Monday I get a text from @Shootm "you keen for a quick walk tomorrow night?". I'm dead keen so reply in the affirmative and the plan is set.
I rock up to Ross' place after work and we load up the Grand Vitara with our day packs, bang sticks and a dog. Before too long we pull up at the carpark for a heavily hunted patch of the Ruahines to find the carpark empty, a good start. We don our packs, shoulder our rifles and make our way up the track.
By 1830 and with plenty of light remaining we settled in behind the binos, carefully scanning a larger area of grassy slips and clearings amongst broken country. It is my first visit to this spot but Ross assures me that every clearing is in range and if you can see it, you can shoot it so it is out with the rangefinder to confirm. Clearings stretch out from our pozzie with potential shots from 160 to 550 yards so all was left to do was to find one and make it dead.
After an hour or so I spot a goat in an area I beyond where we were expecting to see deer. He was feeding towards us at a range of about 680yds and showed a decent set of horns. Having never shot a goat before and still not having seen any deer I briefly thought about testing my drop chart and blasting him but after a quick chat we decided to let him be.
By now it was 2000 and the light was fading, to make things even less likely the clag started rolling in. As I was starting to resign myself to the fact that it was yet another trip without success (my last deer was 20 Dec 2015) Ross pipes up "there's a deer". As he describes which slip I see movement and the binos reveal three deer, a hind and two yearlings.
As I set up the rifle, Ross ranges the deer at 425yds and starts to set up the camera to video the shot. I consult the drop chart and dial up 4.5 moa on the Vortex. I settle in behind the rifle and calm myself, crosshairs steady on the shoulder. By this stage the cloud is thickening up and my shot starts to disappear but ross still isn't ready with the camera. I lose the outline of the deer in the cloud and thumb the safety on. Fuck.
Ross can still see a faint outline of the deer through his swarovskis but the camera and my scope can't get it. Precious seconds tick by with the light continuing to fade. This gave me time to get really comfortable and slow my breathing right down. I make the decision that if I can get a gap in the cloud for a shot I'm going to take it, to hell with the video.
After what felt like ages but realistically was only a couple of minutes the clag cleared enough to see. I line up on the one deer I can see standing broadside. "Right I've got a shot, you ready with the camera?" I whisper to Ross. "which one are you on?". "Fuck I don't know, I can only see one."
"Does she have her head up?" Ross asks, trying to figure out which one to video. "Yup, I'm going to do it." I reply.
The 7mm rem mag shatters the stillness with a suppressed crack and Ross' deer on video turns and trots off down hill unharmed. Luckily the frame catches a set of hooves tumble on the extreme edge of the video with the rest of the deer out of shot. I was confident with the shot and Ross thought he saw a deer drop on the spot so having video confirmation was nice.
We looked at the terrain between us and the deer, a steep down hill into the creek and steeply up to the deer on the other side. The country was covered in pepper wood and scrubby crap interspersed with small clearings and toitoi. By now it is 2015 and we know we are in for a bit of a mission.
We head off down a spur, picking our way through the crap, half crawling half bashing our way down to the creek. We reached the creek just on dark and it is out with the headlamps.
The going on the other side of the creek is no better, in fact it was steeper and the crap was even thicker.
We made our way slowly and painfully up the opposite face until, under a blanket of thick cloud and pitch darkness, we found our clearing where we were confident we would find a dead deer. A quick review of video footage and photos taken from where we fired the shot compared with satellite and topo maps we had a good idea of where we needed to be.
We sidled out of the small creek that marked the edge of our clearing, the steep bank causing me to cling on to the long grass and patches of scrub as we went. Once we reached the approximate spot where we thought the deer had been we stopped to reassess. I looked down at my hands and in the torch light saw I was covered in blood. I didn't think I was cut so figured I must have grabbed something the deer had rolled over. I backtracked a few metres to where I found the site the deer had been standing. A big blood splatter and a flattened toitoi confirmed a bang, flop, roll scenario. Given the steepness we knew she would be dead in the creek at the bottom of the slip.
Ross made his way down the face looking into the creek as he went whilst I tracked the blood down in a straight line. At some point she had managed to regain her feet after tumbling at least 30m and I followed a heavy blood trail across the face for another 10m where she had turned downhill and recommenced her tumble. We found her upside down in the dry creek bed having lost about 60 meters in altitude (other than the brief bit of sidling this was all straight down).
By now it was 2230 and after a couple of photos we set to work removing the back legs and back steaks. We reached the main creek by 2300 and started making our way upstream to where we had come down. On reaching our spur we started the slow and painful task of picking our way back up to the main ridge and the track out. It was at this point I started to cramp up, first my left quad, then my right then the calves and hammies started getting in on the action. By walking (bush bashing) for 10 minutes and then resting/stretching for 5, we managed to get half way up the ridge before I could go no further. By now it was after midnight.
We had a chat and decided to doss down for the night. We both had the SOL emergency Bivvies and warm jackets/hats/gloves etc so were warm enough although it wasn't as toasty as I had predicted. It was bloody uncomfortable and as a result not much sleep was had.
We started again not long after first light and were back at the truck before 8am this morning without too much drama. Now I've had a shower, a decent feed and a nap. The legs are skinned and boned out and sitting in Ross' venni fridge alongside the backstraps. My legs are fucked and I'm sitting on the couch watching cricket.
Would I do it all again? You bet - Just probably not tonight.
Cheers @Shootm for the awesome hunt and getting me on to my first Ruahine red and my first in over a year - Legend!