Katrina (Kate) Aynsley - Obituary

28 August 2023

Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Winter Issue 221

Tragically at Beaumont Forest on the 3rd of June, on a Department of Conservation Hunting Block, Kate passed away whilst hunting with her fiancée Greg. At the time of her death, she was fully immersed in her favourite pastime and stalking a Fallow buck on the far side of a creek in steep terrain. Kate joined the Otago Branch of the NZDA in 2019, as an avid, competent, and successful hunter. She had participated in the Otago Branch HUNT’s course acting in the capacity of instructor and assisted with the mentoring/guiding of Woman’s Tahr Hunts in the Mt Cook Area. Kate was an active contributor to ‘NZ Hunting and Wildlife’ magazine and featured regularly in her own, Greg’s and other NZDA
members stories. She was a magnificent hunter, and an inspiring woman of the highest calibre. Kate will be dearly missed by all that knew her.

The Perfect Stare Down

Words By: Kate Aynsley

I have a love hate relationship with the post in the latter part of most months, as it either comes with a sigh of disappointment or elation depending on the thickness of the envelope. The last couple of months have been met with skinny, however this one finally came with a fat envelope arriving in the mail late January, informing me of a successful ballot for February.

This month I was lucky enough to be getting back into the block that started it all for me. Greg also introduced me to this block 3 years ago where I got my first deer on the deck. It will always be a favourite of mine as it ignited my passion for hunting and my journey to date. I had also managed my first successful solo hunt there, so it has many special meanings for me.

There is still a lot of area yet to be explored which keeps me coming back for more when given the opportunity. I imagine there are many years ahead for us on this block.

As always, I kept an eye on the weather leading up to the weekend, Greg also had the weekend off so he would be joining Maia (my Vizsla) and me with his GSP Scout. I was keeping my fingers crossed for low winds, as it can be quite swirly amongst the bush when it gets up a little.

We arrived to a little light drizzle but this was supposed to reduce to just the odd wee patch over the coming days. We set off after first light as the animals don’t tend to rise before 10 as a general rule. This was true on this day too, we spent a couple of hours glassing the open faces and were able to watch a couple of young, up and coming bucks move amongst the thick scrubby patches. Over the morning they had barely covered 50m, we concluded that it was unlikely that they were not going to make it out to the clear faces anytime today. So, with that, we made a plan, to throw the packs on and head over to a new part of the block on the far side that we had yet to explore. It appeared quite steep and tight bush from where we were currently glassing. I love heading into new territory as you just don’t know what is there, both animal wise and the type of bush we are about to venture into. The first part was as expected with thick patches of scrub made up of matagouri, manuka and bush lawyer. We spent a great deal of time on hand and knee pushing through it. As always, the dogs made it look incredibly easy, especially when they would double back and look like they were asking why we were taking so long. Once we cracked it, we just had to make our way down some soft ground to the creek and then we were through to a steep bushy face.

Unfortunately, as we rock hopped across the creek the wind began to swirl. We sat for a good 5 minutes waiting for it to settle on one direction, which it did…for a short period of time. This was exactly how our day was going to be, lots of stop starts. It can be quite frustrating at times hunting in these conditions as you are always concerned that right at that moment with the wind suddenly at your back, that once in a lifetime trophy or meat animal is but a few yards away and you’ll just see it running off in the distance.

It can also be quite confusing for the dogs when they are air scenting. Maia is still learning and when it swirls, all of a sudden, she is up on her back legs doing pirouettes trying to locate the scent again. She is doing pretty well for her lack of experience.

Once it did settle down both Scout and Maia were scenting quite hard. Scout was leading with Greg and Maia, and I was about 50 yards behind. We gradually made our way up and along the scrubby face that was made up of crown fern and sparse amounts of young scrub and windfall. I was moving carefully and concentrating hard on the crown fern above us, as deer are renowned for being tucked up in these as they afford them great cover. No sooner had I thought about this than a Spanish fallow doe burst to life (not even 20 yards from me) and tore up the hill without even a glance back at us. I seem to quite often find myself in this position of thinking, “this would be a great spot for a deer” and then too soon it becomes a reality. I unfortunately do not listen to it anywhere enough but like Maia I am also still learning.

