Dustin Murdock (2)

Hindsight trip report – 4-6 September 2020

A recent trip to target sika hinds resulted in some educational observations. I started in the high-country red/silver beech exploring head guts and broadleaf areas with no deer sighted and very little sign to show for a day’s effort. It was a sad day – the first without my now-retired 11 year old Vizsla, Leica. Surely it’s possible to find a sika without her assistance?

I noticed some of the scrub edges down low showed a bit of sign. Some of the trees looked pretty clean underneath – a new app, NZtrees, confirmed these were putaputaweta trees (aka marbleleaf). Do the sika hover these up like broadleaf?

The next day targeting lower altitude scrub country with northern exposure was more productive. For the last 2 hours the scrub showed a bit of activity. I saw a young stag or two and finally a sika hind which was shot at 200 yards.

The old hind where she fell. The ear tag is for OSPRI TB testing.

After some tuition from Alan Jackson at the last Sika Foundation meeting it was easy to identify that her third molar was almost fully erupted – so a rising 3 year old only a few months from her birthday. Checking her age revealed partially chewed putaputaweta leaves in her cheek pouches. Interesting!

I looked up – we were sitting under a putaputaweta tree (where she was shot). Lack of milk but a foetus in her tummy shows she mated for the first time last April – as a 2-year-old.

Cam says in really good country they’ll breed as rising 2 year olds, but this spot isn’t likely that productive. I’d call her condition average. With a carcass weight of 17.6 kg she isn’t the biggest sika hind, but in my novice opinion probably okay for a young hind in the back-country.

The sign in the scrub was extensive, so the next day found me in the same area which produced another hind. This one was feeding on a sunny beech scrub edge. Access took a while through the thick scrub, but this sure beat comfortable travel in unproductive beech forest.

Checking the lower jaw for age used to be an after-thought if I felt ambitious after removing all the meat. Now it’s the first thing I check – except maybe to notice she was a nice big hind in average condition. With a quick check of her teeth… wow!

Jaw from the old hind – showing significant wear on the first molar (at 110 mm in the picture).

Possibly the oldest deer I’ve ever shot – way over 10 at a guess. The first molar was worn down to a nub. Her cheek pouches had more putaputaweta leaves. Now this definitely isn’t a coincidence! Again – she fell at the shot – diretly under a putaputaweta tree.

In fact, the lighter-coloured leaves of the tree could be seen in bands through the scrub face in front of me. I’ve known to home-in on broadleaf trees and collections of broadleafs, but they’re less prevalent in this area. These putaputaweta trees seem to be common – and key to finding concentrations of sika in the winter for this area.

She had no milk, but had a foetus inside. I’m guessing even old hinds breed every year if there’s enough food. Carcass weight was 21.1 kg – pretty big for this area. To me the palatable sections of bush look pretty chewed out and I’m guessing this area is at risk of having too many deer soon.

The thick scrub definitely held the deer and the scattered putaputaweta trees (hard to identify in the picture) seemed to provide a lot of the feed source.