June 2017 New Zealand Hunt
By Dr. Bob Peterson
Hunting red stag in New Zealand has always been on my bucket list. Recently I was looking at my emails and saw an auction hunt on the GSCO (Grand Slam Club Ovis) website. It was for a free-range Tahr hunt offered by Carla Lucas and New Zealand Trophy Hunting. I was fortunate to win the bid and my dream of hunting in New Zealand was starting to be realized.
I had recently purchased a Sako Carbon Extreme rifle in the .308 caliber. I paid a visit to my friend Andy Backus at the Long Range Hunting Store in Oshkosh and he helped me choose a Vortex Viper 4-16 scope. I found that the gun was most accurate with Hornady precision hunter ammunition with the new ELD-X bullet. After obtaining range data I ordered a custom turret from Kenton Industries. Range practice confirmed it was right on.
I left Appleton, Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, June 18, with connections through O’Hare and LAX. With the flight time and the date change, I arrived in Auckland (on the north island) early in the morning of Tuesday, June 20.
About a month before the trip I had filled out the online application for a visitor’s gun permit. I collected my gun case and suitcase and then went to the police office, where an officer inspected my gun and gave me my permit. Permit cost was $25 and had to be in New Zealand currency, which by the way is quite beautiful.
My next flight took me to Queenstown (on the south island), where I was met by Carla Lucas, who drove me an hour and a half north to the town of Wanaka. It was early winter in New Zealand. On the way we stopped at a local tourist attraction - bras hanging on a fence as far as you could see, with a sign for breast cancer awareness.
Wanaka reminded me of Aspen, Colorado. Nestled on the shores of Wanaka Lake at the foot of the mountains, it is where tourists go to ski at this time of the year. My first two nights were at the Edgewater Resort near the southwest end of the lake. The people were all extremely friendly. There were many restaurants to choose from, with excellent food. The people in New Zealand all seemed to be in great physical condition. They pride themselves on being healthy and physically active.
That evening I was visited by my guide, Cam, who explained how the next morning’s hunt would be conducted. I had envisioned a helicopter ride to some mountaintop where we would set up a base camp and hunt. Instead, Cam explained how he and the helicopter pilot would locate a quality animal and set us down without actually landing. We would bail out of the helicopter, which would then take off, and we would be left to stalk the animal.
The hunt started on Wednesday, June 21. Conditions were quite windy and the helicopter ride resembled a roller coaster ride. For the first time in my life, I got airsick. Each time we spotted a Tahr, Cam would carefully look to see if it was a quality trophy. The third one we came across was what he was looking for. The helicopter set us down and we bailed out. That Tahr would not cooperate and I could not clearly locate it in the scope before it went over the next ridge.
Cam summoned the helicopter back and we relocated the Tahr and bailed out of the helicopter again. The Tahr disappeared behind a rocky ridge and when it reappeared at 200 yards I centered the crosshairs on its shoulder and pulled the trigger. It tumbled down. Cam summoned the helicopter and we climbed in and went over to the animal. Cam climbed out and tied it to the helicopter and we lifted off to a place where we could actually land and take pictures. We flew to a different area and spotted a decent chamois. Again we bailed out of the helicopter.
I placed the crosshairs on its shoulder, but decided to dial up the magnification for a more accurate shot. The chamois took off. Conditions were worsening so we decided not to continue and our helicopter headed back on a very turbulent flight. The pilot later admitted that we probably should not have flown that day.
The next day, Thursday June 22, Cam picked me up at the Edgewater Resort and we drove through rain north to Omarama. We spent a few hours in a motel waiting for the rain to stop, and when it cleared we went out and hiked for free range red stag. The terrain was more hospitable. It wasn’t long before we spotted our quarry. They were bigger than I had been told to expect.
New Zealand exports 85% of the world’s restaurant red stag. They are shot from helicopters and the larger ones are preferred because the hunters are paid by the pound. I had decided that I was not going to hunt in a high-fenced area and was ecstatic to see such quality animals in the free range.
June 2017 New Zealand Hunt
Partway along our stalk we encountered a quality fallow deer. Cam said I should shoot it because they are more elusive than red stag. However, it disappeared over the top of the hill, so we continued on toward the red stag.
They kept moving ahead of us. We circled around another large hill and found them grazing in a small valley 300 yards away. Cam recommended I shoot the one with the drop tines. He staggered on the first shot and went down on the second. I was amazed at how large he was. It was dark by the time we caped him out and got back to the car. We spent the night at the motel in Omarama.
We went back the next day, Friday June 23, to look for the fallow deer. After several hours of hiking, we located them in a ravine 200 yards away. Lying prone, I rested my gun on my pack, and I fired when he cleared the brush broadside. He staggered with the first shot and dropped with the second shot.
Cam noticed some wallaby 500 yards away. He said they are considered pests and should be eliminated, and asked if I wanted to try a shot. I dialed the turret to 500 and fired. Cam said it was his highlight of the trip to watch the vapor trail of the bullet end in a dead wallaby.
We caped out the fallow deer after taking pictures. I carried the horns and cape and Cam carried the meat. We checked out of the motel and went back to Wanaka. This time I stayed at the Wanaka Lodge on the east side of the lake.
I had two days left to hunt and Carla offered duck hunting, but I told her I preferred to hunt for chamois or Arapawa Ram or to fish, since I get a lot of duck hunting opportunities back home. She went out of her way and arranged for Sean to take me up a mountain near Luggate, which is where the red stag industry got started, on Saturday, June 24, to hunt for a ram. He had spotted them there before and we soon located a flock – which in New Zealand is called a mob. They were 400 yards away in heavy brush.
They disappeared, then to our delight they reappeared 125 yards away. I chose a dark ram with curled horns and my shot dropped him. Sean said he was lying there with his feet in the air, but as we approached he got up and I had to shoot him again. Sean said they are tough. After pictures we headed back along the Klutha River, which he said had more trout per mile than any other river in New Zealand.
Sunday June 25 - One day left and my hope was that Carla could arrange for me to hunt chamois. The weather for the previous four days had been intermittent rain, fog, and low clouds. My last day dawned clear and calm. That afternoon’s helicopter hunt did not have the turbulence that my previous one had. We located several chamois and eventually saw one which my guide, Ewan, felt was a good specimen.
We scrambled out of the helicopter but could not get a steady rest in the high grass and snow as the chamois ran off. When the helicopter came back we scrambled in and flew off to a better landing site. We bailed out and the helicopter took off. We found a large rock to steady the gun on. Ewan said it was 250 yards. I dialed that on the turret and steadied the crosshairs on the front shoulder. The chamois dropped dead with one shot.
Ewan had to climb up the cliff to retrieve the chamois. He commented that it was in the top 3 of all the chamois (25) shot this year. Flying back to base allowed me to enjoy the beautiful view of the snowcapped mountains and lakes and rivers. My dream of the New Zealand grand slam was fulfilled all on free range hunts.