Sika Hunting Tips – Summer!
Following on from the article on spring hunting Sika in the last article “sika hunting tips- spring” we are now looking at hunting the Sika through the months of summer. This time round Luke, Phil and I bush hunt the Kaimanawas in late December. I like to play the percentage game throughout the year spending my time hunting the areas that are most likely to produce deer. As the spring months progress through into summer, we begin to find Sika in a habitat in which they are not found in high densities for the remainder of the year. This is the open tops, and although probably the most productive method this is not the only technique that can be successful during summer. Deer are where you find them however time spent hunting using the right approach is more likely to result in a successful hunt compared to the slim odds of being in the right place at the right time.
Late December generally brings summer to the alpine environment of the central north island. The days are long, in fact summer solstice falls around the 21st of December, in which daylight lasts for up to 16 hours, because of this it makes hunting either easy or very hard depending on your approach. If you try to hunt all day then generally it takes its toll on the body and after a few days you become absolutely buggered as well as this personally I find it extremely hard to focus for long periods of time, which in turn causes my hunting techniques to become sloppy. A good indicator that I’ve lost focus is when my mind wonders to thoughts of sexy trampers, if they actually exist and I start stumbling along rather then carefully placing my feet, at this point it’s time for a break. In summer aim to hunt the most productive parts of the day, this generally means and early start, out on the hill by 0530 hours hunting through until about 1100 hours then having either a sleep in the sun or back to camp for the middle of the day before hitting the hill again at around 1500 hours until darkness takes over and it’s no longer safe to shoot. This method of hunting sees you in key areas focused and ready for action when animals are likely to be moving around, therefore increasing your chances greatly.
Hunting during the summer months can be very productive if you take the right approach, not only do you need to be hunting the best times of the day you also need to hunt using the most appropriate techniques. The two methods of hunting I focus on during summer are open tops hunting and the bush stalking. Due to the late arrival of spring growth on the open tops of the central north island it is rare to see Sika out on the tops in most public land before mid December with the best hunting from late January too early March. The deer move to and from the cover of forest to this open country for a number of reasons, the primary cause is due to an increased abundance of food, as spring moves from the lower river flats the growth of grasses etc tends to slow and this along with grazing pressure reduces the available food, in contrast the tops still hold a plentiful supply of food. Sika often move onto the tops to feed on alpine tussock and herb fields, these species are generally only eaten at this time of the year as this is when they are most palatable due to the late arriving spring conditions at high altitude, which also happens to be the time in which grass the preferred food of Sika is scarce. This is beneficial for both stags and hinds, as it provides optimal habitat for velvet growth as stags can move about relatively easily without damaging there antlers, particularly as summer progresses through into late Febuary when stags are in the later stages of antler growth. From late February until late March there is a high possibility of shooting a Sika stag on the tops that will be have hard antler underneath his velvet and will strip out nicely. Hinds often have fawns at foot and require lots of food to meet higher energy demands of lactation, hence are found where there is the best and most readily available food, in late summer this is generally on the open tops or fringe country.
Sika will often move between the open tops and the native therefore can be hard to find at certain times of the day and with certain weather patterns. Generally they will bed down in the scrub or bush below the open tops and feed out into the open during the peak times ie from just before sunset until just after sunrise, although can be seen and seem to live out in the open, in areas of low hunting pressure. Sika are not very fond of windy or wet conditions, this is to do with the high surface area to volume ratio as discussed in the previous article on hunting Sika during spring therefore will generally move well below the bush line when cold, wet, low pressure weather systems are present. This knowledge can change your plans drastically as shown in the video below in which Luke, Phil and I decide to drop into bush country rather than hunting the Kaweka tops as planned due to an unfavorable weather forecast. It was a good decision as the tops were up in the clouds for large proportion of the trip, which would have restricted our ability to glass. It also reinforces the fact that good quality gear is important when hunting in an alpine or subalpine environment even during the summer period.
