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When hunting goes bad...

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Author Topic: When hunting goes bad...  (Read 813 times)
Shit-Hot Member
Posts: 2197

« on: February 12, 2009, 09:41:56 pm »

Finally left home two hours late due to a couple of glitches which kept me at work later than I had intended and ran straight into the queue of traffic for Spaghetti Junction at Western Springs. An hour or so later the Bombays were beneath my wheels and freedom beckoned. A quad on the back along with everything I needed in one pack, the dog panting happily on the seat next to me and the rifle tucked away behind the seat. I was meeting Malcolm and John at the Turangi RSA and they didn't really mind what time I arrived.
Along the Waikato and through the middle of the site of the battle of Rangiriri dissected by SH1 and across the river to the western side where the road is not as straight but less travelled, through the patchwork houses of Huntly West where the power station expels warm air and warm water and on to Ngaruawahia.
My route was to follow the same path the British used when they brought war to the Waikato, I would pass through or near three major pa and two battlesites, firstly along the Waikato, then the Waipa River where the big fortifications at Ngahinepouri are still etched deeply into the fields and finally through the centre (literally) of the site of the Battle Of Orakau. After that comes the ignimbrite ramparts at the edge of the volcanic plateau as the King Country enfolds the traveller in its valleys.
On to Waipapa and Mangakino where Murray Stretch was brutally kicked to death for being a policeman, before the haul over the still higher rim of a crater so large that you can't really appreciate  that it is a crater from the ground. The northern flank of the caldera that forms Lake Taupo is a series of climbs and dips that eventually add up to more altitude. Roadcuts through the sheets of ignimbrite rock appear like precision canyons with near vertical walls festooned by ferns thriving in the shade afforded.
And so down to Turangi with the white tufts of steam rising from the surrounding hills, across the bridge spanning the tailrace of the hydro scheme which incongruously carries the stream which was interrupted by its construction inside the hollow section beneath the road and releases it back into its original bed on the far side.. This allows trout to pass through to their breeding grounds upstream.
Some five hours after leaving home I enter the Turangi RSA and suffer the stares of the patrons as I try to appear nonchalant while looking for two familiar faces which I eventually espy at a billiard table. These two have been on the piss for at least three hours and are in a much better mood than I am but a couple of pints soon sets that right. They have left their vehicle at Malcolm's Turangi retreat out by the airfield and I'm their ride home, trouble is, there's not enough room in the ute so Malcolm sits on the quad on the back. After a stop at Burger Fuel, it's a five km trip along SH1 towards Taupo with a pissed guy on the back, astride the quad screaming "FASTER, FASTER!"
We get there and settle in the kitchen where I start looking for my hamburger from Burger Fuel only to find that John had eaten it on the way, so it was Cup o Soup for me....
I'm the first awake and after putting on the kettle I do the rounds waking the others and recoiling from the alcohol fumes eminating from the sleepers. Simon has arrived in the night after having to work a full day and leaving Auckland even later than me. The youngest of our little group, he is coming along for the fishing in the renowned Tauranga-Taupo river. He looks and is, extremely fit.
First stop, the Truck Stop for a sit-down feed of sausages eggs and chips with toast and lashings of coffee and we're away.
Access is through a pine forest for about ten Kms where we unload the quads. At this point Simon realises he has left his fishing rod back at Malcolm's place, so I give him my ute to go back and get it, leaving him to walk in after he returns to meet up.
Two loaded packs tied to the back of my quad, which I should explain, is only a 2wd, and a lot more stuff tied onto Malcolm's which is a 4wd Honda Big Red complete with rollover frame, and we set off down a rough track which follows an old logging road. My trusty old Suzuki is handling all this quite nicely and I'm feeling quite the adventurer with the faithful dog running along behind.
About a kilometer in there is the inevitable stream with the washed out culvert, the Taupo eruption of c 186 AD created the very ground beneath us and it is very fresh pumice ash which drains beautifully creating a dearth of the usual small streams you would expect. Instead, water tends to seep down to the layer of ignimbrite beneath and when it's not raining the gullies are dry. What streams there are tend to cut fairly deep until they find something impervious to support them.
