By Sam the Trap Man
The snap and pop of dry hoheria logs bounced off the old cast iron fireplace. It wasn’t cold but the hunters were tired and the warmth of fire, balanced perfectly with a cold beer left in a nearby stream, soothed weary bones on a spring Te rewera evening. joint of lamb sizzled in the camp oven, slow-roasted to crispy perfection. The roast rested on a bed of slightly blackened spuds and carrots that had started to char on one side.
The hut, a red-painted, weatherboard number, was an old shearers quarters on the back of a station where Te rewera and aukumara irt with each other across the Waioeka iver. The hunters had been out at the crack of dawn, up before light when the relentless chorus of bird song woke them. In the gloom they could see mist rolling up the valley spurred on by the southerly breeze.
Mist is a given in Te rewera, it’s just a uestion of the density. There’s rain mist, where it’s thick enough to soak you to the core but warm; sleet mist, which is bone-chillingly cold; and rolling mist. olling mist is my favourite kind of mist. It’s soft and comes in sheets, spreading and breaking on the landscape. It’s gentle enough to penetrate the trees, turning everything around us to a hazy grey like an out-offocus photo.
As hunters, we don’t mind the mist. It hides us from the deer. But it also hides the deer from us. We carefully inspect all dark shapes in the landscape, searching for a giveaway icker of movement.
The mist is a soft blanket; the water particles suspended in the air capture smell and mu e sound. In this way, mist is our friend. In truth, we often hunt with our noses in the bush. Even without a dog, we often smell deer before we see them.
This is why we enjoy Te rewera. Early morning walks in a uiet grey world. world where time slows down, you are hydrated through your skin by the water in the air and everything has a sense of calm. It’s a beautiful way to start the day.
On this day it was a soft rolling mist, the dampness hanging in the air slowing down smell, sound and visibility perfect stuff to hunt in if you’re used to it. ou can get in close to the deer, which is ideal, especially if you’re a pretty hopeless long-distance shooter like me.
I was hunting with a couple of mates, Tom and George, and we were also doing some volunteer work for the conservation project we’re involved in. Tom is a good mate and a fella I’ve done plenty of time in the scrub with. e has big hands, the type that reach out, grab and shake you just about all the way up to the elbow, curly dark hair, and a big, wide nose. e definitely has the warmth, humour and easygoingness of someone from our part of the world – not bad for a Hamilton lad.
Tom sells fuel for a living to farmers and contractors. He spends a lot of time driving up rural backroads, having cups of tea, and being a genuine, disarming fella, so people end up just wanting to do him a favour. I guess it’s qualities like this that do a lot for you in the sales caper. Folks tend to light up when they see the North Fuels ute bouncing up their drive. Yep, Tom’s just a real good bugger and a relaxing kind of chap to be around.
Then there’s Dangerman (real name: George Zame), a nickname he caught as a young, mulleted surf grom from Wainui Beach. An apprentice plumber by trade, a national longboard surfing champion a few years back, and still an absolute charger in the surf.
Turns out George has another side to him – a quiet, humble, backcountry type of critter. y fisherman, a trapper, and now (since the powers at be saw fit to give him his firearms licence a fully- edged deer slayer. couple of years back we managed to get Danger his first deer in this e act patch of bush. He’d been hunting a lot with mates since, but he’d recently bought his first ri e a Tikka . and it seemed only fitting to return to the Eastern Whio ink project to blood it in.
Then there’s me, Sam The Trap Man, your friendly bushman. A hunter, fisher, forager, trapper, ad to be honest I’m not really sure. But someone pays my salary to run around the bush looking after our country’s wildlife and supporting farmers to create amazing biodiversity projects. This weekend we were hunting deep in the guts of the Eastern Whio ink roject a hunter-led conservation project that I co-founded and Tom is the treasurer of. It’s a place where you can hear Kiwi calling from your bunk at night, see Whio bobbing down the rapids as you fish, and watch native bats it around river clearings as you stalk deer on the last of the light.
The day before had been a cracker. Tom and I were up early and stalked into a few handy bush clearings we knew about. You can normally rely on a couple of reds to crop the short winter grass. The wind was a little all over the show and spring growth had just started to kick in spreading the feed options for hungry deer.
As we stalked through a small side creek we were busted by a fallow doe and a raggedy wee buck. I peeked out from around a tree to see the doe eyeballing me. Tom had the ri e and from where he was, he couldn’t see them. A moment later they spooked and our first opportunity was missed.
ushing through punga groves and hoheria we crested the ridge. Out came the spotting scope and a total of 17 deer were seen scattered across various slips and clearings. Now that’s what we were talking about. We had options. Even in this swirly wind something was going down this morning, surely.
As I mucked around trying to get footage with the phone scope and to check out our options as far as yearlings and hinds went, Tom found himself a couple of closer candidates with the binos. The wind was horrible and the deer were only m away. Using a hoheria tree for cover Tom descended the hill in front of us to a decent shooting spot amidst a tangle of bracken.
Boom! And the hind who had been looking at us dropped. Her yearling broke for cover and shot a mob of black and ginger pigs scarpering across the clearing where the hind lay expired, ready for Tom to do the honours. Talk about game-rich – if you can’t shoot deer on the Eastern Whio ink there’s something wrong.
