We reached the top of the track and Andrew said “there’s a deer just over there near those horses. Do you see it?” I looked below the horses and saw a shadow. On second look, I saw the outline of a deer. It wasn’t particularly dark, but the animal was in shadow and had dark fur. A fallow deer, Dama dama. Target species.
“Do you want to take it?” he asked.
What I thought was “Give me a momentto assess it. I am after a couple of deer for the freezer and want to make sure I don’t waste my limited opportunities. I haven’t done this for a couple of years, and need to get my eye back in.”
What I ACTUALLY said was ‘’It’s too early, isn’t it?” Sometimes, I wish my brain would engage properly before my mouth fired up. We then noticed the other two does that had been standing there in plain sight, maybe 150 metres away. Sneaky buggers!
I decided it was worth taking one, and rested the rifle on the tool box on the front of the quad. The deer was slowly moving towards the skyline. Then it and its companions walked up and over. There was no way to take a safe shot, then they were gone. At this point, I felt that, as we were clearly in the zone with the deer, it was time to start walking. I prefer to walk when hunting, and am quite happily hunting alone. I like the solitude. As we parted was, I put my bike helmet on a fence post, planning to retrieve it later in the day.
This was my first trip to Aranui, and my first trip ever with the Wairarapa Deerstalkers. The area Aranui is in had suffered badly from the storms and floods a few weeks back, and there were signs and slips everywhere. Tracks were washed out, there were a couple of sheep carcasses where the sheep had sunk to the gunwales and drowned on the track. But there were deer here, and I was confident I’d get the two deer I’d planned on as part of the cull.
I walked up the track, intending to drop over the next rise and see if the trio we’d just watch run away were still in the vicinity. They weren’t but a young male soon popped his head over the rise, and I lay down on the track and carefully and quietly slid a round into the chamber. The deer walked in front of a sheep, and I got a proper sense of its size. It wasn’t a fawn… just. Carefully and quietly I unloaded, and watch the little fella bound away.
I walked on perhaps another kilometre, stopping every hundred yards or so to scan the surrounding hills with the binoculars.
Suddenly, ahead and to the left, I saw 8 or 9 deep grey animals moving quickly up the hill. I dropped to the ground. Very slowly and very quietly, I raised my head and saw the group of what appeared to be bachelor males. They’d stopped near the fence line at the top of the hill, just over six hundred metres away. Then, a group of does came up out of the next little gut, only a couple of hundred metres away. There was maybe 25 or 30 deer in this matron’s herd.
One of them leapt over the fence and mingled with the cattle in the paddock I was in. I’d ranged the cattle a few minutes early while checking out the bucks, so had a good sense of how far the does were from me.
The one feeding near the cattle was maybe 200 metres away, a nice easy shot for the Tikka M595 .243W I was carrying, and a range I often practice at. Recalling the easy deer I’d passed over earlier while deciding to shoot or not, I felt that taking this easy deer for the freezer was probably a very good idea.
She moved closer to me.
I very carefully and very quietly chambered a round.
The deer was maybe 150 metres away now, and walking slowly towards me. She was well clear of the cattle in the paddock, and presented a near-perfect shot. As she turned even more towards me, it became very apparent she was very, very pregnant. Very carefully and very quietly, I unchambered the round. The deer scented me just after this and bolted back over the fence, and into the larger mob of does.
The bucks were still feeding at the top of the hill, and there was a small patch of bush on the track about 400 metres further along. I felt that I could make it to that patch unseen, set up a good solid shooting position and wait for one of the spikers or scrubby bucks to drop far enough below the skyline to present a safe shot.
Quietly, I walked up the hill, made the small patch of bush and set the rifle on its bipod. The position wasn’t ideal, but I could see the tops of antlers over the bush at the top of the hill and knew it was only a matter of time before one of the deer walked into clear sight. All of the animals were either spikers or bucks, making the decision process much easier. Any of the group would suit my purpose for collecting some venison.
