Pending #1 World Record Freerange Red Stag
My husband, Thad, and I had the opportunity to hunt New Zealand in April of this year. We have known Gus Bisset and his girlfriend, Carla Lucas, of New Zealand Trophy Hunting for many years and have looked forward to the opportunity to hunt with him on the south island under one condition: all free range animals, with red stag at the top of our list. Gus has been a fan of Barnes for many years which made it all the more exciting for us to hunt together. Carla runs the show in the office and is great about communicating needs, conditions, and instructions to clients. They make a great team.
John and Matt Mogle accompanied us to film the action for the Hunting Illustrated TV show and do some hunting as well. Johnny is also founder and president of Fierce Firearms. He outfitted us right with a pair of rifles to shoot our Barnes products. With over 15 years in the custom firearms industry, he brings his expertise and know-how to Fierce with the introduction of the new Fierce Fury rifle series. I carried a Fury XR in 270 WSM. The XR, built on the sturdy Remington 700 action, was topped with a Swarovski Z5 5-25×52. This rifle produces five-shot sub-MOA groups with 140 grain Barnes VOR-TX ammunition. Thad carried an Extreme Range model in 7mm Rem Mag with a carbon barrel that carried a Swarovski Z5 3.5-18×44. For the most part, Thad and I have not been impressed with carbon barrel accuracy, but Fierce has it figured out. This rifle puts five 145 grain LRX’s into three-quarters of an inch all day long.
Interestingly enough, the series of events that our trip began with had an important impact on the final outcome of the hunt. The serendipities, or fortunate accidents, probably set in stone the opportunity for me to take the new world record free range red stag.
I have traveled enough internationally to know there are a few basic rules that help make the trip go smoothly. One of those is to carry on plenty of extra doses of daily medications in the event baggage is lost. I take vitamins regularly, and one prescription for the treatment of vertigo. I had enough with me to last through our arrival in New Zealand, barring any issues with flights. Unfortunately, we experienced issues in Sydney. A morning connection was booked too tight, and we became separated from our bags. We immediately phoned Gus. Johnny and Matt would be there shortly, so it was decided that they would head out immediately for stag camp to get a jump on scouting the area with Gus while his assistant guide, Andy Taylor, would delay his departure and wait for us to sort out the baggage situation. We were optimistic, of course, that everything would work out. Well, kind of.
We arrived in Christchurch via Auckland late that evening with three of our bags arriving shortly thereafter. The fourth bag, which contained my medication, did not. We were hopeful it would arrive the following day, so we stayed the night in a comfortable hotel next to the airport. By mid-afternoon of the next day however, the bag had still not arrived. Discussions with the airline ironed out how to get it to camp and we headed out. We arrived at camp well after dark with already one day of hunting lost.
My husband is a real gentleman about what I call our “hunting pecking order.” After a bit of banter, he always insists that I have first opportunity to shoot. However, this time I was unable to go out that first morning due to a severe onset of vertigo. I lay flat all day and Thad hunted while the property owners, Jeremy & Haley Pitts, worked frantically to locate my bag and get it to camp. That evening Thad was successful and took a phenomenal gold medal 310-inch free range brute. Everyone celebrated that night, except me. I felt completely awful until Jeremy burst into the middle of their party at midnight with my prized possession. I downed the much-needed medication, and at 5 am the next morning I was ready to hunt.
My first glimpse of red deer was two mature Stags crossing in front of us just a few hundred yards away. I watched in awe as they climbed a side hill, roaring the entire time. Hearing a stag roar in the wild is really something. I personally feel it sounds a lot like a deep, bellowing roar of a lion. It is nothing less than incredible to hear up close.
We set up and glassed from a ridge into a large drainage. Numerous Stags were roaring everywhere around us. We heard a lot of activity, but didn’t see anything I wanted to shoot. We then drove to another large drainage and hiked up the bottom, glassing the side hills and draws as we walked.
A fairly nice stag worth pursuing was spotted near the top of a large basin. We decided to make the climb for a closer look. We finished the hike into the basin and glassed, but found he had gone over the top and given us the slip.
