It’s often said that should you be unable to go hunting, then the next best thing is reading about it. However, over the years, that adage has changed dramatically, because with the advent of some well-rated hunting programmes, we can now watch and enjoy the sport in comfort at home via our television or computer; with the convenience and screening of some excellent hunting tales, these programmes have proved most popular with outdoors-minded enthusiasts. They also remain a welcome bonus for the more senior hunters in the community who are unable these days to endure the hard climb and scent the alpine air.
Off the Beaten Track provides some excellent reading, and it’s all about the camera world of Dave Shaw and his successful TV Show, The Red Stag Timber Hunters Club – a show which has now spanned six seasons of usually five episodes each. Many readers of this well-set-out book will be familiar with the six members who form this ‘commando-look’ team. However, the author’s writing reveals much more about the individuals than we learn from the television programme.
Shaw recounts his schooldays and earliest involvement with creating short film clips prior to entering the realm of television production and higher profiled film shows. Moving offshore, he gained experience and kudos by filming for the History and Discovery channels, and upon his return to New Zealand, he was contracted as a cameraman on the popular ITM Fishing Show.
The opening pages of the book mention how his Otago mate, Dan Curley, suggested the wide appeal a film series depicting hunters, wild game and our backcountry would offer; so together they selected a band of brothers to build up a team of six hunters and fishers. The project’s expansion from there was entirely due to Dave’s enterprising determination, self-belief and enthusiastic drive forging the ideas into commercial reality.
In undertaking to film the team’s experiences, there’s clearly a huge cost involved, which Shaw meets with a heavy reliance on heaps of sponsorship; this funding was achieved by hard yacca and perceptive planning. It was obvious the partnership would be hard-pressed to achieve the success it did without the stoic backing by several high-profile business entities. While some might consider the Hunter’s Club to be an elite bunch of outdoorsy blokes having a high time in the wilderness, the reader should remember that these guys are just ‘Kiwi hunters’ like the rest of us enjoying the wilderness; all hunting is done free-range on public land, but the obvious difference is the exposure the team gets after national screening of the edited feature. If there’s time for a beer at day’s end, you can bet it was rightfully earned; the author goes to great pains to establish that each individual stands on his own merits, and all are very experienced hunters and fishers.
The reader will discover that Dave Shaw must pack some awkward loads of sensitive camera gear and accessories into the backcountry to cover these hunting and stalking episodes and using such equipment to capture the action is often fraught with issues; therefore, good film footage, like the game animals they seek, is extremely hard won. The use of a drone features throughout the 30-odd chapters with some expensive/destructive flights occurring; but experience prevails, and some seven drones later, favourable results are obtained with some of the shots being displayed in the book. The lead image for Season Two portrays Shaw’s desire to deliver to all interested followers – it’s of several Hunters Club members trudging in a remote backcountry wilderness; this photograph has been strengthened with Shaw’s touch of overhead flair.
In an interesting written account, through the seasons and series, the reader is taken through numerous and widespread locations throughout New Zealand’s bush and alpine environments. Most of our big game animals are targeted, and the book includes a number of overseas fishing excursions as well. All chapters within the book are supported with excellent colour photographs, which have highly descriptive captions – there’s much more portrayed within these pages than you’ll ever see when viewing the filmed presentations. The hard yards and hunting adventures are represented by the taking of some fine game trophies along with the less rewarding and frustrating hill days.
There’s much humour and colour throughout the book, and at the conclusion of each chapter, the author provides space for a Hunters Club member to comment and offer a personal summary, which adds refreshing variety.
In conclusion, five mates plus the author, Dave Shaw, have shared their personalities, skills and time in our wilderness – hunting and fishing – to provide all outdoor folk with what is an easily read account about the creation of the TV show, The Red Stag Timber Hunters Club.
By Dave Shaw
Published by Bateman Books, 256 pages