by Ben Hope
The American hunting author Larry Weishuhn, in Pear Flat Philosophies, wrote, “Most people’s lives are filled with firsts – first day at school, first date, first kiss, first car – but for me perhaps none of my firsts were more important than my first whitetail deer.”
I don’t remember my first date at school – there were none. I was too busy playing tennis and rugby and fishing and hunting rabbits. I left school dateless but with a burgeoning addiction to fishing and hunting.
I was in my late teens and from Wellington and always accompanied by one of four or five hunting buddies, would venture into the Tararua Ranges for weekends. It was a cold winter’s day in the Tararua Range, when I shot my first deer.
To the true hunter, the memory of one’s first deer is always indelible. It was a dull, murky day – Queen’s Birthday weekend, probably about 1956, the year the South African Springboks came to New Zealand to do battle with the All Blacks. With the Mt Holdsworth tops shrouded in cloud and lashed by snow and sleet we dropped down a track that led to a creek.
Upstream we went, through the damp river flats with mossy logs lying under the trees and moving noisily through clumps of crown fern. Suddenly two reddish-brown animals were before me. I squeezed off a shot. I had my first deer.
That was a fluke. We really did not know much, utter greenhorns. We just blundered along with no clear plan, keen as mustard but trying to be quick to learn from experience – and mistakes.
Currently is a very good time for a tyro budding hunter to bag his or her first deer. But care is needed.
The reason for care is during November and December a hind or doe has given birth to a fawn. Shortly before giving giving birth to the fawn, the pregnant hind usually chases away last year’s youngster, now about a year old. During that early period on its own, the young, naive deer is relatively easy to hunt.
Spikers – rising-two-year-old deer growing their first antlers – are also likely to be available. They too have not fully developed adult cunning, and often are ideal to take as a first deer. Do not shoot a hind for without the mother, the newly born fawn will die slowly of starvation.
A young animal, like a yearling or spiker will provides the most tender venison. I have some reservations about shooting a spiker as if there are quality stags about as the sire, then the spiker may one day be equal to the quality of its father.
Best for a young hunter is to seek good advice and preferably be ‘guided’ on a hunt for the first deer.
Perhaps do a HUNTS course at the local NZDA branch? You will meet lots of other hunters including expert instructors. Importantly there will be thorough training in firearm safety.
Go about it the right way. Spotlighting is a poor way to bag your first deer. But a stalk and well-placed shot is.
Try to enlist the help of an experienced hunter.
Remember though if that experienced hunter takes you to one of their hunting spots to get your first deer, it’s wrong to sneak back afterwards. Be patient. If you don’t see the right animal to take, be content to wait for another day.