Tales From The Dense, The High And The Wild – A Hunting Odyssey In New Zealand

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April 2020. Flight in 12 hours, passport in my pocket, gear trimmed, physical shape trimmed, shots at long holds, short holds, check; everything is ticked. Appointments and networks enabled. Months of preparation culminate shortly. The bag is zipped. A whole month of adventure awaits us in New Zealand. Let’s go.

Hard stop! The Prime Minister holds a press conference and Denmark shuts down; actually, the whole world shuts down. A month’s void that should have been filled with wild adventures is now crumpling. The bag remains in place for some time. Packed. Ready for if this surreal dreamlike “state”, named Corona, should quickly come to an end. But, as you know, it does not. The bag is emptied and packed away along with dreams and expectations.

Fast forward – April 2023

The bag is there again. Everything is like three years ago. Trimmed to the detail. However, there is a nagging little doubt as to whether we will get going this time. The culmination of anticipation and disappointment and then anticipation again. But this time the plane takes off and 33 hours later we get ready for landing on New Zealand’s South Island. Since the plane crossed the coastline, grassy mountains that seem friendly have passed below us. On the left is Mount Cook’s white peak, and it’s time for a touchdown in Queenstown. Now the adventure finally starts. For Franz and me, there is a lot we have to achieve. From deer to wallaby. From south to north. Let’s go.
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Southbound. Rainforest. Arrow in the air.

The leaves under my feet are noisy, but if I walk with Tai Chi steps, I can move forward silently. Super slowly, in an hour, I have not progressed much further than a few hundred meters. Man-tall ferns, southern beeches, lianas, and lots of other growths that I have never seen before have created a maze, but fortunately, the GPS on my watch is set. The bow in my hand as I listen… After roars in a terrain that in no way resembles what deer usually belong in. But under these hemispheres the optimal biotope. I stop when I hear the sound of crunching leaves and cracking branches close by. My heart pauses, I stop breathing and slowly sink to my knees. Quiet. The sound is fast approaching. I now see a huge black shadow that has direction close to where I’m curling up. My hand Crashes the bow’s handle. Arrow on the string…

Two hours ago, Franz and I jumped out of the car. We had spent the first days of the trip outsmarting a New Zealand red deer. The timing was perfect, we had hit the South Island exactly at the same time as the rut had begun. So far, we had focused on bow hunting, and several times we had almost succeeded. But only almost. The deer call had been in heavy use, Franz had cracked the code and he had several close dialogues with horny stags. After 5 days of “close calls” we had decided that the time was up to give the rifle a try.

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Our new friend, a sheep farmer we had met, had generously lent us his shag to live in and allowed us to pass through his land so that we could reach some un-hunted public areas behind. It was the same farmer who had told us about the forest I was entering, a few days ago he overheard a roaring concert in there somewhere in the deep. Franz and I had started the hunt, stalking together. But we quickly agreed that two persons were making too much noise, so Franz returned to the edge of the forest. He had a rifle, I continued to carry my bow. Maybe I ended up pushing a deer that would head for Franz's position at the forest line.

The black shadow in the forest has taken a solid shape. It is not a deer, but a wild pig which, in the dwindling daylight, in the dense rainforest, seems huge. It has to be a boar; it follows a course that will make him pass about 15 yards away in front of me shortly. When the animal slides behind a large fern, I draw the bow, and on auto, I find the shoulder in sight; pull forward slightly, he is still moving. I let my shoulders do a controlled pull of the release. The arrow is in the air. The little light in the arrow nock turns on and paints a line of light towards the animal. The familiar “crack”; the sound of the arrow against bone. The pig – now with an arrow in its shoulder starts to run. Forward along the same route. Then it stops. Slowly turns around and looks directly down at me.

What do you do in such a pig vs. man standoff? Another arrow on the string-fast? Pull the knife? Run? Or stay where you are? I choose the latter. Crunching not moving an eyebrow, hoping that camouflage and fading light will make me disappear into the forest floor. A snort from the pig. It turns around again and disappears crashing into the shadows. My deer hunt has turned into a pig hunt. A big Keiler somewhere in the dark dense rainforest. punctured by an arrow. My heart starts beating again. I walk around myself to catch a cellphone signal -very sparse under the heavy canopy of foliage. I get hold of Franz. He comes with the rifle. It takes a long time before we find each other. The phone signal disappeared immediately as he entered, the forest. It is the flickering light of headlamps, between trees and lianas, that brings us together.

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We start by tracking the pig. We find the arrow where it stopped; It lies on the ground and has clearly passed through the animal. Blood on all three vanes. With the rifle ready, we begin to track. It takes a long time. Finally, we find it. A weird-looking critter. Stiff bristles and canines like a boar we know them from Europe, but the head and body look completely different. The head is covered with bristles, but the shape is like the pink domestic pigs we know. The hump is not there at all.

It is hard work to pull the big pig out of the forest, but luckily the farmer comes and helps us, and the piggy is transported down to the farm on an ATV. It weighs almost 100 kg. A “real Captain Cooker,” says the Farmer. I wonder, “A Captain Cooker?” and am told that these pigs are descended directly from the 10 pigs Captain Cook had on his ship Endeavor when he first visited New Zealand’s South Island in 1769.

