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When hunting goes bad...

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Author Topic: When hunting goes bad...  (Read 798 times)
« on: August 09, 2009, 11:38:02 pm »

To kill, or not to kill

What drives people to take up a gun and shoot animals?
Tony Wall heads to the high country to get inside the mind of a hunter.

By TONY WALL - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 09 August 2009

THE HUNTER: Greig Caigou high up in Marlborough's Awatere Valley. — Photo: Steve Gibbons. “HUNTING ADVENTURES: True Tales of a Kiwi Hunter” — HarperCollins.

     THE HUNTER: Greig Caigou high up in Marlborough's Awatere Valley (left).
                                                  — Photo: Steve Gibbons.
     “HUNTING ADVENTURES: True Tales of a Kiwi Hunter” — HarperCollins (right).

GREIG Caigou's eyes glisten as he recalls what could be described as his Bambi moment from a quarter of a century ago. It not only changed Caigou's outlook on hunting, but his views on life.

In his early 20s, Caigou was full of bravado as he and a companion entered the South Island's Lewis Pass on an expedition to hunt chamois, the goat-antelope native to the mountains of eastern Europe which were introduced to New Zealand in 1907 as a gift from the Austrian emperor, Franz Joseph. (Kiwi hunters colloquially call them shammy.)

"I was chasing a 10-inch champion shammy," Caigou tells the Sunday Star-Times. "I took a shot and missed and away it went. It turned out it was a nanny... and then I noticed a very young shammy was looking around for its mum.

"We noticed after a while the nanny returning back up through the shingle looking for its young. Straight away we went into ‘shoot-the-nanny mode’ again. We waited for it to come close, it found its kid and they headed off together.

"I took the shot and hit the nanny. It hit me like a bombshell really what we'd done. Here's this young kid standing beside its dead mother, I was just gut-wrenched."

Realising the kid wouldn't survive on its own, Caigou and his companion put it out of its misery.

To non-hunters, the yarn probably reinforces a view that hunters are driven by some kind of warped blood lust, interested only in their next set of horns or antlers.

For Caigou, it was a "very meaning-packed time in my life, where I think my hunter's creed developed".

Now aged 52 and with a lifetime of hunting stories behind him, the father of three from Nelson is interested in what makes hunters tick, as well as their ethics and behaviour.

He has written a book: Hunting Adventures: True Tales of a Kiwi Hunter, which seeks to answer some of these questions. You won't find glossy pictures of Caigou with dead "trophies" that's not what he's about. Instead he talks of his "love of high places" and a "connectedness" to the environment. Could he be hunting's version of a new age sensitive guy?

Caigou hopes the book will serve as inspiration to a new generation of hunters, and will sit alongside some of the "classic" books on hunting that have been published down through the decades. It is unique in New Zealand hunting literature, he believes, in that it addresses the vexed area of ethics, behaviour and morality and some profound issues such as: to kill, or not to kill.

WHAT BETTER WAY to understand the mind of a hunter than to go hunting with him? This is what I tell myself as I trudge up a steep slope behind Caigou in the Awatere Valley near Blenheim.

We are on a private high country merino sheep station and we're after red deer. Caigou ascends the hill quicker than a Parnell socialite who's spotted a bargain on Broadway. His head down and his body hunched slightly forward, he moves with the speed and grace of a chamois, or one of his other favourite prey, the Himalayan tahr, effortlessly traversing muddy goat tracks and craggy outcrops.

It proves impossible for a reasonably fit city boy to keep up, and more than once I look up to see that Caigou has already disappeared over the next ridge.

I catch up with him at a rocky outcrop at the head of a wide valley, with breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains. He pulls out a pair of binoculars and scans manuka and kanuka scrub several kilometres in the distance. He is looking for the distinctive white tails of deer, which bob like a rabbit's bum when they move.

Caigou has a shock of silver hair, a weathered face from his years in the outdoors and an easygoing nature that makes him instantly likeable. You might expect a rugged outdoorsman to employ colourful language, but "flippin' heck" is about as strong as it gets with Caigou. He loves a good yarn, and keeps up a running commentary.

In his book, Caigou makes an honest attempt to understand what drives him to take up a gun and shoot animals.

He writes of an "undeniable urge" in mankind to hunt and kill, which he first experienced as a young boy "wanting to shoot rabbits for no other reason than the thrill of the hunt".

He thought he had grown out of those "juvenile desires" but on a recent trip to Switzerland, saw his first ibex, another type of mountain goat with huge curved horns.

"Strangely I found myself wanting to shoot one... perhaps to have an ibex trophy on the wall at home," Caigou writes. "Why was that? It was the thrill of the chase perhaps. Or was this me needing to `prove' myself or perhaps some ancient urge to have mastery over the creatures of the earth?

"I was confronted again with something hard-wired into me and I realised I couldn't actually deny it was there. I was a hunter. I had to admit it. Hunters hunt, and kill."

For Caigou, hunting is full of "inner struggles, where our values and motives are highlighted and where our choices and their consequences are thrust upon us in a very stark way".

He seems sensitive to "how we come across to other people", especially "non-hunters" and "anti-hunters", which is a departure from your typical rough and tumble hunting type, who couldn't care less what anyone else thinks. At a time when consumers are more interested than ever in where their food comes from, Caigou says you can't get much more free-range than a beast you've killed yourself.

