Bank of Ahuriri

Bank of Ahuriri

Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Summer Issue 223


In a past life, as a senior bank officer in central Lower Hutt, the 31st of March had an extremely important role to play in my life. It was the end of one year and the beginning of another, when every single thing had to balance to the cent. Balance has a new meaning these days, it is all about meat hunting to provide a balanced diet for my family.

Now here I was away on a solo hunt in the magnificent Ahuriri Valley, North Otago. It took a major confidence boost to be in this place alone. After all, I had been trained over years through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme that the only way to venture into our great outdoors was in a party of no less than four. However by now I had been on many dangerous, exciting adventures with hunting mates to all manner of places I had only ever dreamed about in that past life. Hunting the Ahuriri was precipitated by a small discussion with a mate as we headed from North Otago to the West Coast via the Lindis Pass for my first NZDA organized Tahr hunt. (That's another story) We trundled past the turn off to the Ahuriri Valley and I put a passing thought into audible words, “I'd love to explore up there, but I can't find anyone who wants to go” My mate, who had been hunting the wider area far longer than I had, assured me that I would handle the valley, no worries! We had been on several hunts previously, he knew my abilities and lacks. I trusted his judgement so tucked the idea away for further thought.


By this 31st March there had been several solo trips exploring different parts of the valley. I had escaped on an extended weekend, Friday to Monday. Thankfully I have a very forgiving husband who keeps me on a very long leash and when I get a bit titchy has been known to kindly say to me “you need to go hunting”. So here I was at the end of the Birchwood Road (about 54kms from State Highway 8 turn off) where a Birchwood farm fence marks the beginning of the walk to Canyon Creek, Shamrock, Hagens and Top huts. Birchwood Station was purchased by the Government for $10 million in 2004. It consists of 23,783 hectares of ex-high-country sheep and beef station.

 My plans were set: I'd walk up the main track through the valley and establish a campsite on the far (east) side of the river away from the main track. The main track is quite an easy and often a bit of a boring walk. There are still plenty of sights to see along the way, with river crossings that can change from ankle deep one time to well above the knee at another. It usually took me about an hour to Shamrock hut, but this time I had full camping gear in my pack and with rifle was carrying over 20kg. I took a bit of time admiring the views, choosing a good camp site and generally enjoying alone time in my adored surroundings. There was no point rushing, we all know deer come out dawn and dusk.


When I was well settled I took up my day pack and rifle to head into the wind for a bit of a scout to see if there was any sign worth looking at a bit more intensely. I made my way slowly up-river just on the bush edge, not really expecting to see any animals, it was still a little early. In that part of the valley the bush flows off the hills in finger-like patches on to wide, grassy river flats.


As I approached one such finger I glanced back; a hunter always checks their back trail, if nothing else, to be sure they can get home safely. What I saw that time will be an ever recurring video in my head (a pity I never had a Go-Pro) There was a “something” coming behind me, from downwind. A moment of amazement froze me to the spot. “Look again”, yes it's a deer shape. Luckily the grass that year was head high when I sat down. “Here's the chance for some meat”, up went the binos, “It's got antlers”. In the space of those two short statements the stag had advanced on me by 100m. That was when the serious shakes set in. I'd heard plenty of stories about farmed stags in the roar going for people. Here was a stag prancing directly at me, into my wind. He knew I was there; he'd been tracking me on my exact path. There is a strange phenomenon that, on occasions like this, time goes so slowly, while at the same time passes in a flash. Up came my Baikal, single-shot, break-open, .308 rifle. It had never been blooded, being recently bought so I had a scoped rifle with enough kick to take Tahr. (Until then my open-sighted .303 rifle had been used) Being safety conscious I carried the Baikal half broken, so it was closed, sighted, trigger pulled. “Click” I still had to get more familiar with my new rifle. Still the stag was high-stepping, appearing to search back and forth towards me, intent on using his beautifully polished red antlers to do me misfortune. Break rifle! Close rifle! Aim while attempting to still the heart beat enough to make a kill. At less than 50m he stepped up on to a slight lump rising from the grassy flat. That was the last thing he did. He flicked right over in a full roll, legs-in-the-air flip, to disappear from my vision behind the lump. Movements accompanying thoughts came slowly: “breath, break rifle, reload, and attempt to stand up!” Yes, he was dead, just 35m from where I had sat to first experience taking a red stag alone on a solo hunt. That ex-banker's trophy stag made that one of the many 31st March days to remember. A very balanced life!

He was photographed, gutted and left in the quickly fading light to cool overnight. I returned to my camp to discover that he had left deep hoof prints right around my tent, tracking me all the way to his end. The next day I also discovered a wallow some 15m from my chosen camp. Perhaps I had disturbed his wallowing. Next day the work began! Being quite a shortie there was no way I could carry him whole, so I set about skinning and boning out the meat. Wouldn't you know it, my husband wanted a “buck” skin for his American Indigenous Peoples interests, which meant I also had the skin to carry. Being solely a meat hunter, I had declared openly that if I got an animal with antlers I would leave them. I just couldn't so they added to the baggage.


Smart imaginings had me load the 40kgs of luscious venison into my empty pack. It all fitted, the problem was that when I sat to crawl into the straps I couldn't move it, even to roll over to hands and knees. It would take quite a bit of thought along with effort to figure that issue. I chose to sleep on the problem so settled to store some energy. When the next day dawned I had dismissed travelling to ask for assistance, instead released the red-haired stubbornness I had in abundance. All the meat, skin, and gear was divided into four packages. With pack on my back and meat bag hugged to my stomach, rifle over a shoulder I set off ten minutes towards the truck. Dump load! Ten minutes back to camp to collect day pack, another meat bag and head I set off for twenty minutes. Back I went to the first load, passing the second load for ten more minutes. In this way I ferried all the baggage back to my truck. Eleven hours was a huge challenge with ever increasing need to stop to rest between load points. I made it! An hour and a half drive, well rested I was home to tell and retell my adventure story. The buzz kept with me for many months. Even now as I write the details it lifts my spirits. Banking is such a distant memory.

The Ahuriri Valley is a glorious, safe environment with so many options for hunting. The river flats and bush edges unfold before your eyes. Above the bushline you can find extreme climbs with the chance of Tahr. Other higher spots have a smattering of Chamois. The most dangerous creatures you encounter are likely to be other humans. They range from horse riders, trampers, mountain bikers, fisher people and those extreme runners who as you are plodding up the track with all your gear including survival equipment, go running past with only shorts, tee-shirt and running shoes. Scary! I have come across the odd DOC worker too – one was a bit naïve when driving on the snow-covered road, didn't engage 4WD so had terrible trouble, another urged me to shoot hedgehogs, but with .303 ammo costs I didn't take up the idea. Danger also lurks in the valley as a recent week-long Search and Rescue search showed, there wasn't a good outcome. Take care out there to be sure you return.


As one of multiple pioneer female hunters (first female in North Island to achieve the HUNTS Course) in our precious wilderness I write this not to blow my own trumpet, polish my knuckles and puff myself up, but to encourage our ever increasing number of young female hunters who are stepping out to find the wonders of our country. Take no notice of those few male hunters who think that females and youngsters “should shoot with nothing bigger than a .243” as I have been told. When you get a negative comment bring the conversation around to some of your more daring or scary escapades. There will always be the sceptical question from a first time meeting, “Do you actually hunt?” When they hear your reply there is a good chance you have won a victory for female hunters. There does have to be some advantage of being a female hunter: you can come home with a trophy, boil it up on the stove, butcher the meat all over the kitchen, throwing the scraps in a pile for the dog and no one says a word.

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