Our Sweet Wilderness
22 February 2023
Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Issue 218 Spring
Words By: Andrew Rice
Images By: Greg Slui
The stars had aligned, and we were off, for what turned out to be an epic trip.
It was early November and Greg and I had three days in a piece of paradise with the blessing from our "long haired generals". Greg wasn't a hunter; he had come along for some time out, and being a professional photographer, hopefully a few photo opportunities.
I had my old Sako .243, and apart from wanting to fill the freezer, it was a much-needed break following six months of illness.
After a weigh in with the chopper pilot, we left the big smoke of Wanaka and flew up to our block, in conditions that were absolutely mint. Within an hour of the chopper drop-off, we had our tents up and all our gear sorted. I have walked into this block twice before, it involves a serious grunt for a few hours, so there was absolutely no regret jumping in the Robbie and carrying a couple of extra luxuries. Sitting in a deck chair at the end of a big day hunting is absolute gold.
Greg had done years of climbing and mountaineering but had never spent time looking for animals. He soon commented on how good it was with the slower pace of walking and glassing. He actually turned up with an old pair of birdwatching binoculars that I thought would be good for you know what. Of course, it was him who spotted the first animal, a red hind about a kilometre away. We got to about 300m and were reminded about how good their senses are as she winded us, dropped into a creek, then up the opposite face and away.
Not to worry, a chunky Chamois soon presented itself at about 100m and we had camp meat.
Day 2 dawned clear as we set off on what turned out to be rather a big day. 12 hours on the hoof and I really had to dig deep to get back to camp as the body was not coping with the terrain. I was four months into my chemo treatment and try as I might, the legs simply wouldn't do what they were being asked to. However, we spotted a Fallow, a red stag and a Chamois that morning, all of which Greg photographed. It was almost midday when Mr and Mrs Pork Chop appeared in a clearing amongst thick matagouri. I set up at 150m and shot my first ever pig, which turned out to be a healthy boar, the sow soon trotted off to freedom over the ridge. To our surprise a clan of wee piglets immerged from the scrub, they soon picked up her scent and disappeared after mum. We inspected the pig, then marked the location and carried on in search of some venison. As so often happens, right at our agreed turn around spot, i.e., the furthest from camp, we spotted a spiker. This took a delicate stalk in full view with no cover. I'm sure his eyes were closed, as he was sitting in the sun facing me the whole time. It was a big walk back to camp with the back wheels and the back steaks. Things got extra curly after adding the weight of the pork to the pack. Needless to say, we slept well that night following a quick meal and many cups of sweet tea.
Day 3 was another pearler, with the lake looking even more magnificent than the days before. We set off into a light breeze in the opposite direction from the day prior and could soon see we were about to get bluffed. With no other options, we ended up turning back towards some more manageable terrain. We stopped for a brew behind a beech sapling and spotted two hinds grazing, then watched a huge barrel-chested pig doing its thing on a distant ridge. It was something out of a YouTube clip, "when hogs go rogue". We decided to leave "hogzilla" for someone with bigger "crown jewels" than us and made our way back towards camp.
That afternoon I spotted a red, feeding below me in some flax, I crept in for a shot. Being relatively new to hunting I wanted to steady myself by using the bipod. This can be near impossible when you're faced with a downhill shot in 3-foot scrub with no clearings. Eventually the deer wandered off and we were sitting down chatting when another porker moved in below us, feeding into a small gut. Once again, I stalked in. With nowhere to rest the rifle, I had to man-up and shoot standing up. Well, much to my amazement the pig fell over and what a pig he was. We took photos and were really surprised by the size of him. Being a boar, I was worried about the meat being tainted, it turned out to be absolutely odourless, so we filled our packs and headed back to camp with smiles all around.
After three days in paradise, it was time to head for home. The chopper pick-up went to plan, and we landed at the airfield, two very happy chaps. The pilot had said we could bring 40 kg of meat out, in order to stay within his weight limits. We never did weigh our booty, but lots of family and friends in Wanaka were enjoying wild game for a good while. Greg took his half and is still enjoying all his butchers treats.
Interestingly, I barbecued back steaks from the red, the Chamois and from a Fallow that I had taken in Glenorchy the week before. We had friends from out of town and they all preferred the Chamois. I can only put it down to the meat hanging in muslin for three days in a breeze in the bush.
So, on reflection this was an incredible trip all around. All hunters know that when the weather gods are smiling, it can make a huge difference. We were lucky!
We definitely felt blessed to be able to spend the time in a stunningly beautiful location. For me it was a brilliant experience, it helped to reset the old "grey matter". Our mountains, our lakes, our sweet wilderness.
After living overseas for many years, you soon learn what makes you tick, and you sure know what you miss when it's not on your doorstep. It reinforced to me once again that, the act of pulling the trigger on a large mammal is never to be taken lightly. Personally, it's a primeval thing. It's about being a provider and as a savvy marketing guru once said "it's in our DNA"