It was into one of these steep sided gullies the track descended, crossing the stream before climbing up the other side. I stopped and surveyed the track ahead from the small plank bridge and was daunted. In actual height, the bank was probably only five meters or so but the angle of climb must have been close to 45 degrees.
The sensible, sane, cautious half of my brain said "Don't do it, this quad won't get up there".
The other half of my brain which is an idiot hell bent on seeking the peaceful solitude of the grave at the earliest possible moment, said in a voice dripping with a mixture of bravura and scorn "Don't be a fucking sook, others have done it so it must be possible".
I set off for the top, leaning forward over the handlebars to keep the front down in low range for maximum traction, I even came close to making it.
As the front wheels approached the brink, they began to lift alarmingly, John was standing at the top and he could see I was in trouble. I had to release the throttle to stop the wheelstand and the quad began running backwards, John made an ineffectual grab for the front bars but it was too late, I had to hit the brakes then to try and slow my rapid backward descent. The effect was instantaneous, the front came up again and there was no stopping it this time. I saw track, then trees then sky, then creek, then dirt, as it did a backward somersault clean over me, grinding me into the ground as the full weight of about 200 kgs plus gear plus momentum came down on me.....
While the quad was rolling over me my mind was strangely disconnected from my body, I was a spectator wondering which part of the machine would impact with my body and which part of my body would bear the brunt. Funny how your mind takes a step back at times like that.
John was convinced I would be badly injured and his cries of alarm were quite an amusing background to the crashing sounds which accompanied my little bit of stuntwork, I decided later.
Then came silence, the quad was back on its wheels, stalled, and I was lying on my back halfway down the incline, feet towards the top, and relatively unscathed. A few bits of missing bark and a bruise or two which would make themselves known later, a shitload of dirt in my hair and down my back but nothing broken.
As I lay there I began to laugh at the two faces which appeared, showing so much concern. Malcolm later told me he was already figuring the best way to summon a rescue chopper before the quad stopped rolling.
Back on my feet and brushing off pumice, I counted my blessings and we surveyed the scene. Packs strewn on the track, my rifle intact apart from a nick in the butt, a bent handlebar on the quad but still ok to ride.
"Shouldn't have had both packs on the back", I said.
"No, maybe not."
The engine started first try and I simply rode it out of the stream and back onto the track where we got it to the top of the incline with a rope tied to the Honda, which was already at the top and judicious driving on my part.
Getting water.
The rest of the ride was uneventful and we arrived at Malcolm's campsite after a couple more kms. Simon turned up fairly soon, having walked in with only a fishing rod to carry and making good time. Leaving us to set up camp, Malcolm took Simon down to the river to show him the best pools to fish and while he was there managed to land a 2lb Rainbow himself. Tent pitched, bivvy built, it was time to fetch some water.
The camp was devoid of water and the nearest stream was back over a hill where a culvert clung to the last days of its existence as the pumice was eroding badly from the downstream side leaving not much more than a metre of road remaining. Taking a couple of 20l buckets, John and I rode over the hill, past the 68 Vauxhall Victor rusting away quietly in the scrub, a legacy of the time when the road was easily passable to any vehicles, and on to the culvert.
We went down the wrong side of the culvert and had to climb over a few fallen logs to get to the stream and after filling the buckets, I looked for an easier way back. The other side of the stream was much clearer, if a little steeper, so I crossed the stream and climbed back to the road with little effort. John didn't want to get his feet wet though so ignored my advice and started back the way he went down.
I leaned against the back of the quad and rolled a smoke, I knew he might be some time trying to get back through those logs and decided that patience is a virtue and I'm a virtuous guy.
John meanwhile had got himself into a bit of a fix, he had tried to go around the obstacles only to find more and more stuff getting in his way, so he got himself further from the road with every turn. I was pulled from my virtuous daydream by the sound of his slightly panicky voice calling my name from behind a bit of a rise covered with spiky little beech trees. Being a bit of a townie, he'd got himself bushed 50m from the road.
A quick glance showed an easy way to where he was, so I wandered in to show him the best way out and poked my head around a pile of deadfall to show him where to go.
