New Zealand Red Stag
Neo My Red Stag
Since I was a kid, I dreamed of traveling to New Zealand and hunting the Red Stag. It always seemed to be a dream and beyond my financial abilities. Over the years, I have learned to work hard and as the famous Cameron Haines would say “Keep Hammering”. Little by little those dreams didn’t appear to be just dreams anymore, but something I could make a reality. Sarah and I began talking about it and when I was 37, we decided it could be my 40th birthday present. There was one stipulation and that was she was coming along. I started research on guides and trying to determine the best possible place to go.
I flew down to Salt Lake with my 9 month old son to watch the 49ers play in the super bowl with my family. I brought all the brochures and details with me to discuss with my buddy Beaver. He was serious about doing it and we decided to book it! He had a company called South Pacific Safaris that appeared like a great place. We booked with them for April 2020.
Well… COVID19 ramped up and it changed the world we once knew. Everything was shut down, everyone was quarantining in their home, no school was going, and our trip was postponed to 2021. Quarantining went on for much longer than everyone anticipated. April 2021 quickly approached, and we were in the same situation with no international flights allowed in New Zealand. We had to push our trip to 2022. Ironically, this was my 40th birthday present that was going to be early, now I would be 40 for our trip. Schools figured things out where they were back attending in person and things were shifting to somewhat normal with travel. However, New Zealand was still the strictest country with travel and shut down. We booked our trip in May. May is the beginning of New Zealand’s winter. I wanted to also hunt a Himalayan Tahr and their coats would be longer during that time. Ealy March rolled around, and New Zealand announced they would open their boarders in July. We were crushed and accepted the fact that we would have to push out another year.
Sarah and I were in Dominican Republic on a work/vacation and Beaver hit me up saying New Zealand changed their mind and are now opening boarders May 1. It was back on! We quickly got flights arranged and I began planning the trip. We decided to do the week hunt then travel the South Island for another week.
Getting my rifle to New Zealand, going through Canada and Australia, with several different airlines became a nightmare. So, I decided to take my bow and get my first animal with a bow. I had practiced shooting my bow on a regular basis and ramped up my dedication. I practiced for hours every night for two weeks and felt confident up to 60 yards.
Leading up to our departure date I was very cautious and strict with the kids. COVID began to flair up in the area and if we got COVID the trip wouldn’t happen. Our family had been healthy and great for several years and of course the week before we were to depart Ethan got sick. His preschool also shut down due to another kid having COVID and exposure. We were getting weekly emails from the girls school saying someone in your kids class had COVID and your student has been exposed. I was paranoid. Then 3 days before departure I got a bad cold and felt sick. I was giving myself daily COVID tests, and we were in the clear so far, but they say those test are only so accurate.
My mom flew in to stay with the kids for 17 days. Without her this trip wouldn’t be possible. We had to get an official COVID test the day of our departure. I’m not going to lie, I was thinking 60/40 on odds I was going to come back positive. When I got the negative COVID test it was such a relief. I had honestly been a basket case for about 2 weeks and truly fearing the outcome of the official COVID test. Our bags were packed, and we were off for an adventure of a lifetime. Going through security took us a bit and checking on my bow was easy. I asked several times and made sure it was crystal clear my luggage would go all the way to Christchurch, NZ. Our first light was delayed to Vancouver, and we had a short layover there to catch the plane to Sydney. Luckily, Our Sydney flight was delayed a little as well. When I was on the first flight to Vancouver looking out the window, as dusk was setting on Seattle, I had a major feeling of relief, excitement, and accomplishment. Beaver was boarding in LA for his flight, and we were texting back and forth with so much excitement. I was on my way with Sarah to New Zealand for 17 days to hunt Red Stag and Tahr.
All the flights ended up being delayed, which worked out well for us. We flew to Vancouver, then Sydney, and finally to Christchurch New Zealand. I filled the barf bag with tissues on our long flight to Sydney. My cold was at its peak. On our final flight into New Zealand, I was so excited to see the rugged snow-capped Alps as we descended into Christchurch at dusk. The decent was one of the worst I have ever experienced due to my head cold and congestion. My ears would not pop, and they felt like they were going to burst. We landed and waited for our baggage. When our 2 main bags were there without my bow I quickly realized my bow did not make it to our destination. We filed a claim and they said it was in Sydney and would arrive later that night. We went through customs and Louise from South Pacific Safaris was there to greet us. Beaver and his two buddies; Travis and Booboo were already there. They landed much earlier and were able to travel with Brent in the helicopter from Christchurch to Kaikoura. It was dark so we had another 2-hour drive to their Ranch. It was fun chatting with Louise during the drive. The drive was on the opposite side of a windy road. With it being dark outside, there was still the excitement and anticipation of how everything looked in New Zealand.
