Hutt Valley Branch Meat Hunt
15 March 2023
Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Issue 218 Spring
Words By: Ted Wellstood
The plan was for a mid-March private land Fallow and goat meat hunt, leaving Wellington late Friday morning and returning Sunday. The weather had come to the table with blue skies promised and calm winds for the weekend.
First point of call was for a final roll call for those attending at the Plimmerton weigh station which saw the final number of the group at nine. There was a fair mix of experience ranging from recent HUNT course graduates, weekend warriors and even an ex-deer culler.
The somewhat spread-out convoy of vehicles made its way up the West Coast through Whanganui before taking a gravel road up to the station we were to hunt. Driving along the 30km gravel road we smelt something in the air, looking to our right we could see that the top of the hill was on fire. We stopped to have a quick look before continuing on, hopefully it wasn’t a bad omen for the weekend.
We met the station manager around 3:00pm and went through introductions, safety instructions and got some information on the lay of the land. We then headed to our camping spot which consisted of a hut with long drop (no power) that slept three with a BBQ (sweet!), a partially converted bus and tons of space to camp with an ex-prize breeding horse that was now blind wandering semi-randomly around the area.
We swiftly threw down camp, eager to try and capitalize on the remaining light left for our first hunt. We had a brief firearm safety talk and covered off how to use the Garmin Rhino 650s before ensuring they were spread around the group, this allowed radio communication and to check the location of the other groups. We were told that there was more than enough Fallow around and it would be most productive to split the group up to avoid tripping over each other. After crossing a suspension stock bridge, we split into several groups, two heading south with the idea that we would spilt off into several valleys with some nice hills to climb to start glassing. The other group headed north to see what they could find.
After ten minutes of walking along the track I saw two yearlings on the skyline watching us before spooking. Val, Doran and Zaine peeled off from the group to see if they went very far whilst the rest of the group continued along the track. We continued up a small rise and stopped for those with binoculars to glass across the valley. After a few minutes I saw a small group of deer in the valley below a shrubby wooded area just over a km away. With easy country to cover and several hours of daylight left, we headed towards them.
We crossed a small flat basin and had to figure out how to navigate past a small herd of 6-8 goats before getting within firing range. While making our way up the hill we caught the tail end of a group of animals tearing off around the base of the track, damn, another group of deer spooked!
We finally got onto the ridgeline across from where we had spotted the original group of deer and ranged them at around 200m. Duran and Zaine got set up prone, aimed and fired. A clean miss for Zaine, however Duran took his deer in the shoulder and dropped it cleanly – boom first deer down.
Our small band split up with Duran and Zaine heading up and around the head of the creek and down the other side to get to their deer while Brent, Alex and I looked over the other side of the ridgeline to see if we would luck across anything. As luck had it, a small group of goats were milling about, including a wickedly stinky billy with a cool set of horns that Brent decided he wanted to take home. A loud crack from his .308 and the billy was on the ground. We then set about taking the head off and before making our way back down the ridge while checking in with Zaine and Doran using the Rhino’s to see how they were fairing (we made sure Brent was at the end of the group, damn that goat smelled haha).
Duran had decided he wanted to keep the skin from his Fallow as it was his first deer, so they had gutted the animal and were heading down the valley carrying the whole carcass, holding a couple legs each. We waited at the base of the valley for them and a bit over an hour later the guys finally showed up carrying their prize. As we were about to head off back to camp, we saw a light coming in from the other valley, Val had finished up with two deer and had a filthy big grin and two deboned Fallow in his pack! Good stuff. With everyone off the hill, we headed back to the camp for a beer and a feed via the walk-in chiller in the farm manager’s stables to store the meat (definitely not back country hunting here).
With four deer and several goats taken on the first evening, the remaining members of the party yet to get an animal headed out. We headed up the same ridgeline that looked over the two valleys hunted the previous evening but there was a heavy fog that cut visibility. Brent and I continued to head up the ridge to see if it cleared out at higher elevation which it did but just led into scrubby manuka that was a real ball ache to deal with, so we headed back down to our original spot to wait. By the time it cleared, it was about 10am and there were no deer to be seen so we headed back to camp for smoko and a regroup. From here, six of the party decided to head back to Wellington, leaving Brent, Alex and myself.
That evening, we headed up the same ridgeline again and got onto a group of four deer across the valley almost straight away. They were roughly 270 metres away with a relatively flat angled shot on offer. There was a flat area that allowed for a decent prone rest, so Brent and I got set up with the idea of taking an animal each. Brent fired first hitting his animal a bit further back from the shoulder, I shot next aiming at the shoulder however my aim was off, and the shot drifted forward hitting the deer in the neck. Both animals went down! It took us 30 minutes to cross the valley and get up to the deer to start butchering them. Boom we were both on the board, we just had to get Alex something now. We headed back to camp for fresh deer tenderloins and heart; awesome.
The final morning (Sunday) we decided to head north, figuring we had well and truly disturbed the southern side of the block with all our shooting. After crossing the stock bridge, still talking rather loudly we startled a group of 10-15 fallow 30 metres away that had fed right down off the hill. By the time we got Alex on the rifle they had hoofed it back into the bush. Damn...might pay to go a little slower and take our time. We headed off along the track leading north next to the river until a slip across the track made further passage too dodgy.
We headed back and spotted a small group of goats across the valley. Alex who is known for making a powerful goat curry stated he was keen to take them. He got prone, got the rifle stable, ranged them at 170m and squeezed the trigger. Clean hit! “I went to say “great work man” but was drowned out by the report of the .308 going off again - Alex really had it in for those goats… another clean hit and kill. It took us about an hour to walk back to the bridge to cross over to the other side of the valley. Once we found the animals, Alex got to work butchering them using his recently acquired HUNT course skills.
We then we stopped for smoko and while eating I heard Brent cry “bloody hell, there’s a few deer just over there!” Looking through the binoculars I could see three Fallow 120m up from where Alex had shot the goats. Brent got set up and ranged the animals at around 250m, squeezed off and we had another deer rolling down the hill.
At this point we had reached the capacity of my chilly bin so decided anything else we saw would be safe from us. We packed up and started the walk around to the Fallow which hadn’t rolled very far. A funny thing about the northern part of this station is that it’s overrun by wild mint and generally smells amazing. We butchered the deer in a massive patch of mint and headed back to see the station manager and then head off back to Wellington.
I recommend this type of hunting for newer hunters to get onto animals quickly and practice dealing with the nerves and making a good shot, field butchery and some basic navigating in the dark. Also, anyone just wanting an easier hunt more relaxed hunting experience. The farm manager was a good bloke and very easy to deal with – I’ll certainly be going back in the future!