We continued to stalk along but pulled back our pace a little more in case there was a yearling or another doe with her. Greg was still ahead of me, and Scout was still adamant that there was an animal near. She too had slowed, and her tail was now pointing straight up on full alert (this is probably the only time that tail stops wagging). Greg suddenly stopped and crouched down signalling for me to stop. I knew he had his eyes on an animal. I waited patiently to see what his next move would be. He looked back at me and gave a small flick of his head, so I slowly moved along and came up behind him ensuring I did not make a sound. It is always exciting for me knowing there is an animal ahead and that he may get one on the deck. I was already envisioning lightly seared heart and steaks with a little Moroccan seasoning. When I got to him, he pointed up at a small patch of crown fern. With my eye in I could make out a shape above it that did not match the crown fern in colour. If it wasn’t for his head, we would likely have gone straight past it. Suddenly as it stood the shape became a deer, and quickly followed the crack of a .223 with that characteristic thud at the end. The deer darted up a small step in the hill and we celebrated the first animal of the day. We set off to see what he had got, but didn’t have to go far, the wee yearling hadn’t even got 20 yards from the fern. Greg set to work gutting him and hanging him to cool.

It was now Maia’s and my turn to lead. I quite enjoy being out in front. There is so much to think about, trying to anticipate what might be ahead of us, not getting too quick in my pace and avoiding each potential noise that next step might create. Also, on top of this is the question of what I will lead myself and Greg into, I am quite renowned for leading us into the thickest crap possible that feels like it will never end. This is also not helped by my push on approach as it can’t last forever right… today would be no different. We were soon in waist height crown fern, bashing through thick scrub and pulling ourselves over fallen trees. I still believed if I pushed up, we would break out onto flat open bush with amazing clearings…yeah right. Well, this time it did and we stopped in a very small clearing that had thin scrub patches around us. It was at least better than the crown fern and bush lawyer. I sat with my back against probably the only mature tree in this particular spot and had some lunch while I thought about where we would head next. Scout had taken an interest in the scrub behind me and was in statue mode pointing ahead for a good 5 minutes. There was a light breeze that would be in my face so we decided that I would head off and check it out and Greg would follow shortly. I quietly pushed through the thin immature scrub to find a large open clearing that had mature trees scattered over it. Maia suddenly started scenting out to our left. I decided to stop as I needed to try and look around the mature trees and see beyond the clearing. Everything was brown on brown. I trusted Maia as she appeared confident in what she had found and was still looking intently to my left. Luckily, I had stopped because just as I did my eyes met with a dark doe. She was in between a small stand of mature trees and had been nibbling at some low-lying bushes. One step back she would have still been obscured by these trees. Her coat gleamed a glossy black, I had never seen anything like it before. Once again, I found myself in a position where complete composure was necessitated. It was statue time and I hoped that Maia would pick up on my body language and do the same. It felt like minutes had passed as we stared eye to eye, me, waiting for that moment when she looked away so I could raise my rifle, her trying to ascertain what we were. Suddenly she started trotting towards me, it was hilarious and something I had never encountered before. That inquisitive youth looking for a new bush mate. Unfortunately, this meant that I could not raise my rifle, my only choice was to continue to remain still and see what she was going to do. She was now only around 50 yards from me, and in that split second, she decided that maybe we weren’t friendly and made a dash down the hill. I let out a quick doe call and in that moment of her pausing for a second look I raised my 7mm-08 and squeezed off a round. She took a hard hit, leapt in the air and came crashing down. 

Greg must have not been far away because all of a sudden Scout was running past me to the doe. She got a fierce call and retreated back to Greg’s side. Maia however was beside me with the widest grin. She may not love the rifle going off at the range, but loves being out in the bush when it does. She must know that spoils come with this type of shot. Although I must say she is pretty fussy on what she will and won’t accept on the hill, unlike the forever hungry GSP. Anyways, it turned out Greg had appeared onto the clearing just as I took the shot. We proceeded to head over and check her out. This is the first fallow that I have seen to have such an intense glossy black coat. It even had spots within the black. She was magnificent. We took photos and I thanked her for her sacrifice to feed our family. I then I set to work gutting and making her into a backpack for the walk out to the ute. I was very thankful that fallow are a small deer as we not only had to go back down the hill to the creek which was still quite soft under foot but also navigate back through that matagouri and bush lawyer we came through earlier, this time each of us with a deer on our backs. There was also the short but steep hill back to the ute that once climbed would signal another successful day on the hill for us, it would not only top up our freezer, but our family would also enjoy the spoils of this trip for a while and tide us over…until the next adventure.

Footnote: Tragically, Kate recently passed away after a hunting related accident. We will run a tribute to this amazing hunts-women in a future issue.

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