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07Jan

Hunting for the head

Words by Willie Duley, Producer NZ Hunter Adventures

Crisp air, snow-capped mountain scenery, earthy smells of manuka and beech forest, heaving lungs and a pulsing heart rate, man did it feel good to be back out in the hills!

I could feel weeks of tension, stress and grief (as well as litres of sweat!) simply lifting out of me with every step I took.

I appreciate many did lockdown and are still doing Covid-19 much harder than I did in my privileged and opportunity filled Kiwi life so I say all this with a grain of salt, but to be stuck in an old farmhouse miles away from the mountains for the entirety of the roar, well that was pretty tough for me.

Rightly or wrongly, Level 4 lockdown saw the recreation of hunting despite its isolated nature and comparatively low injury rate, deemed off limits and understandably, my business was not considered an essential service, although some diehard viewers might disagree! Could our Covid-19 situation have been handled better given we are one of the most isolated countries in the world? Yeah probably, but I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be in charge of steering the bus through the unknown…

The thought of the show now being a whole season behind in production and marketing budgets (which are the bulk of my income) being first on the chopping block, coupled with the tragic loss of a couple of close friends entering the lockdown period, was enough to make me feel a bit like a lab rat in a cage being poked and prodded with no outlet to release what I was feeling.

Me ol’ noggin seems to be fairly resilient though and I had an endless amount of work to keep me occupied, but I do sympathise for the many rural folk that find things get on top of them and then struggle to find ways to shake it.

Roll on Level 3 and an allowance was made for hunting to take place on private land within your ‘bubble’. We were back on the hill from that very first morning and absolutely embracing our newfound freedom!

But why did it feel so good? I’m a firm believer that the simple task of climbing a mountain is good for the soul and to steal a quote from Newton McConachie, “you’ll learn no harm from the hills”. This year illustrated to me beyond all others just how good hunting is for people’s wellbeing. Beyond the obvious physical benefits of exercise and providing the ultimate ethical and free range source of kai (pipping grass fed beef and lamb at the post in my highly bias and unqualified opinion), I am also becoming ever aware of the mental health benefits gained from hunting.

Hunting in the mountains is all consuming, right from the get-go, you become engrossed in small everyday challenges, like getting from Point A to Point B while carrying a heavy pack on your back, scaling mountains, searching out likely areas where animals are living, bush cooking with minimalist equipment, and even basic survival instincts like finding water and shelter are critical if you want to come out of it all in one piece. Listing these off makes me laugh as on face value, I’m not making hunting sound super inviting. Admittedly, hunting does often fall under the category of ‘Type 2 Fun’, you know like when something isn’t actually fun at that moment. In fact, it feels much like suffering. It’s only after the event, and in reflection, that you come to realise you actually had fun!

Nonetheless, I find that hour by hour, day by day, my worries and stresses from home and work just fade away and that the mountains and hardships you are forced to overcome when hunting have an incredible way of putting life in perspective, what’s really important and what’s not.

By the end of a trip, I head home a new man. I’m carefree, happy and positive like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I even look forward to sitting at an office desk, well for a day or two at least!

I realise hunting is already a popular pastime among our rural communities but an observation I have made (though I’m by no means an expert on the matter), is that some who struggle with mental health are those that don’t have an outlet by way of an extra passion or hobby beyond their normal day job, an extra purpose beyond work and family. Some might work on the farm day to day and then spend all their spare time also working on the farm because there’s forever another job that should or could be completed. I accept it’s ‘easier said than done’ and my own transition from a cushy rural banking job to running my own business on the bones of my backside was a shock, going from a stress free lifestyle with no real risk or skin in the game to suddenly struggling to leave the desk and shut-off from work as there was always something that needed doing and I continually seemed to be behind on deadlines.

I probably blur the lines here a bit myself and I’m sure it’s similar for many famers, where to a large extent our passion, whether that’s hunting or farming, is also our day to day job and that’s why we go the extra mile and stick at it. I’m lucky in a way that I still get enjoyment from trips in the bush even when a camera is in tow, and I manage to regularly squeeze in recreational hunts with my partner and friends as a ‘weekend warrior’ to keep the freezer full and mind clear.

I think farmers can easily relate to hunters and vice versa as there are many parallels between us, particularly around the challenges we presently face. Our way of life is under attack more than ever before, we are constantly having to defend our jobs and pastimes and fight for common-sense outcomes, which is undoubtedly hugely taxing on our mental state. You can’t nurture and even encourage intensive farming practices and hunting businesses like Regional Councils and DOC have done over the last 10 years, collecting their consent and concession fees along the way, then suddenly pull the rug from under those people’s feet and expect them to change and adapt overnight. By in large, we all agree change needs to take place and things can be done better, but the rationale and process of that change is key to get full ‘buy in’.

While all the people I’ve introduced to the sport, irrelevant of their backgrounds have embraced it, hunting is understandably not for everyone. I think however any sport that involves some form of graft and mountain scenery is good for our mental state, mountain biking, tramping, rock climbing and mountaineering are a few others I’ve dabbled in that have given me a similar release.

A lot of people tend to measure the success of a hunt with securing a trophy head. The older I grow and the busier life becomes, it seems the real trophy of a hunt is being able to clear one’s own head, reset your mental space and return home ready to live life to the fullest.

About the Author

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