|Read on to read Brent’s Glen Dene Hunting Story – an in-depth look into a hunting trip with Glen Dene and his successful hunt for Red Stag and wild pigs.
Last year Dad, Uncle Denis and I had the opportunity to hunt on Glen Dene Station near Wanaka. Glen Dene is famous for its trophy stags and is usually visited by international hunters. Covid-19 lockdowns and border restrictions meant no international hunters so Richard and Sarah Burdon decided to open the station up for members of SCI. Not only was it the opportunity of a lifetime for us but a way of supporting the outfitters and fellow SCI members.
The drive to Wanaka took 5 hours but seemed shorter because of the gorgeous views constantly changing as we moved South. The low fog and high moisture content in the air gave way to a continual hoar frost from Lake Tekapo right through the Mackenzie Basin and started to clear just as we started to climb up the Lindis Pass. Uncle Denis would tell stories about the times he would go out hunting with Dad and his other brothers and how they would get up at 3am to get to their spot before dawn. It was obvious Dad and Uncle Denis were also excited. Lake Hawea welcomed us to Glen Dene sprawling out in front of us. It did not have any reflections but drew us in.
Raynardt, our guide, welcomed us and regaled us of absolutely hilarious stories of his own hunting expeditions from Africa that were completely different to anything Dad or Denis had experienced. Different animals, different landscapes and really different dangers and really funny compared to the safety of New Zealand hunting practices.
Now our hunting trips follow a very strict regime which always start with a trip to the range to check our rifles for accuracy. Dad hadn’t had much time to prepare for the trip so his rifle came out and went back into its case very quickly as he wasn’t confident it was shooting well and settled for using someone else’s rifle should the need arise. Raynardt introduced us to the use of shooting sticks, insisting we try as he advised of the benefits of using them in some different shooting positions. Uncle Denis was dubious but once he got his own style perfected, he was ringing gongs out to the 300 metre mark. He had brought a new rifle with him on this trip, another custom build but this time by Hardy Rifle Engineering built on a Sako 85 action with one of their carbon wrapped barrels chambered in 7mm Blaser Magnum.
The intention was to get it out on the hills and to bag himself a Chamois with it to ensure it was well blooded. With us confident our rifles were on the money we headed back to our cottage in the The Camp on the shores of the lake. Richard and Sarah have the whole operation well set up with the various facilities supporting and complementing one another to ensure we were well catered for. Our whole trip was well organised right from regular updates via email, a greeting call while travelling down, to accommodation, the hunting and then a taxidermy service should we be lucky in our pursuit for game animals. The sun was now well and truly gone and the temperature plummeting along with it, so it was indoors, heaters on full, dinner on the stove and then in to bed as it was the warmest place to be.
At 8.00am the following morning Raynardt was true to his word and standing on the verandah of the cottage urging us to get moving. 8.00am seems a leisurely hour to be heading out but as it was still dark to some degree and we were on the doorstep of our hunting area there was no real rush. A trip in the Hilux down the road and on to the station proper and then we swapped vehicles to a side by side. It was about then that the cold really hit us. It was very cold and we were about to embrace a weather phenomenon totally new to us and over the next few days it would prove to be character building. As soon as we were moving, we started to climb skyward, skyward towards that weather phenomenon…. the inversion layer. It looked like a blanket of low cloud but as we got higher and closer the temperature dropped drastically and once in it, visibility was extremely limited and the grass, the bush, the water and even my hair froze. As expected, we saw very little game during our ascent and to be honest, I wasn’t very interested as I was more focused on staying warm.
Finally, the light penetrated the haze and next thing we know we are bathed in sunlight. We had made it through the layer and were rapidly approaching the summit. When at the top we parked the vehicle and went for a walk to both warm up and to scout the area for any Chamois. Uncle Denis was going to be first up to bat!! As Raynardt checked out the usual haunts for chamois in this area we sat out of the wind but in the sun and sat in awe of the fantastic scenery before us. This country was just as Dad had said it would be, it was huge. High in the free-range areas you couldn’t hear a thing but above the cloud bank the temperature drop combined with the stiff breeze reminded us we were definitely high in the mountains. The surrounding mountain tops emerging out of the clouds were clear and showed the enormity of the countryside and the beauty Aotearoa is renowned for. The panoramic views were more breath taking than the biting breeze that whipped across. We were going to be walking as far as we would for an evening hunt back home and we would only be traversing the head of a valley. This was going to be a challenge!!
Uncle Denis and Raynardt were in discussion as they had found some mobs of chamois and were planning how we would get close to them. Raynardt contacted some of the other workers on the station who he knew were up there the day before so was keen to get an update on the terrain. His phone call brought about an immediate change of plan as we learnt the tracks there were all frozen so we were at risk of dropping in to the area but not being able to get back out. A night in these mountains may be our last so it was decided to put the chammy on hold till tomorrow and we would ascend via another track and carry on looking for a stag today for me.