Anyone who is familiar with beech forests will know what a spiky piece of work a beech sapling can be. They have tiny green leaves which define the outline of the tree to the careless observer but the sprigs continue to grow beyond the leaves and they are almost thorns, quite pointed without being sharp enough to pierce skin. they do a nice little number on an eyeball.
This I discovered in a rather painful way as I thrust my face between a couple of them to see where John was.
Ironic that this little incident was what would have me at the A&E clinic 36 hrs later, not my earlier death defying stunt on the quad......
An exclamation of "Oh shit, ouch!" a bit of a rub and a blinking session and it seemed ok, so we got back onto the road. John looked ruefully into his bucket of water, half empty by this time and full of leaves and twigs. "Might as well tip this out," he said, so we took one full bucket back with us, deeming it sufficient for the single night we were staying.
Back at camp we soon had a fire going and the billy on for a cuppa and I started thinking about going for a look around. Shouldering my old Parker Hale and wearing my new $400 tramping boots, I set off with the dog to scare the bejeezus out of a few deer.
Following another old logging track which was amazingly well defined considering it was bulldozed through the bush around forty years ago, I had the opportunity to observe the nature of the country for the first time. This is the northern slopes of the Kaimanawa Ranges and nothing at all like the less forgiving greywacke of the much higher central massif which is steeper with large valleys.
Observing the almost total absence of pampas grass, I surmised the altitude to be around 700 metres. Pampas grass doesn't like much more altitude than that, I hadn't been in beech forest at such a low altitude before.
This is very gentle country compared to a lot of other hunting areas. The heavy layer of pumice ash dumped here only 2000 years ago has softened the contours and the porosity of the pumice causes ground water to seep downward instead  lying in hollows and forming the stinking anaerobic black mud which sits in swampy areas created by impervious rock.
A thick carpet of beech leaves covers the ground. I don't know from which species but they are the size of cornflakes and about as noisy to walk on. It soon becomes apparent that my flash new boots are a disaster. They squeak, and every foot fall makes enough noise crushing leaves and twigs to wake the dead. This is going to be a look and learn excercise, I decide.
Large rotting stumps are everywhere and I marvel at the amount of timber that must have been taken out of this forest in those halcyon days of "help yourself" exploitation.
This track has a few gaps here and there due to attrition and the occasional deadfall and someone has thoughtfully marked the best path with dazzle pink blobs of spraypaint on trees every now and then. I was still getting the feel of the place, so I stuck to the track for about a kilometer looking for sign of deer as I went, This proved a bit of a disappointment, just a few dried out old pellets scattered intermittently and the occasional well aged hoofprint. A rare area of muddy ground back at the start of the track had been used as a stag wallow during the last roar and had held a few fresh tracks which had me going for a while.
I had been eyeing the higher ground of a small ridge running parallel to the track and wondering if it was worth a look, so when the trace of another old bulldozed track intersected with my path and lead up the side I followed it without hesitation.
Within 50 metres the dog started winding to the west so I let her lead me away into the bush with her pointing and waiting for me to catch up every 20 metres or so. It came to nothing but there was fresh sign at least, shiny wet pellets of spoor and some scuff marks where a deer had decamped. Blaming my noisy passage for this I found the bulldozed track again and kept climbing.
It wasn't long before the preferred habitat of sika deer made itself known to me, an old log staging area with manuka regrowth and scattered patches of grass and sunny patches where the ground was open to the sky with more fresh droppings and the signs of spooked deer.
I turned around and headed back to camp intent on getting some better footwear organised for the evening hunt.
When I got back, Malcolm and Simon had returned from their fishing with the aforementioned trout and the billy was on. I noticed the whole pile of firewood that had been stacked next to the fire was gone. Malcolm and Simon had returned to find John asleep in his bivvy with the whole firewood stash ablaze from end to end.
I shouldn't be too hard on John, he is just a bit out of his element. He has covered more than 30,000 miles of blue water sailing, some of it with Russel Coutts and has been a watch captain on some pretty fancy yachts. He has come along not for the hunting, simply for the company and the excercise coupled with the bush experience which he has found to his liking.
