12 October 2012Thought we might pull another hunt from one of my hunting journals... This while I’m out chasing critters, quite frankly.. New Zealand.... The trip home from Auckland, New Zealand to the USA was a seemingly long and bumpy one. Over the years I’ve spent many, many days in the air, either as a passenger on a commercial airliner or as an observer in a helicopter doing game surveys years ago. But frankly I could not remember a bumpier ride and for such a long time. Sleep, I had hoped to get on the ride home, eluded me. So sitting there in somewhat cramped quarters for someone of my 6 feet 3 inch height in the second to last row, my knees mashed into the seat in front of me, I had plenty of time to reflect upon the fabulous hunting trip I had just finished with Shane and Vanessa Johnston’s Four Seasons Safaris. As you will recall I mentioned heading that direction two blogs before this one. New Zealand is one of my favorite hunting destinations, home to red stags and numerous other fabulous game animals. Red stags are one of my three most favorite game animals in the world...I’ll let you guess the other two. I dearly love red stags, each one although when it comes to the antler department may be somewhat similar they are all different! Finding one that has long beams, long lower points and huge crowns, with truly impressive mass is hard to find. I’ve hunted them in Austria (for true mountain stags), in Argentina, in the states, and in New Zealand, where some of the largest stags in the world live. At the 2011 Dallas Safari Club Convention as well as the Houston Safari Club Convention I spoke with Shane Johnston with Four Seasons Safaris. I’ve known Shane and his gracious and lovely wife Vanessa for several years. Numerous friends have hunted with them in the past. Each and every one told upon their return stories of big stags, fabulous food and facilities, as well as great hunting for chamois, tahr and fallow, and what a fabulous time and hunting trip they had had. And how special Shane and Vanessa were. After having visited at length with Shane in Dallas, then while in Houston I confirmed a hunt with him, with emphasis on a massive and big red stag, and if time permitted to be able to also hunt chamois. The chamois, a rather small goat-like animal, whose scientific name is Rupicapra. Rupicapra was introduced into New Zealand near Mount Cook on the South Island in 1904 and 1907. In New Zealand they are only found on the South Island. I’ve hunted them briefly in Austria a few years ago and have hunted them twice (successfully I might add in New Zealand). They live high in the mountains and are a fabulous mountain game. In my opinion they don’t get near the credit they should! I dearly hoped we would have time after my stag hunt to pursue them. It’s a tough hunt whether you hunt them on foot or use a helicopter (an accepted and legal way in New Zealand) to get to the tops of the Swiss Alps to help locate them, or simply drop you off in an area. My intentions, again time and weather permitting, were to hunt them on foot, spending considerable time glassing, spotting a candidate and then executing a stalk. As it turned out...well let’s first address red stags. March is early fall in the southern hemisphere and as the month turns toward April the “roar” or red stag rut begins. For those of you have never heard the roar of a red stag, once you do you’ll understand why it’s called “the roar”. As one of my New Zealand friends says, “Your elk, mate have a high shrill voice....almost feminine, whereas our red stag have a much more masculine voice, one that leaves little doubt it was made by a truly magnificent male!” Well, I do love the sound of our wapiti in the fall, but I admit being a bit more partial to the roar of the red stag! I timed my hunt so I would be in New Zealand the tail end of March and very early April. Ideal time to hunt rutting and roaring red stags...albeit well before the chamois and tahr breeding season. After flying from San Antonio to Los Angeles, then onto Auckland on the North Island, clearing customs and procuring my gun permit (both of which were truly quick and easy) my cameraman/field producer Blake Barnett and I flew to Christchurch. We had arranged to spend the night in Christchurch and film some of the recent earthquake damage before Vanessa was to pick us up the next morning to journey to Terrace Downs and the Quickenberry Guest House. I was amazed at the damage caused in parts of the city, which I remembered from past trips there as one of the most beautiful cities I had ever visited. In spite of tremendous damage in some areas, the spirit of the people and country had not been broken. That became quickly evident! Next morning Vanessa