It started off as a grand idea. After watching the social media interest grow around women hunters and my own growing passion for the sport, the idea was sparked on a rainy afternoon in September of last year. Why not create an interbranch NZDA event that specifically promotes women in hunting?
Naturally, I rubbished the idea for several weeks, but it wouldn’t go away. So, with courage in hand, I reached out to Courtney – who is secretary of the NZDA Auckland Branch – and hesitantly asked her what she thought. In an instant, she said, “Hell yes!” and an event was born. As the saying goes … be careful what you wish for; what started off as a small germ of an idea quickly mushroomed itself into existence big time – the workload to organise this gathering was huge.
So, why have an all-female event? As a member of the NZDA, it was the women I first met there who really inspired me to get amongst it with hunting. I saw their sense of ‘wahine toa’ and it impressed me, compelling me to venturing out on my own hunting journey. In addition, the NZDA itself has started to grow its profile as an all-gender organisation that supports men, women and children in the sport of hunting. As a body of hunters, we have a greater voice when we band together. Previously, I’d witnessed several informal hunts with women, and having seen the camaraderie similar to men heading out to hunt together, I wanted to build the networks within this niche group of women in our wider hunting community.
Sponsors and Supporters
What better way to entice people to be a part of something than to offer them a goodie bag stuffed full of practical gear and food? Courtney pursued a list of over 15 sponsors who were incredible at backing the event; we were blown away by how willingly they supported us. Within weeks, she’d organised more than $4000 worth of prizes. They ranged from organic skincare to skinning knives, clothing and survival bivvies. I enlisted the help of Maureen from Thames Valley branch who’s one of the pioneers of women’s hunting in New Zealand. She met with Courtney and I and gave us timely advice about what to put in the ketes and how to go about the job.
Maureen started out as a keen hunter at a time when there were very few women at all in the sport; her eye for detail definitely saved us as we planned the weekend. My own guru in the Bay of Plenty branch was 84-year-old Keith Theobald who willingly laminated maps, loaned us PLBs and asked me just as I headed out, “Do you have a spade and an axe?” Ah, yes. Better get one of each of those in the trailer too.
With trailers loaded to the gunnels with gazebos, food, tables and a swag of cool gear, we headed in to Clements Mill Road in the Kaimanawas to prepare for the 22 women arriving from all over the North Island. That first night with only a few of us setting up camp was calm and serene, the forest quietly reminding us that this tranquillity was what we’d come for – to restore and balance our minds away from the rush of the world.
We headed out for a quick solo hunt in the breaking dawn before the girls arrived in the afternoon. I’m the world’s worst navigator, but to hunt solo is a holy grail for me; no doubt, something most of you will be only too familiar with. In the early stages of learning to hunt, I couldn’t wait to be confident enough to foot it alone in the forest. It’s the ultimate in freedom, self-reliance and resilience. And it’s highly addictive. Hunting with others is great but hunting alone has a purity to it.
That morning, as I picked my way through the young beech trees on my way back to camp, I was lucky enough to spot an elusive sika stag in a clearing – his reddish coat with white spots along his spine basked briefly in a patch of dappled sunlight. He was stunning. Before I could get my rifle up, he’d bounded away, and I was left standing in the patch of sunlight he’d just occupied. Refreshed from seeing him, I rejoined the girls, and we set about preparing for everyone’s arrival that afternoon.
By the time Friday evening rolled in, everyone had arrived safely, all the tents were up, and introductions were done over a beautiful meal of steak, sausages and salads – women on hunts equates with awesome food. In no time at all, people were catching up with those they already knew through branch events or were getting to know those they’d followed on social media. We all hailed from a vast demographic with very different lives – city dwellers, small country town folk, self-employed, full-time mums, teachers, fashion designers and one young girl aged 14, who was still at college, in attendance with her mum – all of us united in our passion for hunting.
Anticipation was high, maps were laid out and various chats were had regarding tips and suggestions for hunting the wily and cheeky sika. Suggestions were made on the best places to spend time and the areas where deer are often found; we shared where a pig or two may be spotted and advice was given on other locations in their blocks to keep away from – it was all a valuable part of the banter.
It was inspiring to see these super-keen women of all ages heading out at first light. Seasoned hunters and trappers were paired with those who were about to experience their first hunt. I was humbled to be a part of it.
As evening set in, the hunters returned with yarns about what had gone down during their day, each story matching or topping the previous one. There was Portia’s sample stag poo she’d retrieved to prove she’d been in the company of the largest stag of the day, and another girl relaying how she’d ripped the backside out of her shorts but had been loaned another pair to keep hunting.
Many had spotted or smelt deer, and one woman, upon surprising one, informed, “I just about crapped myself when he jumped up and squealed in front of me while I walked down the track in the dark!”
Watching the elated face of a beautiful young woman called Katerina as she described how she was ‘onto one’ and was stalking the hell out of it until the fading light let her down was something I’ll take away as a cherished memory. Under the canopy of a clear night sky, listening to some of my personal gurus, like Ashlee Strange and Portia Nelson, talk about their previous missions were like meat and drink for all of us. It was so cool to have them there in the flesh sharing their experiences.
To top it all off, we had Courtney’s birthday to celebrate; a cake was magically produced from somewhere, complete with candles and frosting. While packed into a gazebo studded with fairy lights, everyone called out for her to make a wish; a large Victory knife was plunged into the cake and congratulations were forthcoming from all the other women present.
Frothing with enthusiasm from the spots discovered the previous day, most of us were up early again the next morning to head into the hills and get in a final fix before having to pack up and head home.
The feedback from the whole trip was overwhelmingly positive and something we all hope to repeat next year. Perhaps a different location next time … perhaps a few more new faces. Either way, for many of the girls, this was their first real immersion into hunting and one that expanded their capacity to navigate and hunt as well as the opportunity to form new friendships. It was also a massive source of inspiration to be around those who carried more experience.
For some returning home that afternoon, they were soon to discover their city had gone into lockdown. With this in mind, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that events of this nature cannot be taken for granted. It begs the question – what can we do, as a body of hunters, to make the most of our freedom to hunt and gather our own food?
I hope events like this will become more commonplace as we grow our voice as a body of hunters who (COVID permitting) regularly gather from locations and branches around the country to celebrate and share knowledge and stories. We need to actively support those who are ‘green and keen’ to get in and have a go.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have both men and women pour their experience, time and energy into me becoming a hunter, and what better way to give back than to promote others getting involved in the sport too.
Keep an eye out in NZRod&Rifle Volume 42 Issue 3 for Portia Clayton’s experience of the hunt weekend.