Hunting in a new place always comes with its challenges. You are unsure what to expect. The last time I went hunting with Ray, for the first two hours of the morning, our lack of logic and knowledge of the area got us in a pickle.
We got involved in long arguments with a bunch of tightly packed beech saplings. Besides, it was cold and damp on the south-facing slope we were on. There was deer food in the way of palatable trees, such as broadleaf, but there was virtually no deer tracks or droppings; only a few clumps
of old dung.
So a bit dispirited and disappointed, we headed down into the creek where frost still lay on the grass flats in a sort of perma-frost, crunched our way across the flat and the creek and headed uphill, which was the northern-facing side, and so was sunny.
About 50 metres uphill, we spotted fresh deer dung on the ground. Freshly dropped we surmised with some brilliant logic. It was a pity we had not used that ‘brilliant logic’ earlier in choosing the side of the valley to hunt. It was so blindingly obviously the deer would prefer the warm side of the valley in the colder months of winter.
We had only got a 100 or so metres up from the creek when we spooked a deer. We were not prepared but I suspected it was a hind from the brief glimpse I got as it fled. I also saw a smaller deer, probably its fawn from last December, so we would not have shot the hind anyway.
In among the manuka were native bush trees such as the broadleaf and whitey-wood, both strongly favoured by the deer. We also spotted tracks in the dirt that were recently made. We moved uphill and the sun shone through the canopy’s gaps, making a dappled pattern of light and shade. It can be difficult to spot deer in that contrast of sunlight and shadow, so we slowed down. It was then that we spotted a deer ahead through the bush. It was browsing over-hanging whitewood foliage.
Ray aimed, fired, and downed the deer. We had our meat so set about boning the meat out and stowing it in our day packs. As we did, we chatted and thought about the difference between the slope across the creek and the one where we had got our deer. It did not take much thought to gather that we had our success come on the side of the valley the deer preferred in winter.
The reason was deer are where the living is most comfortable for that time of the year. Pretty logical. After all, if we lived in the mountains, we would be where it was most comfortable. What elements go to make up comfortable living particularly in the winter as it is now? In winter, your needs would be food, shelter, and warmth. It is basically the same with deer.
During the colder months, the valley floors and creek beds will be cold and icy with frost. The southern-facing slopes in shade will be cold and damp. The northern-facing slopes, once out of the creek bottoms, will be warmest. So deer will tend to concentrate there in winter. Like us, deer like maximum comfort with shelter and food. They will tend to move high to catch the winter’s morning sun.
They will favour north-facing slopes. Yet, too often, we do not think of these aspects when hunting in winter. In a nutshell, think like a deer. Imagine you were living in the mountains, day and night. Where would you prefer?
Words: Fred Hemi