Richard and Stephanie Ross have been running Balnagown for over 20 years, fuelled by Richard’s desire to create a safe and fun hunting experience. Balnagown features a range of environments – native bush and pine forests, streams gullies and hills. There is plenty of room to stalk around in.
I originally met Richard when we headed there as part of the North Auckland Deerstalkers HUNTS Course. You can check out the footage from that day here. What initially impressed me was his passion for what he was doing. It was obvious that he was enjoying showing us around, telling us about what he did up there and of course sharing his knowledge.
The Balnagown Hunting experience is a result of years of Richards work. Taking over a rugged and run-down property ( I believe his mother in law wouldn’t allow Stephanie to move in until he had done a bit of work to the house), he started transforming it into his vision of a place for people to go and experience the thrill of a Deer Hunt in a safe and rewarding way.
Safety is a big feature of Balnagown. If you are hunting on his 300 acres, you can be comfortable in the knowledge that you are the only people anywhere near the block you are in. The rules are laid down up front. Only a single person hunting at any one time, small, close groups, firearm safety and awareness maintained at all times. Richard lost a good friend in a hunting incident years ago (public land, shot, shooters never came forward) – so rightly so, he is going to ensure that something similar never happens again. His regard for the safety of people on his property shines through. You know that he has your best interests at heart.
The Roar was recently described to me as ‘A large group of testosterone-fueled Bucks, being chased around by a large group of testosterone-fuelled men with guns’.
It’s not the regular hunters that make me nervous. They generally know the area, know the rules and often decide to just totally avoid going out in public land at this time of year.
What makes me nervous is the guys who dust of their rifle once a year and only have one week(end) to score that trophy deer for the year. It’s a dangerous combination of eagerness and buck fever.
For this reason, I think the idea of heading up to Richards Private Block is even more appealing. By going there, you significantly (to zero) reduce the risk of accidentally roaring in another hunter and you can pretty much guarantee that you will walk away with the deer you want.
It’s not easy
Privately managed blocks sometimes get a bad rap by seasoned hunters who view it as too easy. Sure, if you decided to shoot the first animal you saw out there, it would be. Richard essentially has two areas to the land. The front area, which you pass through on the way out, is paddock. That’s where the deer spend their time growing up until they are ready to head out into the hunting area and once they are out there, well, you are going to have to work for it. To be fair, you aren’t going to get tangled up in Supplejack out there, or Bush Lawyer, or really have to suffer any more than you want to (though be careful of Richard, I think he likes to make sure you work for your reward).
Wandering through the hunting block(s) – it gets dense enough that you can have a deer within meters of you – and not know it. Many a time I was trying to get a good photo, only to be surprised (and sometimes surprise) another animal I hadn’t spotted just off to my side. Have no doubt – your stalking skills will get tested – and a couple will get away from you.
The Hunting Lodge
Often, a day/weekend hunting will start with Richard making you a cup of coffee, clearly explaining what is going to happen that day, the safety rules, tell you some great stories and then head off with you to the Hunting Lodge.
Think of the lodge as base-camp for your trip. For example, people will stay overnight at the lodge, enabling them to get up and get out at the crack of dawn, hunt for a bit, then head back to the lodge for a cuppa and a BBQ before heading back out at dusk.
The lodge has everything you need to be comfortable and also provides a well-sorted area for cleaning up and processing your deer. If it’s your first time out, Richard will take you through the process of skinning, gutting and separating out the meat – and then whisk it off to the chiller so it’s ready to go when you head out. This makes Balnagown equally suitable for beginners or experts. All nationalities are welcome. Richard can guide and show you whatever is needed to ensure your hunt is successful. He has had people head out who have never shot a gun before and people who are regular hunters that enjoy the environment he provides. If you need, he can supply the firearm, or you can bring your own.
Rifle, Bow or Camera
I took my camera and a 400mm lens out. I quickly realised that it was really, really difficult to get a good photo of an animal that didn’t want to hang around and pose for me. It forced me to try and get close as quietly as possible, then observe and wait for the right moment for that shot. Several times this meant me watching an animal, it getting a whiff of me or hearing me take a step and then bolting before I could get a good photo. It’s a great challenge.
Richard also has dedicated Bow Hunting areas. Pine Forests that are ideally suited to the long stalk and plenty of native bush to get tangled up in as well.
I think this is one of the great strengths of the service Richard is running. You just need to get in touch with him, telling him what you are after and he will make it happen for you. Meat animal? Easy. Trophy Hunter? Sure. The first-time shooter, Father and Son Groups, Company Client Hosting, he can make it happen. I am planning on heading up again soon with my partner to spend a night in the lodge and listen to the roaring (ok, so I might also take the rifle up with me).
Plug plug plug
This article might sound like it’s really just one big advert for Balnagown and in some ways it is. I have really enjoyed the time I have spent up there. Richard is so welcoming and knowledgeable and I could happily just drive around with him all day listening to his stories and knowledge about deer. You can learn so much from the man. Add to that the beautiful land he has up there, the broad range of animals and you have a great day/weekend out.
For the hardened veterans who have decided it’s not real hunting unless it’s in public land, well, fair enough. It’s not going to be for you.
For those who may have limited time in their lives for hunting and don’t want to head away for a weekend without even seeing an animal, I strongly suggest you get in touch with Richard and go and see what he has to offer.
Considering you have sole access to the 300 acres, the lodge and Richard right there to guide and help out, it becomes a cheap weekend experience and you are guaranteed to walk away successful.
Get in contact with Richard through his site –
Or call him on 0274 442 057.