New Zealand DIY Public Land Red Stag and Tahr Hunt

SCliving Outdoors

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I’m currently sitting in the Christchurch airport. It’s raining pretty hard outside. I’m really hoping to leave on time. Thought this would be as good of a time as ever to start writing this. It was a fun hunt. I hope you enjoy reading it.

I came to New Zealand for the first time in 2018. I’ve only ever done 3 guided hunting trips. This was the first one I’d ever done. I shot a really nice big red stag. While I was hunting I became good friends with my guide, Heath, and I learned all about hunting in NZ. Before I left he even offered me a guiding job in NZ if I ever wanted one. During this trip is when I learned that a non resident can hunt public lands without a guide. A plan began to form in my head. After coming home I would message Heath every so often and ask him questions. He would always answer them to the best of his abilities.

Sometime around 2020 I became friends through Instagram with a kiwi named Barry. He reached out to me asking me questions about the Tikka rifle I built and we became friends conversing multiple times a week about hunting. We began discussing tahr hunting and he invited me to come hunting with him on public land. It took a while to plan and Covid definitely didn’t help but finally towards the end of 2022 we nailed down the dates that I’d be coming based on the tahr rut.

Barry, Mark (his father) and I would facetime every so often to get plans in place. I really wanted to red stag hunt too, so the plan was to fly into the mountains after tahr for 4-5 days then drive to a different town get in a different helicopter and head in to stag hunt. I booked my flight Charlotte-Houston-Auckland-Christchurch. I’d known this flight was coming so I’d saved airline points and I was able to cash them in on this flight (free flight, YES!!!). I got my paperwork in order and boarded the plan. A few days before departure Barry contacted me and let me know that they were calling for some absolutely awful weather in the tahr area wherewe were going so we would be going to hunt reds first. That’s fine with me. My preacher growing up always taught us to be flexible when we were on mission trips because plans would always change. I carried that over to normal trips too and I just go with the flow.

The 22+ hours of travel went off without a hitch until I arrived in Auckland. The weather was absolutely horrible. My flight to Christchurch was canceled, then canceled again, then canceled again. I was supposed to land in Christchurch at 9:15am. I finally arrived at 5:30pm. Oh well, you can’t control the weather. Barry and Mark had arranged a heli transport in to the deer and tahr areas. We were planning to get into the deer area on the day of my arrival but since I had all the delays we had to push it back a day. We left the house at 4am to be at the heli pad to take off at daylight.

My first helicopter ride was exciting but uneventful (just the way I like it). About 3 minutes after unloading the helicopter we saw 7 hinds and a decent stag (that was fast!). Barry was telling me to shoot. He said I could look for a bigger one later. I was borrowing a Tikka 270 that is identical to my 7mm08 so I was very confident with the rifle. I didn’t really know what to expect for stag size. I wanted to hold out for a good stag. I decided to not shoot. We set up our camp and let me tell you a helicopter can carry a lot a weight. We had plenty of stuff, lol.

After camp was set up we headed out to begin hunting. The stags were on the back side of the roar. The biggest stags had broken off but smaller/mid size stags were still with hinds. We started finding hinds and small to decent size stags. Plenty of 3x3s and 4x4s (Barry called them 6 pointers and 8 pointers). In my mind a traditional red stag is a 6x6 and that’s what I had in my mind. The giant stags that every one thinks about when they think of NZ are on farms and preserves. They just aren’t on public land. A 12 point stag on public is a very good stag. We only had 2 or 3 days so maybe it was a tall order, but I’m usually pretty good at hunting hard and finding good animals so I didn’t want to shoot something smallish. Mark told me when I saw something I liked to tell him and we’d shoot it.

We found stag after stag I kept holding out even passing a 8 point in easy rifle range. About 3:15 i glassed across a far ridge and saw a solo stag on his feet feeding. I knew immediately that was the one. He was definitely the biggest stag we’d seen on the trip. He was about 1200yds away so we made a plan to try to get close enough for a shot. The country we were hunting was very open, but eventually we got into position moving slowly and using the terrain the best we could. By the time we got into position the stag had bedded on a small rock ledge. I made a good 415yd shot. He rolled off the ledge. I put another one in him because he was still moving a little bit. He was a beautiful public land stag. Either 12 or 13 points (depending on who’s counting). We got him back to camp after dark.

