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Pursuit of Excellence – Part 1

High east coast Himalayan tahr numbers a few years back before the major culling operations certainly weren’t ideal for conservation and herd health.

From the moment we first enter this world till that time when we take our last breath, I believe our focus should be on figuring out how we can get every last drop out of our days and live a life that’s full of respect, empathy, unity and love. Whether or not you have a faith or a secular belief, we should be able to agree that it’s an absolute blessing to be granted with a life-rich mind, body and soul.

What you determine as right or wrong is largely influenced by your parents, siblings and role models as you grow up. Furthermore, an individual’s attitude towards hunting is moulded and changed throughout their lives, based mostly on what environments they choose to devote time too.

Hunters come from diverse backgrounds and hold to a variety of beliefs. A pivotal key in moving forward together centres around understanding these differences and agreeing on common goals that can be a framework to pursuing excellence.

Understanding each other is an influential catalyst that can promote and enhance unity within a community of relatively like-minded individuals.

Solutions that could help expand one’s horizons mostly centre around focusing on integration and inclusiveness. Just like a rugby team, there are 15 different positions, yet they’re playing the same sport and have the same goal – to win! For hunters, I believe the goal is to remove our sense of entitlement and indulgent consumer mindset and look towards honouring the duty of care that our precious wild spaces require for sound ecological health.

So why explain all this? The reply is simple: our community can be disjointed at times, disagreeing and fighting internal battles rather than seeking what’s best for the hunting community – in forth, putting that energy into fighting external conflicts. The ‘I’ vs ‘we’ conundrum constantly plays out within the hunting community and what comes from it? Well, absolutely nothing, ‘cause no army has ever won a battle when every soldier just does what they want.

The goal of this article series is for all hunters to look objectively at what positive and/or negative things they’re doing for the hunting community. Hunters as a team of thousands could accomplish some amazing feats, so hopefully this article can help begin, continue or solidify that mission objective for each hunter in New Zealand.

We Are One

Reasons why people hunt in New Zealand can be placed on a relatively small spectrum that’s full of nuances and personal preferences. The spectrum I’m referring to relates to ‘meat’ and ‘trophy’ hunters; additional reasons like spiritual connection, challenge, experience, mental wellbeing and adventure accompany those two classic categorisations. Every hunter is both a meat gatherer and a memory collector at some stage of their hunting career; the ebbs and flows on the spectrum simply reflect what each hunter prioritises at that time and place in their life.

For example, from February to April, many hunters search high and low for a mature stag to put on their wall. After which, in the spring and early summer months, the same hunters are typically chasing a yearling or two in order to fill the freezer with free-range organic meat. Using this example, then look at why people only meat or trophy hunt for most of the year. One may have many mouths to feed – including friends, family and co-workers – hence their priority is to secure as much game meat as possible throughout year. Whereas another individual may want to challenge him or herself to secure a mature, 40″, 300DS red stag; the degree of difficulty in such a task is significantly higher than putting a meat animal on the deck.

Our primary identity as a community should be as hunter-gatherers, and with that comes a respect for people from all walks of life whether they choose to hunt predominately for memories on the wall or nutrient-rich protein and/or both. Then comes the next step: acting as though we are one – where we realise our actions don’t just affect us solely; rather, they affect an entire community of hunter-gatherers.

It’s important to realise that best practice doesn’t and won’t meet everyone’s needs and wants. Thus, accepting change is critical for success; relinquishing our selfish desires and consumer mindsets is a must if we’re to enable growth as a community. Pursuing excellence and best practice are strongly associated with a simplistic methodology and mission statement, that being, protect and sustain a vibrant and healthy ecosystem. Quality and quantity of nutrient-rich feed on the hill is the number one factor that determines an animal’s health, reproduction status, trophy quality, year-round condition and grade of organic meat as well as the intensity of the Roar/Bugle and overall, herd structure.