It was a slow careful descent down through the inversion layer again with the tracks, tussocks and water all frozen now as the temperature dropped as quickly as we did. We travelled through part of the station which was home to farmed deer which provides the stock for the game park section of their operation, a total contrast to the fair chase rules which we abide by. These animals were huge and were much bigger than anything I had seen before and much bigger than I was expecting. At least 8 different stags with 18 – 20+ big strong points were seen from our vantage point. Magnificent animals meandering through the scrub and across the rock faces could be easily seen through binoculars, their huge antlers pointing them out despite their bodies ability to camouflage.
We bounced our way across the farmland down near the lake as this seemed status quo to climb then drop down move across to the next valley and then climb up again. The next valley was immersed in low cloud, fog, the inversion layer, the works and then we stopped. Surely to open a gate I thought, but there was no gate!! No…. this was it, we were now hunting, couldn’t see a bloody thing but we were hunting!!
We only had Raynardt’s knowledge of the land to know where we were going but he seemed confident so follow we did. We pushed on down the ridge hoping for the fog to clear but it wasn’t playing the game so we needed to hatch a plan. Raynardt decided to push ahead to see where the weather was clearing and we would continue down the ridge pausing to glass should there be any small opportunities gifted us. Uncle Denis had a bout of illness before we came away and was still feeling the effects of it so we weren’t breaking any records which as it turns out was an ideal tactic.
We decided to stop for a drink and an apple as the fog was thinning out and we could see to the valley floor and part of the track on the other side, the same track we would venture on to tomorrow. As we sat and wondered when Raynardt would be back Dad broke the silence with a “There’s one”. I was expecting to be able to look over the edge and see a set of antlers just below us but upon my admission that I can’t see anything Dad pointed out a dot of brown fuzz way way down in the bottom of the valley near a small river. I still wasn’t convinced it was a deer let alone a stag but played along with Dad’s story anyway. We sat and watched waiting for Raynardt to return and the whole-time dad’s piece of brown fuzz hadn’t moved an inch, was it really a stag or did Dad need a trip to Specsavers??
Raynardt returned and upon Dad’s direction he too saw the brown fuzz and thought it was worthy to have a look with his spotting scope. As soon as his eye was up to the lens he said “Not one stag but two”. Another was bedded down in the long grass and all that could be seen of him were the tops of his antlers.
A plan was hatched and we decided we would drop down the ridge, over the side and then stalk back up them using the hill and cuttings in the terraces as cover. It was game on!! Within 5 minutes walking and no real distance covered the second stag was now standing and they were both looking in our direction. Bugger! With no time to stop and think Raynardt evaluated the situation, combined with his vast experience, and had us heading back up hill and sidling across the face of the hill well out of view and with any chance of a breeze being in our favour.
This country was nothing like I had hunted in Canterbury and Wairarapa. It was huge and so open. I had never sidled around a hill like this for so long and my knees, ankles and balls of my feet were soon aching. Complaining was going to do nothing more than waste oxygen so I tramped on as quickly and quietly as possible. We reached the 4WD track well down the hill and would use this to cover the last distance required to get into reasonable shooting range. We hugged the embankment side of the track to stay out of sight for as long as we could with Raynardt popping up every so often to check on our quarry. They were still there but had come out of their beds and were milling on a flat terrace above the river, acting very suspiciously. One more quiet push forward and we would be under 200 metres. The excitement grew, I went through the plan with Raynardt and then we quietly slid forward until we were on the open side of the track and could see the stags and see them, we could.
They were huge, nothing like I had seen before and looking straight at us. There was no time to waste. Raynardt quickly sat beside me and with his experience in long range shooting and knowledge of my caliber, the .260 Remingto, dialed my CDS Leupold scope into his measured range. He was a huge stag with 17 points, bigger than anything I had seen up close, with another 18-point stag standing less than 100 metres away but Raynardt gestured for me to take a shot at the closer one. Dad not convinced that I could drop the stag with one shot with my trusty 260 Remington gave Raynardt Uncle Denis’s Sako to back me up.
The place I took my shot from was warm, in the shade and had a great view of the valley and river nearby, the stag was facing directly at us so I had to make a brisket shot, something I had never done before but now was the time to use it. Putting his size and presence out of my mind I concentrated on nothing other than where I needed to place the little 130 grain bullet to despatch him quickly and humanely. Raynardt whispered that my range was set and to fire when ready. I don’t think he got ready out of his mouth and I squeezed the trigger. The suppressor hissed and then there was that intense wait before the loud whack of all that energy striking him in the chest. I knew he was hit hard but he stood as if I had missed, then his huge frame toppled sideways, enough for the mass of his antlers to take control and drag him over the side of the terrace and down towards the river. Job done. The second stag was totally confused by the fact that one second his mate was there and the next he had totally disappeared.
