Willie Duley and his colleagues at NZ Hunter went hunting for chamois and red stag with the EL Range 10x32 in the mountains of Canterbury – Arthur’s Pass National Park, New Zealand. Here’s his recount of this challenging quest:
Following a relentless summer of long hours getting our television show to air there was finally daylight at the end of the tunnel, and we quickly began scheming our next hunting adventure out in the New Zealand mountains.
Our latest video editor and team member Kieran was quickly thrust into the action, and we packed gear for a five-day expedition through the wilds of Arthur’s Pass National Park. Now being late Autumn, we held hopes of securing Kieran his first mature Red stag and Chamois buck.
The main objective for our first day of the trip, was to hike up into some likely hunting grounds. After three months largely office bound, the 1,300 metre, 20 km trek was a solid shock to the system and probably had Kieran wondering what he had signed up for. Reaching the end of our travel ridge as darkness began to set in, we were unable to locate any nearby animals so set about establishing a campsite, primed and ready for the following morning.
Waking to a cold but stunningly clear morning with a red haze over the endless mountain tops on the horizon, we set about glassing to try and locate some animals. I was trialling the new EL Range 10x32 binoculars this trip and with again no animals spotted, it looked like they’d be getting a serious work-out this trip.
Splitting off from the group with radio in hand, I headed East to look into some fresh country and spied a family group of Chamois beneath me. A closer look through my binocular revealed a Chamois buck was tailing the doe and yearling, but was he old enough? Unfortunately, the buck proved to be a few years still off his prime and was probably just enjoying his time with the girls before a more mature animal moved in over the rut. A short glimpse of a couple of red hinds on a far bush edge had us revaluating our position, deciding that a change in location would be our best bet for the evening’s hunt. With heavy packs back on, we dropped and sidled our way amongst some picturesque blue lakes before re-setting camp and climbing high over a ridge to glass for the evening. Again, the diminishing day light hours cut our hunt a bit short, but I had managed to locate a good-sized group of Chamois which poised us well for the morning. Kieran’s body was now really starting to feel the endless kilometres travelled and his enthusiasm was dwindling by the hour. This was going to be interesting.
Climbing up and over into the catchment where I’d seen the Chamois group the previous evening, we crested the final ridgeline and immediately spotted an animal beneath us. With some attractive horn length on show, we were debating whether the animal was a buck or a doe when a new animal stepped out, revealing itself from behind a rocky ridge. One look through the ATC spotter told me he was a buck and quite a good one at that, so we readied the rifle as he made his way now rather hastily around the opposite steep scree slope, he was onto us. He turned broadside and I quickly shot a range off through the binoculars. Kieran adjusted the PBC on the Z5 rifle scope and settled in for the shot. Squeezing off the trigger, we all expected the buck to drop instantly on the spot and were dismayed when we saw a spray of dust fly up, sending the buck galloping off at a fast clip into the distance. We replayed the shot on our cameras and watched the bullet whistle in just off the front shoulder of the buck, missing him by mere inches. Dejected at the opportunity lost, it was nice to know the buck was unharmed. Possibly the pressure of the moment had got the better of Kieran, we’ll never know exactly, but that’s hunting.
After a shower of rain, we began dropping our way down the steep scree slopes into the main river valley below, while keeping an ever-present eye out for any handy deer in the area. Unfortunately, fresh boot prints told us this valley had seen some other hunters in the past few days, so we pressed on and made camp on the river flats as a stary sky signalled the day was coming to a close.
With the batteries a little recharged after a night spent on the river flats rehydrating and refuelling with food, we began a gruelling 1000 metre trudge back up onto a fresh set of tops. Stopping for a breather and a glass upon breaking the bush line, I quickly spotted some red hinds with a young stag trotting behind. Not exactly our target specimen but it was a good sign that the country we were heading into held a few more numbers.
Cresting the top of the rocky and broken ridge gave us great look into a whole new catchment. Our cameraman Emil catching a short glimpse of a stag over lunch had us eager for the evening’s hunting ahead. But despite our best efforts and many a bush edge glassed; it had proved to be surprisingly uneventful. We turned in for the night, hoping we could force a result over our final day of hunting.
Rangefinding binoculars have been available for some time now and they are undoubtedly extremely useful for saving precious seconds in the field when measuring the shooting distance and angle to animals. Their one common downside for the mountain hunter has often been the additional bulk and weight that comes with combining a binocular and rangefinder into a single unit. Swarovski has now entirely challenged what was previously thought possible with the release of the EL Range 10x32 binocular. Weighing a mere 680 grams, this binocular is a must for any hunter who prioritises lightweight and compact equipment. – Willie Duley
Splitting up to hedge our bets, the sounds of rocking rolling soon had me looking down on a group of Chamois. It felt like a Déjà-Vue, another doe and yearling with a young buck in tow. A crackled radio call from Emil stating that he’d spotted a stag, had me racing in his direction. The stag had now bedded down, and we were faced with a bit of a dilemma as we tried our best to evaluate him in the stifling midday heat. With heavy rain on the forecast, we really had to vacate this valley tonight or risk being stuck in here. Additionally, the stag was poised in a tricky location which we weren’t sure we could actually reach, that was if Kieran was even up for one last push. The odds certainly weren’t looking in our favour and we gave Kieran the final say about what he wanted to do. Reluctantly, we began the trek back out over the ridge top and then down and out the valley. A bittersweet feeling was present, and we were already scheming a return to a nearby area to try break our run of bad luck as we rounded out the trip under headlamps.
Opting for the use of our 4WD’s to access this cold and snow-clad river valley, we quickly set about glassing the likely feed faces. Locating a few hinds and younger animals, things were again looking a little bleak when a large antlered stag materialised out of the bush. He looked mighty impressive upon first glance, so we closed the gap for a better evaluation. With Kieran set behind the rifle, I started to sense he wasn’t quite what we were after. His thin and leggy body told me he was only four or five years old and hadn’t quite reached his full potential. A tough call to leave him but without doubt, the right decision.
Reluctantly, we turned our attention to the other side of the valley where we’d been seeing a few hinds. The lure of some fresh venison was too strong to ignore. Just as one of the mature hinds turned broadside and presented Kieran the perfect shot, the silence of the mountains was shattered by an aeroplane as it buzzed its way towards us. The hinds slunk back into the safety of the bush, no longer to be seen. Man, we were not getting the rub of the green this trip.
We scoured the hillsides as we began our drive back out of the valley to meet our end of trip curfew. As though it was meant to be, I spotted a stag just a few hundred metres away up a face. We quickly closed the gap and set about getting Kieran lined up off a prominent rock. He found the animal and was in the final process of squeezing off a shot when the stag took off spooked. Puzzled at what had just happened, we looked below to see another vehicle parked in clear sight of the stag. Our continual run of unfortunate events was hard to comprehend, almost laughable.
Dejected, we began our way down to vehicle and continued the journey back out of the valley. Two trips and multiple days in the mountains hadn’t been enough for Kieran to strike success this year but that’s hunting. Nothing is ever guaranteed in the mountains but if you savour all moments in the wild beyond just the taking of an animal, you’ll never head home empty handed.
Willie Duley is a passionate hunter and conservationist from the wilds of New Zealand. He grew up in a family that was immersed in the outdoors and nature, with his parents being the producers of the popular NZ Hunter Magazine. Willie himself hosts and produces the matching outdoor television show NZ Hunter Adventures. As a father, he hopes to offer his family an equally rewarding childhood growing up surrounded by wild people, places, and animals.