Editor, Dave Benfell, talks with All Black & Canterbury Crusader legend Luke Romano about rugby, hunting, life after rugby and his latest venture with Monarch Pursuits – a company providing luxury hunting experiences.
Luke, congratulations on your new venture. Tell us about your background and whom you learnt hunting from – who was your teacher?
Luke: Originally, my old man got me into hunting. He was a keen hunter growing up in Nelson back in the 50s/60s; he did a lot of deer shooting through the Nelson tops out through Mt Owen and Mt Patriarch and a lot of deer shooting and pig hunting in behind Nelson itself. It was probably only natural that my brothers and I got involved in hunting. Dad stopped hunting when we moved to Christchurch when I was three and then took up longline kite fishing; we mucked round doing that, but then my older brothers showed an interest to get back into hunting, so Dad started to hunt again … he got a couple of dogs, and it started from there. I would’ve been 7 or 8 when I went on my first pig hunt and haven’t really stopped.
Do you and your brothers still get out hunting together? Is your hunting a family thing, or do you prefer to go out by yourself?
Luke: My brothers and I are pretty independent; we’ve all got our own hunting dogs and hunting mates so we don’t do a lot together, but we like to take an interest in what each other is doing. Like when you go hunting in the Roar, we all take an interest in where people are going and how they get on. It’s not easy – I only hunt during the week, so it’s hard to do it with others.
Is there any competition between you in terms of hunting?
Luke: There’s always comp between family when you’re doing the same thing; everyone wants to shoot the biggest stag or get the biggest pig. I’ve got to a stage now where I just love getting out there – I don’t have to get anything to enjoy being out there. I quite like filming animals and see them just doing their thing; a lot of the time they look better when they’re alive than when they’re dead.
I think it’s a natural progression for hunters – you start out keen and want to see something, get it and take something home. You tend to move on from that and, like yourself, I tend to film and photograph more than I shoot.
Luke: If you’re getting the photos, you could’ve shot them, so you know you’re doing something right.
What would be your go-to game animal – Pigs, reds or tahr?
Luke: Anything really. I’ve got pig dogs, so I love chasing pigs down the hill with my dogs. In saying that, I also love chasing the stags during the Roar. The last 4-5 years, I’ve really got into chasing the fallow bucks around; I reckon that’s probably the game animal to hunt during the rut. They’re so active; it’s a real thrill to hunt them in the rut – they make a real racket. You know, the big reds get a bit lazy – they bed down during the day. These buggers go non-stop, so I’ve really been enjoying that. The tahr … it’s a bit harder; every time during winter when I want to go get a tahr, I’m tied up playing footy. I like getting out doing anything really; I can’t put my finger on what I love the best, because I love them all … hunting any game species.
Have you got any other teammates into hunting, or do any of them hunt?
Luke: There are a few boys in the team who are keen hunters: Ben Snell and Tim Perry are probably the maddest at it – like me. Joe Moody does a lot with me …comes out pig hunting, and we go deer shooting together. We’ve spent the last couple of years trying to get him a decent stag which we finally managed this year.
Sam Whitelock pig hunts, doesn’t he?
Luke: Sam does a bit of hunting but probably not as much as me and Ben and Tim. Joe’s getting into it with me, and I’ve taken out Quinten Strange, David Havili and Mitchell Drummond – they’ve all shot animals with me. Mitchell Drummond came out with me and managed to shoot his first deer. He’d never been hunting before and banged over a fallow at 400 yards – first time he’d ever shot a gun; that’s sort of where the whole love of what we’re trying to do now started. I’ve shot some big stags, and for me, taking someone else out who hasn’t had that opportunity and helping them to do that … I actually get more enjoyment out of that than shooting the animal myself. I got Quin a nice 10-pointer and Joe a big 12-pointer a few years ago; this year we managed to stumble on a 15-pointer for Moods [Joe Moody] with a seriously big head. Just being able to take them out and let them do that … it was the same buzz that I would’ve got from shooting the animal myself – just to see how happy and proud they were. That’s enough for me – to see the enjoyment on someone else’s face.
What would you like to say about your company, Monarch Pursuits? I think what I’m hearing is you have a deep love of hunting that you want to share with people, and you get a real buzz out of it. Is there anything you’d want to add to that?
Luke: I think you nailed it there. There are going to be people say it’s not proper hunting if you’re hunting behind a fence. But you know the overseas visitor is generally coming to hunt for a trophy and you have to provide them with the animals. it can take years to try and find a trophy head in the wild; so we try cater for this but still make it as real as possible. We are also developing a package designed for Kiwis who want to harvests meat animals plus options for trophys. This will also help the management of the herds.
We’ve teamed up with High Peak … their hunting block is 4500 acres. You go in there and you don’t even know you’re in a hunting block – you don’t see the fence. They’re as wild as they can be when they’re fenced in. But it’s still hunting; like in the wild, you’ve still got to use all the basic hunting skills, get the wind right, not spook other animals, and you’ve still got to make a good shot.
