“Coffee’s up,” came the welcome call from Herman.
19 July 2023
Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Summer Issue 219
Words By: Brett Crombie
The cheerful hum of his gas stove sputtered away, and silence again settled over our glassing perch high in the Blue Mountains.
It was early spring and the first hunting day of the Otago Deerstalkers Club’s 2022 HUNTS weekend. Restless with anticipation I had been awake before my alarm and by quarter to six we were leaving the club’s hunting lodge at Beaumont. My excitement only grew as the 4WD scrambled up misty ridges toward our allocated hunting block deep in the “Blueys”.
For the previous 6 weeks myself and the 10 other HUNTS course trainees from Dunedin had received training from club instructors on topics including map reading, clothing, firearms, ammunition, water safety, animal tracking and ethics. There had been a range day and a river crossing day, along with weekly lectures at the NZDA clubrooms. Now was the chance to put theory to practice.
Given I had no hunting experience, I was lucky on this day to have Herman and James as my instructors, along with Mia, James’s alert and intelligent German Short Haired Pointer.
By eight thirty we had spent a couple of hours glassing a clearing across the valley, watching for Fallow deer to come out for a graze. Through the binoculars we had seen pigs rooting, plus the odd deer edging around the bush but so far nothing staying long in the clear.
The morning mist was starting to lift, and our spirits were good as the day slowly warmed.
Looking through his binoculars, James took one last sweep of the hillside before reaching for his coffee.
“Deer!” he spoke quietly. “Lots of them, coming out now.” Herman and I looked and could see them now too. I felt a hit of adrenalin. “We’re going!” said James urgently as he got in the truck.
I snatched a swig of scalding coffee then jumped in too with a burnt mouth. Our plan was to drive a short distance to where we could access the grassy slopes and sneak down on the deer from there.
Leaving Herman at the glassing spot, James drove us around to the access point. Mia was whining eagerly as she leapt from the truck and waited patiently for the action to begin. I was just as excited as James talked me though several safety points and handed me his .308 Tikka.
From the truck we walked quietly down a bushy ridgeline toward the grassy faces where the deer were grazing. On reaching the clearings we slowed into stealth mode and the three of us crept around the bush edge with all senses alert; me sweating, Mia sniffing and James in charge.
James spotted the deer first, a Fallow spiker about 80 yards below us. It was meandering around the contour, passing in and out of sight behind manuka and matagouri shrubbery. James motioned to me to move along the contour to get a clear firing position. I sidled around the dewy grass, cursing my noisy squeaky boots. After a few minutes I found an open spot between some manuka and had the deer in sight again.
I could see it through the scope, walking slowly but stopping to graze occasionally. It was a good-looking animal, plenty of meat with nice white patches on its chest.
“Snap out of it, time for action, you’re not here just to watch it,” I told myself and started to line it up in the crosshairs. While reaching for the safety I allowed myself a further moment of curiosity to notice a small tremor shifting the crosshairs in time to my heartbeat. “Damn!” I thought, as the deer started moving off again. I watched it go, feeling foolish that my nerves had let me down.
“Meh!” I heard a sharp sound coming from my left. It was James, mimicking the call of a Fallow doe. He had been watching the scene unfold, no doubt wondering what the heck I was waiting for. Luckily, he had this trick up his sleeve and I had a second chance.
Sure enough the deer turned and paused, taking a few seconds to make sense of the sound. This was my moment. I lined the crosshairs up once more, pushed the safety forward with my thumb and pulled the trigger.
“BOOM!” The .308 sure packed a punch. I saw the deer take half a step and crumple as the shot echoed around the valley, then a pause in time as my senses returned. I remember the sharp smell of gunpowder; the puff of barrel smoke; heat from the cartridge case and general awe at the power and finality of the shot.
“Great shot! Deer down!” called James. He and Mia made their way across to me. With elation and relief, we shook hands while Mia’s tail flapped happily.
Buzzing with excitement, we took some photos then set about gutting the deer and preparing it for the carry out. James showed me methods and tips, including how to set the legs up as backpack straps. I then flailed around getting it on my back before James helped haul me to my feet and up the hill I went, puffing wildly.
On making it to the truck I flopped down next to my deer to recover; exhausted, exhilarated and hooked on hunting.
Back at base, as the weekend went on the deer and pig count rose as other hunting parties arrived with their animals. By noon on the final day there were several deer and one pig to process. Trainees were given a series of lessons on skinning and butchery. There was plenty of opportunity for hands-on training as we all pitched in to help. The combined wisdom and experience of our instructors meant we all came away with tips on knifework, cuts and boning methods.
The Otago HUNTS 2022 course was exceptional. I can hardly recommend it highly enough. My thanks to all those involved in bringing it all together, from Frans Laas the Otago HUNTS 2022 Course Coordinator to all the instructors on the course who shared their knowledge and donated their time, fuel, ammunition, and equipment. In my case special thanks to the instructors who took me hunting during the weekend in the Blueys; James Hurrell, Herman Hoedemaker and Josh Hastie.
Also thanks to all Otago HUNTS 2022 trainees for the great camaraderie. “Hot barrels” to you all!