The bugle of an elk will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. This happens because you can actually feel the wildness of the moment, somewhat like hearing the call of a wolf. The roar of the red deer is different. Oh, you still feel that wildness but there is something else, something maybe a bit deeper than wild.
There is no shrillness to the roar, no cuteness and not the slightest hint of anything deer. It’s more a growl laced with testosterone. The roar is something you will never forget and something you will forever be able to immediately identify if you ever hear it again. Its something your European ancestors heard long before they ever knew the wapiti existed.
It’s thought the shrillness of the elk’s bugle evolved to better allow bulls to be heard in the wide open spaces where they live. The red stag’s roar is a sound designed to resonate trough the timber like the bellow of an ogre or the bark of a troll. In the early morning with the grass freshly washed in dew and while the sun is still contemplating its shine, the roar of a mature red stag floating up from a deep, densely forested hollow will grab your very soul and for a moment you will wonder where you breath has gone. Oh, it is special.
On my first trip to New Zealand in late April of 2006, I took a very nice stag just after the rut, or “roar” as it is called with red deer, was over. The following year I returned and the rut was just getting started. I heard my first roar just at dark on the first evening of that hunt. John Barsness and I had just crested a small rise in an open glade near a water hole. Three hinds (female red deer) rushed into the timber but an adult stag stood staring at us belligerently and roared. I felt it through my entire body.
You can hunt the European red stag in many locations though they are only native to Europe. I hunted them for two days in Ireland and while I did take several cull fallow deer, I only saw a handful of hinds. Various hunting preserves in the U.S. offer red deer hunts but these, like many locations in New Zealand, are high fenced. That may or may not matter to the hunter, but free-ranging red stag hunts such as the two I have experienced with Wanganui Safaris are available in New Zealand.
Red deer were introduced to New Zealand in about 1851. They have thrived because of the lushness of the vegetation and the fact there are no predators there. During the 1960s and 70s venison became a viable commodity and unbelievable numbers of red deer were shot and live captured in New Zealand. But the red deer still thrives there and in fact many are still farmed or raised for their meat and their magnificent antlers.
A typical red deer hunt in New Zealand involves getting up early, glassing the meadows and openings and listening for the roar to locate the stags. There will be a break during mid day which can seem warm to anyone who has hunted elk and then you’re back at it in the evening. Both times I have hunted red stag in New Zealand it was on the North Island. The timber there is rain forest thick but interspersed with small meadows and surrounded by massive open fields.
In New Zealand shots can be long. My first stag was taken at 240 yards with a .300 Winchester Magnum and my second at 289 yards with a .264 Winchester Magnum. During my second trip John Barsness shot his stag at about 250 yards with a .30-06. Two other hunters’ shots reached near 200 yards with a .300 Magnum and a .257 Roberts. This doesn’t mean you need a cannon but you do need to be prepared to shoot to at least 300 yards and your bullet needs enough speed when it gets there to insure complete expansion.
If you are thinking about a red deer hunt in New Zealand be prepared for rain. When it rains there it really rains so pack good wet weather gear. I used Cabela’s MTO50 rain gear on both trips and it was a blessing. Take plenty of extra ammunition as well. It’s likely your outfitter will ask you to help him cull some fallow deer and feral goats during the hunt.
New Zealand is a magnificent place to visit with incredible natural wonders and an interesting history. But the reason I will go back will be to hunt red stag. And to hear them roar!