13 September 2023
Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Autumn Issue 220
Words By: NZDA Heritage Trust
G. G. Atkinson’s two magnificent Cataract Creek 1938 trophies from the like never seen before. The colours show in rich detail his heads, .303 rifle and binoculars. Left is a 17 pointer 39 inches in both spread and length. Right is known as one of the most outstanding wild red deer ever shot in New Zealand – 19 points, length 43 ½, width 44 ½, beam 8 ½ inches.
GORDON ATKINSON’S CATARACT CREEK HEADS
Gordon Atkinson was one of our early legendary hunters whose search for trophy red stags took him into many of the big West Coast Rivers that up until then had seen few hunters in their headwaters. He wrote the book Red Stags Calling which is a true hunting classic. The following is taken from the chapter detailing the epic hunt where he took two tremendous trophies in Cataract Creek which flows into the Whitcombe River.
‘’At the first glimpse of daylight we were astir and after a hasty, scrappy breakfast I was on my way. An hour later I had descended two thirds of the distance down to the valley floor and, squatting down, took out my glasses to look for my quarry. There he was, almost in the same spot where I had last seem him the previous afternoon and I continued my descent. On arrival below the huge bluffs that scared the slope I was descending, I made off upstream for a spot directly below the big stag. Just then a load roar a few hundred yards ahead decided me to investigate its source. Altering course I soon reached the crest of a small spur over-looking a small tussock-covered basin, and there, little more than a hundred yards ahead, stood a huge stag carrying a tremendous pair of antlers! I knew without putting the glasses on him that this was the head I had been seeking for so many years-this was the moment of truth!
The basin was in shadow with the silver rim of the high saddle ahead shining directly into my eyes-the stag was rear on to me and I decided to task a ‘’raker’’ shot, a most telling one if accurately placed. Exercising grim control over my feelings and with a full appreciation that this was a very great moment, I took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. The bullet sped over the stags head and hit a rock twenty yards ahead, sending up a cloud of dust. This had the effect of turning the now thoroughly alarmed beast so that he galloped in an arc across my way, and this time, making no mistake and knowing that I would perhaps get no more than one more shot after him, I carefully gave him a short lead and fired, scoring a heart shot that brought him down after a few more stumbling paces.
I sat down there and then to ease the tension of the last few seconds and, a few minutes later, I wandered over to appraise the kill. As I gazed down at those magnificent antlers, I experienced a pang of regret that such a beautiful animal should no longer live, but consoled myself in the knowledge that at least a dream had come true. Although I was aware he was magnificent in every way, it was not until the antlers were compared with other heads that I really appreciated his greatness.
A great roar from above brought me out of my reverie, and I set off again on the course I had mapped out the previous afternoon.
The early morning breeze was blowing from every point of the compass and I reckoned I’d need a lot of luck to keep clear of the numerous animals that I had seen the day before. I knew my one chance of success lay in speed, and I climbed until I fell from sheer exhaustion, then got up and climbed some more. A small stag and two hinds winded me and scampered off-downhill, much to my satisfaction. The faint deep roar still came to me from above and I pushed on with all speed. There was still room for hope as he had not winded me, and the breeze had quietened down to a steady zephyr that blew in my face, so the stalk was working out pretty well.
Carefully working my way around the base of a gigantic slab of rock that I had settled on as a marker for my route, I found myself within fifty yards of three spikers quietly grazing. I picked up a stone and tossed it at them and they moved off, not knowing what had disturbed them. Another deep roar from above indicated that I was getting close, and I climbed fast in hope of jumping him in his lair. Just as I was about to peer into the small basin where he was holding his harem, he let out such a terrific roar that I almost took off! It was quite fantastic, and I’ve never heard anything like it, before or since. Releasing the safety catch and with the rifle at the ready I quietly topped the crest and there he was in the act of raising his head to roar again, not more than thirty yards off. I shot him in the neck and he crumpled where he stood. Though not up to super head standard, a big strong head of 17 points’’.
Reference: Red Stags Calling, G. G. Atkinson, Reed 1974.