Monster Red Stags of New Zealand
Posted on 01/01/2014 by David Silvester
Wildside Hunting Safaris feature in the book, Bowhunting: The West & Beyond, by renown bowhunter, Scott Haugen. Below is an extract from the book which provides a remarkable insight into the kind of hunting experience you can have with Wildside Hunting Safaris.
The South Pacific is a region teaming with some of the world’s most sought-after big game, and the mighty red stag tops the list of most hunters. Little did I know that on this hunt I’d get to live the dream of hunting reds in the roar...twice!
A final check of the wind confirmed it was still in our favor. We’d already covered 250 yards, slowly and silently in the dew-laden grass of early morning.
“If you can make it up to that tree, you’ll be close to 35 yards from the stag,” whispered Gerald Fluerty, owner of Wildside Hunting Safaris. Gerald has made his living hunting red stags in New Zealand, first as a market meat hunter, now as one of the country’s top outfitters. When he speaks, I always listen.
It felt like an eternity, but when I finally reached the big tree and looked down on the bedded stag, all I could think about was the immense size of his antlers. They dwarfed his red-hued body, curled up in a ball to conserve heat on this frosty morning.
A quick reading of the rangefinder confirmed just what Gerald had said; 35 yards. With an arrow nocked, I eased forward ever so slightly to clear the tall, yellow grass on the knob which I stood. Simultaneously reaching full-draw with my final step, I saw the stag’s ears pivot on his head like mini satellite dishes. I knew then I’d blown it.
As that last step fell in the tall grass, a branch I’d not seen, snapped. The stag didn’t know exactly where the sound came from, but it was enough to push him from his bed and into thick cover.
Dejected and frustrated with my mistake, I looked at Gerald who shot me a smile. It was one of the biggest red stags I’d ever seen, and carried more mass than seemed physically possible to manage.
“That’s okay, there’s plenty more stags around,” encouraged Gerald. “Let’s go try and find another one.”
I was hunting at the base of Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano situated on the southern portion of New Zealand’s North Island. Less than six months prior, the volcano had erupted, something that constantly loomed in my mind during my week-long safari there.
It was March, peak of the red stag rut. Though I’d hunted red stag in Australia, and seen them on previous hunts to New Zealand, this was the first time I’d experienced the famed “roar.”
Each and every night at camp, the echoing sounds of rutting, roaring stags made getting a full-night’s sleep a challenge. With so much action, setting foot into the wild, forested land of New Zealand before daylight each morning made it hard to decide which roaring stag to target. By mid-day the roars would wane, but pick up again as evening approached.
Sounding more like a lion than an elk, the red stag roar is something that, once you hear it, you’ll never forget. The deep, guttural sounds resonate through the valleys and dense, lush timber. The lingering roars carry far, and spur other stags to respond in the same way. Hearing a half-dozen stags roaring at a time is not uncommon.
Though I’d blown the first stalk on a monster stag, I remained positive and we pushed on. Following a deep-sounding roar, Gerald and I were soon staring at the stag through our binoculars. He stood on the edge of a grassy clearing, very near heavy timber.
Given the direction of the wind, there was no way of reaching the stag, not now. We watched. We listened. A few minutes and several roars later, the mighty stag melted into thick cover. As he disappeared, his hefty rack laid across his back, steam rolling from his open mouth as he roared.
We continued on.
Throughout the rest of the day we had a some good stalks, but either they didn’t pan-out or the animals weren’t as big as we’d hoped. I must admit, after blowing it on the first stag–the biggest we’d seen thus far–I didn’t want to settle for anything less. Every time I closed my eyes I could see his massive rack, points sticking every direction.
Hunting this land reminded me of where I grew up hunting Roosevelt elk in the dense Coast Range of Oregon. But there was a bit more open grassland surrounding the timber, and the stags were regularly along theses open edges, incessantly roaring.
The following morning we hiked toward a high hill, wanting to be in position by first light. This would allow us to quickly move in any direction on any good stag we might see or hear. But we didn’t make it to the top.
“That’s a big stag,” whispered Gerald in response to a raspy, deep-voiced roar that reverberated from the valley below. We stopped and listened. With every breath it seemed the stag let out a roar. It was the most aggressive roar we’d heard and Gerald thought it would be worth checking out.
A heavy frost made for noisy going, and we grew frustrated. By now our stag had been joined by another, and you could hear them moving further away with each roar. Making an aggressive move, Gerald and I picked up the pace. We’d covered more than a mile when we finally caught glimpse of one of the stags.
By now they’d quit roaring, and grazed along the edge of a meadow below us. We were more than 100 yards above the stags, and through the thick brush could only make out their bodies and parts of their racks.
