Dunstan deer dilemma finally delivers

Hunter with his last minute buck

Our initial plan was for a spring hunt into the Ree’s Valley, for hopefully a nice chammy or a nice Otago red. Our schedules only allowed us a week. Oh, the country we could explore in a week, we were pumped. Although it seemed mother nature had other plans, it had been an unusual year with late snowfall into early September. Daniel and I scoured maps looking for alternative spots in Central Otago. Maybe up the Hunter Valley, possibly into the Pisa Range or even the Remarkables. The low snowfall scuttled all of these plans.

We were both based in Wanaka for the week, so eventually decided on a day hunt in the Dunstan Range, when we got a break in the weather. The area we were hunting was pretty bluffy and scrubby, perfect goat country. We hoped to have a bomb up of some goats as they’re always good fun.

It didn’t take us long to get onto goats. As soon as we dropped into the valley, a wee mob, nannies with kids, was feeding just below the track. We quickly parked the truck, and loaded up and were into it. Daniel’s 223 and my 270 effortlessly cleaned them up. The younger nannies were perfect for goat curry.

It wasn’t long until we came across another mob of goats. We could see a big mob feeding up the face and there were a few good heads in there. Boom, boom, boom,—chaos ensued. Goats kept running all directions once the shots rang out. We even had some run towards us and right past just 3m away. We had the scopes dialled up, so they lived to tell another tale.

By this point, we’d had our fun on the goats, so turned our attention to the deer. Climbing out of the valley, we concentrated our attention on the faces, which often held deer. We spotted our first mob pretty quickly but, although a promising sign, the walk out in the dark wasn’t too appealing. Daniel and I kept watching this wee mob, debating if it was worthwhile. We guessed they’ll be around a kilometre away—in a straight line. The country wasn’t straightforward. Itwas typical Central Otago country, with lots of rock outcrops and bluffs, covered in matagouri and snow tussock. Eventually, we used our better judgement and continued.

We spotted a few more deer, but they were even further away. With the sun quickly settling we began to face defeat and head home. I happened to cast my eyes down into the valley below us, and, surprisingly, a deer emerged from the matagouri. We quickly ranged him at 150m. How he didn’t hear the truck, I have no idea. Once we were all ready, the buck became increasingly aware something was up, staring intently towards us. I always wonder how they have the innate sense that something is wrong. He was staring straight at us, looking ready to bolt at any second.

I was feeling the pressure, as we were nearly out of shooting light and had a scared buck looking at us. It was now or never. Boom— the 270 echoed down the valley and the stag dropped with a thud. We were both rapt, and very quickly raced down to check him out. He is an awesome fallow buck, my best to date—I’m very happy with him. His antlers measured around 65cm, extremely long for a fallow.

After the obligatory photo session, thanks to Daniel, we gutted him and began the carry uphill to the truck. 150m is a lot further when you’re carrying a buck, but it was worth it. Plenty of meat to share around, and an awesome head.

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