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Spot him first
– Hunting Experiences

Hunting deer in the trees is mind-sapping work. The moment the mind wanders is likely to be the moment deer break cover and flee. Your key senses are sight and hearing. Here in New Zealand, the common terminology when stalking through the tall vegetation is bush hunting. This is a term that reflects the amount of New Zealand hunting land covered in native or exotic forests or dense scrub.

Going bush hunting at Poronui means hunting beech forest, planted stands of gums or pines, or mānuka scrub. These environments are where the deer hide so you need to be on your A-game to be successful. Free-range sika hunters and bow-hunters are two groups that will often find themselves sneaking through the trees and scrub, as these are places where close-up opportunities are possible. During the rut, the males are coming to find you and you can expect epic close-up encounters with hot-wired stags.

Hunting deer in the bush involves concentration and sharpened senses. You will be close to them, need to see and identify them before they spot you, and seal the deal with a pressured shot before they spook. Nothing gives the hunter greater satisfaction than fooling his or her quarry on their own turf. It doesn’t happen often.

When bush stalking, every suspicious sound has to be analyzed, every step has to be carefully placed, the wind direction has to be right, and shapes, colours, and movement glassed for identification. Noisy clothes or equipment have to be removed, contrasting colours avoided, actions need to be slow and precise, and you need to be vigilant.

So what does a non-spooked deer in the bush look like? Seldom will it be a complete deer. Chances are you will spot a movement such as an ear flicker, a part of an animal (such as the top of the back as an animal feeds), a moving colour that can’t be identified (such as orange-red), or a flitting shadow. You have to wait for as long as it takes to make full identification of the animal before any shot is taken. Safety is always paramount.

When hunting with chief guide Mark McGlashan I was always amazed at how in the gums he could spot sika right on the edge of human vision. His sightings were of calm animals because of the distance, while my sightings were often when they spooked.

You can’t be fully concentrated for hours on end so take time out when there is no sign, and ramp up the senses again when in deer country when seeing animals is expected. A positive attitude when bush hunting is the right attitude. The photographs accompanying this blog are some of my favourite bush shots. A red stag watching me from thick cover, a red hind peeking through branches, a stag roaring on a bush clearing, a feeding trophy billy goat, sika mother and young, and a rutting sika stag.

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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