“Let’s move down the ridge and try getting in front of them,” Gerald whispered. Confident we were lined-out on the direction the stags were moving, we made our way through the timber, down a well worn trail.
Gerald lead the way, I followed, and behind me, just as he’d been since the hunt began, was my camera man and co-producer, Dave Arabia. We were there to capture the hunt on film for the first ever episode of our new Game Chasers TV show, for the Outdoor Channel.
To this point we had incredible footage. Me blowing a stalk on that big stag, passing on some others and intimate images of stags roaring and wallowing. It was going to make a great show, if I could ever get a shot on a big stag.
At times like this the pressures of TV can be immense, but I wouldn’t trade my job for anything. Here we were, half way around the world, with production crews, the Outdoor Channel (who owned the show), families and outfitters all counting on me to make the shot and Dave to capture the action on film.
Even in the middle of a stalk, I can’t help but sometimes think about such pressures. The key is turning those thoughts in to a positive, mental advantage. Rather than thinking, “I hope I don’t blow it again,” I’m thinking, “I hope I get the chance to close the deal.” This is when I often slip in a quick prayer.
Just as we broke over the edge of the ridge, in to semi-open ground, Gerald came to an abrupt stop. He crouched, pointed downhill, then grabbed me. “One of the stags is coming right up the trail we’re standing on,” he urgently whispered.
Wasting no time, the three of us dove into the bush on the edge of the trail. “Get ready, he’s very close,” Gerald reaffirmed.
Nocking an arrow, I glanced at Dave who gave me the nod, confirming he was ready to roll. No sooner had I got my release in the loop and I could see the top tines of the stag’s rack, bobbing as he came up the trail.
Reaching full-draw before the stag’s head became visible, I distinctly recall being mesmerized with how much antler he carried. He was inside 25 yards, but quartering hard in my direction. I didn’t like the angle, so held at full-draw.
The stag then crossed our tracks, and grew nervous from the scent. He started trotting, still coming closer, then Gerald let out a sound to stop him. The second the stag stopped, turned broadside and glanced our direction, my BowTech General quietly sent a Gold Tip Pro 400 arrow tipped with a 100 grain broadhead into the boiler room.
The shot came at 16 yards. Hugs of joy were exchanged, for at that single moment in time, the rewards of connecting on a shot and capturing the action for TV are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in the world of hunting. It’s this feeling that drives me on each and every hunt.
The blood trail was easy to follow as it moved toward an open knoll. It was easy to see where the stag collapsed, then tumbled down a grassy ridge. He’d gone 50 yards, then fell and rolled downhill another 30 yards.
We could barely see the tips of his antlers sticking up above the tall, golden grass, now free of frost. Approaching the stag, Gerald gave me a pat of congratulations, then stopped me. Shaking my hand he offered, “You know what stag this is, don’t you?” My face was blank. “It’s the same stag that got away from us yesterday morning, the one that was in his bed and busted us.”
I had no idea. I knew it was a big stag, but honestly, the shot happened so quickly, I didn’t even evaluate the rack before the letting my arrow fly.
Approaching the fallen monarch, I was speechless by how massive the animal was, both in body and in antler. “He’ll be over 500 pounds,” shared Gerald. The stag carried 12 tines on each side of his rack, and his glistening red cape, I knew, would make for a beautiful mount that would let me relive this hunt for eternity.
That night, sleep came a bit easier, but the next few days we were back at it, hunting another red stag, prized sika deer and fallow deer. Those hunts were filmed for the TV show as well, with a rifle in-hand. I love bowhunting, but Game Chasers was largely backed by gun-affiliated sponsors at the time, thus the need to put those products to use.
With three days remaining, I’d planned on getting in some trophy trout fishing. Then Gerald approached me with a proposition. “If we can get you another red stag, with a bow, would you be able to produce another TV show of the hunt?”
This is where the business side of hunting for TV has it’s rewards, and pressures. I have a certain number of TV shows to produce each year, and Gerald recognized the value of having another hunt air whereby featuring Wildside Hunting Safaris. The idea is, viewers watch the show and if they like it, book a hunt. At this level it’s business, and outfitters like Gerald recognize this and are willing to offer high-end animals. It works out well for everyone: the outfitter, myself and the viewers.
I made a quick call back to the United States, to my good friend Tom Nelson. Tom is the longtime host of American Archer, a show I’ve made several guest-appearances on over the years. Tom is one of my favorite people in this business, and he was very interested in having us shoot a stag show for his program. The trout fishing would have to wait.
That afternoon found us sitting in a tree stand. We saw some stags, but nothing passed close enough for a shot.
By daylight the next morning we were in another tree stand, and animals were on the move. A fallow buck came under the stand first, but I didn’t shoot. Then a pair of sika stags came out of the brush, about 100 yards to our right.
