Where the wild things are

A young tahr ready to be butchered for the freezer. Tahr tastes similar to the best cuts of...
A young tahr ready to be butchered for the freezer. Tahr tastes similar to the best cuts of venison. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Himalayan tahr. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Himalayan tahr. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
A white-tailed deer. Photo by Stan McDonald.
A white-tailed deer. Photo by Stan McDonald.
David Rider, of Queenstown, with a red stag in the Greenstone Valley. Photo supplied.
David Rider, of Queenstown, with a red stag in the Greenstone Valley. Photo supplied.

If you're reading this somewhere in the Wakatipu Basin - or just about anywhere in Otago for that matter - look out the window and check out those hills. You're living in a hunting paradise, writes Guy Williams, who goes on the trail of some words of wisdom ...

Hunting is never going to be everyone's cup of tea. After all is said and done, it involves killing another creature, and many people can't get past that. But the mistake is to think that it's only about killing.

For hunters, the kill is a split second - a few seconds at most - in a day or several days of walking, watching and thinking.

Few pastimes involve such an intense interaction with the natural environment, nor require such an odd combination of stamina, judgement, patience and a grab-bag of skills that includes animal psychology, reading the weather, butchery and ballistics.

Besides (potentially) keeping the freezer full of meat, hunting is an antidote to the pressures of contemporary life.

You get to spend a few days with friends you trust in a beautiful place - hopefully, with no-one else around for miles - with plenty of time for quiet contemplation.

It requires you to strip back life to the bare necessities and carry them on your back for a few days, before returning home with a renewed appreciation of modern comforts.

Until some biological silver bullet makes a pest-free New Zealand a viable proposition, game-animal hunting remains an essential tool of conservation. All our game animals are introduced species.

Uncontrolled, they would run rampant across our ecologically fragile back-country flora, wreaking more damage than they do already.

Is hunting cruel? Well, there are hunters who will squeeze the trigger without being sure of a quick kill from a well-placed bullet. Good hunters know the limits of their rifle, and make careful judgements based on the distance to their target and the steadiness of their shooting position.

Want to be a good hunter? Read on.

The enthusiast

Queenstown man David Rider goes hunting about once a month, but reckons that with so many good hunting spots close by, it would be easy to go out every weekend.

The Wakatipu Basin is an ‘‘amazing place'' for hunting, Rider says, adding most game animals are able to be found within a 15-minute drive of the resort.

‘‘If you're prepared to walk, the options are unlimited.''Besides the free-range, organic meat it affords him, he hunts in order to get outdoors, to teach his young daughters about self-sufficiency and for the ‘‘soul-cleansing benefit of being in touch with nature''.

He is a member of the New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association's (NZDA) Southern Lakes branch, and its immediate past-president.

The best advice he can offer a novice hunter is to join the branch. Even if they don't sign up straight away, they're still welcome to attend a few meetings and talk to members.

‘‘You can save yourself a lot of time, money and missed opportunities in the field by talking to experienced hunters: the dos and the don'ts.

‘‘Everyone there is more than happy to share their experience.''A year's membership costs only $75 - the cheapest in the country - yet the benefits for its 100-odd members are huge, he says.

Meetings are held at the Frankton Fire Station on the last Thursday of every month, at 7.30pm. They often have guest speakers, and members hold show-and-tell sessions to share their knowledge.

Members have a particular incentive to teach beginners about hunting safely ‘‘because a safe hunting environment makes it safe for everyone'', Rider says.

Twice a year it runs the Hunter National Training Scheme (Hunts) - a course run by NZDA branches across the country - which includes 16 hours of theory and four field days, including at least one overnight hunting trip.

The branch organises a hunt for members every second month, not only within the region but throughout the lower South Island. Another perk for members is the branch's Department of Conservation (Doc) concession to manage the Mid Greenstone and Upper Caples huts.

Rider says the only gap in its offerings is a rifle range - a facility for which it has been searching for suitable land for a decade.

The ranger

Glenorchy-based Doc ranger Dave Girling says the Wakatipu Basin has a good mix of open and bush country, and its hunting blocks are generally easy to access. The principal game animals are red, fallow and white-tailed deer, chamois, pigs, goats and small numbers of Himalayan tahr.

Girling urges beginners to go to the homepage of Doc's recently revamped website and click on the ‘‘Hunting'' icon. That opens a page listing every hunting block in the basin. Select one and you can find out the game species available, hunting permit requirements, a map, and information about access and any huts available.

Also in the website's hunting section are links to related topics such as safety and survival in the outdoors, recommended equipment and communications gear.

By clicking on the ‘‘Apply for permits'' icon, hunters can find out the different hunting permits available and apply for one online. The permits section also has vital information about access, such as easements or gaining permission from farmers to cross their land.

Girling says Doc rangers can also provide more detailed information about animal numbers and the best spots to hunt within a particular block. Many of the inquiries fielded by Doc's Queenstown office are referred to him.

The outfitter

Stephen Bewley, manager of H&J's Outdoor World, says hunter numbers seem to be rising in line with the influx of tradesmen and labourers working on the Frankton Flats construction boom.

But, in saying that, his customers come from a wide spectrum: lawyers, real estate agents, paragliding instructors.

Bewley says the demand for hunting gear is surprisingly consistent, with most enthusiasts getting out into the hills for about eight months of the year. But the busiest time is before the ‘‘roar'' in March and April, when stags call to attract mates and to protect their territory.

Trade eases off a touch in winter, then picks up in spring as hunters chase animals coming out to feed on new growth. It then remains steady throughout the summer months as they make the most of warm weather.

His staff often field questions from tourists and new residents about the best places to hunt, firearms licences and hunting permits, and refer them to hunting guides, Doc, and in the case of licences, to the police, he says.

 

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