When work was pulling Ant Niterl in all directions he decided to go on an adventure to his therapeutic place – the South Island wilderness mountains and bush.

I packed my bags and hopped on the metallic chicken to Christchurch where I was greeted by a great rooster, Ben Tumata from Big Game Hunting. A teacher, a mate and family man with a wealth of hunting wisdom. Jeez, this guy has taught me alot, the fundamentals of bush etiquette, how to make clean kills, dissecting your kill, and the art of surviving in the wilderness. May I add, he wasn’t too shy on deleting a couple of tri-stars either – my kind of guy.

We headed up north somewhere to the back of Kaikoura. A Department of Conservation block covered in scorched yellow grass, rocky outlooks, scree faces, and plenty of valleys. It was late February, the stags were being lads and mobbing up in a gangs, patrolling the
pastures and sizing up each other. Roar was around the corner and these brutes were filling their gut bags for mating season.

It was hot, and I was wetter than an otters pocket an hour into our hunt. We marched for about 5km until we were greeted by a long valley of the South Island’s best shrubbery and feed waiting to be punished by four legged woodland creatures. We hugged the left side of this face and glassed back up the valley. Wrapping our optic nerves around the binos our pupils grew with arousal at the sight of eight stags on the hills. Big brutes that honestly could have been mistaken for a stable of Kaimanawa horses.

We made a choice to target one that was moving down to the valley floor – he looked about eight years old, was built like a German submarine and was blessed with thick, bow like, symmetrical 10 point antlers that almost joined at the top to complete a heart shape. Romantic kind of stuff. He oozed serious charm and arrogance.

Ben edged down this scree face about 10m in front of me and I followed suit with every move he made. This was a bloody tough and awkward situation. Any move we made in a crouched position would send debris falling down the hill, which obviously made us stick out like dogs balls. We carried on for about an hour, inch by inch, edging closer to him into the fading light and fog. I tell you what, we were playing games with the Albert Einstein of all deer. He would put his head down to graze and then after a couple of seconds look up again. Even the itchiest ball bag was not going to tempt me to move a muscle. Suddenly the wind changed direction and this big lad bolted, sending the mob of stags into a game of bull rush up the mountain. I shouted out to Benji to have a shot at one of the others while they were on the run. He threw some lead into the chamber and let one fly up the valley and poleaxed this monster 12 pointer from around 400 yards out. Heck… I’ve never seen precision like that before in my life. This bloke was sharp.

We made our way into the mist and drizzle to find this beautiful animal. There is something amazing about struggling for something so rewarding in the wilderness. I can’t explain it but it is up their with the best feeling in the world. Deer heart was on the menu, a splash of olive oil and garlic. The boys tucked in and washed it down with a cold yeast that we had left marinating in the chilly river below the camp. This was living.

We were up at sparrow’s fart after five hours of lying horizontal on a rocky ridge. We were back in the pressure cooker heat wise, it was stinking, and at 7am we were already stripping down to our favourite singlets and footy shorts. We spied another mob of six stags way up on a mountain face. We eyeballed them for about 30 minutes, ate a tuna and cheese wrap, and watched them slowly disappear up and over the mountain top into a steamy horizon.

Little did we know we were about to embark on a massive tour through the hills. These odourous stags took us on a wild goose chase and we were eating meters and leaking serious fluids trying to close the gap. After six hours hiking we had a lapse of concentration and decided to go lower than the stags in an attempt to glass up the hill for sitting heads in the grass. We walked straight downwind and the stags bolted. We weren’t stopping these gentleman, and we licked our wounds as we made our way back to camp.

Enroute home after watching a little boar poking about in the tussock I noticed two stags in the distance on the neighbouring face. A big wonkey nine pointer who was rubbing a tree and his compadre with seven points. I said to Ben, I’m taking that stripping nine pointer over there. In the most awkward position in history, something a Kama Sutra instruction book would be jealous of, I attempted to take aim. It was blowing a gale and Ben told me to aim for the stomach so the wind could assist the bullet into the shoulder. The stag walked in front of the cross hairs and I pulled trigger. Bang! The stag bucks up in the air and Ben yells, “you’ve hit him, reload, reload”. The stag bolts for 10m and then hits the deck in a dust storm. We watched in dismay as this big bodied carcass rolled down the face of this mountain for about 100m. It was incredible it didn’t break it’s antlers but it sure was tenderised. The climax to an amazing hunt.

We spent about an hour cutting the big boy up, talking about the mission and how tough it was in every facet and finished it off with a few photos to show the lads back at home. We started the march back at 6.00pm and eventually curled up into a sleeping spot at 1.00am in the morning where we rested under the stars for two hours, then finally rose to finish and knock the bastard off at 6.00am. McDonalds and copious amounts of coffees never tasted so bloody good.

Article by: Ant Niterl