At 60 he is doing pretty well and nothing he has done could equal the series of blunders my weekend has become
A couple of coffees and a conflab about a few things, including the quad flipping incident, the fishing and what I'd seen on my walk, coupled with a bit of a sit down for a while as a pair of native falcons kept us entertained, and talk turned to the evening hunt.
Malcolm gave me a spare pair of the beach slip-ons he wears while bush stalking. They are made of neoprene like a wetsuit, with soles moulded onto them. They are a couple of inches longer than my feet but the difference is quite astounding when compared to my noisy boots.
With darkness about an hour away Malcolm and I  went about a kilometre along the quad track on his Honda. Here we split up, he down a shallow valley running away from the track, me a couple of hundred metres further before taking another old logging skid which lead up the hill above the valley. I was to make my way to an old campsite which overlooked the spur he would be following as he climbed up towards me. The plan was that anything he spooked would head my way.
The beach shoes were almost silent as I crept along slowly, varying my pace to prevent the regular footfalls that are too obviously human. Two steps, pause, three steps, pause, all the while staring into the gloom under the canopy hoping for a sight of a deer making it's way from the bed of the daytime to the feeding ground of dusk.
On reaching the appointed spot I found the best vantage point and kept a sharp eye out for any movement, trying to watch two different directions at the same time. The wind had dropped by this time and darkness was not far away.The only sounds were the raucous scratchy cries of the kakas, which seem to be prolific in the area.
A whistle alerted me to Malcolm's approach before he came into view, he had seen nothing either. We still had about ten minutes of light remaining, so we climbed further up the hill, still using the old logging track before taking yet another log trace which sidled off to one side, continuing at the same height across the face of the ridge. We separated by twenty five metres or so to get two different views into the trees on both sides while still keeping each other in sight
The light ran out fairly quickly and having seen no sign of anything hairy and edible, despite deer sign being widely scattered through the vicinity and a well worn deer trail following the track we were using, we set off on a tangent towards the track I had originally walked up.
Malcolm filled me in on a few characteristics of sika deer as we made our way by torchlight through the untracked bush.
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Shit-Hot Member
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« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2009, 09:43:10 pm »

Part II..

The ground here was covered with a tracery of trails which met and crossed each other and never seemed to peter out like the ones made by red deer, although each path never went any great distance, it would always intersect with another one. The result gives several options every ten meters or so and you just follow roughly in the direction you wish to go.
It was after ten O'clock when we got back to camp, time to cook dinner. This consisted almost entirely of meat, as it generally will when men do their own cooking. I fried six sausages made from the ewe that lost the lottery at home a few months back, two of these I swapped with Malcolm for a piece of backsteak from the animal he had bagged the weekend before. Simon had a bit of leftover ravioli or something, which went down a treat tipped on top of them and eaten straight from the pan.
Not long after, I spread my bush shirt on the floor of my tent for a mattress, crawled into the old sleeping bag and was soon asleep with the dog snuggled comfortably against my leg.
At another time I may have sat up drinking too much coffee or Lion Red while gazing awestruck into the three dimensional skies with a carpet of stars that city dwellers rarely get to see. Or maybe lain awake pondering the extremely volcanic nature of the area with Lake Taupo only a few kilometers away, its lakebed slowly rising and falling like the belly of a sleeping woman.
Sleep was the victor however and so remained until the morning chorus of the tuis dragged me from the arms of Morpheus.

As soon as I awoke I knew I had trouble. My left eye felt like a gorse bush had taken root in the night and everything I did made it worse. I was first up again, raked up a couple of handfuls of manuka debris from the surrounding scrub which soon had the fire started and the billy on.
The eye was getting worse by the minute and making the other one go out of focus but I tried to be stoic about it and carry on as if nothing was wrong. Malcolm and John got up out  their bivvies and Malcolm had a look at it to see if there was anything obvious that he could hook out with a piece of folded toilet paper, this being our medical kit.
"Just a bit of a cut in the white bit" was all he could see.