When we arrived about 8 PM Beaver and Brent were awake in the main lodge by the fire chatting. Beaver was tired, but stayed up to say hello and welcome us. It was so good to see them. Sarah and I stayed in a little cottage next to Travis and Booboo.
I woke up the next morning about an hour before I needed to be up with so much excitement. Sarah was awake as well and we chatted about the fun ahead. It was black outside, so I stepped out in my birthday suit to check out the stars. They were amazing. I got dressed in my Kuiu gear and Beaver was outside jumping around with excitement as well. I went over and introduced myself to Travis and Booboo. We went down and had breakfast. They had an amazing Muslin every morning that was high quality granola. Travis and Booboo also had their bows and wanted to shoot them before we headed out. We drove the CAN AMs down to the barn and they shot the targets. As it was getting light, I looked up on the hill and spotted my first Stag. He was huge! We loaded up and drove through the first gate by this Stag. He stood on the mountain and let us admire him. He was a monster, everything you could ever want in a stag. I named him Zeus! He was clearly out of our price range. Our package included a 360-400 Stag. We were the first group of trophy hunters on the Ranch since COVID. The Stags were not too skittish and there were lots of amazing looking bulls. South Pacific Safaris educated us on the management of the Ranch and the importance of keeping numbers in check. The animals are technically free range where they can jump fences and go where they want. When there is plenty of food for them to eat, they have no desire to leave. There was so much country to hunt and see. Last year they killed about 1200 fallow deer for meat and processing to keep the numbers in check. There were plenty of amazing Stags for us to see and being only 1 of 2 groups this year we had the ability to shoot a class or two higher. However, Zeus was in the 550-600 class. (I had to ask Brent how much it would be for Zeus and he was a $35K stag)
We rode around that morning on 3 different CAN AMs. Our main guide was Hayden with James and Dan supporting. We all became good buddies by the time our week was over. I didn’t plan on shooting anything the first day, but it was nice not having my bow to temp me. We saw so many amazing Stags that first day and I loved looking them all over. They were all unique and amazing to look over. We got to the top of the mountain and me, Hayden, and Travis were ahead of the pack a bit. We popped up a rim and Hayden spotted a bull. We got the spotting scope out and Travis decided he would put a stock on the bull. I stayed back and the other guys arrived. He was a solid bull. After about an hour stock they got over there, and a much bigger bull jumped up. He was awesome! They were playing peek-a-boo for about an hour. Eventually a shot was presented, and Travis shot him a bit back, but it slowed him down where he put 2 more arrows in him. When we all got over to the bull we marveled and were amazed with how big his antlers were. It was awesome to be part of it. I will never forget my first morning and the true excitement I felt riding around looking at Stags in New Zealand. It was so much fun.
Every night we had amazing dinners. Wayne was our personal chef, and he was amazing with flavors. I loved all his food. He would make incredible dishes for us. We would sit around the fire eating and telling stories. Brent and Louise owned the place. There daughter Becky (James’s girlfriend) and son Dan were part of the entire hunt and adventure. Hayden would stay some nights and eat with us as well. We had so many great laughs together.
After dinner we would go back to our room, turn out all the lights and find our way to the hot tub. I can honestly say I have never seen stars like I saw those nights. They were unreal. The milky way was amazing, and we would see about 10 shooting stars every night. That was one of the highlights each night.
