Wildside Hunting New Zealand Style
Posted on 01/12/2013 by David Silvester
Legendary American outdoorsman and hunter, Larry Weishuhn, shares his experience bagging his largest ever Red Stag with Wildside Hunting Safaris.
Walking out of the plane at Taupo, New Zealand and toward the small terminal Jeff Parker, my cameraman, and I spotted a familiar face. As I approached Scott Haugen held out his right hand, “Gerald told me you were coming.” Then before I could say anything he quickly added, “You’re going to love this place. I know you’ve been to New Zealand several times before and I also know you love hunting red stags. Gerald and crew have monster stags, they’re roaring like crazy, and the terrain and habitat are laid out perfectly for spot and stalk. By the way good to see you!”
It was truly good to see Scott and to get the quick report. Scott told me Gerald Fluerty, owner of Wildside Hunting Safaris was busy parking the vehicle. Then he went on to tell me about the great stags he had taken; one with a bow and the other with a gun for various television shows he does in the States. He mentioned he had seen several other really huge stags after he had taken his and that most likely I would truly interested in at least one of them. “He’s got about 13 to 15 points per side and has a long drop-tine on one side and is extremely massive. We saw him only briefly. Gerald mentioned he had seen the stag only a couple of times before, but, that he was one you and he would try to find while you were here. But even if you can’t get on to him, there are plenty of other big stags. Not only that this operation has some monster sika deer as well. I took a really good one, but I can tell you they’re not easy. Be ready to do a bunch of walking. You bring your walking shoes, I assume?”
Before I could respond I noticed Gerald Fluerty walk into the terminal. He spotted us and walked out direction. “See Scott has been filling you in. Good to see you again! All your gear arrive?” Indeed it had, guns, cameras and all the other essentials had made the trip without any problems. After a cup of good strong New Zealand coffee, we bade our “Good-byes” to Scott, loaded all our gear and headed in the direction of Gerald’s camp some two hours away. Along the way Gerald pointed out landmarks, fielded my many queries about red stags and status of the roar, and my numerous questions about various most interesting vegetation both native and introduced.
We arrived at camp, a gorgeous two story log cabin, stowed our gear and got settled. Then I pulled out my T/C Icon bolt action rifle topped with a Nikon scope. It felt comforting to grab a hand full of Winchester .308 ammo and head to the range to be sure my rifle was still properly sighted in. A couple of shots confirmed it indeed was still shooting exactly where it had been before I left my southwest Texas home. Then it was off on a short drive to the hunting area. We set up a spotting scope and started glassing the rolling grass and tree-covered hills and steep draws for red stag. We heard a stag roar before we saw him. He stepped into a small glade intently looking at the opposite side. Then another stag appeared on the opposite side. Both were huge, easily 350 to 400 class stags. I looked at them through my 10X Nikon binoculars; Gerald looked through his spotting scope. “Four year olds,” he commented. I could see they did not appear to be old stags but at the same time wondered if these were young stags what would the five to nine year old stags look like.
The rest of the afternoon we glassed numerous stags and hinds in the distance and listened to the roaring. As the sun slid behind a snow-covered, recently (according to Gerald) active volcano the roaring increased in numbers but also in volume. I loved it. “Brenda should have food ready by the time we get back to camp.” It was there Jeff and I met Gerald’s gracious wife Brenda and sons Ezra and Joe. Immediately it felt like home, like being around friends whom we had not seen in a while, making the visiting all the much better. After hearty conversation and an absolutely delicious meal, it was finally bed time. I stayed awake only long enough to listen to an almost din of roars off in the distance.
“Sounds like an older stag just below us and slightly down the valley. Best go have a look,” suggested Gerald. Thus started one of the finest hunts I’ve ever been on or done not just in New Zealand but anywhere in the world. For the next two days we glassed many stags. We stalked close to a few only to turn them down because they were too young. It certainly wasn’t that they weren’t big enough since they would have scored almost 400 if not more. “Our long term goal is to produce an abundance of 400 to 500 plus class stags. We’ve been culling pretty deeply and leaving primarily many-tined and particularly long-tined stags to do the breeding. We’re looking to perpetuate mass, long tines, long main beams, and huge framed stags. At the same time we’ve been trying to improve our habitat to insure the red deer on our property not only have plenty to eat every day of the year, but also to insure that its high quality forage.”
