Needs Another Year

Needs another year

Needs Another Year – 2023 New Zealand hunt

A stag called Jeremiah

In 2020 on a backpack hunt for Chamois in New Zealand’s South Island, a red stag in velvet was glassed up and for the remainder of the hunt, discussion revolved around how the stag we had nicknamed Jeremiah, just needs another year. Considering the area in recent times was hard to access and not known to hold good Red Deer numbers, it was felt that passing the stag up was the right choice, especially as it was January and the stag wouldn’t have been in hard velvet. Thankfully the participants of the hunt Bourney and Brooky both got their best chamois bucks to date (never mind that it was Bourney’s first and only Chamois to date), so it was an incredibly successful hunt that cemented the discussions that they would return.

Then the COVID 19 years began- focus on home and family dominated while the itch for hunting the mountains of New Zealand was forcibly left unscratched. The year went by and in 2021, COVID 19 international travel restrictions eased and Brooky ended up relocated to New Zealand, quickly getting back into Jeremiah’s valley and securing a freezer full of meat. It scratched the itch, but left a longing for a dedicated hunt for Jeremiah. Bourney had a rushed mission into the Alpine of Victoria (Australia), hunting Sambar deer with JB and they got into a glorious hunting position for a big stag. They secured a high country camp with a Sambar hind for meat and then harvested JB’s first Sambar stag within 2 days. The planned 6 day hunt was cancelled by the reclosing of borders and a mad dash back home to SA. It seemed even COVID19 needs another year to settle down. It left Bourney in a similar situation to Brooky in that the itch was scratched, but lightly, making it simply itch even more.

As 2022 approached Bourney welcomed his daughter, scratching any hunting plans for him in 2022, except for the odd fallow and a cull buck from the back paddock. Brooky, however, had the green light and would return to search for Jeremiah during the 2022 Red Deer Roar. After a long and sweaty haul trying a new route over a pass, it was all on with stag’s roaring left, right and centre. Into the action early, Jeremiah was located and certainly two years older than when Bourney first laid eyes on him. Old stags don’t get old by being stupid and after a 20 minute stand off at sub 30m seeing nothing but antlers, a slight wind shift saw Jeremiah catch the wind and disappear without offering a shot. There were plenty of stags seen by Brooky, however, most got the same treatment- “needs another year” being a common theme. After passing up a particularly promising young 12 point stag initially, the same young stag was misidentified in the exact spot Jeremiah was seen and in the fading light was taken. With wild weather approaching Brooky packed out, sharing the story with Bourney and firmly getting the gears in motion for a longer hunt in the same area in 2023.

The B’s are back together

Night 1 joy, finally hunting red stags in New Zealand

It was late March 2023, stories from those already hunting in the Mountains of New Zealand were of stags already roaring- it was good to be back. The plan was for a 5 night hunt keeping as mobile as possible to pick apart the hunting area looking for a mature red deer stag, primarily hoping to encounter a now 3 year older Jeremiah. As Bourney settled in for the night (having arrived in Christchurch quite late at night), farmed Wapiti could be heard in the distance bugling away, significantly building excitement. Adding to our enthusiasm for a mature stag were the many stags that Brooky passed up in 2022. Our plan was to find one, or dare we dream two stags for which we didn’t say ‘needs another year’. With unbridled optimism, discussions quickly led to who would shoot first. It was decided that the person who spotted a stag first would have first option to shoot that stag and should they pass up the stag, the other got the same option.

As Bourney had opted to leave his own rifle at home in Australia, the first day was dominated by checking zeroes before heading off to the approach scouted by Brooky in 2022. We arrived later than intended, starting our ascent at 7pm and half way up spotted a young red deer stag. ‘He certainly needs another year or two’ was the consensus but he managed to drive optimism even higher for a successful hunt. The late start meant we crested the ridge to our intended valley in the fading light, so with no time to hunt, we set up camp, had a quick meal, bone-warming hot chocolate and settled in for a well earned episode of “MeatEater” which lulled us off to sleep.

