Free-Range Red Stag on the South Island
By Gary Lewis
A lot of well-meaning people tried to tell me I would be disappointed by my red stag hunt. ‘Red stag are hunted behind high fences. It's going to be too easy. It will be a let down for you.'
They were wrong, at least in regard to my hunt on New Zealand's South Island at Glen Dene Station.
Glen Dene is located in the Central Otago, in the Queenstown Lakes District, 21km from Wanaka and 125km from Queenstown. The property runs north and south between Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka, with a total of some 20,000 acres with access to another 25,000 acres between the lakes.
A working ranch with cattle, deer and flocks of sheep on the hillsides, Glen Dene is fenced in paddocks in the low country near Lake Hawea.
As the ground climbs away from the valley, one last fence separates the paddocks from the slopes. Between that fence and the top of the snow-capped mountain range and the lakeshore on the other side, there are no other fences and but few dirt tracks. Red and fallow deer live in the canyons. Chamois, wild goats and sheep make a living on the high slopes.
Peaks, ridges and washes allow the hunter to get close, but there are few trees and little scrub. Shots may range from 100 to 300 yards.
Hunts are conducted on foot, spot-and-stalk. The guide may opt to use a vehicle till animals are spotted, but a high level of physical fitness pays off when a stag is glimpsed a quarter mile off and a 600-yard climb uphill.
The red stag hunt starts when the deer shed their velvet in February and continues into early July. The peak of the breeding season, the ‘roar', falls between mid-March and early April.
We hunted in early July when most mature stags had separated from the hinds. On the first afternoon, we spotted seven hinds and a young spike. In the morning, high on the hill, we counted two mature stags. We found the one we wanted at mid-morning. During the stalk, we spotted more, both with groups of hinds. The lone stag fell to a 237-yard shot. With six points on one side and seven on the other and double drop tines, it was a great representative of a free-range red deer on private land.
Later in the day we glassed four males feeding on the tussock high above the lake.
These were not genetic freaks with monster racks, but free-range animals with four, five or six points per side, the types of animals the country can produce without breeding and nutrition programs developed in a station paddock.
Hunts are guided by owner Richard Burdon or one of his guides: Daniel Roister, age 33, has seven years experience. Duncan Stuart, 27, has seven years experience. Tony Barber, 42, has 20 years experience in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US.
Accommodations include a lakefront four-bedroom home in Lake Hawea Township. Guest quarters at the Burdon residence offer spectacular views of the lake and the mountains. Suites are adjoining. Each has a large bathroom, king-size bed, refrigerator and microwave. The small, exclusive luxury Silverpine Lodge is another option, set apart from the ranch with lake and mountain views.
The hunt package for free-range or SCI bronze medal estate red stag includes airfare from Los Angeles International (LAX), accommodations for five days, meals and three days guided hunting for $5,965 1x1 and $5,365 2x1. To upgrade to a silver medal stag costs $1,700. Estate blocks range in size from 500 to 1000 acres.
Small game hunting for rabbit, English hare and possum is included. Add tahr, chamois or fallow deer for an extra $2,500. Hunters that don't bring a rifle may borrow one from the guide.
Lake fishing is complimentary. Guided fishing is available for $575 per day. Add a quail hunting/vineyard tour for $800 or a half-day duck/goose hunt for $350.
Non-hunting spouses or observers are welcome for $2,950. If the non-hunting partner wishes to take horse trekking, jet boat, vineyard and gallery tours, the cost is $3,950. Helicopter tours are available.
New Zealand's big game animals are considered pests that destroy the landscape. No license or tags are required.
US Customs allows meat from New Zealand to be brought into the country. To carry meat home, bring or buy a cooler and have the meat frozen at the ranch. Keep the total weight under 50 pounds to avoid additional baggage charges.