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SPRING HUNTING – WHERE & HOW

Apparently the 1st of September means spring has arrived? Often the case on low lying farms that have started to green up but a far different story in the hills. Spring marks the season where longer sunshine hours and warmer temperatures coming out of winter result in a “spring flush” meaning all those plants and grasses that have been almost hibernating over winter come alive and start growing new shoots to soak up those rays.

Finally some longer days and new growth startingimg_1548From a hunters point of view this is a very good thing! The animals do it tough over winter, snow, rain, below minus temps and little feed; it all makes life a bit miserable for the poor buggars. It’s a survival thing for them through these months and many older animals will die simply due to the conditions. So as spring arrives they become more active, things are growing again and their on a mission to catch up on lost time and that involves alot of feeding which is great news for hunters!

Spring means new grass and the start of velvet growingimg_2968Like I mentioned above spring in the hills and spring in town are two completely different things, plants grow due to the warming of the ground not the air. So the higher the altitude is the later the spring growth will appear. In the Ruahines where I’ve done a bit of spring hunting, the flush wont hit the tussock line until late October – early November and by December it’s the tussock country that is a deer magnet.

Sep/Oct & Nov can still be very cold in the high country pack those down jacketsimg_1498So where and how do we hunt spring?

September – This month is still winter in the likes of the Ruahines, Tararuas, Kawekas, Kaimanawas and the South Island high country. As the month progresses with longer days growth will become more evident around river flats, slips and sunny north facing terraces. Hunting at this time can still prove tricky but your best bet is to focus on north facing slips and river flats. Sit and wait or bush stalk north facing terraces or slopes as these will be getting far more sunlight than the south side.

Example of typical Ruahine spring areas to target, North facing is the key herescreen-shot-2016-09-11-at-1-19-47-pmSilly spiker season, slips are a magnet during springimg_3293Bare in mind many mature stags at this point will have no antlers, some may have small nubs of velvet already growing and many potential trophies get shot at this point thinking their small stags. The mature stags always drop their antlers first, so if you see a stag with no antlers during September there’s a very good chance he will grow into a 10-12 point by February. The stags will often mob up now, so if you’re faced with the choice of shooting one with or without antlers during this month it could be a good idea to shoot the one with antlers as he’s likely to be the younger animal and leaving your a potential trophy to hunt down after summer.

North facing clearings and slips will be the go to feed areas for deerimg_3371October – This is when spring really starts in the high country, temps will be a lot warmer around home often 20+ and it will be tempting to “hit the tops” but it’s still a bit early. Yes theres always exceptions and the odd animal will be starting to roam looking for feed higher up, but the river flats and slips will now be cranking. The growth will be in full swing and the deer will be lapping the grass and new growth up like it’s going out of fashion. Target these areas again first and last light but don’t be surprised to catch a deer feeding well into the late morning often in and around toi toi bushes on those river flats. The mature stags will now have a bit of growth up and the younger stags will be starting to drop their antlers.

South Island high country target areas, notice the Sept/Oct overlap the river flats will be go to areas all springscreen-shot-2016-09-11-at-1-26-58-pmExample of the flush hitting low altitude first then slowly working up the mountainsimg_2261If you see a stag at this point with more than a foot of velvet it’s a good sign he’s mature. Anything with none or very little may be a better choice of meat if that’s what you’re after. Late October also provides fantastic hunting for tahr and chamois as the spring growth is well underway in those big South Island valleys. These normally bluff and rock living buggars can be found almost in the rivers as they leave their caves and freezing temps chasing the spring flush on the valley floors. Its a great time to target big bull tahr as they will mob up meaning you get to pick over the mob for the big boy. Chammy does will mob up with young but the bucks are pretty solitary creatures and will stick to themselves but again they will be chasing that feed and you can expect to see them almost anywhere.

Ideal animal for the freezer a good ole “silly spiker”img_2323November – or Low-vember as many tahr hunters call it for obvious reasons. By now spring hunting is at its best, the growth has started above the bush line sucking animals from the safety of the bush and slips onto the vast open tussock country chasing the flush as it gains altitude. This month makes for fantastic hunting for meat hunters looking to fill their freezers for those summer BBQs.

Save the hind during November shoot the yearling (middle one)img_3306November is also a tricky month regarding what do you shoot? I’m not here to tell you not to shoot stags or hinds because of velvet or fawns but for me my target is young stags ie spikers or stags with very little velvet (mature stags will now have alot of velvet up) or yearling hinds. I personally try and avoid shooting mature hinds now as they will be heavily pregnant or even possibly just given birth. It’s a personal choice and everyone is different but leaving a fawn to starve to death is not something I’m comfortable doing. While they rely on milk their off my radar regardless of how empty my freezer might be. By now the hinds will or will be very close to kicking last years fawn now a yearling off them and these are often know as “silly spikers” and that’s exactly what they are without mum telling and showing them what to do they do some silly stuff such as feeding on a slip until 10am or sleeping on a river flat. Many a freezer has been graced by a “silly spiker” and long may it continue. November is still great river flat and slip hunting but the animals range has now extended onto the high country so if the weather looks good you’re in with a shot almost anywhere.

Spring hunting is all about the animals catching up on FOOD..find the new feed, and you’ll find the animals.

Spring buck just shy of the 10″ mark, notice the changing capeimg_2544Happy Hunting – Ben