Hunting trip - the external experience - Tactical Ninja
Oct. 9th, 2014
11:52 am - Hunting trip - the external experience
Here is a map of the area where we were camping, in the Cass Valley just to the north of the Misery Stream on the edge of Misery Swamp, in between Mt Misery and Mt Horrible.
This area was settled in the 1800s when being happy was a sin, and I'm pretty sure the names reflect the era rather than anything specific about the area.
This is the view that welcomed us as we turned off the road. Fresh snow had fallen in the night (and indeed continued to fall in squalls throughout the day while we set up camp and had a look around), and it was about 1 degree. This is looking to the south up the Cass River, with Baldy Hill on the left and Mt Misery (1700m) on the right.
One of my companions went for a walk up Mt Misery and got caught in a snowstorm in the morning. He also saw 3 deer, but two were stags (which taste rank) and one a heavily-pregnant hind, so didn't let off a shot, hoping for a more suitable animal to come along later. Meanwhile, Evan and I set up camp - a little bivvy with tarps to shelter from the wind and snow, and a tent pitched underneath.
This is the view from our camp, looking east towards the Craigieburn range with Purple Hill (which is decidedly *not* purple) in the centre. The farm we were on is called Cora Lynn, and the one in this view is Grasmere.
That afternoon we went rabbit shooting, then walked downstream and had a look around in the bush to the north of the block. There was a lot of deer sign but it was all about 2 weeks old, and we didn't get to see anything bigger than a hare.
The next morning Rick and I decided to mission it to the top of Mt Horrible. If you look on the map you'll see a track called Pylon Gully, and we went through there. Or, up there. The first part of the track is a series of switchbacks as you climb from the valley floor about 500m in the space of, well, 500m. Part way up we came across this:
This stuff forms when wet clay freezes. The water in it expands as it cools, forcing all the little gaps in it to close, and pushing water out of the holes, which then freezes and makes 'stalks'. This stuff can lift whole stones up off the ground, dropping them again when it melts during the daytime. It kind of looks like fungus and sounds like cornflakes when you walk on it.
At the top of the pylon track (about 6km walk uphill), we came to this view, looking west over Arthur's Pass and the northern end of the Southern Alps, up the Waimakariri River:
You might have noticed that this part of the world has a lot of mountains.
From there, we turned northeast again and headed up the edge of the bushline towards the top of Mt Horrible. We were seeing deer and pig sign the whole way, but again all a couple of weeks old. Looking north towards Mt White station*, we could see more bloody mountains:
The dead trees in the foreground are South Island beeches. They are a brittle tree, and these ones were killed by a fire a few years ago. Those left standing were then blown over in a northerly gale, leaving a lot of snapped-off trunks and deadfall lying on the ground for the pigs to root around in. We tried to avoid this as much as possible, but spent an hour or so clambering through this stuff to get to the top.
This is the view from the top of Mt Horrible. If you look at that light brown patch in the middle (Misery Swamp), you can see to the right of it two large-ish yellow-ish patches of blooming gorse. At the top of those, there's a small stand of trees, which is where we had our camp. At about 4 o'clock from that you can see the switchbacks that start the pylon track that we'd walked up that morning. It took us about 4 hours to get from there to the top, a distance of approximately 8km.
And since there were no deer up there either, we indulged in some childish glee by rolling loose rocks over the cliff and betting on whose would make it to the bottom intact. This is the sort of thing you can't normally do for fear of hurting people below, but on Cora Lynn we knew we were the only people, and so we gave it heaps.
That's the gully we rolled the rocks down. They'd take about a minute to get to the bottom, and the sheep grazing in the valley below didn't even raise their heads. We were hoping we might scare up a chamois or something, but it seemed anything cloven-hooved and feral was on holiday in warmer climes for the weekend because nothing stirred.
And here are the sheep. In this marginal country (have you seen any actual grass in any of these pics yet?), they run in mobs of about 30 in paddocks of about 400 acres, and in those conditions they do well. It's hard to tell but these are heavily pregnant ewes, about a week from lambing.
They are also demonstrating a trait that is unique to merinos - stringing. All sheep will string, but merinos have it down to a fine art. They'll string all day if they're going somewhere, and as you can see, even in between small patches of grazing. One will take the lead and just walk until it has reason to stop, and the rest will follow. Crossbred sheep (which is NZ for 'every breed of sheep that isn't a merino') only tend to string when they're being driven.
Saturday night was cold. I hear it was hailing in Wellington, and in Arthur's Pass I slept wearing three pairs of socks, long johns, fleece pants and my kayaking dry pants, a singlet, two merino tops, two polar fleece tops, my lined raincoat and a woolly hat - inside my sleeping bag, in a tent. It was *cold*. Naturally I woke up early and after my big walk the day before (which ended up totalling about 15km of mountain), I opted for an easy wander around the valley shooting rabbits.
You can see in this pic how much snow was gone from Baldy Hill by now compared with the pic I took on the way in, and at 6 degrees the weather was positively balmy. I hadn't used a rifle for about 15 years prior to this trip, and I'd never shot with a scope before, so I was pleased to discover I can still hit what I aim at - once I got used to the restricted vision that comes with scope shooting.
At lunchtime on Sunday, after cleaning up the mess left by Gutsache and breaking down our camp (hunters are into Leave No Trace too), we headed back to Christchurch just in time for a big feed of fish and chips and a warm, soft motel bed for our last night.
You might have noticed the distinct lack of deer shooting in this story of wandering around the scenery freezing my arse off. That's because after those three on the first day, we didn't see any more. Evan's pretty convinced that someone had been through there in the last week or so and chased them all off, given that the sign was everywhere but not fresh. I'm inclined to agree. I may not have been a deer hunter before, but I can track pretty well and I know my poo and prints and browsing signs - the deer had been there, in average numbers (maybe 40 on the block), but they'd buggered off about a week before we got there and left us with rabbits and hares and pigs**.
In some ways, that's ok. I don't actually *need* venison to survive. I'd like a skin but can live without it. And I feel good knowing that even dyed-in-the-wool Kiwi Jokers (more about this later) are capable of discernment in selecting what and what not to shoot at.
So there you have it. I went, I camped, I shot a rifle with some success, I walked around a lot, got snowed on, hung out with Evan, and took tourist pictures of scenery to show to The Internet. I call that winning, even without a freezer full of meat.
* In NZ, larger farms are often called stations. Mt White is one of the bigger ones at 50,000 hectares (123,552 acres). Cora Lynn is about 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres).
** I won't eat wild pork. I tried to feed it to my dogs once and they refused to eat it. Dogs lick their own backsides and eat rotten stuff, so if *they* won't eat something, there's no way I'm going to.