Then… I caught a movement out of my left eye. I slowly moved my eyeback from the scope and turned my head.
A small buck with an even looking rack was moving up the hill on the other side of the gully. It was no more than 150 metres away, and appeared to be completely oblivious to my presence. This was too good a chance to pass up. It was a good looking animal, bigger than the spiker moving with it, and was presenting a very clear shot indeed. I rolled over, and moved the rifle to a new position. The buck still seemed not to see me.
I adjusted the bipod and had a closer look at the buck through the scope. He looked good!
I chambered a round.
I squeezed the trigger.
The deer rolled down the hill, kicking convulsively as he fell. I pulled out the magazine then opened the chamber on the rifle. Confirming it was clear and safe, I moved back to look at the deer. Its head was up.
I lay back down, reloaded and very carefully fired a second shot. This time, there was no mistake. It later turned out that the first shot had gone higher than I’d planned. Again unloading and confirming the rifle was clear, I retrieved my pack and worked my way around the hill and to the deer. It took me a while to get to him, and when I did, was a little disappointed with the antlers, but I’d taken my first buck. It was only 8:30 in the morning, but it felt like lunch time, so I cracked the sandwiches and bottle of water and had “lunch”. I then set to gutting the buck.
I am NOT fast at this process, having only done it infrequently, and not recently at that. But eventually I had the head off, the guts out and the animal ready to carry to a pick up point on the track.
And then I heard the sound of small hooves on the hill behind me.
A spiker popped over the rise, ran past me and stopped maybe 20 metres away. I had a conundrum. My camera and rifle were equidistant from me. Which should I grab?
I decided to reach for the rifle, as I wanted two deer for the freezer if possible. Taking the magazine from my pocket and slipping it into the rifle, I took a quick rest on my knees, lined up a high neck shot and squeezed the trigger.
The spiker rolled down the hill stone dead.
Two deer and it wasn’t quite 10am. This was working out pretty well. All I had to do was get them both to a track and I could relax. There was no way I was going to climb up to the track with both deer, but there was a lower track. It would be downhill all the way.
I got the deer on my back, stood up and headed off down the hill. For about 2 minutes. I went down after hitting a slick patch on the hill. I climbed back up. Walked a couple of metres, sat down.
Tried to stand up, couldn’t. Tired to remove the deer from my back. Couldn’t.
Great, I thought. I am going to die on this stinking hill with a dead deer strapped to my back. Perfect.
Eventually I wriggled out, and managed to drag the deer down to where I needed to hang it for pick up. I hung my blaze vest (I was still wearing a blaze cap) on the tree, and returned to gut and collect the other deer.
I’d just started when a quad came up the track. It was Andrew and his son. Seeing I had an animal, Andrew offered advice as I worked
‘’Are you giving it one?’’, he yelled.
I am very slow when cleaning deer. I may have mentioned this above…
Eventually, I had its guts out, Andrew gave it a quick look over, then very kindly finished picking out the bits of the guts I’d missed, picked up the carcase while I got my pack, rifle and the two heads. While walking back, Andrew told me that the horses near where we’d seen the first deer of the morning had found my motorbike helmet and were playing polo with it when he’d rescued it.
I hit a slippery patch and fell again. This time, instead of just bouncing, I managed to skewer my hand on the spiker’s antler. Hurt like hell. Still, you should see the other guy.
And that was pretty much it for the day. Andrew had my deer on the quad in no time and we headed back to the shearers quarters. The quarters were warm and fairly comfortable, and after a shower and a meal, all I wanted to do was sleep. I don’t remember much after 9 o‘clock that night….
I’ll be back another day. Originally from Australia, I recently became a citizen of New Zealand (it was just under a week before the trip) and one thing I love about this country is the countryside. I truly love walking around the hills with or without a rifle. Thank you for the opportunity and for the fantastic trip, guys!