Throughout the day and early evening we talked of management, past hunting experience, hunts we still hoped to experience and about red stag hunting. We did film several stalks as well and numerous stags. I dearly loved the way we hunted a combination of still hunting and spot and stalk. It was true hunting; in my opinion the perfect hunt!
The third afternoon about 1 o’clock we decided to drive to another part of the property to a higher hill overlooking a series of rolling valleys. No sooner had we stopped under the shade of a tree to glass than I spotted a stag at least a thousand yards away. Even at that distance I could tell he was extremely massive and the way he moved, he was old. I started to comment about the stag when through my binocs I could see he was not only many tined and massive but also had a huge drop-tine that split near the end. Before I could say anything to Gerald I heard him say “It’s him,” he hesitated, “Like him?”
Like him? I thought he’s monstrous what’s there not to like. “Yes sir,” I replied.
“Let’s see where he heads then we’ll decide which way we’ll approach,” suggested Gerald. I nodded an affirmative, my eyes essentially glued on the stag. We watched thirty minutes as the stag headed to the far end of the broad open slope. “Let’s go. If he continues heading the way he is, we might be able to ambush him about a mile from here at a pinch point where the canyon formed by the stream below narrows.” With that we took off at a fast walk stopping only occasionally to make sure the stag was still visible. He was. Then again we were off at a trot. We had to drop behind a long line of tall brush and trees to get to the point where we might have a chance at him. During that time we lost sight of him.
When we reached the overlook point we again spotted “my” stag, he was headed back to where we had first spotted him……………
He started moving away or at least what we could see of the tips of his rack. We moved after the stag as he disappeared. I looked back at Jeff, who carries a heavy camera, batteries and heavy tripod. He was smiling, “We’ve got about 20 minutes of sunshine left…” I knew that meant we would soon be out of camera light.
“Let’s head in the direction we last saw him. If he continues the way he’s headed he might cross a relatively low grass area before heading back into the trees.” Again we took off at a brisk pace.
We eased up to where we could see the grassy area. It was studded with trees. Nothing! I was about to comment as much when I spotted movement, tips of antlers rubbing a huge tree. I took several steps to my right. Gerald and Jeff followed. There was our stag. He was absolutely monstrous and he was rubbing his antlers on a tree less than a hundred yards away. The stag stopped rubbing then started walking our way. Hurriedly we all three of sat down; Jeff with the camera on tripod pointed at the stag now quartering toward us, fully lit by late afternoon sun. He walked directly toward us. As he did I readjusted the Bog Gear Bog Pod shooting sticks, my rifle firmly rested on them. Behind me I heard Jeff say, “Take him whenever you’re ready. I’m on him!”
Hardly ever had I heard more welcome words. I waited as the stag walked toward us. I tried not to look at his antlers rather concentrate on the exact spot I hoped to place the Winchester bullet. He continued to cut the distance, getting ever closer. When he got to within about 35 to 40 yards he turned to his right giving me a “quartering on” shot. I gently tugged the trigger. At the shot the stag shuddered, then ran. I quickly bolted in another round and just as I was about to send a second shot his way, he fell.
A few minutes later Jeff let me approach the stag after having taken care of several “television things”. The closer I got to him the bigger he grew. At his side Gerald extended his right hand. I took it and shoot it vigorously. The perfect hunt had all but come to an end, or perhaps just the beginning.
I marveled at the stag, his huge body, and his magnificent antlers. It took some doing but I finally counted the same number of points twice to assure I had done it correctly. One side had 13 points, the other 15 points. My stag had a nearly 21 inch drop tine and was extremely massive! The smallest beam circumference was well over 8 inches. He was quite a stag no matter how we looked at him and certainly my biggest after hunting red stag in Austria, Argentina, North America and previous hunts in New Zealand.
That night there was a celebration, albeit a late though joyous one. Tomorrow there would be more photos, more TV show making, and watching and listening to more red stags. There might also be a chance at a sika stag. There was. But if it seemed my red stag was challenging, a mature sika, not yet in the rut, proved even more so. It came down to last light, last evening before I got a chance at a mature sika stag. But therein lies another wild side of hunting New Zealand.
I love it, absolutely love it and I’m totally hooked on red stag, particularly those available with WildSide Hunting. I will be back.
For more information about hunting monster red stags, sika stags as well as a variety of other New Zealand big game I highly recommend getting in touch with Gerald Fluerty at WildSide Hunting Safaris. I know you will be glad you did. I’ve already planned my next year’s trip with Gerald and the years thereafter. I look forward to seeing you there.