26 July 2023
Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Summer Issue 219
Words By: Sam Sheaff
November has always been a great month for hunting in my opinion. Even though spring technically starts in September, I’ve found it takes a month or two for the spring growth to really come through and for the animals to properly start moving around again. The temperatures are also in that nice transitional phase in between frosty winters and stinking hot summers, and the fly populations aren’t too crazy. All in all, after April I reckon it’s the perfect hunting month – if only the stags still had antlers!
November 2021 was an epic hunting month for me, where I (somehow) managed three consecutive successful hunts, and in each hunt was able to tick a different animal off my bucket list. Having only solo hunted properly for the past three years or so means I don’t have much experience under my belt, so every hunt provides an excellent opportunity to learn something new and improve my skills. I like to think I learn something new and valuable every time I go into the bush, and these hunts were certainly no exception!
The clearing near camp, a great little spot to spot an animal.
Hunt 1: The Big Boar
It was the 30th of October when I arrived home from university, so naturally by the afternoon of the 31st I was walking through the bush in my usual spot near Te Puke to do an overnight trip. After an hour or so of walking, I set up my tent near a clearing and proceeded to watch it until dark. Unfortunately, no deer were sighted - however I wasn’t too surprised as I figured they would all be out trick-or-treating; it was Halloween after all.
The next morning, my crepuscular efforts to watch the clearing once again yielded no luck – aside from the infamous “tree deer”, which had my heart racing before a close-up with the camera confirmed it was only a deer-shaped bush. No worries, I still had plenty of ground to cover and enough food to stay another night (not that I needed to stay an extra night – spoiler alert!). Putting my boots into my pack and instead putting on my “stalking shoes” (which are literally some bright blue rockpool shoes I bought from the Warehouse), I snuck off for a bit of bush stalking.
The first hour or so wasn’t very eventful; a bit of promising deer sign was seen, but no physical animals were encountered. That was, until I heard a faint crunch in the bush ahead of me. I froze, and listened intently, waiting to hear a noise again.
That was all the confirmation I needed. Slowly crouching down and slipping my pack off, I began creeping forward, carefully placing each bright blue foot in front of the other. The rustling was pretty loud now, and soon enough my eyes picked up movement. Holy crap, that’s a bit closer than I expected, I thought to myself, watching a pig rip up a nikau palm less than 10 metres away. I was in a kneeling position, and with no trees directly next to me and ground vegetation preventing a prone shot, that was as good as I was going to get. Thankfully, the pig had no clue I was there, and was happily feeding away. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Bloody hell, the phrase “eating like a pig” doesn’t exist for no reason! Problem was, its shoulder was perfectly hidden behind a tree trunk, so I had no choice but to wait. Thankfully with little wind and a very relaxed-looking pig, I was more than happy to wait for the perfect shot. After waiting for what felt like half an hour (but was in reality only a couple of minutes), the pig stepped out to give me a pretty good broadside angle. “That’ll do” I whispered to myself, before pulling the trigger of my Ruger 7mm-08. The gun went bang, and the pig took off, crashing through bushes for as far as I could hear. Part of me was disappointed the pig didn’t drop, but a bigger part of me was glad he simply ran rather than seeing me and charging; that’s a story I’ve heard a surprising number of times!
After waiting a few minutes to let everything (including myself) settle down, I walked over to where the pig had been standing. No blood. Absolutely nothing. I did a bit of a walk around, expecting to find at least a drop of blood somewhere... but still nothing. Surely I hadn’t missed? The animal was basically taking up the entire scope when I’d fired, but those doubts still started to creep in. Ah well, the best option now was to walk in the direction the pig ran and hope.
I started off down the game trail the pig had headed down, coming to a fork every ten metres or so. Following the logic of “if I was a pig sprinting as fast as I could, which way would I go?”, eventually I reached an area where the bush closed in, and any hope of tracking was basically pointless. I was about to turn to retrace my steps when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a trotter sticking out from behind a bush. “No freaking way” I said to myself, all worries evaporating in a relieved breath. “How the hell did I find that”.