The next day I headed out by myself. Barry wanted to hunt closer to camp and Mark hung back to hike up the ridge to contact the pilot to come pick us up that evening instead of the next day. We’d gotten word that the weather in the tahr area had cleared. Since I killed a good stag we decided to leave early to go tahr hunt. The pilot was coming at 5pm so I had from daylight until about 3pm to hunt. This would give me plenty of time to pack up my stuff before the pilot arrived. I hiked about a mile from camp to the end of a ridge to glass the rough country. I saw about 15 deer total. One was a great stag. He had 5 on his left. He was heavy and long. He was in a great location to stalk in close, but his right side was broken after his G2. Since I’d already killed a good stag I decided to let him go and I’ll try to shoot him when I go back in a couple years, haha. The pilot picked us up right on schedule and we loaded everything up to begin the 2hr drive to get to the town where the tahr portion of the hunt would take place.

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Barry’s sister lives in the town close to the tahr area we were going to hunt so we repacked our bags and crashed at her house. We were at the heli hanger at daylight and up into the mountains we went. 15 minutes in the helicopter and we were at 6k’ setting up base camp in a big bowl surrounded by ridges. Welcome to tahr country. Steep brittle rocks. No trees. Minimal vegetation. Scree slopes. All the good stuff. We took our time setting up camp. Around 10am camp was good to go so we headed out. We climbed up to a saddle and down the back side to glass for a while. Around 12 we were eating some lunch when Barry saw a couple nannies and a kid down below us (Just FYI - Males are bulls. Females are nannys. Young are kids. I don’t make the rules 🤷‍♂️.) We continued to glass and eventually Barry picked up a couple bulls in the distance one of which was a good bull. The bulls were just starting to rut so most nanny groups had a bull with them. We watched them for a while to make sure we had a good idea of what they were doing then we headed out to make our move on the best bull.

The bull was a ways off so we just took our time moving slowly across the rocks and sidehilling our way to him. We made sure to look into every valley and little hole that we couldn’t see because the tahr will hole up and sometimes you wouldn’t see them until you were on top of them. When we were about 700 yards away from the bull we came around a corner allowing us to see up a valley that we couldn’t see into previously. Mark was in the lead and he immediately ducked down and told us to back up. There was a group of tahr in the valley that we hadn’t seen and they hadn’t seen us. As we peaked back around the corner to look again we saw 10-12 tahr total mostly nannies and kids, but there was one juvenile bull and one big bull. I ranged the big bull and he was only 220yds away. I laid down, took a breath and squeezed the trigger. The gun recoiled and I had my first bull tahr. A big mature bull with a beautiful full mane. Just what I came for. I was ecstatic. As we began to take pictures the fog rolled in. If we’d been just 15 minutes later we wouldn’t have even seen him.

The hike back to camp sucked. Definitely type 2 fun. A steep climb up a scree slope to a saddle that would allow us to get back to the tents. We arrived right at dark. A great ending to the first day of tahr hunting.

My goal for the tahr hunt was to kill 2 nice tahr. NZ has no predators. Shooting multiple animals is encouraged. Barry and Mark have a bunch of tahr rugs all over their house, but I wanted a couple shoulder mounts for my trophy room.

Day 2 we climbed up to a different saddle that would allow us to glass the same area we saw the original target bull, but from a different angle. We found a couple groups of nannies and multiple bulls. We set our sights on a big bull with a full blonde mane. He was in a great location feeding while keeping an eye on his girls. We were going to kill him if he didn’t move. He moved… Here’s what happened. The vast majority of NZ guided tahr hunting takes place from a helicopter. This is completely legal and this is how it’s done. The client is take up into the mountains and dropped off in a valley or bowl with a good view. The heli pilot then flies around until he finds a good bull and chases it with the helicopter by the hunter. The hunter shoots the bull and if he misses it the pilot just chases the bull back the other way. You get the idea. They then pick up the hunter and the bull take it to a pretty spot for pics if that location isn’t good and fly down the mountain. This whole thing takes 2-3hrs and they can do multiple clients per day. These hunts take place in the morning.

