A South Pacific fallow hunt in New Zealand took an unexpected turn for Thomas Lindy and Jens Kjaer Knudsen.
For a couple of years now, I have worked on a project as a photographer for Jens Kjaer Knudsen on his hunting trips around the world.
It has brought us to countless exciting destinations and given us both one good hunting experience after another. On a trip to Australia and New Zealand, we sought the South Pacific fallow buck.
It is listed as one of several subspecies of deer on SCI’s trophy list of the world’s deer species and subspecies. The hunt took a completely unexpected turn for this cameraman, yet also emphasised the friendship Jens and I have.
From a sambar hunting mission in Australia, we set off for the North Island in New Zealand. It was time to try our luck on fallow deer and wild goats on a private farm near the huge Whanganui National Park.
Here in the southern hemisphere, the red and fallow rut takes place in March and April, and though we were just too early to be treated to the noise of snorting fallow, the does were on their way into heat and movement in the area was good.
We had contact with a few young bucks on the first evening, though not yet of a size or age that justified Jens taking one of them.
Besides a high number of fallow, the farm is also home to red stags, as well as goats everywhere in the green hills.
However, we would not hunt the goats during morning or evening; at these favourable times we fully focused on fallow.
Nevertheless, the first animals Jens shot on this hunt were goats. The following morning saw no deer but plenty of rain, but just as we decided to blow it off and return to the cottage, we spotted two black billy goats 200 metres away.
As the farm is close to the national park, there is a constant flow of goats entering the farm’s lush grassland from the bush. No matter how many goats are taken on the 6,000ha of agricultural land, there will always be new ones.
This does not mean we are swimming in high-quality trophies, though, so on sighting these two representative billies, Jens reacted quickly, delivering two precise shots to claim the first double of the trip.
Next morning was rainy to a degree that we decided to sleep in a little longer than planned. Later, with mud, rock and water splashing from the ATV’s wheels, we climbed on bad roads through the forest. Jens and I sat on a wooden plate at the back of the vehicle – a board was really intended for the shepherd’s dogs.
Our New Zealander friend Marcel Powell acted as driver, getting us there safely. It wasn’t a particularly comfortable way to eat up the miles but it was preferable to the alternative, given the size of the farm. It didn’t take long before we reached a brand new slope, which we could not pass even with the multi-terrain vehicle. Time to get the blood flowing.
We followed the ATV trail upwards and eventually reached the top of a hill, from which we had a magnificent view of countless open and wooded hectares. The forest here is very dense, almost rainforest-like. The animals would have to move out into the open if we were to get a chance.
The first fallow buck we made contact with was nothing special. Roughly 100 metres beyond it were a few does with
calves and a small bunch of wild goats.
Even closer to us was a red deer with calf – so close, in fact, that we could not proceed.
The older bucks had to be deeper in the terrain, but there was nothing we could do but stay put and observe the many animals on our planned route.
Sunset – and the end of the hunt – was approaching. Marcel decided we should try to bump them so they would pull into the forest below us, taking them out of our planned route. The plan succeeded – the reds slid down into the forest to the right of us, and the goats followed the does and young buck down to the left.
We moved silently along a grassy track between original bushes and trees, following the trail through the forest towards an open meadow. Suddenly, we heard a grunt in the forest just above us, just at the edge of the open meadow.
Marcel looked meaningfully at Jens, who answered the silent question with a nod. He was ready. The approach was steep and the pair were careful while approaching the meadow. The wind was perfect, but they knew they were close to the buck, and the slightest sound could be devastating.
Marcel crept up to a rock at the edge of the forest, where it opened to the hilly grassland. Jens joined him while I clung on to a slope a little below my two friends. The buck was still out of sight, but he had to be moving continuously.
Would he emerge in a shootable spot? There was nothing we could do to influence the situation – we could only hope. After a minute, the sound grew stronger and the top of an antler poked out a few feet in front of Jens, who shouldered the rifle.
He had only seconds to judge the buck and make a shot if required. As head and neck slid over the ridge eight metres in front of the barrel, he sent his first South Pacific fallow buck to the grassy slopes with a precise shot.
There was no doubt that the deer was dead, and the euphoria was pronounced when Jens approached the animal after a short wait. At the same time Marcel saw a red stag with a group of females in the valley below us. It was within range, and Marcel quickly placed the rifle so there is a clear shot. The animals were already alert so we hadn’t got much time – in seconds they would break for the bush.
I looked at Jens, who had previously shot several good free-range red stags in New Zealand. Would he shoot this
one or not? Selfishly, I could only think of getting a good angle for this article: Hunter shoots two good specimens from two sought-after species on a free range in less than a minute.
Jens had a different idea. He knew I had not shot a New Zealand red stag of this quality before, and asked me to shoot it. Well, why not? I had an article in the bag anyway, and I would love to take this beautiful stag.
I fitted to the rifle; Marcel ranged the distance at 300 metres. He adjusted the parallax on the sight and ensured there was still a safe shot – all I had to do was concentrate and bend my finger. I sent the bullet on its way. The stag stopped after a few long jumps, giving me a chance to release a second shot as insurance, which also found its mark.
Shortly afterwards, the giant deer dropped forward in a fall that emphasised the steepness of the slope.
Two beautiful deer, from two beautiful species, within about a minute – what a double. Well, technically it’s not a double but two singles, but the situation was unique regardless. After admiring Jens’s buck for a couple of minutes, we moved down towards the red stag. It turned out that he fell on the other side of a deep, dangerous-looking creek.
We chose to return the next morning with a rope and dry clothes. In the full light of the following day, crossing the creek was pretty easy going, and I picked up the stag before swimming back. As I got back to the near bank, Jens asked, “Can you stay in the water for a photo or two?” I do, but after a minute it was too cold and I had to climb out.
I had just got out of the water when a pair of monster eels suddenly put their heads above the water in an attempt to grab the stag head. They were attracted to the blood in the water and wouldn’t mind sticking their razor-sharp little teeth into human flesh.
Had I been in the water I would probably have drowned in panic. Behind the camera Marcel no doubt knew that the eels would likely come. No wonder he hadn’t volunteered to get the stag himself… Jens and I had some amazing days in both New Zealand and Australia during this trip.
Not only did we get many good pictures and interesting experiences to recount, we also got some amazing trophies. And for my part, it was thanks to the good friend’s ability to set himself aside and show generosity.
That’s what hunting is all about.