Tea, tea, coffee, coffee, a muesli bar and we were off for a morning hunt. No matter how I tried, I couldn't do any thing right. I had been so preoccupied with my eye that I had put my noisy tramping boots on when I got up without thinking, added to this was my one-eyed clumsiness. If there was anything in the vicinity to trip over, my feet would be drawn to it like a magnet. My nose had started running because of my eye which was streaming tears and I was having trouble keeping my balance..
For all that we covered a bit of ground. Another of the ubiquitous bulldozed logging skid tracks gave us good access to an area on the opposite side of the quad track we had come in on from Saturday's hunting. We left the track after about ten minutes and made our way as quietly as we could into a small basin with a reasonably open understorey. Soon deer trails became apparent and we started using them to our advantage, the passage of many hooves had swept most of the beech leaves from the narrow network of paths and so made for quieter stalking. Working up towards the rim of the basin, my dog began doing her winding dance, head high, drinking in a scent which was carried on the air currents. This usually means there is an animal nearby because scent doesn't hang around in the air like it will on the ground. It wasn't long before we found the source, a recently vacated bed set high up near the flatter ground, complete with scuff marks made by the hooves of a rapidly departing deer.
Waiting a few minutes first, we set off very slowly in the direction the dog indicated. Malcolm informed me that sika will sometimes come back for a look if they're not sure of the cause for their alarm and we were hoping this may be the case.
I was blundering again by now though and making a lot of noise, we came upon some more empty beds, one with a wet patch next to it where a deer had urinated.
Shortly we hit the quad track and I decided to let Malcolm go on alone, I was a liability and he would have more success without me. He crossed to the other side and I made my way back to camp.
I arrived to find John alone, Simon had gone off to try to catch a trout and John was having a nice relaxing lie around, keeping the fire going whilst napping. It seemed he hadn't got much sleep the night before even though he had a foam mattress, he kept rolling off it and waking up on the ground.
The next four hours or so passed in a welter of pain, I packed my gear in short bursts between sitting down feeling sorry for myself and I had lost my sunglasses sometime since the previous day.
A shot from the direction Malcolm had gone in signalled his success but I couldn't have cared less. I just wanted to get out of there and find a doctor.
He returned a half hour later carrying a yearling hind and finally we were able to get moving. Simon hadn't returned from his fishing yet so we packed his gear on my quad and departed for the end of the road where the utes were parked. Malcolm would return for him after dropping off the gear.
I had been a bit apprehensive about riding back out with my vision playing merry hell but John graciously lent me his sunglasses, this brought a vast improvement.
I spent a bit more time loading up than I had the day before, spreading the load more evenly and making it more secure. The scene of the backwards flip was a doddle going down, just ride it like a sled to the bottom then fix a rope to the back of Malcolm's Big Red to get up the other side. It's amazing the difference four wheel drive makes to those machines.
John remained at the crossing with a pick and shovel to improve the track while we went on. The guys that use this track have a tacit agreement to try and improve things whenever they pass through and it pays off.
Back at the road and in the shade of a pleasant campsite, I am offered a welcome cup of tea by a couple from near Waihi while I wait for the others to return. My eye has improved but I find I am missing the keys to my ute. Simon still has them in his pocket from when he used it to fetch his fishing rod the day before.
They all arrived after about forty five minutes, I was able to move the ute and load the quad using a bit of higher ground and some planks. Driving back down the gravel road towards SH1, I notice after a couple of kilometers I'm only doing about fifty ks and wonder why. A glance at the gearstick confirms that I am driving in third gear, I shift to fourth and make a few embarrassed comments to Simon who says he was wondering why I hadn't changed gear, I simply hadn't noticed.
At Malcolm's place in Turangi I am able to ring home by cellphone, it's after four O'clock by this time and I relate a few of the more lurid details of my adventures to my wife, which is a dumb thing to do. She is now worrying about me driving home. John wants his sunglasses back and I plan to buy a pair from a gas station in Turangi. When I remove them however, I am instantly blinded. My eyes have become so sensitive to bright light that yesterday's warm friendly sun has become today's agent of torture. An offer of ten dollars is turned down...they are only cheapies and an agreement is reached for their return back in Auckland.
I could have spent the night there with the others but I had to be at work in the morning, so after a few muted farewells I was off.