I just want people to be able to come to New Zealand and experience what we have here; it’s pretty unique! There aren’t many places in the world where you can hunt any time of the year – you only need a firearms licence. And the range of species we’ve got is awesome! But where we see our POD [point of difference] is … we’ll look after your hunting side but we’ll look after your holiday side too … actually, show off the rest of NZ, and you’re not staying in big cities – there’s more to NZ than just the Sky Tower. A lot of the lodges we’ve teamed up with are out in the rural areas – you’re out there seeing the real NZ; that’s the main aim of the company … to show off what we’ve got here. I’ve travelled the world with rugby and seen a lot of countries, and you don’t know how good NZ is until you’ve been over there; the grass isn’t always greener [on the other side].
From NZRod&Rifle’s perspective and the hunting community in general, it seems like we have to safeguard our way of life into the future. People like yourself, as I see it, are important as ambassadors; people look up to you because of your rugby career, but you’re representing the hunting community as well. How do you see us surviving and going forward into the future?
Luke: I understand where you’re coming from – it’s a hard one … obviously, with what happened in March. Firearms are getting such a bad rap, but that was one person. You can’t control what people are going to do. Yes, he did that with a gun, but he could’ve done it with a car … driven into a big crowd of people, and would they be banning cars? All we can do as responsible gun owners is to continue to be responsible gun owners and show that guns aren’t dangerous … it’s people who are dangerous. A gun doesn’t kill people – there has to be someone pulling the trigger to kill someone. As long as we’re doing all the right things, have firearms licences and all firearms are locked up according to the gun laws … then we shouldn’t lose our rights to have hunting rifles. There’s going to be opposition to everything; it doesn’t matter what you do in this day and age, there’s always going to be someone who has the opposite view to you, and it’s their right to have an opinion. I think just as long as we can show that guns are perfectly safe if they’re in the right hands and used the proper way.
That’s absolutely spot on Luke, and that’s the way I see it as well. We have to go forward and show everybody through our actions that we’re not the problem, we haven’t been the problem, and we won’t be the problem in the future. What you’re saying about opposition is exactly right – it doesn’t matter.
Luke: I think it’s easy for someone to criticise another group when they don’t have the passion for that pursuit; we love hunting and going out with our rifles … but if someone doesn’t have that same passion, it’s easy for them to say, “No, get rid of them all … we don’t need them”. It’s about trying to educate them that guns are okay and they’re safe. I don’t drink coffee; I could say, “Get rid of coffee, because coffee is bad”, but all the coffee drinkers will get up in arms about that. It’s a very delicate situation.
You’ve hit the nail on the head again on what we’ve been trying to get across to people … in that we’re ambassadors for firearms. So, if we lose our cool, and someone isn’t into firearms – which is perfectly fine (some people know nothing about them and are scared of them) – that’s just life … but if we lose our cool and don’t represent the hunting community properly, then we’re not going to win any supporters or votes by doing that.
Luke: With the whole law change that’s coming in now and getting rid of all the military-style weapons and that … it does seem like those decisions were made pretty hastily and a knee-jerk reaction. More people are dying of alcohol and car accidents than firearms, so why aren’t we banning cars and getting rid of alcohol? It’s a controversial topic at the moment; what they’re doing now by getting rid of various legal firearms probably isn’t going to solve the problem – illegal firearms are the issue. Potentially, I think they’re looking in the wrong areas; they’re taking the legal ones from the people who abide by the rules, and I don’t think they’ll get the problem ones off the street. That’s the way the government ran, and if there’s a gun change, whether we like it or not, we probably need to support it.
Really, the only option for us is to use our vote when it comes to election time. You could either break the law, which we absolutely do not recommend – there’s been all sorts of crazy solutions and ideas people are floating that aren’t going to help the situation – really, all you can do is comply, and then vote smartly in the next election. I don’t see how people can do it any other way.
Luke: I think its similar with the whole tahr cull issue and the dropping of 1080 in that it’s a very hard topic and touchy subject; but people don’t always realise how good we have it here with the natural resources and game species. There’s probably a large chunk of Kiwis who do get into the outdoors and enjoy being out there … and people need to tread a bit carefully before they want to wipe out all the game species. Whether they like it or not, they’re part of New Zealand’s way of life and New Zealand’s culture. Certainly, we need to control them; it’d be easy to let them blow out of the water and get way out of control. It’s part of who we are really; go and harvest your own food … get out into the hills and go enjoy yourself with your mates. Total eradication seems a bit silly; it was good there was a lot of opposition about it – it showed how much we cared about the resource.
It was a unifying little saga, wasn’t it? Whether people hunted tahr or not, it unified us quite quickly, which was good to see. Game species are a part of who we are – they’re here to stay; whether we like it or not, they’re part of our culture. We all love our indigenous species, and there’s a real balance to keep, but when you’ve got a freezer full of pork or venison, it’s hard to see the downside of these introduced animals.
Luke: I think we’ve got a great resource here and that’s what I want to be able to use and show off to the rest of the country.
Luke, thank you very much for your time, and good luck for the new venture.