The big old bulls learn to survive by taking off into the steep nasty rocks high up and hiding in caves or crags and not moving until the heli has passed. This is how they survive. That’s what happened to us. We were watching the big bull then we heard the helicopter. Then we saw the helicopter. As soon as we heard it that bull started moving. We went to the nastiest rocks around and over the top. Gone from my life, haha. After a few minutes all that were visible were the nannies. The couple bulls had disappeared.

We began to move towards the direction the bulls disappeared aiming for a saddle that would allow us a visual on the backside of the peak where we hoped to see a bull when he thought it was safe. As we approached the saddle a bull appeared in the rocks. I almost got a shot at him, but by the time I was on him he was in an unrecoverable location then over the top he went.

We sat in the saddle for a bit glassing and only seeing nannies. Mark and I decided we’d work our way down on the back of the saddle trying to get to an area about 400yds away that would allow us to see around a corner back into a valley. Barry would stay and watch the other of the ridge incase we pushed one out. Mark and I worked our way along the base of the steep rocks 500’ above us. We were about 70 yds from the spot we were aiming for when I looked up and saw tahr looking down on us from the skyline. We immediately dropped behind some rocks. 4 nannies and a good bull. We needed him to move a little and as soon as he did I hit him squarely in the chest (frontal shot) he bucked hard came down the mountain a little and stopped. I hammered him again and down down he tumbled. It was 11am and we had another good bull on the ground. Another beautiful mature bull will a full mane.

We were back to camp by 4pm. The bad weather rolled in after that. Rain and bad wind moved in at dark, but not before glassing 2 big bulls on the ridge above the tent rutting hard. One was the biggest bull of the trip with an amazing blonde mane. It was cool to see. The weather kept us huddled under a tarp for dinner and in the tent after we ate. Wind kept us off the mountain the next morning. I had time to work on my capes (skinning, fleshing, turning, salting).

The next 1.5 days we hunted for the big boy. I passed multiple small bulls and we saw some other tahr, but I had my mind set on the giant old blonde bull we’d glassed from camps. On the final morning we got within 460 yards of him but he wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to get a shot.

Im now on a plane landing in Auckland. The turbulence has been a bit more exciting than I’d like, but we made it. Next flight is the big one across the pond to Houston. The hunt was great, but Im ready to be home and see my wife. I plan to head back to Middle Earth in 2025.

My wife and I leave for Alaska for spring bear in 2 weeks. That hunt will be a lot of fun I think.

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Shame about the heli hunting, as you say common practice here unfortunately and something we had to put up with. The wind is also common here and can make flying and alpine hunting interesting!

But sounds like you had a awesome trip and I'm sure there will be plenty of bulls around for your 2025 return. Will you chase stags and tahr again? You could consider chamois or our other deer species such as fallow, wapiti or sika (north island).
 
Shame about the heli hunting, as you say common practice here unfortunately and something we had to put up with. The wind is also common here and can make flying and alpine hunting interesting!

But sounds like you had an awesome trip and I'm sure there will be plenty of bulls around for your 2025 return. Will you chase stags and tahr again? You could consider chamois or our other deer species such as fallow, wapiti or sika (north island).
I think I’ll be going after chamois and red stags in the roar when I come back. Maybe fallow. Lots of time to decide. The tahr were a ton of fun though. It’d almost be worth it to come back every year to just chase them.
 
Keep in touch and I can tell you about a good chamois and fallow spot for 2025 if thats what you decide. Its been 100% success from my 10+ trips.

I agree, hunting tahr annually is easy enough, even considering the travel from the US. Not real expensive DIY, and there is also plenty of walk-in spots too.
 
Wow! Beautiful hunt!

You are my idle here in SC. I live in Charleston and have used your videos for bear scouting and just watching adventures.

My one-legged buddy and I will be in the South Island in November for some DIY heli hunting. Not concerned with lack of antlers. Bringing back a skin or horns is enough. The trip is the trophy.

Appreciate all your info and adventure.
 
Another great adventure! Congrats and thanks for sharing. Definitely on the short list for me as well. What's next?
 
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