Hunting the Mountains of the South Pacific

By: Austin Kunselman

 

Hunting at Glen Dene reminds me of the Milk River 10 years ago; not because of the terrain, but because of the amount of trophy-quality animals you see in one day.  I have never seen so many free-range Red Stag in my life.  Our guide, Dan, encouraged us to take some time and look over a few, and not shoot the first 300+ bull we saw.  It was hard to do because within 1 hour of checking the zero on my rifle we were glassing Stags everywhere.

 

Our New Zealand Safari started in Las Vegas when we met Richard and Sara Burdon from Glen Dene Hunting LTD at the 2015 SCI Convention.  Richard and I instantly bonded, and he could tell that my love for hunting and adventure matched his own.  Over the next few months, we corresponded, ensuring that all the proper documentation was in order to import my weapon smoothly into New Zealand.  I have to say of all the countries I have hunted, this was by far the easiest.  The New Zealand police were incredibly cordial and even knew Richard by name. 

 

Richard met us at the airport, and we were on our way to Glen Dene.  Not just an outfitter but also an extremely knowledgeable tour guide, our short 45-minute trip to the lodge was very enjoyable.  Richard pointed out many interesting landmarks as well as a short stop in one of the coolest little towns I have seen.

 

After arriving at the lodge, Richard showed us to our room that truly had a “million-dollar view” if I had ever seen one.  You had to take a minute and just acknowledge the true beauty of the lake and mountains.  After unpacking and a shower, we met up with Richard for dinner, which was prepared with the utmost attention to detail.  Sara and Leslie, Richard’s mother, are the onsite chefs, and I promise you are in for a treat.

 

During a meeting to introduce us to our guide, Dan, and to discuss the week’s hunting strategy, we studied the weather.  Although we were fortunate enough to have beautiful weather all week, some days were better than others for our helicopter hunt for the Himalayan Tahr.  The plan was to hunt Stag on day one and Tahr on day two.

 

 On the first evening, we spotted a group mature stags feeding along a hillside about 1,800 yards away.  One looked exceptionally good.  It didn’t necessarily have the highest SCI score, but it defiantly was the coolest of the bunch.  His antlers formed almost a perfect circle and touched at the top.  Best of all, it had two amazing drop tines.  Anyone that knows me knows that I love character over score any day. 

 

Even though it was the first day, I was sure that was the stag I wanted to hunt.

 

Hunting Red Stags is very similar to hunting Rocky Mountain Elk back home. It’s a lot of glassing on hillsides or mountainsides to find them, which then leads to putting on a stalk to get with in range.

 

The first day ended with us just glassing for Red Stag. As Dan suggested not to hunt one on day one, we decided to concentrate on the Tahr first.

 

After a quick breakfast the next day, we were in the truck heading for the airport to board a helicopter to try to find the elusive Himalayan Tahr.  Our pilot and our guide gave us an in-depth and extremely informative safety briefing before we took off for what would be the most exciting hunting experience of my life.  In the air before light, we had the privilege of watching the sunrise over the mountains, which no words or pictures could describe.  Simply breathtaking is the best I can do.

 

It went from a helicopter photo tour to a hunting adventure in an instant when Dan spotted a magnificent bull Tahr on a slope that looked like it was on top of the world.  Dan and our pilot, Sam, quickly shifted into all business mode, assessing not only the trophy but also a safe place to land to get a shot.  A small outcropping of rocks was determined to be the ideal spot to safely offload the hunting party.  Sam maneuvered the helicopter, hovering inches off the ground so we could exit. 

 

Prior to coming to New Zealand, I had heard stories about the skill and professionalism of the helicopter pilots in this country, which were very similar to the tails of seemingly impossible tracking ability of the African trackers. 

 

Once on the ground, the helicopter pulled back to watch the action.  Our Tahr was standing majestically, thinking that distance would be to his advantage.  Little did he know that 300 yards isn’t even approaching the capability of my rifle.  After a quick verification of the range and adjustment to the turret, I was ready for the shot.  He began to slowly walk across a ledge that seemed an impossible feat and I steadied for the shot.  At just over 300 yards, my 168-grain 7mm bullet found its mark and he dropped in his tracks. 

 

The celebration began while Dan radioed for the helicopter to come aid us in the retrieval.  With our Tahr secured, we landed down on the river to get some pictures that truly captured the majesty of our surrounding.

 

If that weren’t enough, I still had the Stag hunt to look forward to.  That evening, we were back to glassing.  There was no shortage of free-range stags, but Glen Dene also offers a high-fence experience for hunters who may have some physical limitations that may prevent them from hiking the high country.  The high fence areas were fun to explore.  The area was so vast that you would have never known that you were in a fenced area.  Before losing our filming light, we decide to check the hillside that the drop tine stag was feeding on the night before.  Sure enough after a few minutes of glassing and a quick verification with the spotting scope, the stalk was on. They had moved from the steep hillsides to more rolling hills, which were perfect for a stalk.  After closing the distance to 400 yards, we set up for a shot.  Everything was perfect; wind in our face, sun at our back, and a beautiful mature red stag standing broadside on an open hillside.  I rested on my pack, as solid of a rest as I could ask for, and made the 400-yard adjustment to the turret.  I settled the crosshairs on his shoulder, squeezed the trigger, and shot right over his back. It was a very quiet walk back to the truck . . .   

 

Sure that my scope must have been bumped on the helicopter ride, we decided to return to the range the next morning.  With two consecutive bulls eyes at the 400-yard target, I was completely humbled.  It must have been stag fever . . . 

 

Now more motivated than ever, Dan and I made it our mission to find that stag again, which was no small task since Glen Dene was around 20,000 acres.  Like our Elk and Whitetails, the Stags could be creatures of habit, so we focused our search on the hills and ravines near where he had been feeding.  It seemed as if another encounter with this animal was meant to be.  Walking up out of the bush and only 200 yards away, he was going to give me another chance, and this time, it was meant to be.  I laid down to get steady and squeezed the shot off.  He dropped right in his tracks.  On the ground, he was as beautiful as he was on the hoof.  It is incredibly satisfying to a hunter when you are after a specific animal.  For my first elk, all I wanted was a 6x6, and for my first whitetail, I just wanted a buck period. As you evolve in your hunting career, you find different levels of satisfaction, and mine is hunting truly unique animals and passing on trophies that may score high, but not truly excite you.  For me at 19 years old, I have had the privilege to pursue my true passion in life. Hunting for me is not just something I love to do; it is part of my life and I will make it my mission to share my experiences with as many people as I can. 

 

Thank you Richard, Sarah, and Dan for helping make memories that will last a lifetime.    

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