hunting link

On the tops

On the tops

Winter time

Winter time
Time for doing


'Begin doing what you want to do NOW ! We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand- and melting like a snowflake'

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ballard hut 99,

From the diary.....The Roar 1999
The roar started for me at Poronui station. This time I was going in style.
It was bitterly cold, as I waited my turn in the Heli-Sika waiting room and I thought it would certainly be no warmer up where I was going either so I prudently decided to buy myself a pair of fleece trakkie bottoms, at the shop.
My turn was not long in coming, and while the pilot was fuelling up I loaded my dive bag, pack and rifle aboard. “Where are ya heading”? , He shouted above the roar of the Hughes 500 rotors. "Ballard" I replied. “Dunno how lucky you’ll be, but we’ll give it a go eh?” he said with a grin.
The weather was deteriorating The mist was covering the high tops and once belted up, a light rain was falling against the Perspex of the chopper. With the earphones firmly in place we could now communicate more comfortably. We lifted off easily and headed out over the fields, toward s the scrubby faces and hills of the Kaimanawa range. The scrub give way to bush and the hills to steeper hills until eventually we were making our final ascent up to the main range and Ballard hut. Home to me for the next 10 days.
The hut itself is situated just under the bulk of the main Kaweka range. It takes around 20 minutes of fairly steep walking to reach the open tops from the hut. The Heli-pad however is a scant 20 yds to the door of the hut! And that is where the Hughes landed. With a “take care and see you in 10 days.” The helicopter took off, into the mist and rain, leaving me to ferry my gear, inside and make myself at home.
A quick survey of the place told me I was the only resident, which fair split my face in two. The essentials were out in a flash, namely gas Primus billy and coffee. The silly tea ceremony over with…