Glamp-hunting – watching a MeatEater episode whilst drifting off to sleep


Lots of red deer, even more wind

Ascending to a glassing point scouted by Brooky in 2022, the wind quickly made itself known. As dawn broke it wasn’t long before the first stag was spotted, but trying to photograph it was impossible with the strong wind at our exposed location. More and more deer materialised- with it being the roar, we were seeing stags, hinds and fawns in quick succession dotted across the valley. One potentially mature stag was seen directly opposite a little over a mile away. There was potentially antler mass, but he was lacking length and in a position that would be impossible to get to in time. We didn’t feel the 8 point stag ‘needs another year’, but we also weren’t convinced that he was what we were after. It was also the first morning and we had high expectations, so while we marked him as potentially worth looking for later in the hunt, for now we would focus on finding other stags.

The largest stag seen on morning one (over a mile/1.6km away)
not sure he needs another year but this stag wasnt what we were after
Even at a mile in very high winds, the Delta spotting scope with Novagrade adaptor was able to give clear assessment

The wind continued to build, making taking footage and images even more difficult, but we did continue to spot more deer. We were more and more optimistic about finding a mature stag, even as we saw more young stags and hind fawn groups. The deer were on the move suggesting the roar was in full swing below, although the wind prevented us hearing any roaring. Then what some would consider a disaster happened- our tent pitched below, having previously survived far worse weather, was badly torn. The wind shifted around to the exposed side of our sheltered camp and managed to lift the tent off the ground. It then smacked back down, somehow managing to drive the walking pole used as a brace in the vestibule through the rain fly. A lot of bad luck was required for the damage to happen, and we got every bit of it. We were on morning one, with four nights to go, rain and snow predicted in a few days, and we had a tent with a massive tear. With clear weather for at least another 48 hours the decision was made to descend off the ridge, find a sheltered camp and re-assess the tent damage.

The campsite that finally put a hole in the battle worn Stoneglacier skyscraper 2P

Descent and duct tape

Feeling somewhat torn about our next moves and having seen a lot of deer in the valley below our first ridge camp, we felt we had seen the majority of what was on offer in that area so made the plan to head downstream and up another feeder gully. Carefully packing away our tent and gear to avoid further damage, we scouted some beech forests on a river terrace which would give us extra shelter for repairing the tent, and started our descent. It was steep- packs were magically heavier due to the weight of thinking about our torn tent and there were mixed emotions. Discussions about splitting the hunt in two began- should we hunt just another day then hike out? Drive right out? Risk weather and stick it out? We reached a one way elevator- a lovely short rock scree that made the last leg before the river an absolute joy as we coasted down with ease. It is amazing how small things can change optimism. Coupled with the clear absence of wind in the steep gorge we found ourselves in, there was reinvigoration to get on with it and get to our second camp.

Certified mood improver

Our choice of campsite was vindicated, with the wonderfully sheltered site having evidence of being camped on previously, complete with a prepared patch of ground for the tent. After a glorious venison salami and cheese wrap for lunch we got to work assessing the tent damage and commencing repairs. We considered our options for repair materials- we had super glue, duct tape and strapping tape for treating blisters/hotspots. We ruled out the superglue as it would just get brittle and make matters worse. After doing our best to clean the surfaces, we used medical kit scissors to cut the duct tap to a fine edge and built a cross hatched backing to hold the tear closed. Then we added more duct tape on the outside tear line to provide a water repellent layer and bond directly to the underside tape. Using the last of our duct tape for cross hatching the ends and centre, we then reinforced along the length of the tear with a ridge cap of medical tape. Erecting the rain fly over the tent and applying tension, the repair seemed to be performing particularly well. It was still compromised and we knew we would be forced to select camps out of the wind, but at least we had some confidence of surviving the predicted snow for the later half of the hunt.