He describes himself as an "avid environmentalist... I see myself as another guardian of these public lands. I don't see it wholly as DoC's responsibility" and he will sometimes shoot to control numbers. "I love seeing alpine animals and being in their environment. Sometimes I choose not to kill."

He doesn't want to come right out and say it, but it's obvious that Caigou has a pretty low opinion of some hunters.

"There is a certain hunting breed that feel they don't need to get close [to an animal]. They practise their marksmanship and are shooters. They can sit some distance back and do all sorts of jiggery pokery with their technology and shoot an animal at quite a considerable range up to a kilometre for some people. For me, I want to be there on the animal's terms, my sense and their senses.

"Just over time I've developed a love for high places, do the work to get up high, sit down, get the binoculars out, do a lot of looking around, see something three or four K's away, sneak all the way around to it, outfox it."

He is scathing of airborne hunting.

"There are people who will come to the great wilderness of New Zealand and pay good money to be flown around in a helicopter, spot an animal, harass that animal into a shootable position, drop the hunter off and then shoot it. Hunting, to be authentic, should be about a fair chase."

He says there are applications in with DoC for concessions to allow tourists to actually shoot from a helicopter. "That just goes against everything we would want to encourage in New Zealand."

And don't get him started on safari parks, what he calls "hunting behind wire", where domestically raised deer are placed in a fenced off block, virtually guaranteeing a trophy kill for some rich overseas tourist.

"There are lots of cruel stories around about just how tame those animals are, I just don't think it's the kind of thing New Zealand should be promoting for itself."

Caigou wants to get in as much hunting as he can before his body packs in (encouragingly, he recently met a 71-year-old who is still going strong), but he may have to convince his wife of 30-plus years, Marijke. Already he is away for about 100 days a year with work, running corporate training programmes for Outward Bound, assessing adventure tourism businesses for Qualmark NZ and running his own personal development programmes.

Do women understand hunting?

"My wife has come to understand that me getting away is not getting away from her, or the home, or responsibility. That doesn't necessarily mean she's skipping for joy about me skiving off into the hills."

SO FAR, all we've seen after five hours of trudging around the hills of the Awatere Valley is a mob of wild goats, some wild pigs way, way in the distance, a New Zealand falcon and two feral cats (when I told Caigou I'd just seen a cat, he was going to blow it away with his .270 rifle, but puss quickly disappeared).

We are about to head back to the truck when our companion, hunter/photographer Steve Gibbons, doing one last sweep with the binoculars, signals that he's seen something. He hands me the binos, but I can't see a thing. Gibbons tells me where to look and finally I see them: two deer sleeping in a small clearing at the bottom of the valley we are in, two or three kilometres away.

How on earth Gibbons has distinguished them from the scrub and matagouri is beyond me. Not only that, but he and Caigou can tell that one is a "spiker", a juvenile stag with two small horns, and the other a "10-pointer", a stag, probably about four years old, with an impressive rack of antlers. They just look like grey blobs to me.

We spend the next 45 minutes formulating a strategy and getting into position for the kill. The key is to stay upwind of the animals at all times, and preferably to stay out of sight, which means a pretty intense trek around the peak at the head of the valley, into the next valley, keeping a ridgeline between us and the deer and maintaining a fast pace. We fight our way through matagouri thorns, following the odd sheep and goat track, until finally we start to get close.

I stay about 500m away while Caigou sneaks up closer. He explains that he will be going for the young stag as it will make great eating. He'll leave the more mature stag for someone with a "rack addiction" hunters who are after big sets of antlers.

It seems unfair to shoot a deer while it's resting, but Caigou explains that it will be a far cleaner kill when an animal is standing and feeding it can be jittery, and there is a chance the shot will only wound it.

Caigou takes his time getting into position, about 80m from the deer at the top of a ridge. The deer are at the bottom of a gully. He rests his rifle in the fork of a tree and takes aim. I'm watching all this through the binoculars. Part of me wants to yell out a warning, but another part of me that I didn't know existed is eager to see the kill, to know what it's all about.

My heart is beating in my ears when suddenly, the loudest retort you can imagine shatters the silence of the valley. The older deer shoots up and bolts about 10m, then stands still and looks around in confusion. The target deer also stands, and I assume Caigou has missed. He has actually mortally wounded it in the neck. The deer staggers a short distance and a second shot rings out, this one entering its chest and killing it instantly.

By the time I arrive at the scene about 10 minutes later, the place is like an abattoir, Caigou already having slit the stag's throat and begun skinning it.

I ask him if he feels any guilt or remorse at destroying such a beautiful creature. "The best way to describe the feeling is a feeling of respect when you take a life. That goes back to your hunter's creed, you don't point your rifle at something unless you intend to kill it."

Our hard work has only just begun. We now have to cart the meat back to the road, several kilometres and steep valleys away. Caigou does a pretty good Superman impression by carrying about 15kg of meat in his pack, plus a hind leg that must weigh about 10kg over his shoulder.

He's quickly halfway up a steep slope, winding his way through the tussock, a hunter with a conscience in a magnificent environment, his home away from home.

“Hunting Adventures: True Tales of a Kiwi Hunter” is published by HarperCollins, $29.99.

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