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Thread: The end of a dry spell

  1. #1
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    The end of a dry spell

    I had negotiated a long weekend away with workplace and my domestic overseer and the weather forecast was fantastic. Running up to the weekend a non-hunting friend, Lance, had asked if he could tag along and try hunting out. He’s keen, but has an unrealistic view of hunting and my ability as a guide. I explained to him that my success rate is way under 50% and I’m always pleased to actually see a deer let alone shoot one. With a newbie in-tow I thought we’d go to somewhere fairly easy to hike into and what immediately came to mind was ‘Little Tree Terrace’ This is an area that holds deer, especially in the spring, and is a place of great nostalgia to me.

    It was as a High School student back in the 80’s that I first got into the outdoors and hunting. Mostly I went tramping with my mates but as a secondary interest I’d sometimes grab the rifle and go hunting and Little Tree Terrace was a regular haunt for me at the time.

    I can’t help but reminisce about those days. So some of you readers might want to skip this section of the yarn where an old boy in his 50’s starts telling you about what it used to be like back in his day.

    The fact is back then I was an absolutely abysmal hunter. I knew nothing about deer and their habits and my strategy was to walk about the mountains with my rifle and hope I’d bump into a deer. Trouble was back in to 80’s there were very few deer around and those that there were seemed to be averse to bumping into me. I never ever got to shoot a deer on Little Tree Terrace, usually after a day or two I’d give up and start bowling over the hares that abounded. I remember one morning I stalked the length of bush edge along the terrace seeing nothing except months old pellets. Fifty meters away a hare was slowly feeding back towards the forest. This was my last morning so I thought I’d shoot it, not so much cos I wanted the meat but just so I could use the borrowed .303. I shot and missed, only to see a hind bound out of a scrub island across the grassy terrace and disappear into the forest. “For f**k’s sake!”

    Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’ always takes me back to both that era and that valley. It was a favourite song at the time and I’d listen to it on the old Walkman cassette player as I’d cook up my bacon and beans or struggled to coax the compacted cardboard of an Alliance Freeze Dried Meal into something approaching an edible form. The song would to whine and stretch out as the AA batteries began to drain.

    Some of you Christchurch guys of the same vintage may recall what a great service the Railways provided in those days. While it was a given that the trains would run late and the seating was pretty uncomfortable they would stop the train in several specific isolated locales in the Craigieburn and Arthurs Pass Parks to let off tramping parties and hunters. Great for a car-less teen and come Sunday night you had the excitement and sense of power that comes with signalling the train’s engineer with your torch in the pitch black of night and bringing the lumbering train to a halt. I can recall we often just had our rifle stowed uncovered in the overhead luggage rack. The security of the travelling public rested on the guard collecting the tickets asking as an afterthought whether you had removed the bolt.

    As unsuccessful as they were, looking back now, these hunts, often done solo, actually shaped my life. I became very comfortable in the mountains and have ended up spending most of my recreational time there -albeit veering away from hunting to tramping.
    About 10 yrs ago I took up hunting again and have had 3 or 4 trips back to the terrace. I’ve built up a picture of deer activity around here in different seasons by observing their sign and with sightings but still haven’t managed to shoot a deer.

    Well returning to this weekend’s trip, Lance txted to say work had him tied up for the weekend- bugga. I considered altering my plans to exploring a new area that I’d had my eye on. – but in the end nostalgia won the day and I decided to return to Little Tree Terrace.

    I slipped away from work early and it was still only early evening when I hoisted my pack and headed up valley. It was a brilliant day sunny and warm but with a breeze to keep the sandfies down and preventing over-heating. Walking into the sun the mountains ahead had all their contours soften to nothing in the glare. They appeared as a solid vertical wall devoid of and spurs or valleys. Grey walls topped with jagged rocky peaks and snowfields looming above the shimmering riverbed. I crossed a number of glass clear streams that were draining away the snow melt. Within a km or two I started coming across deer sign. Trails of hoof prints were obvious in the silty sections of the rock strewn riverbed and pellets betrayed the feeding sites on the grassy river flats. Three days of freedom lay ahead of me, beautiful weather, the opportunity to secure some spring venison and I was heading into a favourite playground -all was good in the world this aftern

    I made my intended campsite about an hour and a half before dark. It didn’t take long to set up the bivi and sleeping bag so they were all ready to fall into after my evening hunt. To get to the terrace was just a matter of continuing up valley into the wind a few hundred metres.


    Little Tree Terrace is roughly a rectangular shape, a km long and 300m wide. I set myself up on one of the short edges of terrace and started glassing. I knew some key areas to keep a close eye on, thanks to my previous experiences here. Two thirds of the way down the terrace was a finger of bush from which the animals would sometimes emerge at dusk, then there was the rocky slide spilling down off the hill this was a an easy route down for less cautious deer, another exit point was a sloped grassy triangular recess probably 600m from me. On the terrace proper the grass was coming away with the warmer weather, but I knew it was the area around the seepage that always had a lot of sign in spring. I’d also previously seen a wealth of sign amongst the matagouri at the top end of the terrace and on one occasion had stalked in on spiker there before he slipped away. These were the points I concentrated on with my glassing.

    As the light dimmed some of the shrubs and wind fall on the bush edge started to develop deer like attributes to the naked eye but a sweep with the binos proved my first impression wrong every time. A little after 8pm the sandflies had built up to truly terrifying numbers in my possie so I decided to move on a hundred yards for the final ½ hour of glassable/shootable light. I dropped half way down the slope of the terrace and moved on with only my head above the lip so I could keep an eye out as I moved. Almost immediately my eyes were drawn to the triangular recess. Right smack bang in the middle stood a spiker. He wasn’t feeding but stood gazing out over the terrace no doubt testing the wind and looking for signs of danger. I glassed him for a couple of minutes until I saw he had relaxed enough to start investigating the grass. My best course of action was obvious, drop down the bank and make my way to the bush line slowly stalking along it towards the recess.

