Highest Wallow in the Land

View from where the first stag was downed

It was late March and I found myself with a little time off between guests at Triple Tui so I thought I would look over some new country in the hope that the roar would have started. The first day saw me struggle in for 6 or 7 hours with a pack that was way too heavy. You would think a man would have learned a thing or two by now eh? The bright side being that when the hut eventually became a reality, it was a thing of great beauty.

A quick squiz of the map that night had me planning to head downstream to a creek about 15 minutes from the hut. The next morning I was following the course of the said creek towards its origins high above. After about an hours travel I came slap bang into an enormous waterfall, at the base of which was an idyllic little pool with deep clear water, green in colour, reflecting the over hanging broadleaf branches and the air was full of fine droplets of water driven up by the force of the impacting deluge from high above. It was truly a spectacular place and a man could have lingered there all day. However my hunting instincts were hollering so I crossed the pool at this point and ascended the other side ever hopeful of finding a route up alongside the waterfall. It was about this time that I had wished I had had the foresight to have brought along the aforementioned map. The bluffs this side of the creek were just as steep so I continued contouring in the hope of a break somewhere soon. Eventually I found a deer trail winding up and above the nasty fissures of rock.

After a further hour of travel I sat down and took a spell, I gazed through the canopy of trees and far out across the valley . High above me on that side I spied a huge basin that looked as though it was made in hunters heaven. It was richly carpeted in deep golden tussock and ran from the bush edge right up to the sheer rock formations way off in the distance. It was divided by various fingers of scree and rock and it appeared to have a gentle contour at first, only rising with any significance in the final quarter of its length.

A roar drifted across from that valley I was intent on, followed by a second roar shortly afterwards.  It was impossible to pin point.  I looked for a likely looking area and saw a flat piece of bush sandwiched between steep contours of bush above and below. The ground was at least two football pitches in area and was around 200 meters from the tussock. It seemed, from where I sat, to be the most likely place from where the roar had emanated. I will look there tomorrow, I decided.

The tussock line across the way was more or less at eye level opposite me, so I thought where the hell was it on my side? The morning was getting on and there was no fresh sign to be seen and seemingly no end to the bush line on this side. I didn’t know whether the slog in yesterday was taking its toll or maybe it was my general lack of fitness, but I called it a day shortly afterwards.  I trudged wearily down for an early first day.  Arriving at the hut, I could not wait to consult the map, and what it told me was that when I had negotiated the rock band I should have veered hard right and then gone diagonally upward. I would have found relatively flat ground and would have made the bush edge in no time at all. Instead I had plunged upward into a protracted bush finger.

Next day saw me cross the main river, without getting my feet wet, which is always a plus when I am wearing my alpine boots. It was accomplished via a load of trees and debris strewn across  a narrow run. The plan today was to make diagonally for the footy field I had observed yesterday. The best laid plans of mice

 and men! It wasn’t too long into the journey when it dawned on me that on my current course , with  the breeze on my back, I would be wasting my time and any animal that might be lurking in that area would be long gone.

Just then providence provided me with a dry watercourse and I decided that I would follow it up to the tops and circle around and come down a ridge over. By that time I was sure to have all the air currents in my favour. It was easy going for the first half hour but then it steepened considerably. So much so, that it forced me out onto the true left. It was the true right I had wanted to leave the creek on, and I was annoyed I had left it too late but I was not inclined to backtrack. The true right would have led me directly above that magnificent tussock basin, which in itself, was directly above the footy field.   Annoyance soon gave way to a mild terror as toe nail holds over meters of air were having their effect over my adrenal glands. I eventually scrambled to safety, thanks to the odd root and later whole branches, which I clung to like long lost relatives. Mr Ultralight Mcmillan stock was not too impressed either with the diagonal scratches it was accumulating and spoiling his youthful appearance.  After an agonising twenty minutes or so the worse part seemed over, and I climbed higher over easier ground. The knoll up ahead would afford me a view of how I might recross the ever widening gulley ahead. On reaching the knoll and to my utter despair, I realised that to gain access to the ridge opposite would not be easy in fact in a word impossible. The intervening ground was “on end” plunging straight down on both sides.  Ahead on the ridge I trod, wound higher into a large rock system and from where I was situated was impossible to see around.  The opposite ridge seemed to loop around and disappear behind those same rocks. 

 “Well me boy, it’s onward and upward”.  Looking more like a chamois hunt now, I toiled up through the large rocks hoping like hell there would be a solution at the top. With sweat stinging my eyes I wearily topped the last hard obstacles and was heartened with what I saw. The ridges did meld together via a narrow rocky spur. I soon topped the ridge and crawled over the lip to gaze into my tussock basin.

It was 11.30 and the same time that I had heard the roars of yesterday. Right on cue a savage roar reverberated around the steep walls of the basin, the acoustics playing tricks on the mind. It was if a lion was on the prowl, and impossible to locate.  AAARRRGGGHHH again, the growl resonated upwards. It was hopeless trying to glass the basin with my sweat stinging eyes. And yet again the guttural anguished groan issued forth, this time however it was answered by a stag even higher up the basin. A quick mop of the brow and.. Ok!  I have got the initial stag, I mumbled, as my Leica’s Ultravids focused on an animal trudging up the basin before finally bedding down by an enormous boulder. How the hell I am going to stalk him is another matter for there seemed no way down the vertical layers of rock. I will deal with that later I thought, as I crawled away from my vantage point and regained the ridge top. I climbed higher and over a small lip into a depression, which resembled a small saddle that seemingly linked the two basins. Noting the more gentle topography, this would be my entry point I exhalted.

