Not all deer hunting trips end in success especially when the fog comes in, but Peter Snowden still found plenty of surprises.

Hunters will often tell you it is not all about harvesting an animal for the freezer or securing a trophy. The experience is much broader. It is about place, companionship, challenge and experiencing the environment in which we choose to go. This hunt tests the theory!

Late February saw us fly to a campsite tucked up high against the base of the Southern Alps. This was an inspiring landscape, we were in the midst of it, camped in a natural amphitheatre, three steep sides of tussock and herb field the fourth holding a creek which dropped steeply to the valley below. You couldn’t help but appreciate it. Which made me wonder why others who had camped here had chosen to leave behind their garbage. We half-filled a pack liner of cardboard, plastic and the remains of a broken camp chair before the tents went up.

With a lunch in our day packs we climbed and traversed along the range seeking sight of a deer or chamois. Late afternoon had us overlooking the head of a major tributary, ideal country for a red. As evening faded two hinds were visible about 1000 metres away staying close to a patch of scrub. It was doubtful there was enough light to get close so we made the call to return in the morning.

Back at camp plans were laid for the next day as drizzle set in and fog lowered. We awoke to visibility of about 75m. We were to be victims of a summer easterly.

The damp fog cleared by early afternoon. We were pleased to be climbing among the herb fields and tarns. We were soon back on the ridge scanning bushline, basins and headwaters of the many small creeks below. Geoff’s keen eyes picked out two stags in flax at the head of a creek. The wind was in the animals’ favour, no approach seemed possible without alerting them.

Frustratingly, fog soon rolled back in creating a weird, almost lunar sense as we moved among large rock outcrops. I first heard the rock wrens before seeing them. They weren’t timid. The pair put on a fascinating display. Vertical bouncing! Repeatedly bobbing 20 or 30cm on their boulder perch with their rear facing claw clearly visible.

We sat 15m away enjoying the surreal spectacle. This was only the second time I’ve seen rock wren in over 40 years of tramping and hunting the South Island high country. We took the chance to photograph them before finding our way back to camp in the fog. The hunting would have to wait.

The fog lifted by late morning, the weather was at last playing its part. We climbed out of the amphitheatre moving swiftly along the ridge among the herbs and carpet grass expectant of sighting the stags. They had not moved far from their location of the afternoon before.

This time we could glimpse three animals downwind among flax near the bush edge. The only possible approach was indirectly along a broken ridge. This required a stealthy journey of about 800m and would place us about 250m above the stags.

All went well until a steep shingle side creek impeded us. It was hand-over-hand! Beyond this we would be within range of the stags. Navigating the steep-sided creek taking care not to dislodge stones I glanced down to the tussock-covered flat below us – seven hinds, fawns and yearlings were moving swiftly in single file directly below us. They had obviously been bedded in the tussock and seen our approach.

With no chance to get a decent shot they joined the now-alert stags and the whole lot departed around a face to the next valley. Chance blown!

And as to the notion that hunting is not all about landing an animal – sure it is about challenge and environment BUT the experience is certainly made better when these elements combine with harvesting an animal.