Very important supplies.
First rule of any Sika Hunting trip – have enough coffee.
A couple of weeks ago I was asked by Frank from the North Auckland Deerstalkers if I would interested in heading out with him for a couple of days in the Kaimanawa Ranges hunting Sika Deer. The opportunity to tag along with someone with Franks level of experience was very appealing, so I quickly said yes and started planning the trip with him.
It was also a good chance to head out for a few days and test a pile of new gear I had – from electronics to clothing – it meant I could give a couple of items a decent extended test. I always enjoy testing new gear!
We decided to head down on the Sunday, walk in, set up camp, then spend the next 3 days Sika Hunting, returning on the Thursday.
The Kaimanawa ranges is just out of Taupo, so setting off first thing in the morning a 4 hour drive got us to the end of Clements Mill Road – the most common method of access the ranges. Clements Mill Road is a 21km gravel road that is used year through by hunters to access multiple points with the ranges. In our case, we were heading right along to the end of the road. From there we headed out along the Hinemaiaia track – turning off and then heading along one of the many streams that cross all over the Kaimanawa Ranges. It was then a case of finding a suitable campsite for the next couple of days.
We found a suitable spot and set up camp – Frank using a Huntech Bivvy and myself in the Blackbird Hammock. It was two very differing setups – both equally home in the situation. Towards the end of the trip where we were threatened by rain, Frank also threw up a large tarp the went across both our sleeping setups – providing us a pile of room to cook/eat/live under in the evenings. While it didn’t rain too much in the end, it reinforced the benefit of having a decent sized tarp to exist under. I have a Huntech Tarp that I may through in for the future – though would also be keen to find a lighter solution.
After setting up camp we set out for the first of many stalks while Sika Hunting.
All I can really say, is that Frank can move really, really quietly in the bush. It was really just a case of myself trying to keep up without stepping on every single branch in the forest. It was great to start to get a feel for the speed (or slow) required for a stalk. Moving through the forest like that is fatiguing both physically and mentally. You are essentially on point the whole time – looking, listening, just being highly attentive.
Each day we looked over the maps, trying to ascertain what areas would be good to stalk in. Half the challenge was finding areas that weren’t too closed in with Peppertrees; giving us the best chance of being able to see the Sika before they either smelt or heard us. The reality is, when it comes to stalking, the odds are stacked in their favour – their sensitive ears and noses often detecting us long before we knew they were there. We were whistled at quite regularly, reminding us that they were there, and motivating us to keep on going and try to be quieter, smarter and get the jump on them.
I spooked a couple one day – realistically, they heard me long before I had a chance to creep up on them – I was alerted to their presence by 3 white bums heading very quickly away from me. Dang it! Again to loud!
The wonderful thing about the stalking, is that the whole time you are trying to creep up on these guys, you are surrounded by some fairly raw native NZ bush. Each step would hold a new vista as increases or decreases in altitude, windfall and terrain would bring bands of different flora and fauna. I think I might have to do a Fungi identification course – just to put some names to some of many varieties you would see each day.
Gear Under Review
Between my many different projects, it’s actually sometimes hard to get out and test some of the gear I get my hands on. I have started enlisting the help of a few mates and took along a pile of new kit with me to test out while out in the bush Sika Hunting. While there will be separate reviews for many of these items – a couple of quick notes –
One of the big winners of the trip was the Garmin Fenix – though it takes ages to acquire satellites (compared to my E-Trex 30) – when it got up to speed, having a navigation device on my wrist was awesome – one day I essentially let it guide me back to camp – it landed me right on top of the spot, no issues. It was also the first time in a long while that I have had a digital watch, so also having timers, temp readouts, altitude info was also a nice new change. The Solarmonkey didn’t get used as much as expected – but charged the watch and camera as needed.
I had reproofed the tarp DWR before heading out – and was please to see the water beading straight off the sides after some rain. It’s essentially to the point where everything is getting a treatment before heading out. Even new gear seems to benefit.
The Skellerup Ashleys absolutely shone! No wet feet for the whole trip – and comfortable for bush bashing up and down ridges and hills. The only thing I would say is that my feet did get a bit cold, which they tend to do. So I will be investing in some good, heavy socks in the near future.
The Hunters Element Kit – Hydrapel Trousers, Prime Shirt and Rugged Bush Coat all worked well. Got a bit hot – but the nature of robust clothing means they simply can’t breath as well as some of the technical jackets. I do need to ‘encourage’ them to put out some more blaze product though. Love the camo, but covered it with a blaze vest for most the time!
One thing that really failed me though, was my Mystery Ranch Crewcab. When I say failed, I really mean was not suitable for – because while it folds down into a ‘daypack mode’ – the frame is still too large to be trying to bush bash with – the edges catch everything you pass under.
Also, the Cordura is noisy when rubbing against the many branches and bushes you need to work your way though – and the harness system itself creaks. So. Maybe awesome for patrol in Afghanistan, not so good for bush stalking in NZ.
The Ribz Frontpack I normally wear was another challenge – while I prefer to wear the newer orange version, it’s noisy – providing several equipment interface issues – namely – the rifle rubs against it, and makes a fair bit of noise. I am either going to go to the camo, quiet version, or take a really serious look at what gear I really need to carry on my front.
It means there is going to be a daypack shootout in the future – and it also means I may look at comparing a couple of big backpacks for carrying everything into camp for. Even when gear doesn’t work as expected- it gives me plenty of ideas on how to improve systems.
The other interesting observation – was how quickly the blued steel on the X-Bolt developed rust spots. I know it happens – I didn’t expect it to happen within hours of getting wet. Thankfully, the Silicone impregnated cleaning cloth I take out with me did it’s job perfectly. More details shortly.
Though we didn’t get the chance to skin anything, the Knives of Atlanta Hunter I took out with me worked excellently in food prep and general cutting duties. A quick hone on the belt mid trip kept it nice and sharp.
So, awesome couple of days. I have the bug now, and will be heading back out (likely in Spring now) to try and bag myself one of the ‘Ghosts of the Forest’. Many thanks to Frank for inviting me along!