Hunting Down Under

Red deer in New Zealand

Published Apr 19, 2012 at 05:00AM

A sphere is measured in 360 degrees. Our planet then is divided into hemispheres, north and south, with lines that circle the globe.

We locate the center of Oregon along the 45th parallel in the Northern Hemisphere. A world away, at the 45th parallel in the Southern Hemisphere, lies New Zealand’s Central Otago. When spring comes to Central Oregon, leaves turn yellow in the Central Otago. And the red deer roar.

It had been a night for fighting under a full South Island moon.

Now, with a wind that blew down the canyons and over the tops of the finger ridges, the stags were quiet. We imagined they lay back up in the manuka scrub and licked their wounds or fed to regain their strength for the next rounds.

Two hours past dawn. Unless I missed my guess, deer would be up and on the move on the east slopes and the shady sides of the peaks.

Tony Barber was thinking the same thing.

“There were a lot of bulls here last week. We’ll hunt the shady side and look into these wee draws and see what we see.”

Yellowed leaves rattled and thorny bushes loaded with rose hips swayed in the breeze. Ahead of me, Tony worked along the side of the hill in the dry grass. Behind me came Allen Kallel with a camera. We had the wind in our faces.

Into the magazine I thumbed three rounds of 7mm Magnum and closed the bolt.

These were the mountains where the acclimatization societies had sewed the first red deer from the United Kingdom 160 years before. Here in the Central Otago, red deer had overpopulated and now are kept in check by careful management at the end of a hunter’s rifle. I had first hunted here with Rodney Smith of Sunspots Safaris in July when snows capped the mountains.

Now, in April, with the rut in full swing, we worked side-hill into the wind.

Tony spotted him by the polished tips of his antlers. He lay bedded, like an elk, two-thirds of the way up the slope where he could catch the upwelling wind. He had his eye on us. In a moment, he was up and he laid his head back and drifted like smoke through the manuka. We stayed high on the ridge and followed him around the corner.

The next stag was below us in a canyon with a small herd of hinds and another herd on the hill above him. While we watched, the stag pushed a female ahead of him. From time to time, he ran one or another into the manuka scrub on the next ridge.

“Like old Hef trying to herd another young one into the mansion,” Tony whispered without taking the binos from his eyes.

Now the stags were vocal again. The one before us took time out from tailing females to roar and test the wind for the scent of a rival. From away up the main canyon, another stag answered. Nearby, I heard shale sliding. Another deer on the move. Close.

Minutes passed while Hef pushed the girls around and then a roar sounded from below, deep and full-throated. Each time he roared, he sounded closer. When an hour had passed, Tony slid down the hill, took one look and signaled me to ease down and bring the rifle.

It was the bull we had glimpsed early in the day, back in the game.

“Two-hundred-seven yards.”

Tony brought his pack and laid it on a mossy rock. In the canyon, the stag roared again. He curled back his upper lip and paced, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth.

A bit beyond 207 yards now, he stood broadside with two hinds on the bench below him. The sun was not yet on his flanks, but he glinted red, his antlers dark, the tips polished white like ivory.

On the pack, the rifle had a firm rest, I dialed the scope to 9x and cycled the bolt.

Red in the morning light he was, and the curve of the near-side foreleg angled out.

Later, as we worked to remove the meat from the carcass, we found punctures between the ribs where another stag had stabbed him. The deer may not have survived the season.

When first I hunted Glen Dene Station, Sarah Burdon gave me what has become one of my favorite recipes.

For venison bulgogi, cut the meat into thin strips and let marinate for 15 minutes in soy sauce, garlic, ginger, Hoisin sauce and soybean oil. Cook hot with sesame oil in a wok and add spring onions. Serve on sesame seed buns with pickled cabbage and steamed rice and a wee splash of a pinot noir made with grapes grown on an east-facing slope.

It is springtime here in Central Oregon. Time grows short for those who would hear the roar of red stag in the Southern Hemisphere. But the seasons change and soon the elk will bugle in the high country here at home.

— Gary Lewis is the host of “Adventure Journal” and author of “John Nosler — Going Ballistic,” “Black Bear Hunting,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Lewis at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.