Sustainability of a resource is what most outdoor lobbyists, caretakers, environmentally based politicians and non-government organisations strive for. For example, the foundational justification of Tahrmageddon 1 and 2 was primarily based around protecting native sub-alpine and alpine vegetation like snow tussock and Mount Cook buttercup. Although many aspects of this campaign against tahr could have been handled in a more scientific and professional manner, there were aspects and rationales of the plans in place that were absolutely justified.

High localised animal numbers result in less feed available to support all aforementioned factors and produce significant ecological damage; that doesn’t give us any ground to stand on when conservation battles flare up. So, another thing we can do to achieve best practice is have the mindset of being caretakers of these treasured animals instead of operating solely as consumers. If you look after the heart and soul of a living organism, it’ll look after you for years to come!

Practical application of this mindset can be developed by connecting with your local hunting block on a micro, macro and spiritual level – spending more time observing. Ask yourself, “What do I see and learn from analysing native vegetation and game animals for one minute, versus five minutes, versus ten years?”

As Te Kawa o Te Urewera states, “People need nature, land and waters for purpose and humanity.” Hence, we have an obligation and responsibility to understand on an intricate level what Mother Nature needs from us. This is the caretaker mindset we all need to start adopting!

Writer Insight – Ben Brown as a Health Professional, Husband and Hunter

I’d like readers to have a better understanding of who I am before forming an opinion on the subject matter in this article. From day dot, my parents (who divorced early) instilled in me two main principles: love those around you and work hard for everything. My mother specifically showed my brother and I that good morals and how you carry yourself in this world matter. Being of South-East Asian descent with brown skin in a relatively European-dominant neighbourhood and schooling environment also reinforced to always treat everyone with respect, no matter where they come from or what they do for an occupation.

Furthermore, I never used ‘looking different’ as an excuse or took the victim route to gain public sympathy; rather, I welcomed any mud thrown my way with empathy and dogged determination to change the naysayers’ minds.

Year after year, I’m highly motivated to make my parents proud of who I am; they created me, so I’m sure as hell going to honour that. Sure, I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but we live and we learn, taking one step at a time, constantly searching for our full potential as a human being; not reaching my full potential scares the heck out of me because it directly relates to your quality of life.

Hence, I’ve devoted my adult life to helping people become better versions of their current selves. When my number is up, I want people to remember me as someone who squeezed every last drop out of life while relentlessly pursuing excellence and making any individual or community better in some way. Yes, I may be intense; yes, I may be an optimist; and yes, I may be passionate; so why wouldn’t I use those attributes to promote positive growth and change for my beloved way of life – hunting in the mountains of New Zealand?

Building Bridges

There are so many factors that influence our ‘excellence capital’ and our ability as a community to trend consistently in the right direction when talking about conservation and game animal management. Building positive relationships with people in different and/or opposing circles will produce far more beneficial outcomes than going on the offensive and burning bridges along the way.

I know it’s hard for some of us to trust particular organisations because of past trials and tribulations. However, we must ask ourselves, “How do we promote change?” Is it by behaving in a malevolent fashion? Or by showing benevolence towards opposing groups? Hence, to achieve more excellence as a community, we must play what’s in front of us with a straight bat and let bygones be bygones. An impactful and relevant statement by Te Kawa o Te Urewera says, “Futures grow from selflessness and sacrifice today,” which reinforces the importance of utilising a growth mindset.

It’s fantastic to see the GAC, NZDA and the various animal foundations leading from the front, showing Government officials our way of life through a micro and macro lens. Seeing the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation actively engage with DOC around predator control in the Glaisnock Wilderness Area – and in the process, produce some phenomenal results like the notable increase in whio (blue duck) numbers – is an outstanding outcome for those who use public land. Furthermore, having the NZDA take the bull by the horns and conduct numerous game animal management hunts in the North and South islands does nothing but good for our excellence capital and portrays hunters supporting the conservation message.

Initiatives like these are building, and will continue to build, far stronger bridges with those who create policies relating to the firearms and hunting communities. You don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you – for instance, the Game Animal Council’s funding is largely regulated by the Department of Conservation Minister, so showing disdain towards DOC is counterproductive.