picked us up. About an hour later we pulled up to the Quickenberry Guest House owned and managed by Christine and Robi Koller, not only gracious hosts but also fabulous chefs! A shot time later we gathered up our gear, headed to the range with Shane and made certain both my Ruger Model 77 .270 Win International and Model 77 .300 RCM were still sighted in where they were before I left the states. The .270 put the 130 grain Hornady SST right where it was supposed to, same with the 165 grain GMX Hornady in the .300 RCM. Pays to shoot great guns, use great ammo, topped with great Zeiss scopes! After a gourmet meal followed by a good nights sleep we were up early that morning and headed south to the unbelievably beautiful Sefton property in the Hunter’s Hills. There for the next two days we spent glassing for a monstrous stag, found a couple, actually many...but Shane suggested we could find bigger. I put all my trust in him. We looked over several really good fallow bucks as well, and then too looked at several chamois. Shane will start hunting this area for chamois in a couple of years. I forgot to mention our long trip from base camp to the cabin high in the mountains near the western edge of the property was a “fun” one. The wind and rain blew hard, and we waited for it slow down... it was not to be. Late that afternoon Shane told us to put on rain gear and get ready for a long, wet ride into camp, facing into the wind and rain. I dearly loved the journey in the open front and top Polaris. It was great! The second evening there I got a chance to shoot a wallaby, which on Sefton is a huge problem. They’re every where and if the population is not kept in check, it would ruin the gorgeous habitat! I was glad to do my small part. Before leaving, as the sun should have been setting, but was obscured by fog, rain and low hanging clouds, Shane suggested Blake shoot an ancient stag as we were headed down the hill to head back to Terrace Downs. I handed by Ruger 77 .270 to him and he made a great shot as I ran camera. From the time we spotted the stag, made the stalk, and Blake shot the stag, it was less than 45 minutes. When the stag went down we hurriedly took some photos, then I caped the stag as Shane went to find the Polaris. We drove back to Terrace Downs that night, celebrating and telling stories about past hunts and those we still hoped to experience. Early morning arrived quickly...like anywhere else it doesn’t take long to spend a night in hunting camp. We spent the day hunting with Jim Gibson, Shane right hand guide, as Shane had some things he needed to take care of. We looked at many stags, put the stalk on several then decided to hold off to see what else we could find that day. Jim I learned had spent time riding bareback in rodeos in North America, and also guided some in Canada as well. We truly enjoyed his company. Next morning we hunted once again with Shane. We started in the low country and slowly crawled our way up the mountain at the Mount Hutt Station (ranch). We spotted several good stags at great distances... Stags were roaring all around us! It was fabulous! Then down below in a deep cut draw Shane spotted what immediately appeared to be a stag that bore much more investigation. A quick cursory look confirmed he was tremendously massive, long main beamed, with lots of points. A turn of the head showed he had great crowns that seemed to palmate. “Looks like a good stag Mate. Think we better have a better look. Let’s see if we can get closer.” We did over a long period of time, crawling down, trying to get by a lesser stag and some hinds. Finally we were set up where we could get a much better look at him. Then just as we did he laid down. “About time, stags usually lay down in the morning from about 10 until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We should move closer.” We did and set up within about 80 yards of where the stag was bedded. He wasn’t aware of our presence. I set up my BOG Pod RLD shooting sticks and rested the Ruger 77 .300 RCM in preparation for the shot. I could see his rack and head, but not his body. But, when he stood up, I’d have a perfect shot. Little did I know the wait would be almost 4 hours before the stag decided to rise, and did then only after another stag started rubbing his antlers just to the left and above where “my” stag was bedded. Finally the stag rose, immediately my crosshairs came to bear right behind his shoulder. I squeezed the trigger on the .300 RCM. I saw the stag rock backwards, Quickly bolted in a fresh round and immediately shot him a second time. He was down. Moments later I stood by my red stag’s side. There beside me lay an absolute monster, massive, palmated, many pointed dream come true.