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Ryan’s Story
– Hunting Experiences

It’s the end of day two at Poronui and our group of talented bow hunters already have two out of three red stags down — and very respectable stags at that. This is truly an amazing feat. Bowhunting is hard enough on average game, and these animals are very wary. The incredible habitat and expert guides make the hunt possible for a bowhunter, and the quantity and quality of the animals are exceptional. With only myself left to tag out, and three full days to hunt, we decide to hunt for a trophy stag that’s not only unique, but scores higher than Stephen’s and Aaron’s for bragging rights.

Two days of scouting, stalking, and listening to the roar has given us a great idea on the times, places, and movements of these majestic animals. We waste no time making a new ground blind in a promising, high-traffic area. My father (cameraman) and guide, Mark, help set up our ambush on a group of deer with world-class racks, each unique in their own ways — anything from lots of mass and points to long main beams and drop tines. Poronui is loaded with trophy-class animals.

We make our way to our ground blind on the afternoon of day three, with warm sunny weather and a perfect wind, ready to sit for hours if necessary for a hopeful 20- to 40-yard bow shot on a monster stag. Due to warm weather, Mark is the first to take advantage of the peace and quiet of the outdoors by lying in the green grass and catching a catnap while waiting for that well-known dusk prime time. My father and I follow shortly after, slowly dozing off in the breezy sunlight.

We’re all familiar with the saying “Good things happen when you least expect them,” and that’s exactly true! About 45 minutes into our hunt/nap, out of the draw behind our blind comes a roar, followed by another, and yet another. My father and Mark say, “Here we go!” I grab my bow and turn on all three of the GoPro cameras capturing different angles of the encounter. Within a few very short minutes there stands a young stag — 15 yards away — appearing suddenly from the dense forest! Mark quickly whispers he’s too young and not to shoot. My heart’s pounding through my chest with adrenaline as the stag walks by and we all look at each other in disbelief that our blind placement was working so well. The closeness of the encounter shakes my composure.

Suddenly, another roar rips through the trees! With only enough time to clip my release back onto my 70# Mathews Z7 Xtreme, Mark says, “Shoot him! Shoot him!” I’m still unaware of what or where he is talking about. Then, over my left shoulder, less than 12 yards away, is a huge stag walking towards me! Instinct kicks in as Mark keeps whispering for me to shoot. I draw my bow and Mark roars for the stag to stop. WHACK goes my Rage Extreme broadhead into the chest of the massive animal that was now less than 10 yards away, coming right towards me! It was done. I had just stuck The Long Boy, as the guides who had spotted him on occasion before had named him. My dad is right there next to me recording the event.

Any seasoned bow hunter will confirm that the moment after a quick shot brings extreme excitement followed by extreme doubt. Did I get good penetration? Was my arrow placement correct and will it be fatal? Should I have waited for him to take another step? Along with a million other questions, all of which were quickly answered by a review of the incredible HD-quality video dad had successfully taken.

The verdict is in. The shot was high but appears to have the penetration needed to do the job. With still some doubt in mind, the waiting game starts. Five, 10, 15, 20 minutes go by. With great anticipation, we slowly start to creep down the trail the stag took after receiving the 100-grain rage. We find blood at the point of impact, followed by the back half of my arrow soaked in blood. Everything looks great as we creep down the trail, ensuring the wind is in our face and listening very carefully so as not to jump or push a wounded animal.

A bowhunter’s worst nightmare eventually becomes reality as it’s obvious the wound is starting to clot, and blood becomes more and more difficult to find, extending sometimes to 50–75 yards between spots. Past blood trailing experience tells us the animal is most likely to take a familiar trail of least resistance after traveling such a great distance — almost 600 yards now. This knowledge helps us pick up the trail again and again. The animal appears to be heading to a well-known water hole towards a thick patch of pines where he’d been seen before. It has now been three hours since the shot and it’s getting dark. The blood has been lost and we’ve been joined by my brother-in-law Aaron, and friend Stephen. With no more blood and no animal in sight, I am heartbroken and wishing I could take back the shot and aim inches lower. After a quick search through the pines with no luck, we make our way back to camp for dinner and to collect our thoughts for the morning plan on tracking the animal.

After a long sleepless night, morning finally comes. To my surprise, every guide and tagged-out hunter at the property has come together to help me find my trophy. The group of eight of family, friends, guides, and fellow hunters split up throughout the area this particular stag has been known to frequent — anything from bedding areas to his summer velvet hangout. We jump many stags with similar characteristics as mine, bringing short-lived bursts of excitement and adrenaline. Each time the static-filled two-way radio comes on, followed by “Never mind mate, he was big but he was not our boy,” I sink a little more inside. I will have to say that the constant effort to check the same areas over and over by the guides, and their diligent searching in new areas made me feel very hopeful. My father repeatedly saying “Nobody knows these animals’ habits better than these guides,” actually seemed to help also.

Lunch has come and gone yet again, and the sun creeps towards the horizon as we overlook a large valley that the stag frequented during the summer. As we glass the valleys and hillsides, the stags begin to roar for the afternoon — one after another after another. The hills are alive with animals and I think one just has to be mine. By this time our guide has burned through a full tank of gas in first gear, driving the high roads and glassing the valleys. It has been an exhausting day, and my hopes are starting to fade. I am standing in the back of the truck as we creep along a road on the edge of a huge canyon. Something catches the corner of my eye and I look down the draw to my left. There, standing in the sunlight 150 yards below the truck is a huge stag with his head hanging low. I quickly tap the truck cab asking Mark to stop as I jump out of the moving truck, running back to get another view of the animal.

At first glance I get the same image I’ve had in my head for the last 27 hours — the very stag I shot the day before, still alive and a second chance to redeem myself! A quick look from my guide, my father, and Stephen all confirm that it’s my stag. A quick decision had to be made. The stag is facing us and the wind is in his face. Wounded and weak, the potential for a bow finish is there but risky due to the 20-foot drop behind him into a dense draw, and the risk of losing the animal once again due to low-light conditions. The obvious answer is on my guide’s shoulder — his .300 Winchester Magnum. We quickly get into position for a clean 100-yard finishing shot and I squeeze the trigger.

It’s over. The longest 27 hours of my hunting career has ended in success. With great excitement, we rush to get our hands on the trophy. Accompanied by my father and Stephen — two men I am most grateful for in my life — I hold my trophy stag for a few sunset pictures. We snap pictures until we lose light, then we return to camp for an amazing dinner and red wine with incredible hosts, family, and friends to celebrate the outcome of a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — to hunt one of the greatest trophies the world has to offer; a red stag from Poronui on the North Island of New Zealand.

As a point of interest, my stag scores 452” by SCI measurement standards — an amazing trophy to attempt with a bow.

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