One family’s search for a missing stag (as in deer, not party).
ROBERT WALSH AND DAVID HOPE WERE NOT TROPHY HUNTERS. BOTH WERE GOOD SHOTS OUT OF NECESSITY. IT WAS 1949, AND THEY HAD YET TO RECOVER FROM THE DEPRESSION, EVEN TEN YEARS ON. ROBERT HAD THREE CHILDREN AND DAVID, WHO WAS 16 AT THE TIME, WAS ALSO FROM A FAMILY OF FIVE.
So on Good Friday, outside of Dunback, Otago, they were hoping to get something other than rabbit for Easter dinner. Did they ever. The red stag filled both their families’ freezers, but the bonus was an impressive 22-point rack.
In the vernacular of hunting, a point represents one antler tine, and 22 is a big number. Most Kiwi hunters will never see a wild deer over 14 points in their lifetimes, and even a 12- to 14-pointer is a real trophy, worthy of a serious night at the pub.
Robert and David did not have the financial means or the interest to taxidermy the head, but the Canterbury Museum had both and offered a place for it on its walls. The men put it on ice, then put it on the train from Palmerston to Christchurch. It never arrived. 22 points of legend, disappeared, presumed stolen.
If the head does still exist, it’s most likely only the antlers, even if the potential thieves did stuff and mount it. Circa-1949 taxidermy hasn’t aged well. And any current owner may have no idea of this story. It could easily be back in Scotland, where red deer are native, and where vast collections of such trophies from around the world are common. Maybe it’s hanging above the fireplace at some film producer’s luxury log cabin retreat in Telluride. Maybe it fell off the train in Temuka and is collecting dust in somebody’s shed. Maybe it’s behind the bar in an off-the-beaten-path Southland pub.
Luckily, antlers are like fingerprints and this rack is unique, with a cluster of points at the end of both main beams. It should be easy to identify. Have you seen it? The families aren’t looking to blame, the goal is to piece together the history of this fabulous deer. If you have stag-related intel, contact [email protected]
(Travel tip: Dunback, tucked away on Highway 85 between Palmerston and Ranfurly, has a population of 200, down from 345 in the 1940s. Stop into the historic Dunback Inn for a pick- me-up on your next trip through the Pig Root, and make it 201.)