I threw himself over the Heli-pad for a peekee boo. Christ I was behaving like a green horn, and loving every minute of it too!
It was just great to be back again. This time however, I was living in Auckland so things were much easier all round.
There was no meat that night, of the venison variety. But that didn’t dim the spirits any especially when you’ve arrived from town that very day via the big dollar bird. . Lighting the Tilley that night and firing the stove in the guts, the 3 essentials were well cared for, light, heat, and food. A good book, a warm sleeping bag, and a smaller variety Tilley lamp topped the first lot off, and the contented hunter once more closed his eyes, and let paradise wash over him.
The alarm was on early next morning .The Grey light of dawn was still a good half hour off yet, I leapt up from the scratcher, for the wet one, and also to check out the wx. Little wind and plenty of stars, I noted during my brief sojourn. Back inside and the portable gas stove soon had the porridge cooked.
Mission today was to locate the camp meat, and bring as much back as possible. Thumbing the rounds into the magazine of the Sako, the adrenaline was starting to flow. Tucking the 8x20 binos inside my swannie. And closing the hut door at the same time and it was game on.
............It was around eleven o’clock, and I’d recently cut out of the creek bed I was following, due to a horrendous waterfall. I then sidled through some very likely bush to my present location. Which was on my bum looking straight down on a large slip, using my 8x20’s. After a short while..... Guess I then started to doze with my eyes open. When a distant shot across the valley startled me. It also set me thinking that I was not going to fill the larder on my backside. With that I sprung to my feet, and that’s when the unseen one give a shrill whistle. The next thing I heard was the drumming of hooves. As I was in an open spot, and the sun was in my eyes, I had to make hurried steps into the bush, to try and locate the deer. His next brief few movements gave him away. I could just make out, his lower chest area, through the tangle of vegetation and he then stood stock still, 3 quarters on. I could imagine his head looking back over his shoulders.
The crosshairs centered on the small patch of red that was available to me, steadied and squeezed the light trigger of the stubby Sako carbine. The 150 grains. Projectile left its mark on my ears and shoulder, as it screamed, forward to introduce itself. I had a momentary vision of the deer leaping forward, and then all was quiet. I listened and waited for some minutes, I could hear no sign of a deer departing unscathed. But some times that’s of little compensation when hunting Sika. Even under intense pressure they can noiselessly disappear. It took me 15 minutes to locate that animal.
After much searching, I eventually had to retrace my steps back to the exact spot I fired from then start searching again. This time however I found him, he had leapt as he was hit right into a thick stand of Mingimingi. I had my camp meat, a scrubby 6 pointer.
I wandered far and wide over the next couple of days shot another stag, a young 4 pointer but no real sign that the roar had started. Just the odd animal-giving vent to his hormonal urges. Hunting on a bit late, one evening I was way down in The Makino river, With just an hour of daylight left, it occurred to me that if I wanted to experience the delights of a warm fire and likewise sleeping bag I’d better point my nose up high and follow it.
The decision I made was to follow the creek. What a journey it turned out to be. The waterfalls encountered numbered well into the double figures, and most were non-negotiable. Meaning I had to find a way around them through the bush. This should have not been a surprise to me for in the way in via the big dollar bird, we had followed the route of this very creek up to Ballard. I remembered well at the time thinking man that’s some rugged looking stretch of country! So there was no excuse for my decision....... only that maybe I was becoming senile. Even the waterfalls that could be climbed meant it was rifle on the back, and a careful toe and fingernail experience.
Realizing the need for speed, I had attacked that creek with some aggression Fuelled by an enormous amount of adrenaline. It was eventually negotiated with a hell of an amount of luck too. On the home stretch I was more than a little grateful that my fitness level had enabled me to, meet and deliver the goods. That “stretch” had me feeling a little better about myself. And the years literally fell away.
By the time I had reached the area where you draw water, for your living needs at Ballard. The adrenaline had long gone out of the system. To be replaced by the mechanical sluggish,” I’m nearly there” attitude. It Was then that I first noticed the smoke, slowly curling out of the chimney area, bluish in the fast fading light,” I had company” I thought, there certainly was no enthusiasm, in that thought!
However, there was no need for concern for my privacy. The married couple turned out to be trampers and they were doing a one-night stay here, and were leaving in the morning. Besides which the fire was lit, the hut very cozy, and to top it all they were good company. What more do you want? I watched them slog up the track to the tops in the morning. Once again I had my own company.
There were a couple of real wet days thrown in for good measure in which I was left hut bound. And one particular day I became ‘bookless’ a condition that I have on good authority is said, can render a man insane in a very short time. Having just finished my thriller, and with nothing to read. I became a little restless [to add to my dire condition] now not only was I bookless but restless as well? Whilst mooching about the place I came across some tobacco and papers. Well, the last time that I smoked was when I was culling, and that was close to 20 years ago, but as I said I was restless and bookless. I was preparing for the worst with the first drag, but it wasn’t to be I am ashamed to say it was pure bliss. That and the finding of some ravaged readers digest books saved the day.
