Here we are again, the days are getting shorter and summer is coming to an end, we are now in the final countdown to the rut and with this come’s my article focusing on hunting Sika through the months of Autumn. Autumn brings the roar which is ultimately the highlight of the year for many hunters.
Autumn is a time of change, officially it doesn’t begin until the start of March however changes in behavior and habitat preference can be seen from mid February onwards particularly in stags, while hinds can be found in their summer habitat through until late March.
In saying this there is a relatively short growing season in the alpine environment therefore when food becomes scarce on the tops hinds will also leave this habitat in favour of bush tucker, such as Griselinia littoralis (broadleaf) and Coprosma robusta (Karamu).
The movement of stags from summer grounds is not based solely around food availability, rather the oncoming of Autumn and maturity. The shorter days induce changes in hormone production which in turn causes the mating instincts to kick in. This is the same within all deer species with the timing based on the gestation period so that young are born when levels of food are on an increase in spring to help hinds meet the higher energy demands of lactation. This change in day length and hormone response will cause Sika stags to begin a journey into a new area in which they will only occupy for several months, this is their rut habitat.
Stags can be seen mobbed up from December through to January, then the next week they will be nowhere to be seen. In a study conducted by Cam Speedy, stags moved anywhere from 4-14 kilometers from their summer grounds to rut habitat in late February, early March http://www.camspeedy.co.nz/SikaPage.html. This could mean stags would move from well inside surrounding private land to the heart of DOC land. It’s a hell of a long way and I believe it is for this reason that trophy Sika heads seem to come from anywhere in the Kaimanawas. The private land surrounding the Sika herd provides a safe haven during velvet growth then come late February or early March these stags will roam, often ending up in the heart of the Kaimanawas and Kawekas.
The mature Sika stags will often be the first to begin stripping their velvet, this will begin in late February and in turn these older males are usually the first to leave on a mission to find some hinds. This means extra time spent in the rutting grounds and increased odds of breeding with those hinds that may cycle early, then continuing on as long as he can hold his own come the peak of the roar. I generally base my roar trips into Sika country to cover a period of about 7-10 days from the 15th April onwards and some time within this period the stags usually hit peak rut. I have consistently heard good roaring on the 19th and 20th of April for the last 4 years, although the total roar period will go from early April through to mid May, so even if you miss the peak, good rut activity can still be encountered either side.
It is well documented in the Cam Speedy tracking studies that Sika do not move a huge distance once they have travelled to an area for the roar, generally occupying only around 1 square km. The stags mark out their territories with Wallows and scrapes, some of these are visited on a regular basis while others may only be used on one occasion and it is relatively easy to tell if a wallow has been visited recently based on sign. Old sign may just be the odd print, where as new sign may include flat patches of mud where a stag has rolled around, mud splatters on nearby foliage as well as fresh prints.
If you find a wallow like this it’s worth spending time in the area, as it is more than likely the stag or stags that made the wallow are still nearby. Often wallows will be visited by multiple stags as younger subordinate stags will often hang around near a more dominant stag trying to cut out a hind when he is preoccupied. In places where it is feasible a trail camera overlooking a wallow can tell you a lot about the deer movement and trophy potential in the area.
I have found that Sika can mainly be found in two differing habitats during the roar period these are; forests such as Beech forest and Manuka thickets, or tussock grasslands in areas of low hunting pressure where deer might venture out into the open more often. Most areas of DOC land have relatively high levels of pressure which will force Sika back into cover. If hunting scrub type Manuka thicket country, it’s easier to get up high and glass the edges, this type of habitat is relatively hard to stalk and can be very dense therefore most success will come from glassing.
If in beech forest habitat then careful stalking can be rewarding.
There is no single method of approach that is right when hunting stags in the roar, however knowing your hunting grounds is a key factor. This can help in making snap decisions depending on the situation, such as the best terrain to approach a roaring stag or to cut off a stag that’s on the move.
Knowing the block is hugely beneficial as you can identify the locality of a stag without getting right in close. If the stag is in a nasty gut then you may want to sit back in more open country and roar, whereas if he is in nice open bush you could sneak in quietly. By revisiting an area where you have found stags before you increase the odds immensely as they certainly gravitate to similar spots every roar. Whether it is the presence of hinds or the actual habitat that draws them in is beyond me but year after year I seem to find stags on one Beech forest face of about 800m long and wrinkled by numerous small spurs. This area has produced multiple stags including three 8 pointers as well as some of the most amazing roaring action I have encountered.
Whether you know your roar block or not, one of the most important factors to consider is the wind, there is no point in approaching a roaring stag if the wind is wrong as he will be out of there with one sniff of human scent. Sure if it’s the last day of a trip and you won’t have the chance to come back then take a punt, but if you can revisit the next day or devise another approach to make the wind more favourable then you will have a better chance. Looping around to cut the breeze may mean a lot more walking but this could be the difference between seeing the stag and seeing nothing.
If you wish to use the sit and roar approach there are two key points to consider; don’t over roar and keep your patience. One roar every half an hour is enough. Personally whether I am using a caller or not I will solely use mews and single calls, these seem to work well and with a little practice they can be easily imitated with your own voice. I have had stags charge in at full pace from hundreds of metre away and others that ghost in as quietly as a mouse after hours of roaring. Often they will reply to every roar I make and yet they won’t budge. The idea is not to rush in as soon as you hear a roar because every animal acts differently. Be patient and give the stag a chance to come to you. Position yourself in a likely looking area with plenty of stag sign often these areas will consist of gulley heads or where a spur meets a terrace. Make sure you have good visibility over a reasonable distance, conceal yourself and then let out a roar.
It may not be the first or even the tenth stag you encounter that you manage to put on the deck, but being patient and considering your options will improve your chances.
I will be in Sika Country when this article becomes live, so good luck out there, stay safe, identify your target and most of all enjoy your time in the hills because it’s never long enough.
I would also like to say a massive thank you to Cam Speedy for allowing me to include reference to his Sika tracking study. This is a massive resource to hunters, check out his findings at