The Bucket List and Three “F’s” – By Vic Jacobson
With two of the three “F’s” here (Fat, F**ked and Fifty), and the other one less than twelve months away, I take every opportunity to sneak away for a hunting trip and have a chance to fulfil the only thing left on my bucket list. Typically the time rocks around quickly and being self-employed you need to do two weeks work in one and then pack as you run for the door.
Fortunately, most of the gear remains at the ready, well versed in the art of fitting the bare bones into the rotary Budgie. I really love helicopters, and the flight in with Amalgamated Helicopters was no exception. A chance to say gidday, get a heads up on what the animals are doing, buzz the block and typically it’s all over way too quick. The first thing I noticed was that my memory was really short, I was here fifteen years ago and literally skipped around the entire catchment with relative ease. Now I was getting a crick in my neck just looking up from the hut to the ridge one hundred metres away! With the afternoon free we (Mike, Graham and I) took off as fast as gentlemen our age could go. With absolutely fantastic weather we made our way round to the saddle just prior to Tarn Ridge proper. The first groan for this year was heard from the upper spur trailing off to the west and finishing in the Waiohine basin. I sent the boys around to stalk down while I kept the stag engaged in conversation. Typically we had radios at the hut but had not bought them. As a result I was unable to explain to the boys that I now had two stags engaged in a three way conversation. I am a bit of a traditionalist and find nothing more satisfying than roaring stags in with a good old fashioned Bull’s horn. It was obviously still too early and the animals shut up as the boys cut into the bush. A wander around and it was back to the hut for an oral elixir. There were five new inhabitants who were doing the Northern crossing and typically everyone that shares these back country huts is friendly, amenable and like-minded, this group was no exception.
The next morning started much as they all do, at seven thirty we had a stag going reasonably well on the spur adjacent to yesterdays. Following a typical pattern Mike and I stalked down into the bush and then silence prevailed. We stomped back to the top and lo and behold yesterday’s stag starts up again. Mike heads off through the saddle and around to the next spur and into the bush exactly as yesterday. Meanwhile I had noticed that a new player had come on the scene from the north side, and the first Stag of the day was again vocal, with all three deer no more than 250 metres from Mike. Suddenly another animal comes trotting down Tarn Ridge proper, running along the very tramping track walked the day before by last night’s Hut guests. This stag ran around 800 metres in the open, in the middle of the day, and stopped periodically to argue with me. Halting on a small flat section of the ridge, halfway up the other side of the saddle exactly where Mike had walked not thirty minutes earlier, it became apparent that this was the edge of his boundary. This animal had come from the Waingawa catchment and was clearly on the very tip of his boundary; also evident was his superiority in this domain. I could now hear five stags going well and was in a dilemma. Should I wait a bit longer to see if Mike would score an animal, or should I run with the old adage… a bird in the hand? I put down the bino’s and ranged him at 443 metres. I had all my gear laid out and waited another five minutes while keeping all animals entertained.
Decision time, I dialled up the CDS scope, I had a beautiful rest (a rare luxury in the hills), and with a 12-15 knot breeze through the saddle which I allowed for accordingly, my SS Browning X-Bolt in 7mm WSM shattered the silence. You have got to be kidding, with the scope set at 14X I couldn’t even detect a flinch, unbelievable. With rock faces all around this bloke I was sure that a miss would have invoked a big reaction by way of a jump or rock spray or something. A couple of seconds later a very confused animal trotted left sixty metres where he was met with another resounding bang. Neither of these shots provided the satisfying ‘Whomp’ I like to associate with a good connect. Another broadside on fifty more metres away made the desired noise on impact and I was worrying a little less about using my rifle as a heading dog. Making a very stilted walk back into the top of the Waingawa Head basin the Stag promptly sat down and very graciously expired. I have had this happen before, all three of those rounds found their target but the animal was so pumped he didn’t even flinch when I hit him. These bullets go so fast that it seems to take time before the animal realises departure is imminent. It took a trip back to the hut and guidance from the radio to locate the stag in the steep tussock and Leatherwood face. What a relief when the boys finally got a bead on his head through the Leatherwood. With ten even points and good timber this animal (who was past his prime) deserves a real tribute to his ability to survive Aerial hunting, hunters and the harsh winters you can expect at 1,300 metres above sea level in one of the less hospitable mountain ranges in New Zealand. I suspect if it wasn’t for modern technology’s assistance to a rapidly degenerating ‘past his prime’ hunter, this stag wouldn’t have so readily succumbed. That said I’m still over the moon to be able to tick the box of a reasonable stag well earned (particularly after double ferrying the meat back to the hut in 25°C) in young man’s country.
The rest of the trip was quiet and uneventful with the weather causing an unexpected marriage to the hut for a couple of days. We did manage a few more forays along tops, but true to the book “Tararua – the story of a mountain range” by Chris Maclean: “These Mountains are subjected to climatic extremes not usually experienced at the relatively low altitude of 1,400 metres, the height of most Tararua peaks.” Given that we had the sobering task of walking past the cross placed at the site of Basil Blatchford’s grave, where he expired on a hunting trip in 1959, we chose the sensible option when it came to selecting our hunting days. Fifty knot winds and 50 metre visibility is not suited to either deer or their predators. All too soon the end of the trip rocked round and as luck would have it there was a window of opportunity for JD, who very graciously bought a small boy in for a ride (of his lifetime I might add). As it had been crap weather for the past few days the huts needed a cursory glance and the small boy was a huge benefactor of that (thanks again JD). It was a quick trip home, with the usual catch up and just enough time to book another “young Man’s Block” (that’s the trouble with old age and short term memory loss) for next year. We figure there can’t be anything wrong with putting a bigger tick in the bucket list box! Just as a footnote, I have been flying into the Tararua’s for 20 years now and these guys provide a fantastic, safe and fun platform for entering and departing these mountains. Keep up the good work guys.