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Rusa stag rut
– Hunting Experiences

New Zealand’s winter encompasses the months of June to August. It is a time when most Poronui big game species are back in their gender groups conserving energy after the rigours of their earlier rut periods. It should be a silent time on the hill, but for one species it is the opposite of a quiet lull as rusa stags bellow out their rutting moans.

Rusa were brought to New Zealand from New Caledonia and because of their foreign ancestry, their rut event has always been out of sync with the other deer species. The first groans are heard in early July, and calls will reach their peak in mid-August. Rusa are naturally cautious, wary, and elusive, so the rut is ‘the hunter time’. The stags let their guard down. Guides can hear them, locate their territory, and finally see them.

Clients who want a New Zealand rusa trophy should ideally book for July/August and make their rusa intention clear early on so guides can scout for big stags well before the hunt commences. They often glass sunny clearings and open faces and ridges for bedded stags. Distance shots are preferred to bush hunting as rusa are very flighty when hunters track them on foot.

Rusa are spread throughout the estate but several spots seem to be hotspot rutting zones. These areas are basins surrounded by cover with ridges running down to the valley floor. Competing rivals establish themselves on various ridges and bellow back and forth at each other, and gather up females in the process.

I have yet to see a full-on battle at Poronui, but stags I have observed are marked with fighting evidence. Stags I saw fight in New Caledonia did so with murder on their minds, and their long, needle-sharp antlers are designed for thrusting and impaling. Death there was quite common.

The strangest part of the rusa rut is the need to beat up shrubbery and long grass and then carry the destroyed foliage around on their antlers. Sometimes they are carrying so much green matter on their head I am surprised that individuals can see where they are going.

Winter is a great time to hunt at Poronui. In addition to rusa stags emerging from the bush, it is a time when red and sika stags and fallow bucks are mobbed up in bachelor herds. From a trophy perspective, it is now easier to find the biggest trophies as they are feeding amongst their peers and can be compared. The other species are less spooky during winter and antlers are still hard. Arapawa rams and Pacific billy goats are available as well.

The days may be shorter, but what better place to relax at night than in front of a roaring Poronui lodge fire with a mulled wine in hand and a unique rusa trophy in the chiller.

Greg Morton
One of New Zealand’s longest serving 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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