“Look at this!” said David Morris, offering his phone. The photo showed a handsome animal with long, curved horns. “Got it in Namibia,” he added. The Sable Antelope was one of several trophies he had brought back from Africa. “But I’ve always wanted to hunt Ngamatea Station and we’ve been really looking forward to this trip.”

David, who is the owner of Zip Plumbing Plus Hutt Valley, brought customers Dave, Seamus and John for their first Sika deer hunt. The group met up with outdoors personality Geoff Thomas and John Bebbington of Rheem in Taihape before heading into the Central Plateau to the station.

Plans were laid over a cup of tea and the two hunting teams led by guides Russell and Glenn were soon heading into the hills while Geoff got dinner underway in the lodge. Every afternoon the deer wandered out of the bush to graze on the surrounding grass.

Sika, which originated in Japan, are one of the most challenging to hunt. They love the Manuka bush where they hide during the day, coming out to graze in the morning and evening; although in the short days of early June they are often out all day. Experienced Sika hunters
will tell you that often all you see is an ear and an eye peering around a Manuka bush. The deer know you are there long before you see them, so the best approach is to sit with binoculars, then work out how to stalk any deer you spot.

The guides at Ngamatea are real pros, and they know where to tip-toe through the scrub to a lookout overlooking a valley or wide face. Most of the shots are long ones, but this gives the hunter plenty of time to take the shot as the deer don’t know you are there.

And they saw Sika – small mobs among the grassy clearings – so Russell carefully set up David Morris for the first shot. It was a long one, well over 400 yards, and Russell didn’t tell David exactly what the rangefinder said. He adjusted the scope on his .260 rifle and held a ‘kestrel’ up to test the wind. This is a device which measures the wind speed and he builds this into his calculations. “Just put the cross-hairs on his chest and squeeze off,” he said. At David’s shot, the hind ran downhill for about 20 metres and fell over. “Good shot!” exclaimed Russell, banging David on the back.

The group all nailed their first Sika animals, taking only hinds to help cull the numbers, and then went out again to add more to the meat tally.

GEOFF’S HUNTING TIPS

When approaching deer always hunt into the wind; in other words have the wind blowing into your face. Deer are natural prey to many predators and rely on their faculties to detect danger, and their sense of smell is one of their main defences. They can smell you long before you even see them.

Like all animals and fish, dawn and dusk are the key feeding times. For deer this is either the start or the finish of their day’s feed as they come out mainly at night. So these are the best times to be out looking for them, but another opportunity is the first sunshine after a period of bad weather. This will also lure deer out of cover – particularly in winter.

Deer are easier to skin when still warm, in other words as soon after shooting as possible. They should always be hung rather than left on the ground as this allows air to circulate around the carcass, and the meat sets and firms the longer it is hung. A cool shaded spot under a tree is fine in winter, but meat should be hung in a chiller in summer.

Check Your Gear

A good pair of binoculars is essential when hunting in open country and more deer will be added to the bag by sitting on a high point and glassing the surrounding valleys and clearings than by lumbering around hoping to surprise something.

A good sound suppressor added to your rifle is a worthwhile investment. It reduces the recoil and has the added bonus of creating less disturbance with the sound of the shot.

A good knife is invaluable, both for gutting in the field and skinning back at the base. But it doesn’t have to be a large Bowie knife like John Wayne used to use. In fact a pocket knife is fine, so long as the blade has a keen edge. Small knives are easier to carry and are more than adequate for the job.