West. North. Up. Down.

We have found a spot high up in the mountains on a ledge. Far below us, there is a small mountain or knoll on the slope. Overgrown with long heavy grasses. Shrubs and small trees. It was Franz who spotted it. A beautiful thar lying there and resting in the afternoon sun. Franz has been quite a few times to New Zealand, but this is my first trip and I’ve never seen a thar before. Only in photos and in the pictures, my brain has created from the countless hunting stories I have listened to about the hunt for the large mane-bearing goats originally from the Himalayas.

The thar is still sleeping. I’ve climbed a little closer. Down on a ledge under the rock ledge Franz still sits on. He has binoculars focused on the animal and probably also the camera. The rifle on the bipod the stock on the shoulder. My thumb is on the safe. It the thar wakes up. I push the safe. It settles down again without giving me a decent shot chance. I put the safe back on. Distance about 250 meters. Then it stands broadside towards me. I squeeze the trigger. The animal trembles forward. A short fast run and then it disappears in the thicket. I look up at Franz. He makes a thumbs-up sign. Yes! Feels good.


We had been airlifted up the mountain in the early morning. A short trip of not much more than 10 minutes, for the small helicopter we had chartered. The day before we had spent on the road away from the southernmost part of the South Island to the west and north along the coast. Infinitely beautiful and alien nature everywhere. Mountain passes, rivers, and wide-open grassy landscapes.

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The pilot dropped us off at a small lake on the mountainside. We had studied maps and talked to locals and finally decided on this little spot, although there was no certainty whether the area also housed what we wanted to hunt thar and chamois. Fortunately, the pilot thought that we had not completely missed the mark, so our expectations were high when we quickly emptied the helicopter of tent sleeping bags, weapons, and food for 5 days. In New Zealand, most state-owned land can be hunted legally by both locals and by hunters from abroad. However, some formalities need to be in place. Back home, I took the New Zealand hunting license exam online, and we bought licenses for most public areas, New Zealand’s Ministry of the Environment has made a nice app that makes it easy to find where one border starts and the other ends. But the country is big, wild, and harsh, so even though the hunt is free and there is a lot of game it is difficult. Where to start? Where to find game? What is safe?

Fortunately, there are plenty of skilled hunting guides down there, so if you do not have the courage or time to find the game yourself or climb up and down on your own, then I would recommend a guide. Every year some hunters do not return home from New Zealand. There is a lot you can fall from, and plenty of water in rivers that can pull you along.

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I climb up to Franz again. He is certain that the shot was placed where it was supposed to be. Together we climb downwards. Even though the firing distance was only just under 250 meters, it still took a good hour before we got to the shooting site. Or where we think the shooting site was. The terrain looks completely different now that we are here. Overgrown crevices and small vertical falls everywhere, so we cling to branches and grass. No thar, no blood, nothing. Franz climbed back up to where he was sitting when I took the shot to better direct me to the actual spot. But when he finally shows up, he can’t see me. The camouflage clothing works. I continue the search. Up and down, but eventually, I gave up. In an hour it will be dark, and it is far too dangerous to crawl around here alone.

At home in the tent, by the Mirror Mountain Lake, we watch the short film again and again. The shot scene that Franz captured. It clearly shows the hit. Clean impact so the thar HAS to be down there somewhere. The next day, the search continued, but after 6 hours we decided to stop without success. It’s very hard knowing it’s there somewhere. I had been looking forward to lifting the head of the majestically beautiful animal, sliding my finger along the horns, and then toiling up the mountainside heavily loaded with trophies and lovely meat. That is not happening.

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The next day it’s Franz’s turn. We have walked some distance from the camp when we see a chamois, it walks on the rugged cliffs along the edge of the plateau we are crossing, behind the chamois the plateau drops vertically downwards towards the valley below. Franz shoots and the chamois drops. Lessons learned from yesterday make me stay behind, so we are sure where we last saw the animal. Franz has put an orange cloth on his backpack, so he doesn’t disappear in the green. Camouflage clothing also works today, and we have become wiser. Two arms above the head. Victory. I then walk-crawl down to him. This is my first close encounter with a chamois. Exotic and beautiful. Black and white markings with elegant black horns that end at the rear in a soft bend hook. The mountains are warm. The flies are swarming. We help each other butcher the animal. I carry the meat; Franz carries the trophy. Upwards and homewards to the tent by the Mirror Mountain Lake.

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We have spent almost a month in New Zealand, everything we have done has been about hunting. On the hunt, on the way to the hunt, on the way from hunting or on the way to the next hunt. It’s been a very intense ride and I think I’ve been chasing enough for a while now. We have had lots of exciting new and unique hunting experiences. And a lot we never had the time for.

I came home and wanted to go hunting again…


Products in use:
Thermal camera's Leica Calonox View
Rangefinders Leica Geovid Pro
Riflescopes Leica Magnus 1,8-12×50 i
 

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