I must have filled up with gas at some point but I can't for the life of me remember doing it. Within an hour of leaving I have become a hazard on the road, drove straight past the Mangakino turnoff and had to turn back for it. I stopped there and bought a couple of V drinks which I guzzled back to back. The stretch from there to Te Awamutu is a blur. I found that by alternating a series of different head positions and covering my left eye with one hand for a short period, then uncovering it and pressing on my forehead just above the eye would give me about a hundred metres of driving with focused vision before it all went fuzzy again. The sun was low in the sky by now and beating mercilessly through the screen.
I stopped at the Waipapa reserve to let the dog out for a refreshment stop. There is a constantly running supply of water from a pipe which takes it from above a small waterfall emerging from the nearby bush. "Just the thing" I decided, my face is all hot and swollen by now and I have a raging thirst, so after a long drink, I splashed the deliciously cool water  over it.
This had an effect similar to vinegar on my eye and I reeled back to the ute spitting obscenities through gritted teeth.
The last fifty ks from there to Te Awamutu, I can barely remember. I know I was screaming obscenities and pounding the steering wheel a lot. Shaking my head and trying to focus on the road. None of the little tricks I had learned were working for more than a few seconds at a time and I was following the general outline of the road, using the white line as a guide while saving the bits of concentration for when an oncoming car approached.
Now this is the stupid bit, about halfway, I was back in cellphone range and I could have stopped on the side of the road and rung one of three brothers in Te Awamutu, or my stepmother, to come to my rescue. But no, Mr Independent doesn't want to be a nuisance. I have become the injured dog that will make its way home, dragging a broken limb only to collapse at the back door.
By the time I reached Kihikihi, I was having to swivel my head from left to right at intersections to avoid moving my eyes in their sockets.
Three hours after leaving Turangi I wobbled through my older brother's back door with my lip trembling like a small boy who has skinned a knee.
" I'm in a spot of bother", I blurt.
The last leg.
My brother Rex has just what I need..a Barbara. She goes into nurture mode so seamlessly you'd think injured people arrived on her doorstep daily. Optrex, a cold compress (not just a bag of frozen peas in a tea towel, a genuine Elastoplast one kept in the freezer) and Voltaren, the wonder drug of  aging fools who don't know their limits, appear within seconds.... "And you'd better have a biscuit with that because it will give you an ulcer if you eat it without food".
The Optrex helps a bit and a plan is devised. Rex will drive me in my ute to the A&E in Hamilton, Barbara will follow in their car. With a bit of luck they will work some magic and I will carry on home from there with my vision perfectly OK again.
With sinking heart I surveyed the waiting room on our arrival...
"Waiting time 1 hour", and there are a dozen new victims lined up at the counter in front of me. I stand in line for five minutes, all the time trying to find a way around the obstacles in my head. It's now 8 PM, we're going to be here for at least two hours, it will be 10 PM before I leave for home, if I can after someone has been poking around in my eye. This may make it worse for all I know.
Suddenly I realise that I can focus again, I can also swivel my eyes with only a bit of minor discomfort. The Voltaren has kicked in and I can almost see normally. I looked around at the trapped multitude in the waiting room and made a decision.
I sidled over to Rex and told him what miracle had occurred and that I couldn't expect him and Barbara to wait around there all night, so I would carry on to Auckland. After all, it's not much over an hour from Hamilton and the Voltaren should last the distance without wearing off.
His relief, although well hidden, tells me he thinks I have made the right decision.
After assuring them both that I'm now fine and thanking them effusively, or apologising for being such a bloody nuisance, can't remember which, probably a bit of both, I set off on the last leg.
Everything is just dandy until about Ohinewai. The wonder drug is a traitor and a saboteur. It has lulled me into a sense of false security in order to get me alone with its ally...pain.
I'm soon reduced to my range of tricks from before, changing the angle of my head, covering one eye, all the rest of it but I don't have so far to go this time and I'm in cellphone range. I had told my brother not to phone home because I didn't want my wife to know I was driving back. This would have worried her even more than she was already and as long as she thought I was safe in Te Awamutu I was happy.
So I toughed it out again.
At Mercer there are the endless road works. The temporary speed limit signs go past as fuzzy blobs with a confusing array of different speeds, 80, 50, 80 again.
