Tales and Heads and Tails
Yes, I remember how excited we were with our bright idea to camp out in the bush – to ‘rough it’ in our pup-tent – up in the hills, overnight, your dad and I. It was something different to do, rather than the usual day-trip, and after a shaky start we finally got to enjoy it.
When we got up in the morning the animals were also starting their day, getting active, and some were legal game. But there were unwritten laws about hunting that we knew about. On one occasion, when I stuck my head out of the tent, I saw a deer feeding on the foliage, nibbling the twigs and leaves of the trees and shrubs — red deer aren’t grass eaters, and this was a female, a hind. I had to be quick, so I up and loosed off a shot and scored a hit. It was a case of fast and lucky shooting — ‘snap-shooting’ is the word for it. Your father excelled at it, he had the ability to fasten his mind to things, and snap-shooting was sort of instinctive, you just did it. Well, on this morning it was me that got it, and I can tell you I felt pretty good about it. But a moment or two later a young deer came jumping out of the bush looking for its mother. It was probably still getting milk from the hind I’d shot. I still had my gun in my hand, so I up and shot it too, point blank. It was the humanitarian thing to do. We didn’t think twice about that kind of thing. It was game, and the mother was dead, so there was no sentimentality from us boys. We did what needed to be done.
Years later, but still some time ago, this Yankee bloke came around, and he was a trophy hunter, a wealthy bloke, wandering around the world collecting animal heads for display, and getting skins for rugs and wall ornaments. And he came to our district and got into contact with our local Acclimatisation Society here in Palmerston. The Society had branches through the country, and in the early days it was responsible for releasing all sorts of deer to boost New Zealand’s appeal as a great place to hunt. And they had a paid bloke here who was in charge of the Manawatu area, and part of his job was to go on hunting trips with these experts, these trophy-hunters, from around the world. One of the unwritten rules was that if you wanted a specimen head, something really good, and you wanted to claim it as yours, you had to shoot it yourself — it was no good buying it, or getting someone else to bag it, or finish it off, or help in any way. It was DIY, Do It Yourself! You weren’t allowed to get your professional guide to help you shoot it.
Every hunter knew that if you wounded an animal, and it took off into the bush — was hard to find — the rule was, you had to track it down and shoot it yourself, and make sure you’d done it. Even if you had a ‘Royal’, an excellent head with good sharp points, the you still had to do it yourself.
Well this Yankee bloke up and shot the target animal — a stag — a red deer, but someone shouted out, ‘It’s only wounded. You’ve got to go after it and finish it off.’ And we could all hear it thrashing around in the undergrowth. And I said to him, ‘There you are, go for it. It’s yours.’
But this Yankee, an arrogant bloke for sure, he says to me, ‘No need to worry. I’ve shot it.’ He didn’t give a damn about the suffering, oh no, and he knew what he was doing. ‘Let it die,’ he said. Disgusting.
It’s a pity his first shot wasn’t better. Mind you, my grandfather, Bob Mechen, once snapped off a shot a deer while it was disappearing over a rise. It seemed to fall, but went out of sight. When he got to it, there was no evidence of a bullet hole, but it was stone dead.
A heart attack?
No. After much searching Grandad found the bullet hole — right under the tail.
There’s usually an explanation. Now, before my working days, when I was visiting my mother’s people in Halcombe, I was up early and started pestering one of the uncles to ‘take me out shooting’. There was this lone duck flying over and I got ready to take a shot, but the uncle shouted out, ‘Too high, too high.’ He figured there was no hope of any effective boyish shooting.
But I took aim anyway. BANG! And to his surprise the bird came tumbling down. So we took it inside, and got the boiling hot water ready, and saturated the feathers and started to pluck it. And when we’d plucked it clean, there wasn’t a mark on it.
The uncle declared, ‘It died of a heart attack.’
But later, I had another look, and found that one pellet, only one, had hit the bird, right in under the chin, up through the mouth and into the brain. So the shot had enough energy, even at that height, to do the job.