Not over the hill yet

The gear and technology may have changed through the years, but Peter Snowdon says the thrill of the hunt remains.

In Home Block6 Minutes

The gear and technology may have changed through the years, but Peter Snowdon says the thrill of the hunt remains.

We had successfully hunted the head of this Canterbury steep high-country creek several times in the last decade.

Experience taught us the catchment was a good wintering spot for red deer and often hosted pigs and the occasional chamois.

It had a sunny aspect, patches of flax, matagouri and ribbonwood, with tall tussock and subalpine vegetation up high and patches of sweet briar and grasses lower down. Ideal real estate for the game and this was early August. Geoff and I also knew we had to climb to get the best chance of seeing animals, and daylight is short at this time of year.

Hunting the previous afternoon had been unsuccessful. We had seen a couple of small pigs but were more excited by the sight of seven red deer high up at the head of the creek. They were impossible to stalk because of open ground and wind direction. Snookered, we left them undisturbed.

Returning early the following day we located the deer. The mob had grown to 10, comprising hinds, yearlings and fawns. Frustratingly they had moved even higher and further around the tussock face and moved over a ridge out of sight as we watched. It was going to be a long day.

It was cool but we were rinsed in weak winter sunshine as we ascended an adjacent ridge and manoeuvred our way above the mob who had bedded down among flax and tussock. Closing the ground was difficult, but by using slight contours and vegetation we arrived 200 metres from four of the group, by then upright, restless, and watchful. We were later thankful that my shot missed, as carrying one yearling was enough of a burden – two would have been a massive task.

Retracing our route to the truck meant climbing back up the hill before connecting with and descending a ridge back to the valley floor. The last hour was pretty slow going. I was weary, weighted by meat and foot sore. Although the slow deprivations of age seemed not to apply to Geoff, my regular hunting buddy who was about to celebrate his 70th birthday.

Daylight had lost its confidence by the time we arrived back at the vehicle and minutes later a cruel southerly knifed down the hill bringing blustery snow showers. So, another hunt is done.

The walk back to the truck gave time for reflection and a little nostalgia. We had a combined age of more than 130 years and had just walked 17km and climbed 1050 metres.

Why do we still do it? The enjoyment of the landscape and the challenge and thrill of finding and stalking animals has not diminished over the years. This, along with the spending time with mates and the physical and mental wellbeing that hunting supports keeps me returning. Indeed the golden rule is – never finish one trip before you have planned the next.

A well-stocked freezer is also motivation. These things have not altered over the years.

Some things have changed. Seeing 10 deer in a mob is unusual – I can’t recall seeing a group of that size before on public land and certainly not back in the early 1980s when I first hunted. I’m sure there are more deer out there and they have spread to new locations – especially fallow deer.

Gear has changed enormously since those early days. Woollen clothing has all but disappeared from the hunting kit. There has been a small revolution in footwear – with a wide range of strong comfortable boots replacing the lace-up gumboots and hard green leather boots that Kiwis wore. The screws on those green leather boots had a nasty habit of poking through the sole.

There are more techy items carried now – rangefinders and locator beacons are commonplace. I recently encountered a hunter who was using thermal imaging equipment. Topo maps are making way for GPS. No more mountain mule packs with external frames, and thank goodness for that!

The ubiquitous gas cooker has replaced the primus. My primus has not been out of the gear cupboard for many years. When I last produced it in a hut, trampers gathered to inspect it and asked how it worked! It made me feel ancient.

Plenty of changes, and I’m sure I’ll witness more as I have no intention of stopping, and I certainly will not sit at home and let my legs go black. More fun to be had yet!