This fine red stag is the result of several days of hard bowhunting. Even with outside pressures to take up a rifle, persistence paid off.
If you find yourself bowhunting with a rifle guide, you’ll learn that there are differences between the two hunting style. Here is how I made my hunt more rewarding during my fallow deer and red stag bowhunt at a New Zealand rifle hunting lodge.
The lodge owner glanced at my bow case. “You have your work cut out for you,” he said. “This is the end of our season, and the stags have been pushed into the higher country. They are weary and skittish. Take a rifle with you.”
Guides feel enormous pressure to get their clients an animal. As a result, some guides do not like to guide archers. To counter this, I state my expectations right up front. I let my New Zealand guide know that I understood the limitations of archery equipment. This relieved some of the pressure.
In addition, it is some camps’ policy to “help” with the kill when a hunter makes a poor shot on an animal. Although I doubt you could convince an African PH on an elephant hunt not to follow up for you, work it out ahead of time.
Stick To Expectations, But Be Flexible
My bowhunting mentor, Edwin Evans, and I donned our camo and were met by our guide. Surprisingly, he was wearing short-shorts. It is winter in New Zealand. There is snow on the higher ground. The guide is 6’4” tall, and 75 percent of that massive frame is leg—leg that does not tan. At least his legs matched the snow.
Then he sprung it on us: “I would like to take my dog with us.” This Baskervillian mutt was not something I wanted along, but I agreed, for fear of being eaten.
The ravine bottoms were choked with high, thorny matagouri bushes. These pants-ripping, bowstring-fraying, hat-removing, knee-festering bushes are so thick that I still have nightmares. Farther up the mountains (where the game was) there were no trees. Sparse, sharp, knee-high “spear grass” was the only cover.
We started side-hilling toward a valley that lead to a tall peak where the guide had seen some good stags. We ran smack into a single fallow buck feeding on an open hillside. We were about 500 yards away when the guide simply said, “I’ll sit here and let you do your thing.” It was exactly what I wanted to hear.
As I started across the hillside, Ed and the guide were watching and whispering:
100 yards away
Guide: Where is he?
Ed: Right there, he’ll slow down now.
Guide: Oh, I didn’t think he would get that close.
Ed: He has the wind in his favor, and it’s only one set of eyes.
50 yards away
Ed: Don’t tell Steve that, he already has a big head.
Guide: He is drawing, brilliant!
Ed (overjoyed): He missed! Let’s go make fun of him!
I had made a clean, over-the-back miss. I did not account for the elevation difference. After much-deserved harassment, they informed me that the fallow buck had only run a short distance over a ridge. Again we split up, and I started another big sneak. With 15 pairs of eyes on alert, I became pinned at 75 yards. Ed and the guide could not see me. The wait drove the guide insane.
Ed spied me within 30 yards of several deer, and the guide could not believe it. He continually whispered a shocked “brilliant!” Rifle hunters are unaccustomed to getting this close.
This time my shot hit, but was a little far back. My rifle-minded guide wanted to give chase immediately. I convinced him to wait because rushing in would result in an unrecovered animal. After waiting, we belly-crawled to the top of the ridge and located the wounded buck. A follow-up arrow resulted in a beautiful trophy.
A day later my wife, Amy, joined me as an observer. The red stag was a much more formidable adversary. We hunted hard for the next several days, but rarely got close. My few sneaks were busted by wind or bright legs.
On the evening of Day 4, we located two stags in a shallow valley, high on the mountain. We climbed into place, but 200 coverless yards remained between them and any tension on my bowstring. Then the guide stepped on his dog’s paw. A slight yelp popped out. The stags went on high alert, ran to the top of the opposite ridge, and stared. It was late, the stalk was busted. I noticed that anytime the stags spotted us, they ran to the nearest ridge to go straight up the mountain.
Already on a ridge and alert, the stags remained uncertain about the yelp, so they stopped climbing. I quickly formulated a plan. Amy, the guide, and the dog would wait hidden below the current location. I would climb up to position in front of the stags on their ridge. After a 30-minute wait, the guide would show himself, and I would ambush the stags as they trucked up the ridge top. We synchronized our watches, and I was off.
I hunkered into place behind some spear grass, caught my breath, and waited for antler tips to appear. When guide yelled something unintelligible, I assumed the jig was up, so I gathered my gear and started back down. But Amy motioned for me to get back down.
Luckily, the stags stopped sprinting, pausing to look back at the guy in short-shorts who had yelled. I came to full draw. Remembering my earlier mistake on the fallow deer, I compensated for elevation, picked a spot, and let the arrow fly.
The shot felt good, but I did not see where the arrow hit. With last light fading quickly, the two stags entered a ravine, but only one came out. With the uncertain shot placement, cold temperature, and late hour, I suggested we return early next morning. That evening the owner again suggested we bring a rifle in case I had made a bad shot.
The following morning, with only my bow in hand, we walked right up to my dead stag, a mere 200 yards from the shot. My shocked guide could only grin and pat me on the back.
Yes, bowhunting with rifle hunters is challenging. Even so, my rifle-toting, short-short-wearing, dog-stepping guide provided me with an amazing adventure. Because we established expectations, remained flexible, and persevered, my New Zealand bowhunting trip was “brilliant.”