Growing up as a kid on the foothills of the Ruahines it was inevitable that one day I’d be learning my trade amongst the steep leatherwood choked gullies and beautiful rolling tussock tops.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time travelling and hunting my way around this magnificent piece of North Island high country, my favourite time would be during summer as I’m searching for some Christmas venison high above the bush line. However, of course I love it in the winter; lower down hunting the riverbeds and many of the slips the rhinos is well known for.
I’ve spent many weekends hunting up above the Rangiwahia hut usually just overnight trips when the weather allowed. Anyone that’s been up here would understand it’s a great place, golden tussock stretching as far as the eye can see. Looking east towards the Hawks Bay I often wondered what was over that last ridge 15km on the horizon. The country looks amazing, big but amazing and I have said to myself numerous times that one day I’ll get over there for a look….
Fast forward a year or 3 and I was talking to a good friend Mark about getting back up there for a look.. Mark been a bit of a rhino veteran of 30 years & mentioned there was one part of the area that he’s yet to walk and that’s from Rangi hut to the Mill Rd car park. It was the same area I’d often wondered about myself so I said well lets bloody do it then! Over the next few weeks we waited for a window of weather that would allow us hopefully 3 days of fine weather to hunt our way across. Eventually we saw a big high that was going to park himself in the Tasman and we were off.
The start of the trip was our destination; Mill Rd car park as we had to make the 2 hr drive to drop a car off for our ride home. Once that was done we headed around to the Rangi car park arriving at about 8pm on a Sunday evening and started the first leg of our trip to the hut for that night. Once we arrived we had a quick feed and hit the sack as the next day was to be a big one and we were keen to get going early.
Up at about 5am and out the door by 530 in the dark, over the next 7 or so hours we walked, hunted and glassed our way up the leading ridge from the hut and worked our way around to a small saddle situated below, about 2hours past the triangle hut turn off and the only spot we could find with any water! The summer had taken its toll on the tops with the usual reliable tarns all but dried up. So far we’d seen a couple of deer but been so early in the trip and with still many kms to go we elected to leave them in hope we could find something a little closer to the car. The day was pretty uneventful although as the sunset hit us, the deer started appearing at will all around us. Lots of young velvet stags and hinds with fawns.
This trip was my first rhino hunt with my bow and I was hoping to make my first deer a public land red. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy hunting the tussock armed with a stick and string but I was up for the challenge! Watching and filming the local deer while Mark tried his luck further along the ridge I got dinner sorted and hit the sack pretty knackered but very excited to see what day 2 brings..
Another early start and Mark and I had the Huntech bevy packed away and working our way up a leading ridge heading towards the trickiest part our the crossing a high point with a set of bluffs around the top that on a windy day would be a tricky little traverse but thankfully the weather was ok and we made our way around without much hassle. As we did, we caught a glimpse of the Sawtooth Ridge a very impressive part of the rhinos and perfect red deer country. It was nearing lunchtime and we decided to stop for a bit to eat. While having a quick glass between watching my noodles cook I saw the biggest mob of red deer I’d seen in 10 years of hunting the range, about 1km away on a sunny north facing spur. I had picked up that familiar sight of bright orange in the tussock then more and more deer appeared all bedded enjoying the sun chewing their cud. There was around 10-12 (I know its not huge numbers) but normally I’d be lucky to see a mob of only 4 or 5. We were still a long way from the deer but they were close to a campsite we were considering staying at so we carried on in hope that that evening I’d get a chance at hunting these deer with my bow.
Eventually we made the campsite at about 3-4pm and with it been still extremely hot we were thankful there was some water in a local tarn. Ditching the packs and relaxing in the afternoon sun, we planned an evening hunt where Mark was to go into a gully behind camp and myself below camp looking for the suspects seen earlier that day.