I slid down a little way until I had an uninterrupted view of the upper basin.  AAARRgghh!  I scanned the upper fingers of tussock.  Nothing!  How could I not see him?  Adjusting the focus on the Leicas, I slowly followed the tussock finger upwards. I spied a wallow, or rather a small creek that had been flattened for some fifty vertical meters into a huge muddy area,  undoubtedly the highest altitude wallow I have seen anywhere.  Another throaty roar! “Where the hell are you?” I muttered as I let the glasses do the walking. Finally at the very top of a long finger of tussock, about a 100yds higher than the wallow, and only a yard or so short of the scree and rock band, the challenger finally materialises I say challenger because I can see he is an immature stag. He is looking my way and my first thoughts are he is certainly no trophy! He wasn’t even as big as the other stag further down the basin.  He then tilts his head back and groans. I scan the area around him, but not a hind do I see.

Time for a few roars myself, I decide whilst I work on my plan. The challenger replies though seemingly half heartedly, boss stag further down joins in with a moan or two after some moments  the challenger beds down but continues to moan spasmodically.  I am aware of the good wind that’s drifting up to my position. I note I am roughly opposite the challenger in altitude and there is about 600 yards between us. The ground leading down into the basin is steep, but well carpeted, so realising the need to close the gap, at least to his wallow, I start my diagonal descent on my backside, with low profile, aiming for a point just below his wallow. I manage a good speed, by sliding over the tussock, but the price I pay as my shorts ride up, are severe grass burns. As I continue my descent, I notice the challenger get up, turn around and face the other way.  Things are really starting to pick up in my day, I muse.

The further down I slide the more the basin was revealing itself. I stopped and glassed some more and picked out three hinds feeding slowly up towards the challenger, with boss stag keeping tabs on them.  He would close the gap to around 50 or 60 yards of the hinds and then plonk himself down again, whilst they fed on. Meanwhile I am making steady, although painful, progress on my bum. Eventually I get to within 200 yards of the bottom of the wallow, and have found refuge in a huge jumble of largish rocks. I am now worried that if I descend too much further I run the risk of my wind eddying up to the challenger. I am stuck between the two stags, so I decide to wait it out for a while. I can hear a creek further down the basin cascading over its course and tormenting my severely dehydrated body.

I don’t have long to wait though. The challenger abruptly gets up and starts down to his wallow, this means he is heading my way, so back pack is off and placed on a handy rock. Mr. Forester is already snuggled into it and I am squinting through the Leupold 1-4 scope, following his progress. He strolls past his wallow and gingerly starts on to the scree that separates the two of us. The range would be 100 yards and he is closing all the time. I close the bolt of my Sako .308. I make the decision to shoot when he reaches the fringes of the area of rocks  I am bedded in…..he reaches the edge of the rocks and is forced to show me a “quarter on” as he turns to continue down hill. I squeeze the trigger and a thump is recorded alongside the blast from the little 18.5 ins barrel. He disappears out of sight.

 I immediately swivel and give my whole attention to the boss and his girls wondering at their reaction to the shot. The hinds are making quick progress upwards and away from me into an almost vertical scree come rock shute, boss stag  is following and roaring his contempt at intervals. They have nowhere to go. Even the nimble chamois would have his work cut out climbing out of there. After a few minutes I decide to go over to the challenger to retrieve at least his back steaks. He is a disappointing five pointer but should provide good meat nevertheless. Pack filled, I now note the animals have backtracked out of the steep gully and have parked themselves under a rock face in the shade. They have to be 500 to 600 yards away.  I am in full view on a scree. I decide to brazen it out and work myself diagonally down to as close to their position as I can.

Amazingly I manage to close to around the 250 yard mark. The hinds finally become restless and make their way up and on to a grassy shelf. Meanwhile I am looking around for a decent  rest.  I locate a rock and then it is off with the pack and rifle across. The stag climbs up onto the grassy shelf that the hinds have just vacated and pauses. The duplex reticle is cast in stone. I centre the crosshairs just above his shoulder and apply pressure on the trigger and the 150 grn Sierra HpBt Is in the air.  He drops as if pole-axed and then is hidden by the tall tussock. The hinds meanwhile quickly disperse, they slip off the shelf, regain the basin floor and waste no time in heading for the bush.

Upon reaching ole stagsy I see he is a better head, although still only an 8. Impulsively I decide to take it out, after all it is the roar. Another set of backsteaks would not go amiss either.

 I figure it is obviously early in the roar, as both stags are in fine condition and sure testimony to little pressure from hunters and choppers  alike that they feel safe in their amorous pursuits at this altitude

After a quick bite to eat…I say quick because on opening my pack I find all my sandwiches in tatters, all reduced to crumbs thanks to my bum stalk. I do slake my thirst, however.

Finally, fully laden, I point my footsteps away from this high place of golden tussock and proceed  down to the river bottom. The footy field will have to wait for another trip.

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