Toward the end of the week the weather had deteriorated to heavy snowfall and if I was not hut bound before I certainly was now. Coupled with nothing to read, saw a sad scenario whereby I was plucking all the dog ends from around the stove, cutting them open and making up new smokes. Very sad, that was when I decided perhaps a trip to venison tops might not be a bad idea. There would be a hut full of bodies and also there might be something I could salvage reading wise and smoke wise, o.k. ..... I’m gone.
The full brunt of the southerly didn’t hit me until, I’d topped out at the “forks.” Which invited me to go Makino, Studholme or Venison tops choosing the latter had me clinging to my hat [if I ‘d had one] as I ducked into the howler. The snow was all around, and a careless foot placement would have me plunging up to my crutch in icy snow. Although the heavens where heavy with snow, the day was clear, and visibility was good. And I suppose if that I was honest I would admit that it was good to come out of the Ballard basin, to have a look around. It’s not a long walk to the bush edge a half-hour or so, but it was like reaching some sort of sanctuary that day. All of a sudden there was a death like silence the wind had disappeared, here the branches weighed heavy with snow, and the track was ankle deep, and hard to predict at times. A glance over my shoulder saw the tussock dancing, and snows being whipped up and sent scurrying along. I turned back toward the direction of venison tops, into the surreal world of snow and church like peace and solemnity. An hour and a half later and once more I could hear the banshee like wailing of the elements, as I emerged from the steep climb out, onto the Venison tops.......... the mind wandered.
It was a summer darkened sweat stained government hunter and his dog coming through from Mangaturutu. Having stopped briefly at the lodge to sign their names in the logbook. Then in the ageing morning making their way over to Ballard for a spot of lunch.
Just in from the bush edge, the 4 legged one was becoming agitated. And that is the great delight of using a dog to hunt with. Just walking from hut to hut, gives you a chance to nail a deer. He is capable of detecting a deer that’s not there as far as you are concerned!
Anyway to cut a long story short, further investigation revealed 4 japs enjoying the late morning sun, in a secluded gully just off the track. The .222 barked viciously in the confines of the narrow gut, that the deer where inhabiting. Just as quickly the magazine was empty, and there were 3 deer left to tail.
A good mornings work, it was sometimes worth humping venison on your back to feed the mutt.
..............My musings ripped back to the present with the appearance of two jokers, having just emerged from inside with a tinny each. Christ I thought how could they do that to themselves on a day like this. There were six residents in all, four had just flown in, and the other two were with D.O.C. And great company they were too, there was mountains of food and booze home made whiskey, wild pork, venison, and other goods too numerous to mention. During the course of the afternoon, I was invited to sample quite a bit of their ware The whiskey was a particular treat.
It was now late in the afternoon and the stove was powering out quite a bit of heat, unlike outside, where the temperature was apparently dropping below zero. The subjects were the usual, rifles caliber’s, knives, dogs and game, politics, booze and a ton of bullshit on top of all of that. My hosts voiced their concern about me going this late in the day, and advised me to stay the night, offering various articles to keep me warm. They announced it was -6 degrees and that was without the wind chill factor.
I’m afraid though, the thought of the stove at Ballard fired up. The dinner eaten and washed up, the Tilley hissing away, and me half in my fairydown, reading. The peace and tranquillity of that scene [who said I’m a loner?] was too much. I thanked them for their collective hospitality, thanked them again for the supply of tobacco, papers and reading material. Levered in five fresh round of .308 ammunition, whilst on the porch, turned my back on the glowing hut. And with an over the shoulder “good hunting “, I strode away into the gathering gloom. I could see straight away there had been a considerable fall of snow since I’d been inside as my tracks of a few hours had been well and truly covered. Heading back into the bush was bliss itself, quiet and virgin, with an air of expectation. This track, I knew of old ,held good prospects of a deer, particularly late in the day. And it was no surprise a few moments later when a red hind ghosted through the trees off to one side of me. There was little time to spend on her, though as time was moving on.
Half way on the ascent the other side, had me looking ahead through the tunnel of trees, and what a contrast. There was a blizzard raging. The trees at the top of the slope were bent in half; the tussock beyond them was blown flat, and the snow slanting across at a phenomenal pace. And where I stood was a wonderland, of large flakes gently falling, bowed branches heavily laden with snow.
The trip back was a nightmare the wind at my back, which I thought would be spot on, but it, was not to be. Behind my knees and an inch or so toward my calves was packed solidly with ice in a very short time. It would not budge. The wind ripped through my Swandri, as if it did not exist chilling me to the bone. Whenever I wandered off the track I was rewarded with a plunge into a drift, which when I reemerged was transformed instantly to ice. It was a struggle all the way and even with the hut in sight and the worst behind me, I was still not confident of reaching its sanctuary.
By this time I was dragging my custom made Sako by the sling through the snow behind me. When I eventually fell through the doorway, and proceeded to light the fire as fast as I could, I was almost deafened by the chattering of my own teeth, my numbed fingers would just not work For me.
....................However a few hours later it was just a bad memory. The hut was cozy warm, as was I, I was well fed and was contentedly pulling on a weed. But next time I vowed would be different, with saloppettes, warm hat and gloves accompanying me. Was it worth it, for a smoke and a read? Well it sure scared me ,but in my present condition, MY OATH!