Sika contrast with the alpine environment when in their summer coat which by late December is virtually complete and “stand out like a sore thumb” this makes spotting them relatively easy, however it’s not always so easy to get within shooting range. If you find a good vantage point and glass you are bound to see animals moving around. You can generally see Sika from most alpine tracks in both the Kaimanawas and Kawekas just by sitting down and letting your eyes do the walking, therefore one of the most valuable pieces of kit you can have is a good set of binoculars and a rangefinder as it is incredibly hard to judge distance in the open country. Access into Kaimanwa open tops is either by chopper or walking in from Kaimanawa road, Waipakahi road or by following the poled route along the army boundary. There are a number of access points that can be used to reach the Kaweka open tops including Makahu road, Kaweka road, Kuripapango road and Comet road, infact nearly all access points in the Kaweka forest park lead to open tops, although some are more direct then others. Again these areas can be accessed by chopper however there is a booking system in place restricting choppers from flying more than one party to a hut at any one time, this does not restrict foot access.
When hunting open tops make sure you know your rifle and your own capabilities, in open country shots can present themselves at any distance, although as you get further out there is less room and more chance of error due to a vast range of environmental factors acting on the projectile, such as altitude and wind this is not to say long shots are not achievable infact far from it as I know many hunters that successfully shoot Sika at 500, 600, 700 metres consistently, its just a matter of knowing your own capabilities, personally I try not to shoot animals out past about 350m as this is a comfortable range for me.
Bush stalking is not generally regarded as a successful method of hunting during summer, however it can be very productive if you hunt the right areas. It can be particularly good in areas such as the eastern Kaimanawas where there is not much in the way of open tops. Again just like tops hunting Sika seem to move from feed to bedding areas therefore you can target differing areas at different times of the day. During the peak times of the day targeting lower areas of altitude generally just off the terrace country can be productive when bush stalking. This is due to the cumulative effect of minerals in the soil as they move down slope due to leeching. These areas of high fertility have a greater array of nutritionally valuable foods and hence the deer will all know where these areas are and feed nearby.
During the height of the day it is generally quite hard to find animals in the bush as they tend to move from the lower open feed areas up higher into dense scrubby pockets of bush where hinds bed down in the safety of cover with their fawns. Often this is not far off the side of significant ridgelines in creeks and gulley heads as these areas will often have a cool gentle breeze which helps in both safety and cooling in the height of summer. Stags are quite a rare sight in the bush during this period as many move off into known summer grounds and mob up. It is not uncommon to see large mobs of stags in some areas, however generally on private land.
Almost all road ends entering both the Kaimanawas and Kawekas provide decent bush stalking oppourtunities. There are a number of brochures showing access points to both the Kaimanawas and Kawekas, these can be found online and are well worth reading when planning a hunt into a new area. They include walking times, track names road names and different walking routes.
Anyone that has hunted the bush during the months of summer will know how noisy the bush can be, every step is loud and often when you see deer they are fleeing or about to run, because of this bush stalking during summer requires careful attention to your stalking techniques. This means very careful placement of your feet is required and in some circumstances it is well worth taking off your boots and either stalking in socks or taking in some dive booties with you. The benefits of this can be invaluable and you may be surprised how many more deer you run into, I am a firm believer that you only see a small proportion of the deer in an area yet many of the deer know you are there, this is because they hear or smell you and sneak off without making a noise. I believe this as I have hunted over a number of dogs and often the dogs pick up on deer you would otherwise walk right past. Often these animals will be looking in my direction yet haven’t and don’t make a sound.
Stay safe out in the hills, and enjoy your summer hunting. Next up is an article focusing on hunting the roar, Meeair!!!
Summer hits Sika country in late December.
Don’t try and hunt all day, focus on peak times first and last light.
When hunting open tops sit and glass, let your eyes do the walking.
Make sure you have a set of Binoculars for tops hunting.
Keep an eye out for herb gardens on the tops, generally on faces and small depressions as these make up a substantial part of their feed.
In the bush Sika generally move up the faces into scrubby areas to bed down during the day, whereas on the tops Sika move down into the scrub to bed down for the day.
Stalking in socks or dive booties can help minimize noise when bush stalking.
Leeching through the soil causes a buildup of minerals at the base of slopes which can in turn lead to productive feed areas.