tia is gone ten minutes, my heart sinks, I call her back and get her to lead me on its trail. We follow for 200-300 yards no sign of it. For the life of me I do no know how I could have missed but missed I did. (perhaps nocking off the video cam put my rifle out, so I check my rifle on a 250ml coke bottle at 50m, the coke bottle didn’t survive).
Day two, more stuff ups, starting to wonder what I have done to offend the hunting gods, I feel Tia is not looking at me with respect anymore….
Trip Three, the next weekend:
Friday, I arrive late as I waited for a battery to see if it fixes my dead video camera, it didn’t…
I decided to go where I got a cracker 8 pointer in 2012, a great spot, not high numbers but I know it very well.
Tia and I are walking up the first ridge when I see some branches swaying (there is no wind), I look with my binos, but what ever it was is gone. We approach the ridge head and I see a sika hind running hell for leather down the opposite ridge, it disappears into a thick peperwood gulley.
Thinking to myself maybe there is a stag close by, I formulate a plan to roar from the gulley head which is only forty yards away. Just as I am setting up to give a roar I see a set of antlers spin in the pepperwood, less than twenty yards away, he bolts down the ridge following where the hind went. I feel like smacking my head against a beech tree.
This time when I call the stag comes back but as he approaches something tells him it’s a no go and he bolts yet again yapping his head off.
Now I am really getting fed up and stomp my way out and wouldn’t you know it, I see another hind running frantically for cover. I feel the gods must hate me…
Saturday, up early, conditions are perfect, misty drizzle, light breeze, I tell myself “today my luck changes”.
In the beech, getting close to a spot with some good scrapes Tia locks up, I can’t see anything with my binos so I take a step to my right and see a stag disappearing over the ridge. Tia looks over her shoulder at me and I am sure she rolled her eyes and shook her head in disapproval.
Deciding to move past the scrapes to the next territory I am brought to a halt by a stag yapping from behind us. I drop to a crouch and yap back, eventually I see the stag walking and stop between the beech trees. Hesitating I take a couple of seconds to make up my mind to take the shot, I commit to squeezing the trigger, breath out and start the process which is second nature to me only to see the stag bolt a fraction of a second before the rifle goes off, the crack of rifle echoes in the mist, the stag continues to yap as it gets further and further away. Tia looks at me, looks at where the deer went, looks at me again and I swear she let out a sigh.
Evening time, new spot, same drama. Stag comes into my roar, circles cuts our wind and bolts off. Beginning to think this is my worst roar ever, will I ever get a deer again…
Sunday, conditions are perfect yet again.
This time as we get close to the chosen spot I hear two different stags hehaw, one whose call I recognise from last year, a very high pitch throughout instead of the classic deeper “aaawww” (last year I nick named him “Squeeky” and another with a good throaty second tone.
I set us up between the two, right near a very fresh scrape. “Meeeeeyaaawwww” I let out a single call. Almost immediately “throaty” replies with a single call, so answer again with the same. This time a hear a faint “mmmmeeeeee” and half a minute later the same again. So I mew softly back.
I can feel Tia trembling at my calf and look down and see her staring hard into the scrub, crack, crack, something approaches. I see a pair of antler tops, my heart skips, we wait, we wait, over two minutes go by, now I see a head and ears, I close my bolt and raise the .338 to my shoulder as the stag steps out into the open less than ten yards away I focus on his shoulder and squeeze the trigger.
The rifle cracks, the stag charges straight at us, I frantically work the bolt and feed another round, the stag veers off three yards away and I hip shoot as he passes at two. The stag disappears behind us and I am sure I hear it fall.
It has all been to much for Tia and she bolts after the stag, next thing I hear her yap, something she doesn’t normally do on a dead deer and I get anxious. But as I walk over Tia comes running back, does a couple of victory loops and runs back into the pepperwood.
And there lying in the pepperwood is my first stag for the roar 2014, a beauty little 8 pointer and a good solid Sika stag. In that moment I realise that I appreciate this deer so much more for all the trials and tribulations I have had on the journey so far.
The next day I went out with my Bow and got a primo fat sika spiker, my very first deer with a bow, but that’s another part of the journey….