As I dropped down through the tussock, the sign was impressive and the deer had been enjoying themselves in the tussock for some time. I had around 200-300m vertical drop to get within 100m of where the deer were last seen, the plan was to sit tight in a fold and hope the deer feed up during the evening parallel to me offering me a stalk or shot. Everything was going to plan! I had only been waiting 5mins when I spotted a red spiker feeding below me with the wind drifting up, still I was fully aware that it would soon change so I had to act quick! I started a brisk stalk straight at the deer and over the next 3-5mins I edged closer with my desired range been 40yards or less. However, as I’m sure all have experienced, I was about half way there when the wind caught up with me to send a small puff in his direction and he was off! Buggar!! Deer 1 Me 0
I was pretty gutted but that’s bow hunting for you. I could have easily shot him with a rifle 10 times over but my new limit of 40 yards was proving to be a real handicap on my success!
But you can’t continue to beat around the bush and I had to accept that this was what I’d signed up for. Luckily, with it been so early in the evening I climbed back up onto the main ridge and headed south to see what I could find and scare away. I hunted my way about a 1km from camp when I spotted a second deer, this one was still a good 500-600m away and hard to tell if it was a stag or hind. I got the camera set up zoomed in for a closer look confirming my thoughts a STAG! You beauty! I planned out a decent spot for a stalk; he was feeding in amongst some leatherwood and tussock right on the edge before dropping into some horrible tight scrub.
I was off… I covered the first 400m in about 10mins flat. I was running, as I knew it was a race against time due to the evening getting on & the wind if not already would be begin the drop into the valleys making an approach from the top impossible. Once I reached a leading ridge that the bench he was on came off at about 50m below I was hesitant to peer over worried the wind would be dropping taking my scent with it. Lucky it wasn’t! The sun was still hitting the face making the air rise so I had a chance, as I looked over I couldn’t see him but knew he may of fee lower meaning I would be able to see him without stalking onto the bench and peering over the lip. I edged slowly and as quietly as possible & at this stage my heart was fair pumping in fact I was worried if the stag was there he’d hear it. I picked a spot I wanted to reach, the plan was draw back stand up and shoot him at hopefully 20 yards.
As soon as I reached my shooting spot, I drew, stood up and buggar me he wasn’t there! What had happened?? I was bloody quiet, the wind was good, he must of bedded down? I looked hard but nothing. Boy was I disappointed! Thinking I’d lost my chance again, I looked to my right and out the corner of my eye there was an antler waving around and a head bobbing up and down feeding 25 yards away completely unaware of my presence.. Hell Yes I thought!
I crouched back down, un-drew the bow, got myself together then drew again, stood up and took aim… he was broadside head down feeding and I was shooting at a step down hill angle meaning I wanted the arrow to enter top of the shoulder out the bottom off side. I took aim shaking like hell but waited till I was confident and released my muzzy 100g mx3 at the shoulder. At contact he jumped signaling a good hit and crashed off into the leatherwood and tussock out of site. I took a minute to take it all in but knew he was buggered, the shot felt and looked good surely he couldn’t of gone far.
I give him 10 minutes then headed down to where he was last seen before the shot. Immediately I spotted blood and lots of it, I looked for my arrow but no joy so tracked the blood for 15m max and there he was my first deer shot with a bow; a Ruahine red stag in possibly the most remote part of the park, I was stoked!! My shot had clean passed through both shoulders leaving a paint trail of blood that you could see in the dark. After getting a few photos I set about butchering him up for the slog back to camp. Arriving at camp well after dark Mark was a little worried as we’d planned to meet back at 7.30 to but I was an hour or 2 late but was worth it. That night sleep came easy and we were up at the crack of dawn for the final leg down into the Tukituki River then out to the car. It was a real slog with a pack full of venison but I was very grateful to finally have secured my first bow deer and very happy it was from a stomping ground that means a lot to me. It was late in the day when 2 very tired and hungry hunters finally hit the car and ditched the packs. We’d made it in one peace from the west side to the east, 3 days seeing 30+ deer and some great country. I’d recommend to everyone to pick up a bow one day and try your luck, it really has opened my eyes to the skill these guys display shooting animals at very close ranges. I’m still an absolute beginner and have a lot to learn but fingers crossed it is the first of many to come