The next day was Beaver’s Birthday and he always talked about how cool it would be to shoot a Stag on his birthday. My bow arrived so I went out that morning and shot it. I didn’t shoot the best, but enough to feel good. We loaded up and went around the backside. We ended up on top of the mountain where the Rams hang out. Booboo put a stock on a Ram and got him with his bow. We caught up with them and the Rams were across the canyon watching us. Beaver decided to pop himself a birthday Ram. It was crazy because right where both Rams ended up lying there was a shed right by them. We took pictures and laughed. On our way down the mountain, we got into the Stags. There were two that I really liked that hung out together. Sebastian had about 28 points and both his fronts split, so I called him Sebastian. The other was Clubber Lang. He wasn’t quite as big as the others but had long beautiful tines. What I liked most about him was a drop tine that split. It looked like a big old club on his left side. Both would be incredible Stags to get. Beaver was still undecided on which one he wanted. I decided to put a stock on Sebastian. The stock was amazing! We snuck down the road and stayed tight along the bank. They were feeding toward us. We got behind some brush and played the waiting game. Sebastian was with an elk, and they were moving where I needed them to be. We ranged them at 30 yards. They were both looking our direction. The elk came from behind and tried to push Sebastian along. I was waiting for the right broadside shot. He was quartered toward me for about 2 minutes and as soon as he turned, I drew my bow back. As soon as I did that he turned and trotted off into the shrubs. My heart was pounding with adrenaline and it was so much fun!
We went back for lunch and discussed plans for the night. We went back to the same spot, and the group of Stags were in a bad spot to stock. We dropped off the canyon and spotted some others bedded below us. There was one in the group Booboo wanted to try and get with his bow. Hayden and Booboo went down the riverbed and got close, but the shot never presented itself. They came back and decided to go wait in the riverbed again. While they were down there a new Stag came out and Beaver said that is the Birthday Boy right there. He is the one I want to shoot. We made a game plan and Beaver got ready with the rifle. The bull went out the flat bottom and Beaver shot twice. Both shots were not ideal, and the bull went up the canyon. While he was in the canyon he pushed another big bull out to the ridge top. As soon as I saw him, I said that is the one! That is the one I want to shoot. Beaver named him Neo after the Matrix. He stood on the ridge for about 2 min and fed back into the canyon where we couldn’t see him. Hayden and Dan went to try and push Beavers bull back out to the bottom. When he came out the bottom Beaver made a great shot and piled him up. It was a stressful 5 minutes, and my good buddy was filled with emotions. It was incredible to be part of it with him. We took pictures and admired the massive bull. It was a memorable moment on the mountain side.
I now knew which bull I wanted. Hayden took me and Booboo over to that canyon to see if we could sneak up on the bull. However, we ran into the bull Booboo was after. Dan and I stayed back while they made a stock on their bull. After about an hour Booboo made the shot of the trip with his bow. It was a super wide and cool looking bull. He had a neat 4-inch drop tine on him. The bull ended up about 150 yards from where Beaver got his bull the night before. That night Sarah came out with us and rode around, of course it was the only night it rained, but we all had a good time. Neo was nowhere to be found and that was the first time anyone had seen that bull at the Ranch. He was a sneaky one. As we were sneaking up the canyon Hayden spotted a bull laying in the tall brown grass and brush. We could see just his massive antlers above the grass. We snuck up on him and got within 20 yards. Once we got close I knew it wasn’t Neo and it was a bull we spotted earlier, I called Scar. He had a massive scar down his shoulder and was wounded pretty bad from the roar. He had the longest points of any bull we had seen but lacked points in the crown. He was an incredible bull. It was tough to pass him up at 20 yards with my bow drawn, but I let down. Another amazing stock and a cool rushing experience.
Everyone punched their Stag tag, and it was down to me. There was a big part of me that did not want to get one because it would be all over. I was truly enjoying the moment and being on the mountain with friends. It was Thursday and I wanted to get my bull on Thursday so I could go hunt Tahr on Friday stress free of the Stag. I thought that if we can’t find Neo by evening I’ll go after Sebastian again. While I was showering that morning I decided not to settle. That it was Neo or none today. I could always get the rifle out and get Sebastian or Clubber Lang on my final day. Sarah was up early with me that morning because she was heading out for a dolphin excursion that day. She saw lots of dolphins and lost her breakfast on the boat due to the waves.