Negotiating our way back down to the bottom, we heard another stag roaring around the bend of the main canyon. A light rain fell as we moved in to check things out. We hiked up the adjacent side hill and found the source of the ruckus. Matt decided this was the stag for him, and anchored him with a great 330 yard shot with the 270 WSM from a prone position. The 140 grain TSX impacted squarely in the brisket and the stag dropped in its tracks. We took photos, headed back to camp for lunch, and got ready for the evening hunt.
Refreshed and ready for more, the group glassed a slope across an enormous glacial drainage with a number of draws and canyons cut through the slope on the far side. It seemed that each one of these contained at least one stag with a number of hinds. A true giant was spotted about thirty minutes before dark. We knew there was no way we could cover the ground necessary to get on him in time, so we headed back to camp and made a game plan for the next morning.
We began early and scrambled our way up two draws below where the stag was spotted, working through thick brush, briars, and grass slopes across the basins in order to drop in on top of him. We spotted three very mature stags and a large “blue” hog. When we arrived at the spot we thought the monster would surely be, he was nowhere to be found.
We spent the next few days pounding the area in pursuit of the big stag, but never did get another look at him. Knowing the following day would be our last day of hunting Gus suggested we backtrack to an area where the group had failed to close the deal on a very large stag the first day when I was laid up in camp.
Thad spotted him within a few minutes. There was no mistaking that he was the behemoth they saw that first day. A plan came together quickly for a stalk and we headed off. He was rutting hard and chasing hinds like there was no tomorrow. My heart sank into my gut as he moved away from us faster than we could close the gap and escaped into the oncoming night. Gus read my disappointment, and was quick to react and lift my hopes. He was certain this “scorcher” would be in that general area tomorrow as we were careful not to spook him and he was sticking close to this large band of hinds. I felt my confidence soar.
First thing the following morning we spotted him less than 300 yards from where he was the night before. He was once again chasing hinds and roaring as the group snaked up the ridge. Gus, Thad, and I moved rapidly on a path behind him, hoping he wasn’t moving too quickly away from us and down the other side. It was a tough belly-crawl up the knoll to the top of the ridge as there were red deer everywhere. Thad peaked over his side to find a hind was staring right back at him from just ten yards away! He gently backed down, keeping low, hoping she wouldn’t spook. Luckily, she didn’t.
We moved carefully as two hinds stared us down from a not-too-distant slope. Again, all we could do was hope they would not react and scare the herd we knew the stag was in. Thad kept his eye on the stag from behind, while Gus sneaked up to make sure all was good. To his surprise, the big stag and six hinds were just 80 yards away from us on a slight downhill. Gus’ reaction instantly told me I better get into position fast, so I moved as quietly and efficiently as I could to set up for a shot.
The entire herd was staring directly at us – they knew we were there. Suddenly, the hinds bolted on a dead run away from us with the monster in tow. I wasn’t comfortable taking the shot, but I followed him through the scope with my finger positioned gently on the trigger at the ready. He stopped, turning broadside, and the shot broke. The 140 grain TSX plowed through his right front shoulder at 350 yards and he was done.
I dropped my head next to the rifle to breathe for a few moments, emotionally exhausted and stunned at what had just happened. I then gathered myself and jumped up with tears in my eyes. It was all so overwhelming: the stalk, closing in and watching him almost get away, and finally the shot. I was overcome with emotion, as were Gus and Thad. My husband wrapped his arms around me and yanked me off the ground. We laughed, yelled, back-slapped and reminisced. We began to settle down when Gus said “Well Jess, I believe this to be the largest free range stag we have ever taken so let’s get over there and take a look at him! He’s a stonker!” I was ready to meet up with the most magnificent animal I’ve ever taken in my life.
Sure enough, after the mandatory drying time it was confirmed that I had taken the new SCI Free Range World Record red stag, officially scoring 359 6/8: an absolute trophy of a lifetime.
Special thanks to Gus Bisset & Carla Lucas, Andy Taylor (guide), and Jeremy & Haley Pitts (property owners) for making my first New Zealand adventure as memorable as ever could be dreamed. I anxiously await our next trip with Gus in 2014 for free range Tahr on the south island.