Often the unexpected experience is the most rewarding as I found out the summer that I moved to Hawkes Bay. After an exciting but stressful relocate, I quickly settled into a pattern of hunting at least five times per week. In just a few months I had seemed to have mastered sharpening my knife, packing the perfect contents of a hunting day pack, butchering goats and large hares. I was feeling more ready for a deer than ever before. I’d been shooting 800+ yard targets with my Savage Trophy Hunter .223 in the heat of the day when the animals were in the shade and shooting small game and goats in the cooler ends of the days. I had even set my friend up to shoot his first stag, despite not securing a deer for myself in two whole years. Passing on what little I knew was so rewarding and the look on my mate’s face was priceless. On that particular trip I messed up an opportunity to finally shoot a Sika with my Savage but hey, we are always learning! I’d spotted her within 100yards and was just that bit too greedy, crawling an extra few feet forward for a comfy rest when I exposed myself to a group of goats. They promptly spat and barked at me, sending the Sika hind a few steps behind cover and never to see the sights of my .223 ever again! Still – my face hurt from smiling. Her beautiful orange coat was stunning in the evening light.
Anyway, I digress. Deer were firmly on my mind but I couldn’t pass up a good goat culling opportunity when it presented itself. An aquaintence of mine text – “My uncle just rang, he needs some goats culled ASAP.” I was on the floor of my lounge cleaning my newly acquired CZ model 99 .22 after a hare shoot the evening before. “ASAP, like this weekend when I will be away? Or ASAP like get my boots on?”
“Better get your boots on,” he replied. I nearly gave the dog a heart attack as I leapt up and swapped weapons from the gun safe. I love a good goat shoot.
It wasn’t half an hour later and we were bumbling up the gravel track to the farm house, noticing the damaged fences caused by our game. Uncle appeared on the deck and gave firm instructions that we were not to leave until at least a handful of goats were shot and “anything else that eats grass!!” Rabbits and deer were on the menu too although neither of the two had been seen in a while. My friend’s eyes twinkled a bit but I think I was a little too busy trying to hear what direction the goat bleating was coming from. I headed off ahead down the track – the quick call meant I was the only one of us with a rifle – and the men had a private chat while I found the first targets. My friend caught up just as I was taking position down an awkward slope. I clicked out my bipod, shoved my pikau under the butt and zoomed my scope in on a black nanny who was looking for a good spot to park up and chew her cud about 200 yards below. “You ready?” I already had my ear muffs on but my buddy had none. “Yup! Go for it!” and with a CRACK (I really do love the sound of my .260) she flopped to her knees. We looked at each other for a second with smiles, then waited, still in the aim. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about goats it’s that where there is one, there will be more. Five or so minutes later and the nanny’s young mate popped into view. With an impact in the exact same place, she flopped in the exact manner as her mum. Two down.
We wandered a loop route before descending to gather the meat. There wasn’t much sign around the bottom paddocks so we cut back to the shady spot where I shot the two black females. We decided that back straps and back legs was a good option. I’d not processed an animal like that before – I usually carry out whole – so it was a learning curve. My friend whipped up the small one with ease as I watched then gave it a go on the bigger nanny. “Just..where you knife is now..yeah be careful of the gut bag, just come a bit more up-‘ POOOOOOOWEEEEEWWWWWFFFFFFF. “Whoops!” I tried to say in my cutest voice. The tip of my blade went right into the big fat guts full of grass and blew the smelliest fart right into my face. Yuck. My mate fell over laughing.
Once the meat was done, we chucked the carcasses into a gut where they wouldn’t bother anyone. I washed my hands in a dribble of a creek and produced a cold bottle of water and some home-made cookies from the bottom of my pack. After an hour of laughing, story-telling and more laughing, I decided I better get home and do some work. Two goats was probably enough to keep Uncle happy but we took a long loop up through the top paddocks on the way back just in case there were more easy sitters. Cruising up through the manuka clearings with grassy bottoms had me drift off into a daydream of the many goat bow hunting videos I’ve seen. More damaged fences came into view but one stuck out a bit. I’ve usually seen the goats go under fences, digging a little hole that lambs can nip through or ewes get stuck in. But on this section of fence the top wire was damaged. There was a dip in the dirt on either side, where something much bigger than a goat had been jumping over and landing. A fresh wet patch of urine stood out like a lighthouse on the dry dust ahead. There was no stock in this paddock.
Our pace slowed a little but I put it mainly down to the heat. It was near 2pm and I was roasting with a pack full of hot meat on my back. We spotted a rabbit hunkered down like a furry rugby ball and tried our best to get as close as we could. My stalking proved 4 yards before bounded off. We laughed quietly and continued.
Up an old dried cattle road, my mate stopped dead in his tracks. There was clear deer sign in the dried mud. Again, I dismissed it. I had been finding it difficult to gauge the age of sign in the heat – everything dries quick, but something with the look of that in Wellington would be a good few days old. We stopped to listen to a Tui bird sign his heart out while I caught my breath. My friend smiled and waved for me to follow him up to a grassy clearing ahead. We padded along slowly and poked our heads up. I was hoping there might be a mob of stinkies on the edge of the shade. As I stretched to be on tippy toes to see above the foot tall grass, I was yanked down by my shirt sleeve. “There’s a deer up there!!!” he desperately whispered. “…wanna shoot it?” I nodded. “Good!” he smiled.
I took my pack off slowly in the cover of the downhill track. Slinking up to the edge, I could see the familiar curve of a big hind’s back. She was laying in the foot long grass, napping, chewing her cud, doing deer stuff. Then – she put her head up. The hind wasn’t a hind at all. The grass wasn’t a foot long and she wasn’t sitting down. In the edge of the shade and the sunny clearing, the grass was near a meter long and a big bodied stag stood tall with his head down, nibbling the food at his feet. Every few moments he would lift his massive head to look around then continue chewing. In this position that I was in, it would be head shots only. He presented a target sporadically and only for a few seconds at a time. I needed to move.
We slid down from our position and looked back down to where we had come. We could crawl up from another angle and pop out much higher than the stag for a better view at his body through the grass. Sweat dripped off my head but my breathing remained calm. I clicked out my bipod while we were out of ear shot and crawled on my belly to my final vantage point. Pikau for a rear rest, I waited for the animal to turn side on. At a range of just 30 yards, he finally did it. I exhaled and touched off the trigger. I kept my sights on him and reloaded. He walked a few steps and developed a fatal wobble. He collapsed in a heap of legs and antlers.
What felt like hours later, I managed to breathe again and I rolled onto my back, smiled and yelled out, “well that was a f-ing ugly goat!!!”
Setting up for some photos, I still couldn’t believe this animal was standing there almost waiting for me. The task of getting him from clearing to my shed was pretty mammoth but we did it. A bit of kiwi number eight wire approach saw a wrench holding the slack on the top leg but hey if it works, it works! I couldn’t believe the amount of spring fat on this stag. I figured it would be a shame to separate the nanny’s from the deer, so I ended up making chevron and venison sausages. They were absolutely beautiful.
The twelve pointer was able to be stripped of his velvet to reveal the hard antler underneath, but I felt it would be a shame to not preserve him exactly as his was when he unexpectedly popped up on that sweltering Hawke’s Bay summer day. I now proudly display his head on a native wood shield, prepared by Sika Country Taxidermy in Taupo. And if you’ve ever met me, you’ve probably already heard this favourite yarn of mine at least five times.
Here’s to the special hunts that we will remember always.