16 August 2023

Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Summer Issue 219

Words By: Peter Henderson, Erin Hewetson & Alex Gale


Melissa Jager, Southern Lakes Branch

I grew up in Thames and am the youngest of three. My dad is a keen hunter and fisherman and as a result he passed these skills onto his children. I was really lucky that my dad did not care whether you were a girl or boy, every child was going to learn to hunt and fish. As a result, every Christmas we would go on a 6-week camping trip around New Zealand where we learnt to hunt small game such as rabbits and possums and also catch trout. Once we were a bit older, we moved onto hunting wallabies and goats, and eventually learnt to bush stalk so that we could one day hunt deer.  

Melissa (standing, 3rd from right) at the end of a successful HUNTS course. 

My dad was really keen on hunting ethics, and we learnt to shoot straight very quickly as we had to retrieve everything that we shot. My brothers and I would have a rabbit shooting competition each holiday and we had to collect the tail to confirm a kill. I learnt very quickly about shot placement as crawling into matagouri bushes to find rabbits was not my idea of fun. I am grateful that my dad instilled these skills and ethics on us as a family, as they have shaped the way I hunt and gather my food today. We were also taught just to take what we need, still my philosophy today as I harvest animals only when we need meat for the freezer.  

In 2015 when I lived in Auckland, the NZDA branch ran a non-official HUNTS course, which covered all aspects of the current syllabus. This was an amazing course, I remember being super excited going to each of the sessions, and the experience and knowledge imparted during this course has been invaluable. I even shot my first fallow in Woodhill Forest as part of the course (thanks to Dave Clendon and Brent Panckhurst). 

I was really lucky to grow up in a family where I was taught a range of outdoor skills, therefore by becoming a HUNTS instructor I am able to pass these skills on and help other people who may not have had these opportunities. I also just really enjoy helping people, but seeing others get a buzz out of being in nature and seeing their first animal is also pretty great.  

The level of detail, experience and knowledge delivered during a HUNTS course takes years to obtain. Having a range of instructors available to answer your questions and share their knowledge cannot be underestimated.  

What would you say to those that were thinking about becoming HUNTS instructors – especially females? 

Just do it. Hunting and gathering isn’t only for men. Watching people learn the art of hunting and then seeing them succeed and take their own animals is a great accomplishment. Knowing that you played a part in their success is super rewarding. As a female hunter, it is frustrating having stereotypes associated with you, but by becoming an instructor it is awesome to be able to break that mindset early on in peoples hunting careers. 

Kris Lyall, Taupo Branch

Stoney Creek has generously sponsored the HUNTS program with blaze vests for many years. Kris is in blue.

I grew up on a sheep station close to Ngamatea station and both my mum and dad hunted. When we moved from there, we lived in Piha where we went out possum hunting and eventually progressed to rabbits.  

As soon as I turned 15, I got my firearms license and tried to get out hunting but had little success. I wanted to try shooting deer but didn’t have any family or friends involved so resorted to teaching myself. I then joined the North Auckland branch and started going on party hunts, they taught me a lot, but it was also a lot of self-teaching, and I made some mistakes. This is why I wanted to become an instructor. The HUNTS courses are important for people who want to get involved in hunting but don’t know anyone or have the experience.  

I moved to Taupo 23 years ago, joined the Taupo NZDA and was on the committee from the beginning. Bill Seal asked if I could help out with HUNTS, so from about 2014 I started running the courses, doing these every year other than 2020 due to COVID19.  

I struggled to learn the ropes of hunting myself and had to learn through trial and error, wasting many years as an unsuccessful hunter. If I can help someone else a lot earlier in their journey through the HUNTS course, then all the better. 

Taking someone who has never fired a rifle before all the way to the point of getting them their first animal is so rewarding. Graduates often keep in touch and send photos afterwards and it’s so satisfying to see that you helped get them to that point. 

The course gets participants hunting successfully much more quickly, it teaches survival techniques, respect for the land and importantly how to be prepared. Participants learn about the animal and the course fosters respect for the environment which helps in protecting both aspects. We learn about the animal’s habits and their seasonal behaviour which increases the hunter’s chance of being successful – when they do get their animal it has been fair chase, and this creates a huge sense of satisfaction and pride in overcoming obstacles.  

Most people who come along have an interest in hunting but don’t know anyone or where to go, so the course is a great way of meeting and making connections with people. 

What would you say to those that were thinking about becoming HUNTS instructors – especially females? 

Do it! It’s very rewarding. Female instructors encourage more female hunters! I always receive a lot of positive feedback from females wanting to learn to hunt and it helps in losing some apprehension, knowing that there’s a woman instructor involved.  

Tania Kiely, North Canterbury Branch

Tania with a bull Tahr, shot up the Whataroa. 

It’s a privilege and joy to be involved in the North Canterbury NZDA HUNTS course.  For me one of the best things is seeing our new instructors, some who have been through the HUNTS course themselves, come on board and contribute so much. Tania was one such person. Involved in the 2019 course, we quickly saw her ability and experience shine through. While she hadn’t shot many animals at this stage, her knowledge, experience, skills, passion for the outdoors and ability to communicate led us to invite her to become a HUNTS instructor. We’re so glad to have her as a part of our great team. 

This is her story … 

"To experience complete emotional joy in oneself is one of life's greatest gifts, to be witness to someone else's joy is one of life's greatest privileges.” 

As I’m an unconventional sort of person I’m going to start at the end and work back. This quote sums up exactly what I feel the HUNTS course is all about.  

Seeing that utter disbelief, excitement, and ecstatic joy in someone's face, with a hundred emotions running wild, that “I did it”, moment is pure reward. 

Initially I thought I was just referring to the exhilaration of the hunt, but it dawned on me that there was more to it - it was the emotion I could hear in the voices around the campfire, the same emotion floating in the air all weekend. This wasn't only the exhilaration and success of the hunt; this was the emotion of achievement. 

For many it was the personal achievement of their own goals. It was seen on the faces of those who pushed themselves up the hill and on those who found it hard to get back down the hill. I saw it in those who had conquered their fears and achieved their goals. Personally different for each of us.  

The hunt was about personal triumph in whichever way mattered to you. 

I understand the feeling well as two years prior I was experiencing the same with my HUNTS instructors. The course was my first hunt and first animal ever shot, something you don't easily forget. 

So why did I become a trainee hunts instructor? So that I could give that joy to others. And it was a way of giving back to the club that had supported me for two years as a member. My learning journey has been made richer through the experienced and knowledgeable people I have been hunting and made great friends with.  

So, how did I get into hunting? I guess my lifestyle just fitted easily into it. Growing up I’ve always been keen to go hunting. I'd been brought up running around hills and bush. My father was a possum hunter, so I helped him bring possums home and as years went on I still had a passion to hunt bigger game. I had friends who promised to teach me and take me out, but life carried on and this didn't eventuate. Finally, after raising a family and having more free time I decided to do it myself. If I, or anyone else, puts a challenge in front of me then I am hell bent to accomplish it to my best ability.   

My work background as a shepherd provided a great base for hunting. I was out on the hills all day so I had the fitness and knew how to navigate tough terrain. I had good bush skills and knew animal behavior as well as butchery skills. All I lacked was the shooting and firearm knowledge and this is still evolving. This knowledge is what NZDA and their valuable members provided. 

Over the last two years I’ve had some great trips with great people, such as up the Whataroa, Nelson tops and the Dobson River. I’ve also been to Stewart Island for whitetail - put that on your bucket list, purely for the incredible scenery and people. 

I have been given amazing knowledge and now want to pass this on and see the joy of the amazing experiences hunting provides on the faces of others. 

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