On the straight road before the old power station, where the Taniwha lives, I encounter a more contemporary monster. The road is looking very intact and nothing threatens, so I assume the speed limit sign I pass says 80. The blue and red strobelights of the police car have me puzzled as they suddenly come to life a couple of hundred meters ahead and I assume he is leaving his parking spot in order to go somewhere fast and do something useful.
He is not and he positions himself behind me, giving off the unmistakeable cop body language (or the automotive equivalent) which says "Brace yourself, you're about to be screwed".
I Stopped.
I moved quickly, I had to keep him away from the front of the ute due to the expired registration sticker. If I could keep him busy at the back, he might not bother to check it.
I had, of course, blundered into a trap so well laid and sprung I couldn't have done better myself. In fact, his hunting had been more successful than mine.
"65 Ks in a 50 K area," he said, "can I see your licence please?"
I tell him about my eye and explain the difficulty with reading the signs. He shone his light on my face and almost drooled with pleasure as he said "If you can't see properly Sir, you shouldn't be driving should you?"
I back down, he writes a ticket. "Why has this bit of road got a 50K limit?" I asked him as he filled it out with his glee bubbling just below the surface.
"New seal," he said proudly, nodding towards the surface of the road a couple of meters away.
I stared at the surface of the road and saw how worn and glossy it was in the lights of a passing truck, bullshit.
I didn't say anything though.
"There you are Sir," he gloated as he tore the ticket out of his book with a flourish. "Eighty dollars fine..blah blah blah"
I drove away carefully thinking the headlights behind me were his. At least he hadn't bothered to drag his fat arse far enough to check the rego, saved me two hundred bucks.
It was only on reflection that I wondered later, if I was such a threat to road safety with my insane speed of 65Ks or if I was damaging the surface of their "new" seal, why was that fat turkey so fucking happy?
The short break from driving had one positive effect, I was seeing a bit better and I realised it was the constant focus into the middle distance that was causing the problem, a bit of a spell brought relief for a time.
The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, if a little slowly. I rang home as I came into Henderson to let my wife know I was going to be there in a few minutes and as I had suspected, the phones had been running hot.
"Where are you?" Half angry, half concerned. "Why didn't you stay in Te Awamutu?"
I made all the reassuring noises I could think of and a short time later, came to a halt in my parking spot at home.
My wife met me as I unwound myself from the confines of the ute and I was the small boy all over again, contrite as she gave me a severe telling off and hugged me at the same time and swore that I was never allowed out of her sight ever again.
I lugged my pack inside to exclamations of alarm at the swollen reddened thing my eye had become and found my dinner still waiting in the microwave. I was suddenly ravenous, apart from the muesli bar at breakfast and a biscuit at Rex and Barbara's, I hadn't eaten all day so a feed of roast beef, veges and gravy disappeared rather quickly, even though it was about four hours old.
The local A&E was almost deserted at 11.30PM and it only took a few minutes before I was whisked into the care of a very forthright Doctor who was in his mid fifties. He spoke in rapid-fire bursts without wasting a single word and looked like a janitor. I trusted him immediately and completely.
The first thing he did was to snip the end off an ampoule of something ending in 'caine' and dripped it into my eye. After seventeen hours of torment, the relief was almost a palpable thing.
"Put your chin there and look into the light," he barked ...."Nothing in there, just a bit of a stab wound, must have gone straight in and come out again."
I agree with him, yes that was what happened.
"Probably an allergic reaction to something, put some of this ointment on it, here's a patch, see you later.."
I fell into bed at 12.30 AM still reeking of woodsmoke and wearing the same underpants and tee shirt I had been wearing on Friday when I left..

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I once thought I was wrong but I was mistaken.
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« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2009, 09:47:39 pm »

Some of you may have read that little tale, I wrote it on XNC originally.
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I once thought I was wrong but I was mistaken.
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2009, 10:03:50 pm »

I'd forgotten about the undies. Lips sealed
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« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2009, 04:57:06 pm »

A bloody good read robman, even for the second time, welcome back to the dark side.
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« Reply #5 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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