Patched rain fly

“Roaring yesterday”, was the day we were there

When discussing hunting experiences or watching hunting videos, hearing about how they were ‘going off yesterday’ from a guide or local farmer can sneak in as a bit of a theme when there is a perception of the timing of a hunt being off. Well, it turns out we were in the right valley, in the right afternoon, on the right yesterday. We left camp with lighter packs for the evening hunt and headed up a promising central hill between two gullies. As we pushed up we could hear the roaring and we didn’t even make it up to our intended glassing point before spotting our first stag that fell well and truly into the ‘needs another year’ camp. It was still early in the evening hunt window and the young stag put on a show roaring and following around a hind and fawn providing some superb captures with the Delta optical spotting scope. It was a fantastic experience.

Bourney capturing footage of the young stag on the second evening


The young stag needs another year or two but at under 392m away provided a fantastic hunting experience

With the young stag quietening down and more roaring emanating from further around the hill we packed up and ascended further. The crest of the hill was a superb glassing position and we settled in for the evening before a curve ball appeared. Much like in the morning we were seeing lots of red deer, hinds, fawns and a few young stags dotted across the panoramic view which made for interesting glassing. The glassing was, however, made especially interesting by a decent chamois buck and a few other noteworthy chamois feeding away and in reachable areas. One in particular stood out and forced serious discussion about putting the red deer hunt on hold and pursue this seemingly excellent chamois. We filmed and then watched the film back frame by frame to get a firm grasp on his horns and it was clear that he was a pretty handy buck. The merits of the spotting scope and novagrade digiscope adaptor system for assessing animals was again really apparent as we discussed options and whether we felt it was worth shifting our hunt plans.

Ending our discussion abruptly the roaring began to increase and then out walked the red stag we would talk about for the remainder of the trip and year to follow. Impressive brow tines plus with bez tines that were regularly absent in the red deer herd we were hunting, dominant trez tines that gave the stag impressive width, good mass, and interesting but relatively weak tops. He was easily the best stag seen so far. He started over 900m away and came into sub 400m. We were tempted when he came in close, but ultimately decided he needs another year, a lucky 13 red stag. He roared and carried on pushing the young 12 point off the hind and fawn, corralling them back towards the area he originated from. The roaring intensified and we could hear but not locate more stags in the deep beech forests. More hinds and more young stags appeared and disappeared while the roaring intensified. In that little valley while we were there, it was absolutely going off. We had ample opportunities for success and Lucky 13 hung around and gave us more broadside shots than reasonable but we stuck to our decision and let him walk off into the sunset.

With light fading we did a quick weather check on the inReach and got faced with a doom and gloom forecast. In around 36 hours, heavy snow and brutal winds from a frigid southerly was coming our way. Undeterred, probably thanks to the incredible evening hunt, we descended to the tune of roaring stags down to the river, bumping deer regularly until we returned to our tent which was thankfully as we left it. After watching back video of Lucky 13 a few dozen times we discussed plans and decided to go to the same spot in the morning and see if we could get a glimpse of potentially a more mature stag on the edges of the beech which we believe we heard but didn’t locate. If we were successful then the idea of hiking out was floated to avoid the storm. Alternatively, if we didn’t find the stag we were here to find, we would pack up and move back into the first valley to camp in a more sheltered spot for the impending weather. Into the night we discussed at length that Lucky 13 would be a cracking red deer next year and fell asleep with the feeling we had made the right call. We also couldn’t ignore the quality of the chamois seen and if it wasn’t for the lead up to this particular hunt and the fact we had passed up what in truth, was a very good stag, we would probably have shifted plans to hunt those bucks.