On the climb back up the hill we managed to bump into a mob of six more deer, only metres from Tom’s shooting position, while there were another on the punga face. We had our meat for the morning though and adding more weight to our load wasn’t our idea of a relaxing morning hunt. There was still plenty of the weekend left and breakfast, bunks and books were calling.
After Saturday morning football – a game George’s team lost – a silver station wagon skidded its way up beside the hut. A very excited Dangerman emerged and after a short session sighting in his new boomstick, we hit the hill.
As evening’s calm spread its way up the valley the deer started to emerge, we stalked down a side basin high up in the catchment and inspected the smatterings of cover for white bums, brown bodies, and movement. Before long we managed to pop our heads out onto a clear vantage point to spot both reds and fallow feeding amongst the scrub under a tall canopy of totara.
Danger snuck in with all the grace of a gangly heron about to strike at a fish. p came the . and just about deafened the entire valley. If it hadn’t hit a deer something was sure to have died of fright. It definitely made my ears sing and we all agreed a suppressor was probably a good idea next payday. But there on the ground lay a beautifully fat yearling and the . had done its job, securing meat for the freezer and embarking on its career as Danger’s bullet slinger in the right fashion. Again we headed back to camp with one deer, poking our heads into various nooks and crannies for a nosey but either the . had scared them all or there wasn’t much else about. Not to worry though – there was a lamb roast waiting for us back at camp and we were looking forward to a fire and a beer.
The heat of a fire, a full puku of warm meat and the disarming cool of a good brew have a way of putting a grown man to slumber, so well before 9pm we were headed for bunks with the promise of an early morning stalk.
It had rained in the night but by am it backed off to a soft drizzle that merged itself to a rolling mist as the morning progressed. It was our last chance for some action with Tom needing to head for Hamilton by lunchtime and in the way of last hunts there’s always that little bit of added pressure to deliver on day one’s hopes and dreams of what a trip might be.
I’m not sure about you but on the drive into a weekend away I’m like a fella with an undrawn Lotto ticket in my wallet. I can’t help but let my mind wander through the possibilities of what could happen, how many deer could be shot, and what awesome yet unlikely adventures might unfold. It’s like my mind is writing a Barry Crump novel and no matter how awesome a trip is, it’s a hard job living up to those imaginings.
However, on that last hunt there’s still the potential of endless possibilities. Still the opportunity for epicness and outrageous success – maybe that elusive 14-point stag will walk out ou just never know. But with it comes just a little pressure and the desire to increase the meat heading home to the freezer.
Tom was in front and we had opted for the same punga faces as the day before. A small mob of reds caught our wind at a distance and Tom had no time for a shot. Then Danger went in front and as the mist pushed through punga fronds and hazed the view in front of us to a questionable distance, there was a crack and Danger had a yearling stag on the deck.
“ Out came the spotting scope and a total of 17 deer were seen scattered across various slips and clearings. 
“Not a bad start fella. Tom and I might push on if you want to gut this one and hunt in the other direction? We will catch up with you later,” I said.
So, leaving Danger behind Tom and I climbed the hill to where he had shot his deer the day before. With mist covering our descent, we managed to slip through the scrubby face unnoticed and not too far from yesterday’s gut pile we parked up to glass the slips on the opposite face. We picked up two reds at 250m, a little beyond comfort for us North Island bushmen, then two more at 200m and a fallow feeding in the scrub below them.
Tom, being a much better shot than I am, settled in at 200m for a shot with his 6.5 Creedmoor. Boom, boom and a kick from a red hind. 17 more reds emerged from the scrubby face around her and hurtled their way downhill and into the cover of the creek while the fallow just continued to feed undisturbed.
We decided to drop elevation to check on the hind we thought we had hit but as we did so the fallow emerged in a much too tempting clearing; this time with a mate and they just stood there feeding. Always one to oblige, Tom once again made himself comfortable behind the bipod and cracked two shots off in their direction, dropping both of them. While he skinned the pretty wee fallow, I searched for the red with no joy. There was no blood trail and relooking at the video footage I was 90% certain the shot had gone low which would explain the kick in the air and the lack of any sign of damage.
So far, we had two fallow and a red for the morning and there sat a steep hill between us and the hut. Talk about sweat as we climbed. I was sure glad we didn’t have an extra animal or two on board. At the top of the hill, we met Danger and on the way back picked up his deer. Soon we headed for the hut for a quick butchery session before loading chilly bins into trucks for the potholed drive home. Some folks reckon it’s hard hunting in the Waioeka but there are numbers in pockets where there’s feed. On most volunteer trips on the Eastern Whio Link Project the crew walk away with a few deer. The trout fishing is incredible also and we like the fact that as hunters and fishers we can look after the bush that looks after us.
In the last three years, we have edged Whio chicks from an initial eight birds. We have over 1,000 traps and volunteers from all over the country who come to check traps and have a good hunting and fishing weekend while they’re at it. It’s gone from a crew of seven friends to over 100 volunteers but there’s one thing that doesn’t change – good old school hunting weekends with your mates.
If you or your business wants to get involved with Eastern Whio Link check out www.easternwhiolink.co.nz or find us on social media @easternwhiolink.