Geoff Thomas: Adrenalin rush of the Roar

The majestic red stag is supreme in his territory. Photo / Geoff Thomas
The majestic red stag is supreme in his territory. Photo / Geoff Thomas

The majestic red stag is supreme in his territory.

It sounds like something between a moan, a groan and a grunt.

And as the first pale light washes the tops of the hills around much of the country over the next two weeks, thousands of hunters will be sneaking through the trees, pausing to push a blast of air through a cow's horn or a length of PVC pipe.

Some even use a short piece of old vacuum cleaner pipe. They will listen keenly, filtering out the sounds of birds and twigs breaking, hoping to pick up a distant echo.

For it is the season of the Roar, the time when stags roam the bush, bellowing their challenge to rivals as they round up a harem of timid hinds.

In other countries it is called the rutting or mating season. But it is not a season in the legal sense, purely a period of intense activity which is spurred by natural factors like plunging temperatures and weather.

Some say it is triggered by the first frosts, others point to the influence of the moon. It usually starts some time in the first week of April, in the high country and south of the South Island where temperatures are always lower than in the north.

Experienced hunters will point to April 9, 10 or 11 as the peak, but nothing is guaranteed and the Roar may last for only a few days or a fortnight.

But when it starts, the hunter's blood quickens and the adrenalin charges.

There is much debate over who can produce the best stag's roar. Competitions are held around the country, with keen entrants sitting behind a brush shelter so they remain anonymous while the judges mark the bellows and grunts. It is a lot of fun, and it serves to put everybody in the mood.

Out in the hills the simulated roar will sometimes work even if it is not very sophisticated.

Stags have been known to charge through the bush looking for the source of a chainsaw cutting trees, and one hunter tells of an occasion when a few mates were camping in the remote hills.

After a night of celebrating, one of them was on his hands and knees outside the tent throwing up, when a stag answered from across the valley, then another started up on a nearby ridge.

New products from the US include spray bottles of female odour to attract stags, and electronic roaring gadgets are being lauded as the real thing.

These small battery-operated players use a card which can be changed to simulate different species from red stags, to fallow bucks, to mallard ducks or Canada geese.

Then there are all sorts of tricks when it comes to trying to fool a wary stag. Some hunters will let loose a very soft roar, hoping to convince the opposing stag the challenger is a young fellow, unsure of himself.

Or, they will position a hunter 100m ahead of the roaring machine so he can intercept the stag while it thinks it is still some distance from his opponent.

Such tricks may be regarded as being unfair, but there is no chance of such an advantage in favour of the hunter. He is taking on a beast which is in control of its patch. He is the king of the bush, and while he may throw away his natural caution and charge through the trees with nostrils flaring as he looks for the upstart who dares to try and sneak his females away from him, it is never easy for the hunter.

A sudden wind shift or noise will alert the stag, and he will be gone in a blur. His eyesight is not great, but his nose is keen and his ears will pick up anything which does not belong in the bush.

The hunter has to earn his trophy, and its value is computed in direct proportion to the effort. A stag which wanders into camp is no real trophy, but it rarely happens that way.

So dust off the roaring horn, or slice a section out of the new vacuum cleaner and see what sort of reaction that sparks in the lounge. The bush may seem a safer place to be ensconced.

Dig out the fluoro orange vest or cap and never forget the golden rule about identifying your target, and load up the ute.

Sure, you can test the new electronic roar; but when you hear the real thing rumbling and grunting just a few metres away through the thick bush get ready for the heart to go into overdrive; slowly push the bolt home on the rifle, lift it to the eye, try and control the trembling, keep the thumb on the safety catch and wait for the shining white tips of the antlers to appear.

- Herald on Sunday

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