Another stag that needs another year being glassed up
Bourney glassing up the beech where stags were heard but not seen

The day after ‘yesterday’

It was a slower start in the morning but we got up the hill as it was getting light. We quickly located some chamois and also started picking up hinds- they were all on the move. Stags were a much harder find and with only a handful of roars it was certainly a much reduced activity day. We found one noteworthy stag but he was still young, a solid 8 point that could get a little longer, wider and heavier, so it was given the ‘needs another year’ label. We watched him walk out of the valley in pursuit of a hind and enjoyed breakfast while our alertness slowly reduced due to the lack of activity. With the morning hunt over and notably less exciting compared to ‘yesterday’ we once again checked the weather forecast and were greeted with even more dire predictions of cold, wind and snowfalls. So we trudged back to camp and made the plan to actively search for a spiker for camp meat as it was becoming clear that the last leg of the hunt would see us spend a significant amount of time tent-bound.

The campsite on day 3 before the snowfall

We hiked to a thick part of beech at a junction between two headwater streams which also had steep topography surrounding it, giving our new camp fantastic protection from the elements. Flat ground it was not, so in a small hollow we proceeded to excavate and chip out our tent site, with anxiety from torn tents giving extra incentive to clear all sharp sticks, rocks and debris. The end result was surprisingly comfortable with the tent itself nestled into a hollow within a hollow and the years of beech compost giving a site that was soft and well drained. We headed off for an evening hunt, with a firm decision to precure camp meat if on offer. We almost ended up with chamois curry as a large mob of does and kids were located 500m upstream from camp. Incredibly fun animals to watch, alas, the wind out of the sheltered campsite was absolutely ripping so we didn’t get any images of the large family group.  As the afternoon rolled into evening deer started to move and, much to our surprise, behind us a mere 200m from camp a spiker emerged. The 7mm SAW was quickly moved into a ready position and camp meat was secured,

Initially we were concerned that the shot was a little far back, but thankfully it was an illusion of the hide flicking up as he tipped 15m from the site of the shot and rolled into the shade of the beech. Not wanting to concede our primetime hunting location and having pinpointed exactly where he came to rest, we returned to the task of finding a mature stag. We had a fleeting moment where we got eyes on the mature stag seen on the first morning hunt however it did nothing to convince us he was worth pursuing on this hunt. Finally glassing up another youngster, bedded up and chewing his cud as light began to fade, we decided the strong winds were keeping the deer down and dropped back to camp. We proceeded to butcher the spiker we were very grateful to have harvested. With the meat hung in the trees around camp we settled in for the night knowing that the strong winds were just the warning for what was to come.

Kestrel Ovis and RN Blades Helium made short work of the butchery process

Tent bound

Waking up in the morning and gearing up for a morning hunt was a challenging affair considering the bitter southerly that had descended upon us. We didn’t make it far because at the first glassing point, a mere 200m from camp, visibility was getting worse. The ripping wind was sucking the joy out of being outside hunting. We both learned quickly that we perhaps didn’t quite have enough layering to be exposed in heavy snowfall, gale winds and freezing temperatures. Gloves and warmer leggings were items quickly added to the gear list for future hunts. Animals also do not seem to appreciate brutal cold snaps after sunny warm days and there was little movement, so it wasn’t long before we were back into our tent and sleeping bags to defrost. Finally getting feeling back into hands and toes we rewarded our perseverance and decided to spend the rest of the day in the tent drinking hot drinks and cooking.

First menu item for the day, blueberry pancakes
Second menu item for the day, red spiker tenderloin

Time between meals was spent staring at the ceiling, dozing and chewing through batteries on phones. It really is a boring, but cosy way of spending a day. Finally, as the evening approached we decided we would regret not heading out. We donned every layer of clothing we had packed and slowly emerged from the tent. It had snowed consistently and the snow was deep, but thankfully the wind was significantly reduced. The temperature had also significantly reduced and the lessons about gloves and warmer leggings were rapidly re-learned as we trudged our way up to the glassing point we had attempted to use in the morning.

