New Zealand has public and private land free-range red stag hunting available to visiting hunters but there is a problem with one of these choices. Overseas clients are used to free-range situations in their homelands where effective game management and government regulations ensure a healthy and visible population of animals and plenty of harvestable trophies. On public land here in New Zealand that is not the case and unless you have some local knowledge then seeing animals is relatively rare and shooting a good one even rarer and you will be competing with others for the resource.
There are plenty of excellent red stags on estates but if red stag free-range hunting is your preferred drink of choice then go private land, guided hunting. There are such locations in both the North Island and South Island though they are in limited supply. Popular locations are Central North Island, East Coast North Island, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago. On private land a guided client can expect to see numerous animals over their safari and experience several opportunities to harvest a good sized red stag. It will not be a world beater; size wise, but should carry an even 10 or 12 point head, be reasonably heavy and have good width and length. In an estate it would be considered a bronze medal trophy but in the wild New Zealanders would consider it a meritorious success.
One such free-range location is Glazebrook Station, which lies one hour inland from the town of Blenheim in Marlborough. It is huge in size: and consists of wide river beds, long valleys, steep hillsides and vegetation made up of grass, scrub and stunted forest. It is great wild game country and holds red deer, fallow deer, goats, pigs and small game such as rabbits and hares. Quail are also common and Canada geese, paradise duck and trout are other sportsmen targets. There is a Lodge on site and clients book in hunts that traditionally last from 4 to 7 days long. Shorter hunts are also common. Bookings can be made through Poronui, www.poronui.com
The red deer herds in this area are not renowned for massive heads, but this is improving with infiltrations of better breeding from surrounding areas and culling. Numbers were once very high, then drastically reduced during the helicopter venison recovery era and now with sound game management are on the increase once more. Clients will regularly see red deer (also fallow, goats and pigs) which is something that cannot be promised on public land. Stags mob up in December-February, sort out hierarchy and then in March separate and begin drifting back to the rutting areas. Spikers turn up first and tease the hinds, but until a hind comes on oestrous there is no sign of the big boys. There are often lots of stags standing around watching at this time of year, checking out if the spiker has found a cycling hind. He won’t have her long.
The roar (rutting season) will commence in mid-March and by the end of April will be over. Dominant stags will control a harem of hinds and see off potential interlopers. The biggest stags often begin the rut early and have done the deed by the time all the noise starts in early April. The noisy stags are often young 8 pointers on the wander. Waves of different stags often turn up, stay awhile and then disappear again. Often hunters secure a trophy that the guides have never seen before. Stags stay in hard antler from late February to September. The hinds are territorial throughout.
Another good time to secure a big stag is post rut (May-June) when stags are desperately out feeding trying to put on condition before winter. Guides are often amazed to see a cunning stag that evaded them all roar now feeding at 2pm in the middle of the afternoon on a clearing. Usually the guide has no client then so the big boy survives. It is worth booking a hunt at this time of year if you want a big head. The roar is fantastic, but most of the noise comes from the teenagers, while the boss stag stays hidden in deep cover with his girls. Two months later he is hungry, worn out, and has no hinds warning him of danger.
Stags are full of testosterone during the roar and thrash each other, bushes, the ground and even fences. Last year I found a fine Glazebrook 12 pointer tangled and dead in one such fence. A common hunting technique on Glazebrook is dropping hunters off high and allowing them to sidle hill faces, explore gullies and valleys as they work their way back down to the river flat. Good binoculars and good boots are essential. Most shots are taken at ranges from two hundred to three hundred metres. Most hunts are “spot and stalk” operations.
Free-range hunting is priced accordingly and is a very affordable option for many overseas and local hunters.
Greg Morton, 2013