    I made good time along the bank out of sight, periodically sneaking a look over the lip to ensure he was still there. He was now grazing but still watchful frequently throwing his head up for a look about. During one of my pauses to check him out a pair of Canada geese flew over me honking. The spiker reacted instantly, holding his head erect and looking straight towards the geese and me. Although probably 500m distant I didn’t move a muscle until he started eating again. Thankfully the geese had continued up the valley rather than circling back over me honking in alarm. I gained the bush edge and climbed back up on the terrace proper and keeping tight to the edge of the beech watchfully stalked along it. I reached a bend in the bushline that I recognised was about 300m from the recess, here I dropped my pack and went into real stealth mode. Rounding the bend I knew I could come across the animal at any point, should he have made his way out of his grassy cove onto the greater terrace. I peered out from behind each tree before moving around it and finally saw him at about 200m distance. My poor shooting is legendary so I elected to close the distance a little more. Dropping to all fours I began crawling under the lowest branches of the overhanging beeches pausing each time his head came up. Then some more movement behind him and two yearlings followed him out on the grass. Fan- bloody- tastic. Twenty metres ahead of me was a slight fold in the ground that offered a great shooting position, but it took me some very long minutes to cover that ground as I now had three pairs of eyes to avoid, only moving when all three were head down.


    Safely to the fold now I snapped a photo and began setting up for the shot. While I kept all my movements very slow one of the yearlings was looking directly at me. I kept willing her to return to her fodder but she remained fixated on me, I feared she would take off and alarm the others. Settling in behind the rifle I waited for one of the still grazing animals to present a better shot for me and as if on cue the spiker turned broad side. BOOMMMFFFfffff

    All three took off out onto the terrace, from where I was lying I could only see their heads and the tops their backs. Soon the spiker developed a bit of a wobble and thankfully dropped. His two companions took off again, but confused as to where I was they paused again. Obviously they wanted to gain the security of the bush but ‘the prick with the rifle’ was somewhere along the bush edge ‘what to do?, what to do?’ they were thinking.
    They were both broadside to me and just 100m or so away. Do I want another deer I was thinking? Weighing up my empty freezer against the walk out with a heavy load. Well it’s a pretty easy walk so why not. BOOMMMFFFffff … followed by the sound of a solid impact and down she went, just where she stood. Deer number three didn’t need any further encouragement and took of down the terrace barking as she went. I could see the yearling had died on her feet but wasn’t so sure about the spiker so walked up to check on him.

    The spiker was very dead so I flicked on my head torch and began to open him up. Then I became aware of a fourth deer several hundred meters away out on the terrace that was slowly approaching me staring curiously. I assume it was another young inexperienced animal but at that distance in the now very poor light I couldn’t tell what size it was. Still I posed no danger for it at this point as two deer on the deck was more than ample for my weekend.


    I couldn’t believe how easy and productive this hunt had been. In part it was due to knowledge gained of the area ‘cos of all of my previous failed trips and of course I have now managed to acquire a few more skills than I had in my teens. In part too it was the fact that I found myself up against young inexperienced deer that mum has only recently driven off in preparation for calving. But as always there is a fair bit of luck involved. This is some big country and these deer happened to walk out on the terrace I was staking out, rather than one of the many grassy river flats that dotted the valley or one of the slips.

    Anyway, on this occasion at least, the hunting gods had smiled at me and as later that night I lay in the sack staring up at the mass of stars overhead with my clothing impregnated with the musty smell of deer and a little blood still under my finger nails I was very thankful and content. After a bleak year I had finally broken the draught and had a whole lot of prime venison just in time for the summer BBQs.
    And at last, more than 35 years since I first hunted the terrace it had finally produced for me….you need a bit of patience in this hunting game.
    Scooby, veitnamcam, NRT and 24 others like this.

  2. #2
    NRT
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    Out there doing it

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  3. #3
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    Great write-up!

  4. #4
    R93
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    Yup enjoyed that

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    Do what ya want! Ya will anyway.

  5. #5
    Member Max Headroom's Avatar
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    Good story. Well done.
    RIP Garry S. 23/08/19

  6. #6
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    These days make a lot of the earlier years look pretty spartan numbers wise.
    Good story thank you and a full freezer too. Well done.

  7. #7
    Member craigc's Avatar
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    Awesome yarn, very well written and a great outcome; well worth the persistence!

  8. #8
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    Great read, the only thing better than a well written story is to be out there your self. Thank you for putting me in the bush right beside you.
    Puffin likes this.
    Remember the 7 “P”s; Pryor Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

  9. #9
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    Thanks for the great read. Well done.

  10. #10
    Member Tahr's Avatar
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    Enjoyable read, and very well done.

  11. #11
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    Top Stuff, loved the story, great to think back of times long past. Hunters of today wouldn't believe some of the things we did as youngsters. Good knowledge of an area does pay dividends in the end, yours took a while but the freezer is full now, Well Done.

  12. #12
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    That’s a bloody good yarn. Top stuff bud.


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  13. #13
    Member ROKTOY's Avatar
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    great read, cheers

  14. #14
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    Well done mate! Very easy read. I enjoyed it, thank you

  15. #15
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    Great story and well written. Thanks, and I hope we hear more stories of the terrace producing for you again!

 

 

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