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After Covid-19 lockdowns put a stop to hunting during the 2020 roar in New Zealand, Adam McGrath of the Fiordland Boys was determined to make the most of the 2021 season. A solo packrafting mission into the remote Fiordland wilderness did not disappoint.
Drifting down the river with the sun on my face, the native bellbird and tui chirping happily around me and the odd distant roar echoing from the high terraces and low river flats, it was hard not to smile. This is what I'd been waiting two years for. After a Covid-19 lockdown put a stop to hunting during the 2020 roar season, I was rearing to go. Having scored the month of April off work, I was itching to hit the hills with roaring horn in hand, longing to hear that first distant moan echoing through the remote Fiordland valleys. After several summer hunts in the packraft, during which I found some old wallows and rubbings, I decided to make the most of a clear two-day weather window, pushing into country that’s otherwise hard to access. There were a few hunters in the hills this year and I wanted not only the best chance at an animal, but less chance of bumping into people.
Packrafting is a great way to find isolated hunting spots and access them relatively quickly.
I lugged my gear to the river's edge and inflated my packraft, hitting the rapids on first light to give me the best chance of some action. I gently paddled into the first current flow allowing the river to take control, dodging the odd large tree and rocky outcrop. I put the roaring horn to my lips and let out my first of many roars. An instant moan was heard from the river's edge. Without delay, I paddled to a small beach. Before giving away my position, I loaded a round into my rifle and nestled on a small sandy river bank. I let out a low moan with the horn and was instantly responded to by a very angry stag. I could see him thrashing the trees only about 20m from me as he wasted no time in coming in to check me out.
I lined up his neck and let him have it, dropping him on the spot. It took me a few moments to register what had just happened, with a large smile growing on my face. I couldn't believe just 10 minutes into my two-day trip and I had a good stag on the deck. He was an old 8 pointer with thickness to his antlers and a basal snag to add character. A great trophy to start the trip. After a quick few photos and sorting myself out, I launched from the riverbank again, the load on the raft now heavier than before. It was time to find a suitable campsite. I knew of a spot about 30 minutes downriver, a beautiful grassy clearing on the side of a large creek that I had used before, so headed for that.
After beaching the packraft, I lugged my gear up to camp and set to building my home for the night. With tent pitched, bed roll inflated and a brew on, I sat and had lunch in the afternoon sun reflecting on what had been a great morning. After lunch, I crawled into my sleeping bag for a quick kip, waking some two hours later feeling refreshed for the evening hunt ahead. I packed some warm clothes, food and rifle onto my back and slowly hunted my way to a wallow I had found several months before. The plan was to hunt towards the toe of the distant hills and roar along, drawing a potential stag down from its bedding grounds. The wallow was in the middle of a swampy clearing and as I approached it was instantly obvious how recently it had been used. With mud thrown all over the tussock and fresh prints everywhere, he couldn't be far away.I let out a couple of low moans with no reply and followed the prints to a well-used game trail winding its way through the dense Fiordland bush towards the very hills I was aiming for.
After just a few hundred meters of slowly hunting my way through some beautiful open bush, I paused again and let out another roar. What was that? Something crashed off very close beside me, something large. I roared again and, sure enough, I heard something sneaking through the bush ahead. Maybe a stag trying to cut my wind?I hadn't heard a roar all afternoon. Maybe it was an inquisitive spiker seeing what all the noise was about? Then I saw dark antlers passing ahead as he slipped behind some distant trees. I waited patiently with my rifle at the ready hoping he would step through and present himself. One more little moan just to draw him out did the trick. Boom! The shot ran true and the stag stumbled off, dropping just ahead.
I couldn’t believe it. Two stags in one day. I approached my prize, taking a few more photos and just enjoying the moment. I sorted him out and headed back to camp.
After a well-deserved meal and climbing into the scratcher, I drifted off to sleep with dreams of roaring stags to pass the night away. Waking the next morning to a gentle frost I took it easy deciding to go for a stroll with the camera only, exploring more of the area for future roars.
With nothing seen or heard it was time to pack up camp and start the slog back to the truck. I had to drift some distance downriver to find the track, lug my gear and raft some 15 kilometres up the valley before getting to the truck exhausted, but elated. I couldn't have hoped for a better trip. The long two-year wait was well worth it.
I decided then that the packraft was going to get a lot more use in the coming summer.