The good, the bad, the local

Ant Niterl takes a minute to reflect on the ups and downs of lockdown, before sharing his recent hunting first: shooting a trophy stag.

Lockdown caused a bit of chaos around the country. People were venturing off into uncertainty, and there was global confusion as we tried to comprehend the unfathomable. We were all riding through the same storm, but in different boats, and I was feeling the pinch too, after losing my bread and butter due to the company’s financial constraints. Such is life, but life is still great, especially when we are blessed with living in such a beautiful country like Aotearoa. My mate who introduced me to hunting back in 2013, Tony Dodds, propositioned me to clear the head and go bush for two weeks. He had a tahr trip planned in my favourite neck of the icy woods in Tekapo and then was pushing out to greener pastures in the hope of nabbing a few good stags.

Tony Dodds is a real-life human mountain goat. The bloke is fitter than a fiddle due to years of training as a triathlete. He represented NZ in the Commonwealth Games, Olympics and the World Series for 13 years which is no mean feat for a bush bashing rooster from Balclutha. After retiring last year, Tony started helping his old man Barry on their hunting outfit, Doddsy’s Hunting. Barry is a well-respected bloke down south who has hunted his whole life and was one of the original cowboys to help with helicopter deer capture back in the day – and jeez, he has some yarns and hell of a handshake to boot.

While freezing off our nether regions in Tekapo during our so far unsuccessful tahr hunt, Doddsy went in deep on how COVID has paralysed the tourism sector in NZ. All their clients had to cancel their trips, which resulted in a huge loss for these outfitters. This trophy hunting industry in NZ contributes around 50 million to our economy yearly, and with COVID halting plans and Eugenie Sage (Minister of Conservation) having her way with the cull, it sure was worrying times for blokes like Barry and Tony. Their livelihoods depend on being able to guide trips and hunt tahr.
We managed to shoot a bull tahr on the last day but it, unfortunately, fell down a crevasse which really deflates you mentally, especially after a long day’s climbing to get within range. However, Tony and I ventured up north around Kurow, sat in Richie McCaw’s local, sucked back a cleansing ale, had a slap on the pokies and then made tracks to where he took his clients. This was going to be an eye-opening experience for me. I’m not ethically sold on trophy hunting but wanted the exposure to it so I could have a better understanding of the business here in NZ.

We spent a couple of days chasing some free-range stags which is Doddsy’s Hunting backbone. While I was alone in the bush with Tony, I only really had eyes for this big seven by seven, 14 point stag which was making us look like donuts for two days straight. He was bloody cunning and left us in the dark on day three. Doddsy then received a call from his old man that night, asking him to dispatch the last trophy stag on the neighbouring property. He was close to a gold status stag, situated on a massive block of undulating land which had rocks emerging from the ground like volcanoes. The chances of us finding it were very slim, which made me respect the process a little bit more considering it was on a trophy farm. It had many similarities to a genuine public land hunt. The stag was very old and was not going to make the winter due to his teeth being ground down into ivory dust. I’m still unsure how they got a close up of his fangs to draw that conclusion but Barry’s wisdom around a stag’s age and how they deteriorate over time would have something to do with it. A stag of this calibre would normally generate around $15,000 for the business. That excludes plush accommodation, airport pickups, breakfast, lunch and dinner, guiding and the dismembering of the beast afterwards. After an afternoon stroll and glassing, we accidentally bumped into the beautiful stag at dusk. It was an absolute thumper! I’m not going to lie, I was in awe of this stag; its sheer girth and mass were very easy on the eyes. Tony asked if I wanted to take the shot. I was confused and reluctantly refused. He said, “Come on roost, you want the experience, and you are helping us out here, and helping this stag too or he will just die a miserable death.” I crumbled to the peer pressure and let some shrapnel fly, sleeping the brute.

I can see what the attraction is for overseas hunters. These stags are majestic, thick timbered and close to the size of a moose. The back hindquarters themselves were nearly the size of my own carcass. After collecting all the red gold off the stag, which took a few ball-breaking trips back and forth to the ute, we dropped him at the butchers where he got made into 500 sausages, steaks, salami and patties – bloody beautiful.

The experience in itself surprised me. I relished it thoroughly and would recommend it to anyone who has pocket money lying around and wants to support a local business, while also clearing the noggin and gathering some serious meat.

Article by: Ant Niterl