Red Stag for Whole Family

Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo pose with R.J. and his red stag. (Courtesy the Cianciarulos)

Cianciarulos experience great adventure stalking in New Zealand

Still trying to recover from serious cases of jetlag after some “time travel,” Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo nonetheless were reveling in their hunting trip to New Zealand.

It was their first overseas trip with their son, R.J., and not only did they enjoy the country, but each brought home more than a trophy red stag.

“For all three of us to go down there and experience an amazing trip as a family was pretty special,” said Vicki, who added the travel, about a day and a half of each way, was worth it. ”We left Auckland on Sunday night on the 14th at like 7:50 and we landed in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon at 12.15. We did a little time traveling, too.”

The hosts of popular Outdoor Channel shows “Archer’s Choice” and “The Choice” will make two shows from the excursion, and the memories will last a lifetime.

“It was a true experience, an adventure,” Ralph said. “Not only to be overseas – we’ve done an African hunt and everywhere else – but it was remarkably clean. The island itself, everything, just blew you away. It was gorgeous.”

The Cianciarulos drove about three hours south of Christchurch on the south island for their hunts with Four Seasons Safaris and guide Shane Johnson, “a great host, a great hunter,” Ralph said.

Click the image for New Zeland red stag photos

While the trip focused on the hunt, the Cianciarulos traveled wide-eyed and noted myriad differences from their home in northwest Illinois and most everywhere else they've traveled.

“We wanted to see what it was all about,” Ralph said.

Land of pastures

New Zealand, which once had 22 sheep for every human, now has a closer ratio of about 7-to-1 – 30 million sheep and 4.5 million humans. Cattle also outnumber humans, but the Cianciarulos were amazed at another species they spotted grazing in large numbers.

“You have pastures with sheep in it, you have pastures with cattle and then you have pastures with red deer,” Vicki said. “Thousands of red deer. There’s just a pile of them. To see an entire pasture with just deer grazing, it’s unusual to see.”

Those aren’t for hunting, Ralph said, noting that they are raised for meat, which are exported to places like Germany, China and Japan, where it is a high commodity.

While that was a sight, Vicki left also impressed with the countyside, and how those pastures and seemingly every plot of land was lined with impressive tree lines.

“What was interesting, even before we got out hunting, was the way they have all their trees all hedged up,” she said. “Everywhere you look there’s these straight lines of huge trees. There are pines and cedars, and they have them so manicured.

“Our understanding is keep them trimmed because it makes them fuller and because the winds are so strong all the dirt in the fields would just blow away.”

These shelter belts have grown for generations out of necessity, as have the methods to attend to them. Huge, rotating blades attached to hydraulic arms on tractors are one method to tackle that task, but Vicki mentioned seeing a number of people near cities with smaller trimmers working on their hedges.

One other creepy oddity they experienced was while out on hunts. Since it’s fall in the southern hemisphere, many species were in the rut. While hunting, the Cianciarulos encountered sounds they’d never heard.

“The fallow deer were running, and that’s a weird sound,” Ralph said. “You hear that echoing in the canyon.”

“They sound like they’re croaking,” Vicki said. “They sound like bunch of bullfrogs.”

“Giant bullfrogs,” Ralph added.

Kiwi history of hunting

Game animals were introduced in New Zealand in the 1860s for food and sport hunting of the elite. The last major land mass to be inhabited by humans previously had no mammals other than bats. The land supported them so well, that by the 1950s red deer were recognized as pests due to damaging the environment, and the government employed hunters to thin the population.

Other species introduced include wapiti, chamois, pigs, moose, and other deer species like rusa, sambar and whitetail. There are no bag limits or seasons on large game and hunts are permitted in national parks. Hunting is a popular pastime among New Zealanders.

In 2011, the Game Animal Council was established to manage game animals, as well as helping promote hunter safety and improve opportunities.

“To actually understand, they are having the same fights as we are,” Ralph said. “There are people who want to wipe them out. The majority of the people want them there, they love the hunting aspect. R.J. and I, we actually did some predator control as far as hunting wallabys at night.”

“More like rodent control,” Vicki said.

“In Australia, they’re protected. In New Zealand, they’re a pest,” Ralph said.

Getting blue chasing reds

The tactic was to get along the ridgeline of the mountainous area, locate red stag and slip down on them. It required long hikes, or tramping as they call it in New Zealand.

“It was definitely physical, but it was an amazing hunt,” Vicki said. “We went over there not really knowing what to expect. Red stag are pretty cool looking critters. The areas we hunted, they had some grasslands and a lot of it was bush.”

“It was really cool,” Ralph said. “It was honestly more like a northwest coast in British Columbia. It was more tropical.

“I think what we can put it close to is elk hunting. We’d get up early, try to be at a higher vantage point, and we would walk the ridgeline and peer over the ridges and see what was down below. Lots of hiking and lots of glassing. You just use the terrain, try to get the wind in your favor and come down on them.”

 On Vicki’s hunt, they didn’t spot any but heard one roaring and went to stalking. He continued to roar and they just followed the sound, in the end using tufts of bushes for cover and belly crawling closer.

“My stag had vines stuck in his antlers and he was raking on a tree, just beating the tar out of a tree,” she said. “He was just going crazy and in that thick brush I got to 11 yards. He roared when I got full draw and I took him.”

Like Vicki, Ralph harvested his red stag with a Hoyt, and R.J., 12, used a rifle for his.

The hunt never stops for the Cianciarulos. Before New Zealand, they went to Florida and harvested Osceola turkeys. As soon as they recover from the jet lag, it’s turkey season on their farm.

“In the morning when we walk R.J. out to the bus stop, you can hear them gobbling,” Vicki said. “It makes it pretty easy when all you have to do is walk to the bus stop.

“Maybe a couple mornings maybe they can go out and turkey hunt and I can sleep in.”

For the "Archer's Choice" show page, click here.

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