Paul O’Donoghue’s report on the 16th -19th April Wanganui Fallow Hunt on Aranui Hill Station.
We set off from Carterton on Thurs 16th April afternoon around 4pm for the 2.5hr drive to Wanganui and hit our first hiccup when we found the main Manawatu gorge road closed due to a slip.
This was no great inconvenience, in that there are alternative routes over the mountains where the Ruahine range meets the Tararua range and we took the Saddle Road over to Ashhurst and continued onto to Bulls for dinner.
As we approached Wanganui we took the road to Fordell and then the Kauangaroa Road to Mangamahu. We had barely started the journey towards Aranui Station, when we received a call from the Wairarapa Club Chairman, Martin Amos, (who was well ahead of us) to turn back as the road was washed out due to a major slip, just before the turnoff to the hill station we were hunting on.
After several phone calls to various parties it was decided to re-route and take a 2hr detour into Aranui Station via the main state highway 4 from Wanganui to National Park and Fields Track to Kakatahi and then back down Whangaehu River Valley Road to the station.
We travelled in convoy, with fingers crossed that we would not encounter any more road closures and eventually reached our destination around 10pm. Everyone unpacked at the shearers quarters, found a spare bunk and hit the hay, for an early first morning hunt on Friday 17th April.
The club members had five quad bikes between us to allow hunters to team up and spread out safely over the 3000 odd acres of hill farm country, without interfering with each others hunting area.
I was teamed up with club chairman Martin Amos and we had barely got up the first hill track and out of the yards, when we spotted a melanistic fallow buck and group of does at about 200m, down a gully towards the Whangaehu River Valley Road.
Martin asked if I wanted to have a crack at him, so I hurriedly dismounted from the bike, grabbed my .270 rifle from the rack in front of the handle bars and put my backpack down on the ground as a rest, near the edge of the track, so I could take the shot prone.
The buck was completely oblivious to our presence and continued to busily round up his does on a steep slope below. As soon as I had him in my sights, I waited for him to pause his assent and hit him on the shoulder for a hopefully safe killing shot. I did not hear the hit and he kept running, so at first I thought “my god I’ve missed” but after a few more lunges up hill, he turned back down and rolled over, dead on his feet, to my great relief.
So having only just started the weekend’s stalking, I had already achieved the first kill and then decided that I would just relax and enjoy everyone else’s exploits for the next few days, as I did not particularly want to kill any more animals, unless we would be eating them.
As you can see from the photos the farm terrain is fairly typical of Taranaki parapara sheep/beef hill blocks in the country south of the central Tongariro National Park volcanic mountain region.
With plenty of bush gullies for cover and extensive areas of open hill pasture it suits the fallow deer herds and certainly in the past their population has approached pest status on this particular farm, which is why the farmer is keen to keep their numbers manageable, so they don’t conflict with the sheep/beef farming operation.
Even though deer numbers are seriously depleted from previous years, there is no shortage of animals and I personally would have seen close to 200 deer over the course of the weekend and could probably have shot 10, if I’d particularly wanted to.
It was great hearing all the stories at the end of each day and having a laugh at the various cockups and mishaps, which we all experience whilst hunting.
The Wairarapa club chairman Martin Amos is a particularly experienced hunter and I certainly appreciated being able to tag along on a few of his stalks and also be driven over spectacular, but quite dangerous slippery clay hill country, by someone who is a safe quad bike operator.
On the Saturday morning Martin and I teamed up with another group, who were after some more meat animals and to assist with spotting from the hilltops. One of the team leaders was unlucky enough to wound a deer and we went back to help him locate and dispatch the animal.
Soon enough we spooked it out of cover and spotted it scooting around the hill on three legs and looking like it might run all day. So we decided to split up and I climbed a nearby hill to act as spotter. I eventually found it curled up, hiding in tussock grass in a gully and called in reinforcements, as I did not have my rifle with me at the time.
It decided to make a break for it, but luckily Martin was able to finish it off with his 22-250 as it headed off at full pelt across the hill, from whence it came. Nothing worse in my book than losing a wounded animal, so I took great satisfaction in being able to help locate it.
Over the course of the weekend most hunters shot at least a couple of deer each and certainly for the more novice hunters it was a great opportunity to see and stalk deer without worrying too much about being seen or heard, as the deer are well used to seeing farm workers out and about on a regular basis.
All in all a fantastic weekend, with lots of successful stalks, great food and company and plenty of laughs. I for one will certainly be heading back there for next years Fallow rut.