Another season done and dusted and what a beauty it was.
A lot of things lined up on the hunting front for this to happen. It began as early as September 2018 when coming out of a normal winter we had an amazing spring, amazing in so far as the heat came early and the rain was consistent and regular, so much is dependent on springtime. The 2018 spring was the best I’ve seen from a farming point of view in 20 years. As a fly fishing guide it was absolute agony, high water, run off, and temperature fluctuations daily not to mention the 4 letter word that is banded during fly fishing season the …wind.
Silver lining was the grass and food supply on Mt Maude our hunting lease. If there is one thing that may trump genetics it’s feed, combine them both and you can almost watch the antlers on the stags going during September and October, carry that through to early December and the results have to be seen to be believed.
Luckily we had a pretty full booking schedule for 2019 season, so we have lots of new believers now!
Let’s take a moment to explain busy, for us that involves trying to keep 2 guides in the field 6 days a week for 20 weeks. We very simply break our season ,beginning March 1st into 20 calendar week. Beginning 1st March, hunters arrive into camp on a Sunday, hunt Monday through Friday and depart camp Saturday, next hunters in Sunday and so on and so forth. We also do our utmost to have no more than 5 hunters in camp over any one week period, 4 is perfect but 5 works if it’s a group or family.
Early gives you choice, mid season gives you the rut and late season gives you patterned animals.
Duncan does most of the hard yards guiding, I follow his example as best I can and bring in Ewan if things are getting hectic (rut). Everybody wants to hunt the rut, a roaring stag is something to be seen and heard but at the end of the day of those 20 weeks the rut makes up 3 of them, you could stretch it out to 5 weeks but the terrain and and nature of Mt Maude dictates otherwise. Mt Maude is, as the name suggests a mountain, small one in my opinion but at 4500ft it’s mountain, like much of our mountainous country it’s not the elevation that is of concern, it’s the gradient and amount of vertical feet bottom to top, bottom is 1000 ft so 3000-3500 ft over couple of miles..let’s say it’s far from flat. BUT we have a road and this allows us to hunt around and down and so long as the wind works that’s what we try and do.
Seasonally the stags, elk and Fallow tend to be where the better food is, with an abundance of feed this year everything stayed low, low is fine. If there is one disadvantage, it is that it tends to concentrate the animals rather than spread them over the whole 3500-4000acres of huntable terrain.
This season also created an awkward situation that our stags were carrying bigger racks than normal. Awkward from the fact that like all hunting outfits we are trapped in our own system of size and medal classes for stags, bigger the set of antlers the more you pay. Our average stag is hopefully around 340-380 inches and this is our selling point. 2019 the vast majority of our stags were 400s and we shot several around 450-470 range and one an inch or 2 shy of 500. Good problem to have? Yes and no, the yes is it’s good for our marketing ,photos and dare I say it bank balance BUT it’s not all as rosy as it sounds, big stag appear less able to navigate through think tangled brush, we recovered several dead stags this season that had gotten tangled in heavy brush(vines and creepers) and died, no money in natural deaths. Second awkward piece is asking hunter to reach deeper into their pockets to be able to take advantage of the unexpected quality of the trophies.
Hey, it worked out fine by the end of the season but been short of “ regular” 340-370 stags wasn’t all fun. Of the 35 trophy stags Duncan and I took off Maude this season only 11 scored less than 400!
As I mentioned earlier combine good genetics with plenty of feed and let Mother Nature do her thing, that’s after we let the stags get to 7-10 yrs old. Our Fallow also thrived, we may even have been fooled a couple of times by antler size far exceeding the age of the buck, it’s normal to hunt 4-6 year olds, we think we took 3-4 3yr olds this season, fooled by their antler size. Still have one particularly nice buck out there that I see most days that is an absolute toad, plenty of other Fallow about but if this guy grows out for 2020 as he did for 2019 he has to be found for a lucky hunter. Given that he dodged us all this season suggests that he knows us better than we know him.
Chamois are thriving, they have spread well beyond our main hunting area and offer-a unique opportunity to the hunter that really wants to test their legs and climb high and travel far on foot for free ranging chamois. We will look at a couple of Heli options for 2020 that allow an us to be dropped high and well back and hunt our way out through the chamois terrain. I mentioned Mt Maude our main lease is 3500-4000 hunt-able acres, well Mt Maude is part of a far larger 25,000acre property, I have an exclusive lease on Maude as well as access to the other 20,000 acres. So we have scope, but in all seriousness if you are interested in Chamois, get in top shape and let’s go, there are plenty out there.
This was year 4 for Duncan and I on Maude, 3rd full season ,first season 2016 we got access late in that season. We are now really getting the knowledge we need to properly hunt the whole area , still learning but have learnt so much over the last 3 years. Getting to understand the wind and its idiosyncratic nature in the mountainous terrain, getting to better understand how the terrain all links together and why and how the animals travel around and more importantly where to find the animals at ALL times of the year. Be at least another 2 years before we totally understand the lease and it inhabitants, in some respects I hope we never totally get to know everything.
So a great 2019 season puts the pressure on to match it in 2020, we will certainly do our bit and with a little assistance from Mother Nature can do little else but cross our fingers and hope. Well more than hope has we already have several hunters booking for 450inch stags.
Elk, almost forgot, we will have 4-5 Bull elk to hunt his year, they’ll rut a couple of weeks before the stags ,I’m thinking early to mid March. I’m hoping the elk will quickly lay ownership to the higher tussock grassland above the tree/ brushline , there will be some clash of terrain with stags . Let’s wait and see if it works the way I think it should or the way they want it to.