My annual pilgrimage to the Fiordland Mountains hunting wapiti (elk) during the bugle took me to the Loch Burn block in April this year. I had been guiding deer hunters for the previous month and was really looking forward to a couple of weeks of hunting and exploring on my own account. Hunting in this wilderness area requires extreme fitness and mountain knowledge due to the rugged terrain and atrocious weather that may be encountered. Starting from the edge of Lake Te Anau which is about sea level, you then have to carry everything you need for two weeks on your back 5000 to 6000 feet up into the mountains. The wapiti live high and are only driven off the tops by heavy snowfalls in winter. This year we had two storms, one of which drove us back down to lake level which then necessitated a whole days climbing to get back up to where the animals were again. We weathered the second storm out in a sheltered camp site up high while 60 – 80 mph winds raged around us. This is the only area in New Zealand where wapiti live and the red deer infiltrate the area and then interbreed with the wapiti creating a smaller crossbreed animal, so we try and shoot as many red type animals as we can without disturbing the wapiti too much. This year my hunting mate Neil's knee let him down part way through the trip so I ended up doing a lot of hunting, climbing and exploring on my own. I saw a lot of really good wapiti type animals but no bulls bigger than what I had previously taken so I concentrated on culling out some red types, the biggest of which was a large 11 point stag holding four wapiti cows high up on a mountain pass. It took me all day to climb my way around to a position where I could get a shot but the range was still long with the stag being 618 yards away. I could not drop down through the pass to get closer without being spotted so took the shot off the bipod and a good rest from where I was. The rifle I was using was one my son Jamie and I had finished building this year specifically for this type of hard and high hunting where weight saving is so important. The cartridge we call the 7mm Fatso is based on a 338 Lapua magnum necked down to 7mm and shortened to the same length as a Winchester Short Magnum. This creates the ultimate Short Magnum giving 7mm STW ballistics out of a lightweight short actioned rifle weighing just over 7 pounds all up including scope. The load for the long shots is a 162gn A-Max doing 3250 fps, while for under 500 yards a 160gn Accubond at 3300 fps is superb. Dialing 8.5 moa for the range and 2 moa for the 10mph wind blowing through the pass, I aimed at the crease just behind the shoulder of the stag when he was broadside sniffing one of the cows. One advantage of shooting at this range is that due to the bullet's time of flight you can muscle the rifle back into position and watch it hit. Shot right where I aimed the stag took a couple of steps and then tumbled which worried me as a few yards further and he would've fallen over a 1000 foot drop. Luckily he came to rest before that! I carried his head out which is always a mission adding that extra weight and bulk to what is already a heavy pack and two days later I was thankful to finally be able to drop my load at the lake edge and let the boat do the carrying from here!
Neil at a high camp site with no shelter.
A mature red type hind and young stag I culled one-day on our way back off the tops before the first storm, using the 160gn AB load at 350 yards.
A hard to find high sheltered camp site that allowed us to weather the second storm.
A bugling wapiti bull and group of cows on a knob between the twin cirques (valley heads) of Canyon Creek.
Neil glassing the little wapiti herd.
A two-year-old wapiti and red stag grazing together on the tops above Lake Sutherland in the Wapiti River.
I culled the young red stag and the wapiti stood waiting for his mate to catch up for ages. 160gn AB again at 220 yards.
Looking 618 yards across the pass to where the red stag was holding four wapiti cows.
The ultimate lightweight long-range hunting rifle, the 7mm Fatso after the shot.
The 11 point red type stag, he has some wapiti blood in him but is not the sort of animal we want breeding.
He came to rest just short of a large freefall thousands of feet down into the South cirque of Canyon Creek!
Motoring back down the lake thankful the boat was now carrying the load.