A complete shift in the landscape saw us trudging through snow

While we didn’t see many deer on the evening hunt, it was beautiful and when nestled out of the worst of the wind, serene. The only stag seen was again a youngster who needs another year or three. He did however pose for the camera a few hundred metres away, yielding some decent footage. With a hind and fawn moving down the slip he dutifully followed. Even before head torches were required it was clear that today was not the day for red deer stags to be out and about so we slowly made our way back to the tent to defrost limbs and cook up some red deer curry.



needs another year or three
Young stag in the snow


Venison curry

Frozen camp

On the final full day of hunting we ascended the ridge directly above camp, heading up into the area we had seen the 8 point stag on the off chance there was a larger animal holed up in the beech. We heard more roaring but it was fairly muted and it was a bitterly cold morning. A fun encounter with a chamois at under 20m as we walked up into its path was the most noteworthy item of the morning. We managed to pick some hinds in the beech and we even managed to get a better look at the 8 point. Now being the third time we had laid eyes on him the decision was firm and he wasn’t pursued. Due to the cold we didn’t capture any images but the frigid air did keep us moving across the faces, regularly seeing deer and even spying another mature stag. He was right near where public land transitioned to private and after some hasty map checks it confirmed that he was on private land. It was another windy morning and the weather proceeded to get worse. With the cold sinking in and deer activity dropping rapidly we trudged back to a well frozen camp for a hot chocolate.

Frozen campsite
The MSR Windburner duo is a wonderful camp stove for a hunting team of two

Discussions of hiking out dominated the afternoon. We were aware that the wind was meant to drop and the hike out would be more pleasant the following day so we stuck to our planned hunting timeline and nestled in for hours of boredom in the tent. We had ample time to review footage and images and became engrossed in the potential of Lucky 13. If he lasts another year we felt he really would go from a good to a great public land stag. Chatting about gear for improving warmth, Bourney listed a warmer puffy, water proof mittens, and one pair of merino leggings. Brooky was similar- investigate packing a smaller lighter puffy for dual puffy jacket use as well as waterproof gloves or mittens. We both noted the merits of an extra battery pack and extra small gas canister for snowed-in days. Finally, with the temperature dropping as evening approached, we headed out for one last evening hunt.

Needs another year

We decided to follow a similar route to the morning hunt on the off chance we could catch the mature stag further down the valley on public land and get a better look at him. As we reached the first saddle we got to enjoy a number of roars, stopping us in our tracks. A quick glass located the snow crusted 6×5 making his way to the beech below us while what sounded like a more mature stag (probably the 8 point) responded in kind, drawing the 6×5 in our direction. We then got a show as the 8 point went silent and the 6×5 fired up, raking trees and roaring, getting ever closer to our position. We discussed taking him to cap off the trip, but we both felt he needed another year and we were content going home with delicious spiker meat. Buoyed by the encounter, we dropped back to camp fairly happy with the decision to stay on for the full planned time, even making plans to have a final hunt in the morning. Our plan was to not get distracted by young stags at the first saddle and push over to see if we could get one last opportunity on the only mature stag we hadn’t had good eyes on near the blocks boundary. We probably wouldn’t get an opportunity if he stayed put, but it was the roar and deer can make mistakes.

Final hunt of the trip

We rose early and got past the first saddle with head torches on, pushing up to a higher vantage and settling in for dawn. Glassing our immediate surrounds yielded much the same story as the rest of the trip- plenty of deer, just not what we were putting the miles in for. We pushed on, dropping in and out of folds and seeing spikers, hinds and fawns with a sense of predictability. It was the roar, so we gave the scattered deer our attention, but pushed on through the snow. We settled in where we had a decent view of where we last saw the mature stag, but he never appeared. Hinds and more hinds and the occasional distant roar, but nothing to perk up the optimism of success as the morning transitioned to day.

Mountain rifles in the snow

As we packed up and hiked out, we reflected on the success of the trip. While we didn’t get to locate Jeremiah, we saw a lot of stags with promise and kept harping on about how the lucky 13 stag needs another year. That brings us to now, this article, written right before Bourney returns to New Zealand’s rugged South Island looking for those same stags…

Hiking out