I love hunting sika deer, as they remind me so much of the elusive Columbia blacktail deer I grew up hunting in Oregon. As the sika stags worked our direction, some red stags emerged from our left, and also started walking our way.
Within minutes, the biggest of the sika stags was inside 15 yard, feeding below the stand. He had no idea we were there. Because the red stags were slowly heading our direction, we decided to pass on the sika. Later, Gerald would tell me that, to his knowledge, at that point no one had ever arrowed a sika from a tree stand in New Zealand. Had I known that, I would have shot him...the sika, not Gerald!
The group of stags we held-out for veered off the trail, never coming to within bow range. Throughout the rest of the day, into the evening and all through the next day, we’d have multiple stalks, but the animals weren’t quite what we were looking for.
That night, sleep once again was tough to come by as roaring stags kept me awake. I wasn’t complaining, as I can’t think of a better reason to be kept awake.
On the final day of the trip we awoke to a heavy frost. A good wind was in our face, so we covered ground, intent on closing the distance on roaring stags that could be heard bellowing in the distance.
The first stag we came upon was bedded in heavy brush, and sported an incredible drop-tine on the left side of his rack. Gerald had photos of this stag from several weeks prior, and I recall looking through his shots, wishing I could have a crack at that stag. My wish was becoming reality.
It took a long time, but I finally slipped to within bow range of the impressive stag who was still in his bed, facing away. I was above him, and he had no idea I was near.
Reaching full-draw, my heart sank when I failed to find the stag in my peep. The sun was just cresting the horizon, and I was blinded by the glare passing through my peep.
Squatting down to get beneath the incoming rays, I could now see through the peep, but the stag’s vitals were obscured by brush. Forced to let down, when I did, the stag busted me.
He quickly gained his feet, but moved off slower than I expected. It took him a while to pass through the woods, out of sight, and when he did, I joined-up with Gerald. “That stag was limping a bit, eh?” Gerald quizzed. “I noticed that a few weeks ago when I saw him.”
Not giving up on the drop-tine stag, we hoofed it around the timbered ridge he disappeared on. Slowly moving through the wet forest floor, as soon as we popped out of the timber, we found our lone stag, feeding amid tall grass. He was over 50 yards away, and the high grass coupled with my low elevation position, made getting a shot impossible. I had no choice but to squirm closer.
At 36 yards the stag was clear and I took a reading on the rangefinder. It was now or never. Bringing the General to full-draw, I anchored my 30 yard pin in the center of the stag’s chest, tight behind his shoulder.
The Gold Tip arrow once again flew true, driving the titanium broadhead into the sweet-spot. He bolted over a knoll, coming to rest in a draw, surrounded by thick, jungle-like foliage.
There was no ground shrinkage on that stag. In fact, his impressive drop-tine was even bigger than I’d thought. What did surprise me, however, was how much smaller the right side of his rack was in proportion to his left side. Also, his body appeared old and withered.
When skinning that stag we found where he’d taken a broadhead to the shoulder at least a year prior. The broadhead was stuck halfway through the shoulder blade, and had calcified formations all around it. That explained the stag’s limp and lopsided headgear.
As our time in New Zealand came to a close, I felt satisfied, but melancholy. Not only was hunting the red stag roar a dream I never thought I’d get to experience, but I’d formed new friends I didn’t want to leave.
Gerald Fluerty is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. His knowledge and passion for the outdoors and appreciation for the land and the wildlife is sincere. The deep love he has for his family is what life is all about.
When I met Gerald, his eldest son, Ezra, a teenager, was soon to be joining him as a full-time guide. I was fortunate to get to know Ezra and hunt with him, too. He possessed the skills of his father, and at such a young age, was sure to be a top New Zealand guide.
A short time after my hunt, Ezra’s life was tragically taken in a car accident. When I received word from Gerald, informing me of Ezra’s untimely death, tears flowed from my eyes. All I could think about were my two sons...and how Ezra and his father got along so well and loved spending time in the outdoors, together.
Meeting Ezra and Gerald immensely impacted my life. The Fluerty’s are a solid Christian family, and knowing that when Ezra passed, he’d be hearing red stags roar in the heavens, offered me solace. I hope to one day return to New Zealand and hunt with Gerald, for he truly is a special man, with a great family, living in a wonderful place.
Note: Gerald Fluerty can be contacted at email@example.com. You can also check out his website at www.wildsidehunting.com.
Scott Haugen is a full-time writer and host of Trijicon’s Game Chasers, on Outdoor Channel. To order signed copies of his long list of books, or to learn more about the TV show, visit www.scotthaugen.com.