Passion and understanding are powerful motivational tools when we control them while we continue to look at the big picture and ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing benefitting the firearms and hunting community?”

In a world of constant judgement and scrutiny, winning the hearts and minds of all public-land users through positive hunter-lead initiatives is the primary way forward. Consequently, just remember you can’t fire a gun without bullets, so please, team, don’t give any opposing party ammunition to use against us; it only takes one bad news headline for the hard work of many to come crashing down!

Building ‘Excellence Capital’ Examples

1. Predator Control

Since 2011, the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation (FWF) have carried out extensive trapping as part of the whio project in the wapiti area. They now operate and maintain 500 traps in this remote country and are making a major contribution to an increase in whio numbers. The foundation is also a supporter of the Kea Conservation Trust helping to undertake kea surveying and banding in the Stuart Mountains, and earlier this year, they partnered with DOC and the Game Animal Council on the Fiordland Wapiti Area Venison Mince Project.

The FWF operated 500 traps, all in the wilderness zone: Castle Valley, Worsley Valley, Glaisnock Valley, Nitz Valley and Lugar Burn.

Total kills for the trapline since 2015


Central North Island Sika Foundation Initiatives

In recent times, members of the Central North Island Sika Foundation have spent over 1200 hours across 18 months working on the Kaimanawa Whio Recovery Project. Volunteers installed, set, maintained and checked 183 stoat and rat traps along the Kaipo and Oamaru rivers.

Whio Recovery Project Cascade Trapline Establishment

In June 2021, Foundation volunteers were flown in by Helisika to establish 100 BT200 traps on public conservation land along the Tauranga-Taupo River and Cascade Stream.

Result from predator control initiatives: the number of whio breeding pairs has almost TRIPLED over the last 10 years. There are now 863 breeding pairs living in eight protected sites across New Zealand. That’s 565 more pairs since 2011 and an increase of 190%.

2020/21 Management Initiative

A total of 66 parties made up of 232 individual hunters participated in this year’s management hunts, investing over 4,500 hours while visiting 22 different sites. These hunters harvested 95 deer – 54 (57.4%) of which were female – and one pig.

2.Average Annual Game Animal Management Numbers

It’s estimated that recreational hunters alone harvest around 135,000 deer, 132,000 other game animals (tahr, chamois and wild pigs) and 230,000 pest goats each year (Kerr & Abell, 2014). With significantly more hunters heading into the hills in 2022, one would assume annual harvest numbers will be significantly higher than the 2014 statistics.

3.New Zealand Deerstalkers Association Management Hunts

Over Labour Day weekend 2021, the Marlborough Deerstalkers and Nelson NZDA carried out animal control work for DOC on an inaccessible conservation estate; NZDA flew in 24 hunters.

The result: 448 goats, 53 deer (48 pregnant hinds), and three pigs were ‘hunter managed’. Total hunting hours of 593 – that’s a lot of hard work, at no cost to the government!

Conclusion / Part 2 Preview

Pursuing excellence is never going to be a walk in the park nor is changing each hunter’s morals and attitudes. To help everyone who’s willing to strive for excellence and best practice, I recommend spending time digesting this article and thinking about how you could apply the three following statements: “Always validate, never assume.” “When pointing the finger at someone, think firstly about the three pointing back.” And, “Detach emotionally and look at the bigger picture.”

Ultimately, we all want to do our part for the betterment of the hunting and firearms community, representative organisations and Hunters for Conservation movement.

Part 2 will continue looking at ways to level up that could potentially take our way of life to places it’s never reached before. Areas of discussion will include managing game animals, creating eco-friendly herd structure, herds of special interest and the role of the Game Animal Council and hunting-based non-government organisations in helping our community’s trend upwards.

In conclusion, another golden quote provided by Te Kawa o Te Urewera states, “Nature is our mother; respect for one’s parent is the highest duty of life; without her, we have no purpose together.” Moreover, as one of the great leaders, Winston Churchill, said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Keep striving for excellence every day, team!

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