His hesitation proved fatal. With a gesture from Raynardt, Dad was behind my rifle and getting him in the scope. The stag stopped and stood for a moment too long. The bullet struck and broke his shoulder and while like mine, dead on his feet, Dad fired again to be certain. We walked down and after ensuring Dad’s stag was dead, we started looking for mine. It was nowhere to be seen. Oh No!! Was it not a fatal shot?? Had he gotten away injured? We searched frantically as darkness was on the radar and we had deer to process. Uncle Denis had seen this all unfold from up on the hill and could tell we were looking in the wrong place so he slowly trudged all the way down the hill to put us in the correct location. We found my stag at the bottom of the face below the terrace near the river. As I got up close to him, I was in awe of his size. His antlers were huge and he had a body to match. Very big but in relatively poor condition as the cold climate prevents them from regaining condition lost during the roar.
Darkness was now setting in and with so much meat to dress out, the heads to deal to and of course the obligatory photo shoot, Raynardt enlisted the help of some of the station staff to bring in another vehicle to assist. This is just another awesome part of the service Glen Dene offers and one we were truly grateful for as I was very cold and very tired. My bed beckoned me.
The Next day we woke up nice and early to go to the top of the mountains where the chammy had been seen the day before. Following the same routine as the previous day we were in the side by side and heading skyward before we knew it. Up through the paddocks we raced until through the final gate where the bush edge started. It didn’t seem as cold today but the inversion layer was still hanging there so anything could happen. We agreed last night that we had not been well enough prepared for the weather and the cold had helped sap all our energy reserves down to a point where Dad felt ill. It was so easy to see how dangerous our mountain ranges could be and why missing person events can easily turn into fatalities. We couldn’t risk that again so Dad and I were wearing nearly everything we had that was still dry. We climbed and climbed for a good 30 – 45 minutes past where we harvested our stags but now on the other side of the river. Eventually we edged our way into the inversion layer which was actually sinking into the valley.
Today it was worse. As it descended the vegetation and the puddles in the track froze as if a scene from Lord of the Rings and it got bitterly cold. Expecting to climb through it as we did the previous day, a road block was thrown up 5 – 10 minutes from the summit. We turned a corner in the track to be confronted by a nasty washed out shaley section which was completely frozen. Raynardt put the buggy into low 4WD and started creeping up to it but our worst fear became reality, we started sliding on the ice. At this altitude, with a near sheer drop into a steep gully to the side, our forward momentum ceased. We sat and pondered with Dad and Raynardt checking the track out further up. As it decided vehicle access was a no go from this point Uncle Denis decided he would attempt to walk the rest of the way to the top with Raynardt. Dad and I were to stay with the vehicle back it down the track until we could find a point in the track wide enough to turn it round and then reverse up the mountain as far as we could.
It was scary with moments when one wheel was completely off the ground but Dad’s experience with cross country motor cycle racing kept us in a straight line and heading forward. Once we had backed up as far as we could the long wait began. In fact, the long wait got so long that we decided to leave the vehicle and start walking to the top, it was the only way to stay warm. Through the inversion layer and seeing the summit in sight we rounded a corner to see the other two on their way back down. They had made it to the top, had found the same mobs of chamois from yesterday but upon calculating the time to get to them, harvest one, walk back and down to the side by side it wasn’t worth the risk as Raynardt was afraid of more of the track freezing and then we would have a real problem.
We slowly ambled back to the vehicle, had a bite to eat as it was early afternoon by this stage and then carried on heading back down. Almost off the hill and back into slightly warmer temperatures and Dad beckoned to Raynardt that he had seen something on the track heading uphill. He saw it for a split second but knew it wasn’t a deer because of the colour so we parked up and waited and watched the portions of track visible to us before they turned back into the small gullies. Sure enough a pig rounded the bend trotting up the road. We decided to stay put, stay quiet and stay still and see if he stayed on the track to our level. His choice to do so was his worst decision for the day. Uncle Denis was in the front passenger seat and readied the Blaser anticipating it’s first kill. The little boar rounded the bend a good 100 metres off and stopped on the track deciding which way to jump. He chose his right but it didn’t really matter he exposed his neck and it was game over. With darkness looming again we lifted the whole pig on the back of the vehicle and would dress it out completely back at base. After all it was only 10 minutes away and it most certainly wasn’t hot enough that the meat would spoil.
Back home to our little cottage at a more reasonable hour than the day before, we had showers to warm up and then headed to Richard and Sarah’s home for dinner. A true outfitter’s home with the walls and floor littered with trophies and not just New Zealand species, trophies from all over the world. After a wonderful evening and a beautifully cooked meal it was home to the warmth of my bed. Next morning the reality of home time hit and as usual I wished I could stay just one more day but as usual we can’t so began packing the vehicle. Having picked up the ample venison harvested from the chiller we said our goodbyes to Raynardt and Richard and we headed back to Wanaka for fuel and an awesome breakfast. It was Uncle Denis’s shout. With the vehicle and ourselves fully fueled we cruised over the Clutha River as I drifted off to sleep knowing I had another wonderful hunting adventure in the bank and how could I con Dad into coming back. It too would be a challenge but I think I can do it!!
Brent Morgan from Canterbury
Brent Morgan from Canterbury