Nick Binks normally fills his summer with fishing and diving trips, but with few weather windows through the warmer months earlier this year he decided to swap the rod for the rifle.

After a bit of discovery on Google Earth a plan was hatched to target some stripping stags in a new area. I flew down to Wanaka from the big smoke and caught up with my mate Todd. I wasted no time showing Todd where I wanted to go – he looked at me a bit sideways and suggested we try 1/3 of my proposed route. We both knew there would be some kilometres to be covered so we dumped all the extra comforts and unnecessary weight.

100km/h plus winds and heavy rain was forecast for the walk in but it was meant to dry up by lunchtime the next day. “Ah well at least we will be the only idiots up there” I said as we drove past looking up Lake Wanaka to our hunting grounds – it wasn’t inviting to say the least.

It wasn’t long into our trudge up the valley before we were wet through to the bone. Five hours of undulating beech forest had now passed, and we started to drop back down to the main river where we finally saw our first bit of sign – an old game trail igniting some hope! The rain had really set in and the track that ran next to the river was well and truly underwater now. After some sidling and negotiating of mossy boulders we reached the junction that not only halted any idea of heading further upstream but was thankfully the marker for the ridge we anticipated would be the easiest route to the tops.

After a quick pow-wow, muesli bar and drink of water we set the challenge of getting to the scrub line and setting up camp by dark – optimistic considering it was now around 5pm and the ridge was south-facing. We had moments of progress followed by sections of clambering large windfalls and thick ankle breaking tree roots that swallowed our legs every few paces. The light had faded, and we were still another couple of hundred metres to the scrub line. Tucked out of the wind in the bush was going to be as good as any place to park up for the night. We did some excavation, pitched the tent, dug out some trenches for the water to pass, and got the billy on. The rain was still tipping down at this point so off with all the kit and into the tent for dinner.

Thankfully by the next morning the rain had eased. It was gentleman’s hours before we got out of the tent, slipped into our sodden gear and threw some oats down the hatch. In a couple of hours, we had broken through the bush line and into the tussock. Finally, we could turn into hunting mode, and just like us we figured the animals would be getting any sun they could to dry out. We glassed the immediate area for no result. Even the ideal looking terrace where the bush met the scrub had no bedding, droppings or animal sign. Bugger, we thought – this might be a proper flop!

We continued to climb aiming for the main ridge of 1800m glassing as we went, combing the north-facing slopes to no avail. However, it was
marvellous sitting in the tussock warming up and drying off. Another few hours passed and finally we sighted a living animal with four legs.
“Chamy” I called out to Todd. It was a good kilometre away, but I could tell it was a reasonably sized chamois as I thought it was a younger deer at first – its summer coat and white backside fooling me at that distance. But we were after stags. If the place had been harassed by helicopter, then our best chance was to get a good vantage point above the bush line and wait there until dark to see if any deer would emerge. Several more chamy were seen until sure enough just on dark a hind and its yearling started feeding up towards us. The yearling was looking mighty tasty but not what we were after. They fed to within 150m of us before the light fully faded and we headed back to camp.

After an early morning glass on the neighbouring bush edges it was now day three and still no stags. Todd and I agreed that last night was really our best crack at seeing some antler so with good chamois numbers about we turned our focus to finding a decent buck as Todd hadn’t shot many before.

We headed back up the ridge we had come down the night before. After some sketchy knife-edge ridges, we reached a saddle and up popped a buck. He hadn’t seen us, and I whipped out my camera while Todd set up his rifle. I filmed as the buck got closer and closer. He turned broadside on cue at around 200m away. The trigger was squeezed and all four legs of the chamois folded and down it went clean as a whistle.
A wry grin from Todd – but he was secretly stoked.

After a quick dressing and harvest we continued on to check out the next catchment. We were right up the tops now dipping between 1800 – 2000m and the views were spectacular. Tucked out of the wind we were bumping into chamy in all sorts of nooks and crannies. As we were above them, they would get a glimpse of us and curiosity would see them walk up to check us out – chamy don’t often see danger from above.

Then we stumbled across a young buck 20m away and we both got out our cameras. Neither of us could have predicted what was going to happen next. This lad was so relaxed he got to within 10m of me and so close to Todd he could’ve almost touched him before catching our wind and having a Mexican standoff – what an experience!

Our descent began and looking at the map we could see a suitable spot above the bush line to give us another crack at a stag showing itself. That evening we glassed and continued to see chamy in good numbers. The wind turned to sleet, and the sleet then turned to snow – in the first week of February! A few more pegs and boulders to hold the tent steady and we hit the sack to get an early glass in as one last-ditch effort.

After an uneventful morning hunt, we headed downhill and completed the final 15km walk back along the main road to the truck in the rain. Hundreds of campervans and juicy rental cars passed us – none of which none willing to offer a ride. We finally made it back to the truck – what a journey!

Article by: Nick Binks