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Jody Stow, a member of the Bushbuck Test Team, heads back to his old stomping ground in North Canterbury, New Zealand, on a solo hunting trip during the 2023 Roar season. Bad weather almost put a stop to things early, but in this case, an opportunity presents itself in the mist and his persistence pays off.
After 12 days working at sea, I finally got back into service. The first thing I checked was the weather forecast. Southland was average at best, the west coast was a write-off, and the east coast was no better. As a last resort, I looked up North Canterbury — my old stomping grounds. As luck would have it, there was a 3-day window of fine weather, followed by another 3 days of average weather. I got my bags packed the instant I got home, and early the next day, I was off. I stopped at Bushbuck on my way north and picked up a few goodies needed for my trip. Then I carried on with the drive up into the hills. Day one dawned foggy, but calm. After a big climb into the tops, it was no better, but that's pretty typical for this spot. I headed along the top ridge and traversed across a scree slope when I heard a loud roar ahead of me.
I knew the area well and quickly pinpointed which gully he would be in and got cracking. After another hour being stuck in the clouds, I arrived where I thought he was and let out a roar. Instantly, he replied. With only 50m visibility at best, I knew it would be hard to stalk, so I decided to park up and wait for the fog to lift.
After an hour with no change in weather, I started dropping down when I was met with a much closer roar — he was on his way in. After a few tense minutes, he briefly appeared in front of me in the mist. It was the 14-pointer I had been chasing for years, but as quickly as he appeared, he was gone — he must have smelled me.
I started back up to the ridge and set up camp on an open flat spot. The rest of the evening was spent glassing from camp, where I picked up a few lesser stags and a couple of groups of hinds.
At night, the stags went nuts. Morning dawned, and at first light, I looked out of the tent and was greeted by absolute zero visibility. The cloud was back. I stayed in bed until about 9am when a close stag fired up, so I had a quick breakfast and headed back along the ridge in his direction, hoping to close the gap.
After about 500m, I decided to throw in the towel as I could barely see 10 steps ahead of me. Turning around, I noticed that the cloud was slightly thinner on the opposing side of the ridge, opening up a gully where I knew a good stag lived. The plan was to loop back to camp through there and see what was going on.
After only a few minutes, I heard a roar way down low, so I picked up the pace and started dropping elevation in the direction of the roars. Not long after, while navigating a tricky gut out of the fog, I spotted a large-bodied animal only 50m in front of me. He had already seen me and let out a deep bellow. I pulled the quick release and shouldered my rifle, only to be greeted with a completely fogged-up lens. With no time to spare, I turned the red dot to max and picked out his antlers. Guessing where the body would be, I aimed and let off a shot, dropping him on the spot. I quickly arrived on the scene to be greeted with an absolutely monstrous 6-point stag — 7+ years old, 35" and super heavy timber. A proper trophy in my eyes.
After a photo session and plenty of Snapchats to my mates, I took the head and backstraps and started the climb back to camp. Arriving not long after 11, I crawled back into bed and caught up on some sleep. Stags were still roaring hard all around me, and the visibility had cleared up enough to glass. But with nothing of value spotted, I packed up camp early and headed back along the ridge towards the road end.
On top of one of the peaks, I was greeted with a sun halo or broken spectre. This phenomenon occurs when your shadow gets projected onto the clouds, completely surrounded by a rainbow. It was the first time I've seen this incredibly rare sight. After taking plenty of pictures and enduring a brutal climb up the final scree face, I summited the last peak, where I was greeted by one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. It was well above the clouds, with incredible hues of red and pink overlooking the Canterbury plains. Once the show was over, I made my way back to the car with a heavy pack, already dreaming up my next hunt.
Here are a few things I learned from this trip that might help you on your next adventure:
Bad weather doesn't mean bad hunting. Animals are more complacent in these conditions and can be caught out in places you normally wouldn't find them.
Use scope caps or covers. I could have very easily missed out on my stag because of fogged-up lenses.
Weather forecasts are often wrong. It was supposed to be clear and 20 degrees, but this trip was the complete opposite. Bring good gear and be prepared for the worst.
In limited visibility, use your GPS for navigation, even if you know the area well. I went too low while traversing a scree slope I've crossed many times and ended up in some pretty hairy terrain. This would have been easily avoided if I followed my tracks.