Now, as we all know, usually when a hunter walks up to an animal they’ve just shot, a phenomenon known as “ground shrinkage” occurs. Essentially, by the time you get to the animal, it has shrunk considerably in size, leaving you thinking to yourself: “Man, I swear that was bigger when I shot it.” Well, this pig obviously didn’t get the memo. This boar was huge! I didn’t realise how big he was until I was standing next to him – he was bigger than me! The shot had been a good one, but the bullet had got caught in the boar’s thick shield on the opposite shoulder, hence the lack of a blood trail.
After taking a bunch of videos and photos for the ol’ YouTube channel, the realisations of “this is a big pig” and “I’ve still got a tent to carry out” started to sink in. It didn’t take long for me to realise that my only option was to cut it up there rather than try carry the whole thing out pig-hunter style – apologies to any hardcore pig hunters, but there was no way this scrawny kid was going to be able to pull that off!
After cutting up all the meat I could (including taking the head), I headed back to camp. I figured there was no need to stay another night as I had a heap of meat now – so mission accomplished. In the end I had to make two trips to the car to pack everything out. A couple lessons learned there: firstly, pig heads are bloody heavy, and secondly, I should really start leaving some more spare room in my pack in case I actually shoot something!
Hunt 2: My First Sika
A couple weeks later, I was in a helicopter squashed up between Gwyn Thurlow and Richard Mailman from the Wellington Branch of the NZDA, cruising over the Kaimanawa. We were flying in for a few nights on a Sika management hunt organised by the Sika Foundation – those guys do bloody awesome work looking after our Sika!
We were headed into a block that was reserved only for management hunts, so hopes were high as hunting pressure was relatively low. After unloading all the gear and setting up camp, Richard and I headed out for an afternoon stalk. After a few hours of seeing old sign without even a squeal to get our hearts racing, we returned to camp to see Gwyn sitting on a chair, coffee in hand with a bunch of meat already hanging up. The lucky bugger had managed to shoot a spiker only a couple hundred metres from camp! The fourth member of our party, John Kovacs, had also returned empty-handed, so at least Richard and I weren’t the only ones.
The next morning saw all of us split up and hunt off in different directions for the whole day. I finally had a couple deer squeal at me, but they were all quite far downwind so naturally failed to materialise. Once again, I returned to camp empty-handed and, once again, Gwyn had not. He’d shot another deer! I was starting to think Gwyn had some secret deal going on with the animals to ensure that the CEO of the NZDA looked good.
This is about as open as it gets in this area.
The following day dawned cloudy and drizzly. I’d actually half-considered sleeping in, but a gut feeling had told me to get up with the morning light, so I did. I ended up being the first to leave camp, with the goal of simply heading in the one direction nobody else had. After crossing a creek and climbing up a pretty dodgy face, I ended up on quite a nice little ridge. I was slowly walking along, in the middle of thinking when I was going to turn and head back to camp when a sharp bark to my right jolted me into action. In one swift, fluid movement (I think), I swivelled around, dropped to my knees, closed the bolt and let out a loud “meh” which stopped the Sika hind in her tracks 30 metres away. Another “meh” to hide the noise of the safety clicking off, and the crosshairs settled onto her shoulder. One finger movement later, and I had shot my first Sika deer.
She was a beautiful, mature hind, very healthy but shedding her winter coat, which proved to be really annoying when I started to cut her up. She’d also had a yearling with her at the time, which unfortunately had bolted at the gunshot and failed to stop, even after a few desperate “meh”s from me. I was still stoked with the kill and made sure to be extra careful during the butchery session so I didn’t leave any unnecessary meat behind – the heart tasted delicious that night!
The rest of the trip was pretty drizzly and quiet, and no more deer were seen or shot. It had been an awesome adventure though, and I was still buzzing the whole car drive home. I’d also found out the hard way that my tent wasn’t as waterproof as I’d thought… lesson learned there: Don’t assume your old tent from the garage is still waterproof without testing it!
