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The Roar is the biggest event on the deer hunting calendar. We put together some simple tips to help improve your safety and chances of success this season. Whether you're looking to take a 14-pointer trophy or simply experience the thrill of hearing stalking and seeing a wild stag on full display the roar is the best time of year to do it. Every hunter will have their own ideas about how to make the most of the roar so we decided to dive into the treasure trove of hunting wisdom and dig out some of the best advice to help you have a roaring success this season.
The roar, also known as the rut, is the breeding season for red deer in New Zealand. For that reason, stags are more vocal and less cautious, making it an opportune time for hunters to track them down, take a trophy, and do their bit for wildlife conservation (red deer are considered a pest species in New Zealand and hunters play a key role in population management). The roar takes its name from the roaring sound stags make to attract hinds into a harem and to let competing stags know who's boss. The roar lasts for approximately four weeks from late March through April. Because hunters are out in force during the roar, it's also the time when the most injuries, deaths and rescue missions happen, so it's especially important to stay vigilant and keep safe.
It's likely you'll have to put in some yards through some fairly rugged and steep hill country to stalk a decent stag. You don't want to be out of breath, heart racing, and hunched over when the time comes to take your shot. You want to be calm, composed and in control. You don't need to be a lean, mean killing machine, but it's a good idea to maintain a reasonable level of fitness leading up to the roar. That could mean getting a few hunts in during the summer months, laying off the beers and barbecues post-Christmas, or taking the kids on a few hikes during the holidays. There's no replacement for getting out into the hills, but if you're short on time a simple home workout routine of squats, lunges, wall sits, and chair step-ups will serve you well. If you're fit and strong, you're going to enjoy yourself more and be in a better position to take a clean shot when the time comes.
Just because stags are easier to find during the roar doesn't mean you can just trudge on into any hunting block and knock one over. Make sure you've done some research and reconnaissance of your hunting area or, better yet, tag along with someone who knows the area. Get friendly with farmers, pay attention to hind numbers whenever you're in the hills (where there's a good hind population there's likely to be stags about in the roar), talk to experienced hunters, and ask local DOC rangers what they've been seeing. The better your information, the better your chances of finding stags. If you don't have inside knowledge, you might find an helpful for doing research and finding good spots.
A tried and true way of stalking red stags is by using a roaring horn to emulate their roar. You can pick up a roaring horn from your local hunting store, or you can DIY by cutting the bottom off a plastic bottle or a piece of corrugated plastic piping (like the kind you find on a vacuum cleaner). It can take some time and experience to perfect the roaring sound, but once you do, stags will willingly give up their location to you, allowing you to close distance on them. A couple of pro tips from experienced hunters:
Once you start moving in the direction of a roaring stag, it might go quiet. Some hunters will then start blasting the roaring horn again. However, if the stag goes quiet it can be better to just wait in silence. He's probably trying to suss out where you are and, more often than not, will eventually start roaring of his own accord so you can continue moving slowly towards him.
Another strategy you can use if you're with a mate is, once you've got a stag roaring, split up. While one of you is quietly moving towards the stag, the other holds back and continues to roar. That way, the stag won't be expecting you to sneak up on him and you'll likely get eyes on him before he has any idea you're that close.
While sound will be your best guide during the roar, it helps to have a general idea of where stags like to gather hinds and spend time. They tend to prefer terrain that they can defend from other stags and places where their roars can be heard across long distances. This is often a slightly elevated position, such as a terrace or spur, or tucked away at the toe of a slope, usually with a bit of sun and some feed nearby. Obviously, this won't narrow down your search too much, but it might help give you a general sense of direction. Once you've identified a spot, mark it on the map (and don't tell everyone down at the pub) as stags tend to return to the same rutting areas each season.
The two key signs to look out for are wallows and rubbings. If you come across these during the roar, you're in the right place — you just need to come back around dawn or dusk when the stags are most active. Wallows are mud baths that stags create by stamping their hooves on the ground. They urinate and defecate in the mud and roll around in it to cover themselves in their own stench, making them more attractive to hinds. During the roar, stags mark their territory by rubbing their antlers on trees, stripping the bark off. They also do this as a sign of strength and dominance to intimidate other stags. Rubbings can sometimes be half a metre or more in length. If the rubbed bark still appears fresh (hasn't dried out), then you're onto a winner. Always be on the lookout for other fresh sign, such as prints, scrapes, game trails, browsing, hair, bedding areas and, of course, droppings.
This is deer hunting 101, but it's crucial to plan your hunt around what the wind's doing. Hunt into the wind and don't camp in an area that's going to contaminate your hunting spot with human scent. Those are the basics. But it's also helpful to have an understanding of the topography and anabatic and katabatic winds (also known as valley and mountain breezes). As the temperature drops at night, the air becomes heavier and tends to flow downward (katabatic). In the morning, as the sun warms up the valley, the breeze tends to flow upward (anabatic). Understanding these phenomena can help in the planning of your approach.
Your scent is going to be the first thing that gives you up so you should always take measures to mask it. Simple things like not showering with soap and body wash before going hunting, ditching the deodorant and hair product, and not washing your hunting gear with fragrant laundry powders can help. Some hunters even swap toothpaste for baking soda so they're not taking that minty fresh aroma into the wild with them. Basically, you want to try and smell as inhuman as possible (as feral as that may sound).
Because the roar is such a busy time of year, it's highly recommended that you take extra safety precautions. Every tragedy during the roar is one too many, so please be vigilant. This leads to the next piece of fundamental advice…
Whatever you do, make sure to identify your target beyond all doubt. Let me repeat that: BEYOND ALL DOUBT. It can be helpful to go through a simple mental checklist. Start by identifying the shape of the animal, then the colour, sound, movement. Can you identify the different parts of the stag — head, neck, shoulders, legs, antlers? Can you tell how old the stag is? All of these questions force you to slow down and process the initial adrenaline rush from closing in on a stag. The more you can identify, the more sure you can be of your target.
Do a thorough check of your hunting gear before you head out. This is especially important if you only head out hunting a few times a year and haven't used your gear in a while. Does your jacket need a fresh coat of durable water repellent (DWR)? Have you got some blaze camo? Is the lighter you took on your last hunt still working? Does your gas bottle need replacing? It's important to be prepared for all weather and to have safety essentials such as a map, compass, GPS, and a personal locator beacon (PLB). Preparation prevents piss poor performance, so it's worth putting some time in to be prepared for the height of the hunting year.
This list is by no means complete, but the best way to learn and evolve is by getting out into the bush and into the hills. Every time you go hunting in the roar, you'll return with new insights and wisdom and new techniques and tactics. If you're heading out this roar, take care, be safe, and have a rip-roaring good time. And if you come back with an epic hunting story, please let us know. You can contribute to 'The Campfire' blog and earn Bushbuck rewards in return.