The clock ticked slowly while I looked out at the stunning view. The sun was just hitting the eastern faces of the Kaweka main range after one of the longest nights… Emma was going through a marathon far harder than any of the Kaweka challenge races she had faced in the past. In fact, they seemed like a picnic compared to this excursion. Finally, after two long days at Hastings Hospital, our little bundle of joy joined us on April 14th, 2000.
The first three months at home were hell on earth, as The Toot didn’t like sleep, food or anything else. How something so cute could keep us sleep deprived for so long, I will never know.
Eventually, things clicked into gear and in September, 2000, I got the call to process a cattle beast on an inland station on which we were fortunate to hunt Sika. Emma was desperate to escape and bring Isabella on her first camping trip.
Surrounded by the huge 1920s shearing shed and classic shearers quarters, the cookhouse had a cosy fire and was more than adequate to house our team, allowing us both to be back in our happy place…
With Uncle Blue alongside as the meat packer, and myself doing the bulk of the butchering, we never knew what we would process until we turned up. Often it was a beast that didn’t make the trip to the freezing works, but was ideal to feed the station staff.
A brisk Saturday morning had us busting beef to stay warm as the sun rose. Normal duties continued until smoko, when the Boss arrived to inspect progress. It was standard fare for me to keep aside the tail and eye fillets each year, as the Boss’s perk, and I never failed him. A real old-school, back countryman of few words, who had shaped the land through an enormous amount of hard work and diligence.
The Boss loved to see his beast hanging on the hook and to inspect it closely. His eyes told me he could almost taste the flavour of the steaks sizzling in the pan.
These trips were never about hunting but we always packed a rifle, just in case a handy meat deer could be harvested before the trip home. The Boss chewed the fat with us, before casually mentioning there were too many deer hammering the grass in the back paddock, and could we do something about it.
Uncle Blue and I exchanged glances, as this had never been offered before, with the normal rules being, ‘hunt well back’.
That afternoon, I suggested to Emma that she should grab her rifle and go harvest an easy deer. It had been a long time between drinks for her. I would hang out with Isabella and keep an eye on our dinner simmering in the camp oven.
The weather gods had other ideas, with light rain and mist rolling in from the tops, blanketing out the surrounding countryside and spoiling any chance of a successful hunt. Emma and Uncle Blue returned a bit damp and empty-handed just after dark. We had a few laughs in the cookhouse that evening, and with the fire well-stoked and happy snuffles coming from the porta-cot, life was good.
At daybreak, Uncle Blue and I discussed the morning’s options over coffee, before departing the camp and splitting up to cover an area each, but agreeing to be in radio contact if we heard a rifle shot.
Buck, my foxy, lifted his leg on every blade of grass. We slowly wandered up the shingled farm track in a light mist, locating a vantage point where we could stake out the paddocks. The sun was trying to break through as the mist swirled around, while diamond droplets of water dripped off the fence wires. A magpie flew up into an old man macrocarpa tree on this magical morning… and then I quietly swore under my breath. I had spotted the awesome sight of four stags in the far corner of the paddocks!
Wow!! Two of the stags were heads down, stuffing their faces with grass, while a couple of younger beasts had antlers locked together, playfully pushing each other around. I glassed the biggest bodied stag but was disappointed at his mediocre head. Shifting the binoculars to the left… holy shit! This Sika stag had good tops with nice shaped beams to go with it. Funny how things went from a casual walk to serious hunting mode in a flash, as a drum beat loudly in my chest.
My mind was mentally going over the math needed to close the distance so that my Sako carbine would have a chance at a 200-yard shot. This was a new challenge compared to the typical bush stalk. I had to manoeuvre along a fence without much cover and find the right post to shoot off, while keeping the dog in tow. My heart was racing, with a good dose of buck fever kicking in! I had to check myself and calm down, as I knew I would get one shot at this and I didn’t want to stuff it up. I told myself to concentrate on the prize and not to even consider trying to shoot a second stag, or it would all end in disaster.
I crawled through the wet grass for a couple of hundred yards with a dog at my side, before finally easing the rifle on top of a fence post. Breathing harder than I would have liked, but totally focusing on the prize… I squeezed the crisp trigger of the Sako when my stag was perfectly side on! My bullet found its mark and water instantly exploded from his coat. The other deer bolted everywhere!
Three stags effortlessly sprang over the eight wire fence in succession, heading to the safety of the manuka. My stag crashed into it, stretching the tight wires and batons before bouncing back off like a wrestler on the ropes – his morning ended. I climbed over into the paddock feeling mighty pleased with myself and wandered up to the scrub edge to inspect my prize. It was at this point I decided to play a trick on Uncle Blue.
The little handheld radio burst into life and Blue asked what I had shot. Deadpan, I told him it was only a spiker but would he mind coming over to take my picture. Uncle Blue finally arrived and I had the stag slightly facing away, with his head partially hidden under a bit of scrub. We chewed the fat about the morning’s proceedings while he had another smoke before I eventually pulled my camera out, straight-faced. Finally, I dragged the stag’s head out. The look on Uncle Blue’s face was priceless, almost as good as the profanities he used to describe my good fortune! Later on, he retrieved the pride of the Russian fleet, his classic old 4×4 Lada wagon, backing right up to the stag for the easiest of retrievals.
Back at the station, I received some dark looks from the young shepherds, with mutterings about their stag…I was soon able to show it off to Isabella, who really had no idea what all the fuss was about! Too easy…