Beautiful Kaimanawa sunset.
Hunt 3: The Trophy Billy
Like a lot of New Zealand hunters, my big-game hunting career started with feral goats. They can be pretty easy to stalk in on sometimes, but those big billies can still be pretty cunning when they want to be, providing a great challenge. The East Cape is crawling with feral goats, and since my family has a beachfront property in the area where we head for summer, the odd one occasionally ends up in my crosshairs. It was during the last few days of November when I headed over there for a weekend of surfing, fishing and, of course, hunting. Despite the vast amount of bush in the East Cape area, a lot of it is private Maori land, and quite difficult to gain access to. That being said though, with so much private land available to all the locals, it means the little bit of public land in the area is probably rarely hunted anyway (well, that’s my theory at least!).
The plan for an evening hunt was to stalk up a creek during the last few hours of light, and with overcast conditions and only a slight katabatic breeze flowing downstream, conditions were perfect. The number of footprints in the mud was insane; you could tell this stream acted as a highway for the animals. The prints ranged in size from baby goat prints to stag prints bigger than my hand – those East Cape deer are big!
An hour of stalking passed with nothing seen or heard. Until, coming around a corner, the katabatic breeze alerted one of my other senses. Anyone who has hunted goats will know the smell, it’s the musty, slightly unpleasant smell that seems to stay on your clothing for weeks no matter how much you wash them. Billy goat. I stopped and crouched down, perched on top of a rock in the middle of the stream, scanning the steep bush ahead for any movement. There. A glimpse of black fur walking above the creek, coming towards me. Slowly I crept forward, barely noticing my boots filling with water as I crossed to the other side. By now I’d seen that the young billy didn’t have horns worth my time, so I decided to sit still and see if there were any others around.
A couple minutes passed before I noticed some trees moving behind the young goat. A flash of grey fur, a flash of horn. “Woah,” I thought to myself, those horns looked decent. Another glimpse of the billy’s head confirmed my suspicion: “yup, that’s a shooter alright.” Now I just had to wait for a shot. The big billy had no clue I was there and lumbered over until he was standing directly behind the smaller one. I knew exactly where he was, but just couldn’t get a good angle and didn’t want to move and alert him. So, I resorted to my good ol’ nanny call - which couldn’t have worked better. The big boy popped his head up to look down at me, presenting a frontal shot. That’s all the window I needed. The initial shot didn’t drop the billy, and, fearing that I’d missed, I managed to yell at him enough to give me a second, broadside shot, sending another pill into him to seal the deal.
Now, I’d been lucky enough to shoot a couple decent billies before then, with spreads of 27.5” and 26”, respectively. I’ve always wanted to reach that magical 30” mark (as this is the qualification for an NZDA record book entry), but I didn’t want to get my hopes up for this one. He was decent, sure, but that’s exactly what I’d thought for the other two billies which ended up disappointing me. So, when I ran the tape measure over the horns back home, I was pretty shocked to find that he actually reached the threshold! I was bloody stoked; I could finally tick a 30” billy off my bucket list.
He ended up having a Douglas Score of 97 1/4, which is about the equivalent of shooting a 250DS red stag. So naturally, I was pretty rapt, and I of course entered him in the goat section of the 2022 AHT competitions where the head took 3rd place. Lesson learned there, sometimes your sense of smell can be a bigger asset than you realise, especially with stinky old billy goats!
My trophy goat – 30 inches. I’ve been chasing one like this for my entire hunting career.
Naturally, after my epic November, the following four months of hard hunting yielded only two more animals for me… Which really goes to show how much hunting success can vary. Lesson learned there: Don’t use up all your good hunting luck in one month!
Bit of a shameless plug here; I recorded all three of these hunts, and they can be found on my YouTube channel NZ Chronicles. Give it a look if you have the time, it’d be great to see you there. Happy hunting everyone and bring on the next November!