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Free-range sika stags in the mist
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Poronui backs onto the foothills of the Kaimanawa Range of mountains, and within those bush-covered hills is New Zealand’s largest free-range sika herd. A third of the property itself consists of indigenous beech forest. Poronui is literally surrounded and inhabited by wild deer, and these feral neighbors like nothing better than visiting during the hours of darkness to graze cutover slopes, grass paddocks, and farmland fringes. The first truck on the road at dawn sees fleeing deer, as many animals have yet to drift back into the bush at this time. The hour before dusk is another prime hunting time as deer begin to emerge out of the forests.

On my recent April visit to Poronui, I stayed at the Safari Camp located on the banks of the Mohaka River. It is a great spot to experience the outdoors in comfort. For hunters, it places you behind enemy lines. You are literally living amongst the wild sika deer. One evening I woke to the sound of deer cropping the grass outside the tent flap. It was a cool experience, as was the sound of sika stags he-hawing across the river on Poronui hill.

During my visit, the weather was mild and clear with evening temperatures dropping. This brought fog in the early morning, especially alongside the Taharua River, which runs through the center of the property. Although I was hunting fallow buck at the other end of the property, each morning, as the fog began to lift, I crawled my vehicle to the hunting zone trying to capture some ‘surprise’ photos on my camera along the way.

The tactic occasionally worked, particularly on the odd stag who gave me ‘the stare’ before moving off into the mist. I even surprised one eight-point stag in his wallow. The sika females were easily spooked and usually, with a piercing squeal, rocketed away into the scrub.

The photos tell the story of what I saw across three mornings and show the quality of wild sika stags found at Poronui. I did suggest to General Manager Steve Smith that Poronui needed to purchase an electric-powered vehicle so on my next trip I could sneak around even more quietly. The fog did help as well. I am hard-pressed to think of any other New Zealand location that has such a quality free-range deer species on its doorstep.

Greg Morton
One of New Zealand’s longest hunting/fishing profile journalists. Outdoors writer since 1987. Past positions include New Zealand correspondent for The Hunting Report; The Bird Hunting Report, and The Angling Report, and writing a regular hunting article for New Zealand Outdoor for 30 years. Presently writes a monthly article named Fair Chase for New Zealand Fishing News and a hunting blog for Poronui, while continuing his passion for hunting, fishing, and wildlife photography. Lives in Alexandra, Central Otago.
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