That morning around the breakfast table we made a game plan and all headed for the canyon Neo was last seen. Hayden and I went up and down that canyon 3 times trying to find him with no luck. I’ve hunting mountain goats and been in crazy terrain. I got an appreciation for the mountain and steepness the Stags hang out in. My Kuiu gear was not the best gear when hiking around grass on steep hill sides. I slipped twice and hit that grass and slid down the mountain probably 25 yards. Beaver and James were on the hill watching to see if he pushed out. Around 11 Hayden asked if I was OK to bring in Dan’s dog to see if we can get him out. I told him I was OK with it and wanted to find him. The dog pushed the canyon with no luck and even Brent came out to see if he could help locate this bull. We started moving back a ridge and into the next canyon. As we were about to move on, I looked back toward the lodge and spotted Neo about 20 yards below our hot tub. I quickly made my way down the ridge to James and pointed him out. James had a good idea what Neo would do, so we booked it down the canyon to the riverbed. Earlier up on the hill James was telling me how some stags thrash these vine bushes, get caught up in them, and eventually die. I was blown away they couldn’t just use brute force to pull them out of the ground. Well down in this riverbed I got tangled up in the vines and realized how hard they were to get out of. Hayden came back to see what happened to me as I was getting untangled. We had a laugh and got down into position. We were standing in the riverbed with only a couple inches of water in the bottom leaning on the bank with a little valley in front of us. I ranged a few spots to get an idea and we played the waiting game. Hayden was pumped we found him and told me we must make this count, the pressure was on. I pulled one arrow our of my quiver and placed it on the bank in front of me and nocked another arrow. My heart was beginning to pound. My lifelong dream of killing a stag, all the practice and time shooting my bow was going to come down to the next 15 seconds. Neo and Scar were together, and Scar was leading. They came around the hill and we held super still while Scar passed. My adrenaline was beyond pumping at this point, and I was doing all I could to keep my heart rate down. Neo followed and Hayden whispered wait, wait until he was out in the meadow. He stopped and I had my bow drawn. Then Neo started moving again and I released the shot, thud! I smacked him, but immediate knew it wasn’t the kill shot I was after. I shot about 2 feet back from where I wanted. It slowed him down. I grabbed the arrow next to me and knocked it as I went up and out of the riverbed. I was frustrated at myself and also focused on the next shot. He went about 20 yards and stopped to see what the heck was going on. He was broad side, and I didn’t have time to range. I guessed him at 40 and released the shot, whack! I hit him just behind the should but a little lower than I liked. He took off running up the canyon. I kept after him and he was standing in the marsh at the bottom of the canyon. I snuck up to 30 yards and the excitement got the best of me and I totally missed and shot low. The arrow sailed right under him. He went up the hill and little and I whacked him again. He laid down at this point and I was down to 1 arrow. I snuck up close behind a tree. There was about 4 inches gap from the top of the hill and where he was laying for a vital shot. I took my time and threaded the needle on the last arrow. By this point Hayden hit up James and Beaver to get more of my arrows in my case at the lodge. Beaver stormed in on Sarah to find out where my case was and startled her. In the end, I didn’t need anymore arrows. My dream of getting a big Red Stag in New Zealand had come to fruition. It was incredible to take my first animal with a bow. I wish I could have made a better kill shot with my first arrow, but I was able to get the job done. It was an incredible experience. Killing an animal is a sacred thing to me. When I was younger it was all about being successful and success was killing the animal. I’ve always respected the animals, but the older I get the more sacred the experience is during the harvest. That animal will provide organic food for me, my family, and friends. I was able to experience the hunt with close friends and my wife, and I made new friends for life. I trained physically and mentally for the experience. I never gave up on a goal and it took me 40 years to achieve it. I counted 41 points on Neo and he was a good Stag to take. He had been injured in the roar and was isolating himself from all other Stags. He was infected and leaking puss from his wounds. We all celebrated our success and that night we went out shooting follow deer for meat. Beaver shot Spike Lee and I shot one at 340 yards which was fun. Booboo shot two and made a head shot on one. Travis smoked one and we had a great time riding around being boys. That night Wayne made Tiramisu for desert not knowing it was my favorite. It was a great celebration desert.
The next day Beaver and I went on a helicopter, and both shot Tahrs. What an incredible experience. For the details of that experience read my Tahr story.
The final day we all got up and went out pig hunting with Hayden’s dogs. They ended up getting a couple and we had a great time riding around the country. In the afternoon we packed up and sat around telling stories. I went out and flew my drone over some of the Stags. Overall, this adventure far exceeded my expectations. We timed everything perfectly by being the first Trophy Stag hunters since Covid, the weather was beautiful, South Pacific Safaris was world class, and to be there with Sarah and Beaver. I made new friends with Travis and Booboo (Hayden liked to call him Bobo which was funny). I already miss Brent, Louise, Hayden, James, Becky, Dan, and of course Wayne. Such awesome people and an experience of a lifetime.
We drove to Christchurch and said goodbye to everyone. Sarah and I set off for a week on the South Island which was an incredible experience as well.