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr the stag was going well, for the last 10 minutes but this was to be his last roar. I waited around a half-hour hoping he would go again so as to help me pinpoint him, but no chance. I tried my own version, and the bitter silence remained. There was no alternative but to cross the creek, to where he had been bellowing, and have a nosey on that side. I picked up the scuffs and scrapes easily and it was frustrating to see just how close he had been. The footprints deeply etched in the soft ground, told the story of more than one deer heading uphill, and not at a frightenly fast pace either. So follow I did, and after a 100 yds or so the trail seemed to sidle along at pretty much the same contour. The trail then disappeared and the sign wasn’t that obvious anymore but I remained on that level picking my way along as I hoped a deer might do.
Then the bush really starting to open out a bit, almost park like ,with visibility easily a hundred yards or more. So then it became a game of less movement and far more looking.
I had done one large gut in this manner, and was inching my way up a spur to drop me into another expanse of, I hoped similar conditions, When I spotted a pile of fresh droppings, not exactly warm to the touch, but glistening, and screaming fresh, so it was with the utmost caution that I poked my head over the rise to scan the terrain ahead. Again it was open; this time though there was a long stretch of flat open country. Hold on, something didn’t quite look right with that branch and wait that colour is not quite right. But I couldn’t make any sense of a shape, I raised the sako slowly and peered through the leupold 4x scope and even then I wasn’t sure. There was absolutely no movement in what I was looking at. So with infinitely slow movement the miniature 8x20’s got an airing.
Bingo! Stag partly obscured by a tree his body was facing away from me but with his neck craning all the way back to check me out. The extra magnification making the difference, back up with the rifle and I settled the crosshairs where that bulky neck merged with the body. Boompha! And he staggered. Movement at last I thought as I ejected the empty case, and sent it spinning to the ground. I rammed another round in, and touched the ultra light trigger to send another 150 grains in his direction. He rolled this time all four legs reaching for the sky. It was a walk to reach the downed animal, not usually associated with bush hunting, meaning it was a long one.
He turned out to be an immature 4 pointer, one I should not have taken. Because more than likely the big fellow who was doing all the vocal bragging earlier, must be just up ahead unless he’s cleared off with all the commotion. Mistake no. 2 was taking a load of meat when really I should have checked further, before loading myself down. So a hundred yards later when an unseen body crashed away I paid the penalty for not playing all the percentages!
My last day, had me out of the bag well before daylight, the chopper was due in at 1500 hrs. And I was determined to cram in all the hours I could before that time. The forecast was for fine weather, and by the looks of things now, it would be accurate. I was heading for a saddle I had had my eye on since arriving. But due to the vagaries of wind and weather was unable to check out till now. I made good time across the tops then down a sharp spur into the bush, then quietly sneak into the saddle. I was in position by 0800. Hrs, I had figured this saddle, to be the site of major deer traffic, judging by the amount of sign scattered about. There was also a well-used wallow at the far end of the clearing. I settled in to wait with the pleasing sensation of the wind right in my face. It was perhaps 20 minutes later as I sat motionless that a movement caught my attention. Which materialized into a spiker that casually meandered into the saddle. He was no more than twenty yards away from my position and had no idea of my presence whatsoever. So I settled down to watch, he was very alert his ears constantly monitoring for sound I was close enough to see his nose twitching, and his flanks fluttering with nervous ripples. As he was moving, he was picking at the ground sampling this and that. He then trod on a twig, and as it snapped his head jerked up, completely mortified at the sound. He stood stock still for minutes, then finally he realised it was himself, to blame and carried on, with his gastro questing. Trouble was though he was working himself downwind of my position, and it wouldn’t be long before he would get a whiff of the dreaded human odour, or worse still mine! Then that would trigger off his alarm whistling, and the whole deer population would know of my presence. I slowly raised the rifle; I had already determined the boundary I would allow the deer’s progress to reach. Hoping I would not have to shoot him, the duplex reticule was resting just behind the front foreleg. Eventually though it was with some reluctance that a few yards further on I took up the last few ounces of pressure to trip the trigger, and disturb the serenity of the moment. And end his life with 150 grains. Of lead tipped copper. He sprinted 70 yds dead on his feet before slithering to a halt. My gamble being that the lovelorn stags would take far less notice of a single gunshot, during the roar, than the more telling alarm warnings of continual whistling, from an agitated spiker. And so it proved to be. I was making the first cuts in dressing the deer out, when a beeeeeeeeeeeeaiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrr echoed around the saddle. Seemingly coming from no more than a hundred yards away, quickly finishing the cuts, I carried the meat to a handy tree and scaled a short way up and balanced it in a vee. Hoping this would be enough to keep the flies at bay, I returned to the base of the tree. Cupping my hands I sent out a very long moan bbbbeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeairrrrr and straight away the answering beeeeeeeair, I ducked behind the trunk again and waited, after around 5 minutes. I very cautiously snuck around the tree for a look, the stag was very nearly upon me! A six-pointer, his head slowly rolling along with his gait, was steadily closing the distance to my position. No more than 15 yards separated us, when I slowly raised the rifle and squeezed the trigger and blew him literally off his feet. I was elated to have so much meat to take home, this being my last day. So dropping swiftly down into the scrubby creek where the stag finally came to rest; I quickly dressed the meat I needed. And with two sets of venison I headed for home. There were frequent stops, as I slogged my way to the open tops, the sun now well up in the sky, I finally broke through to the open tops. My next stop, half way up the long tussock ridge, had me brimming with emotion. I turned around to be confronted with such, stunning beauty, as far away as the eye could see was ridge upon ridge of blue/green native bush. Miles upon miles of paradise, quiet and peaceful not a traffic light in sight, not a human voice to be heard. Or any form of machinery ‘cept the drone of the blowflies, I was truly reluctant, to come to terms with the fact that all this would yet again become a memory by the time this day was out.
I was sitting on the Heli-Pad all packed up and ready to go, the sun in a blue sky shone warm and friendly, a myriad of insect life surrounded me. And I reflected on a couple of days previously when, in a blizzard I stumbled down this very slope, desperate to reach the sanctity of the hut. It was a real matter of life and death. The mountains are of course indifferent to our little struggles, it’s not as we sometimes think that they are out to get us, it’s simply that they are impervious to our presence. We can erode them and deforest them rubbish them and defecate on them but they never seek redress, only perhaps in our own minds.
A few minutes late, but the unmistakable sound of rotors paddling through the breathing system, signaled my imminent departure from this gentle but unforgiving world.

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view from "Riverstone Cabin"

view from "Riverstone Cabin"
Hope River