Pack a generator for my GHD’s please

Why on earth would you bring mascara on a hunting trip? Until recently, I stoically refused to bring “beauty products” into the bush. As such, I would emerge some time later, smelling awful and looking like a dish scrubber. The absolute WORST thing though was that in my photos I also looked like a dish scrubber! I don’t care at all what my hunting companions think of my appearance, but I have to say that looking like a potato that was in the bag too long really ruins the photos for me. I’m not big on wearing makeup every day, I usually just apply some tinted moisturiser and a touch of mascara. I have realised that bringing these two items with me is worthwhile, they are very light weight and the photos turn out a lot less cringe-worthy. The moisturiser is also my SPF30 for my face, and having eyelashes in photos makes me look less like a zombie or a Mr Potato Head.DSC_0021

I have found some little essentials that I bring in each time – and it is wonderful to emerge from a trip feeling fresh despite not showering for the past five days.

– Baby wipes. Perfect for a quick all-over wash.

– A small bar of motel soap and a razor. Soap is apparently delicious to possums however, so don’t leave it outside…..

– Cornflour and a hair brush. I used to take in a small bottle of shampoo, and wash my hair every two days. However I have the kind of hair that looks terrible if it is allowed to dry naturally and after day two I would be battling wayward curls that would bend into impossible angles. The cornflour is amazing. You take a tiny sprinkle and rub it into your hair, then brush it out. This removes all that excess oil that leaves you looking nasty and lank, and I can maintain the straighten I did pre-trip for the five days (if it doesn’t rain).

– Lip balm with sunblock. I love Blistex as it seems to actually work once your lips become chapped.

– Hand sanitiser. I have a small bottle that I fill each time from a large pump bottle. I find it convenient to leave this in the long drop cubicle next to the TP.

-I take contact lenses and solution because glasses are the hugest pain in the bum in the rain, and basically every other time as well.

– Toothbrush and toothpaste. Not a hulking big tube of it, and not the big fat electric brush either! I also chuck in a couple of “plackers” for flossing.

– Deodorant.  I am using a commercial tea tree one on my trips (too herby for everyday use for me) but the most effective one I have used by FAR was a tea tree oil recipe my friend made. I will post the recipe on here as soon as I remember to ask.  After a week in the bush with no bathing, I still had no BO and my partner even said I smelt NICE. I was extremely impressed.

– A small mirror from a bird toy. This is to help me put my contact lenses in (mainly). I’ve since managed to learn to use no mirror, or the reverse camera on my phone if I am really stuck.

All of this fits into a little pouch that one of my male friends once referred to as a purse :/

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I painted my nails to match

Clothing is a different matter entirely. Most of my hunting attire is men’s clothing, because there is nowhere that sells practical things for women. I guess pink or “blush,” charcoal, Claret, grey and red-coloured garments are great if you are picking flowers in winter, gazing wistfully after your male hunting companion, or tending your pony as the packaging suggests, but it’s not what I would consider hunting gear.

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Baggy around the stomach, despite being pretty fitting elsewhere

The problem with buying men’s gear is that it just doesn’t fit nicely. The high-cut round neck tends to give me the feeling of being strangled, and the unflattering boxy clothes make me feel like I am wearing a sack. Even when I buy size XS in men’s I look like a bag lady in oversized clothes. The pants are not designed to accommodate thighs as unfortunate as mine and always seem a bit tight there despite being loose elsewhere. My partner once said that he was never worried about me going into the bush with another man because he knew what I would be wearing…..

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Men’s XS size. A whole bunch of extra weight to carry by way of extra fabric, as well as looking like a bag lady.

The one women’s camo tee available is made from 100% cotton – which is not an ideal fabric for working hard in. Some of my things have suffered from some modifications in the field, causing my companions some alarm as I have grabbed out a pocket knife without warning and hacked away at the neck line of my clothing. That has given some relief, even if it does look a little psycho…..

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A bit of scruffy modification done whilst being strangled. I must get the sewing machine onto this. I must get a sewing machine.
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The pitbull that points

In April of 2014 I got myself a dog – a 7 month old pitbull mix that was rescued from a shelter that had shut down. I didn’t intend for him to be a hunting dog, but I was heading out and I thought I should bring him along.

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It was the afternoon on a private block, and Eli the dog caught some exciting scents from the hut. We headed out along the ridge, spotting some fallow grazing on a clearing a over 500m away. My friend’s son was bowhunting in that area and we wondered if he had seen the deer. My mate ducked over the ridge to take a look, leaving Eli and myself to examine the trees on the other side. After only a few minutes, a dark shape moved beneath a whiteywood. I hadn’t yet shot a deer, but this one was about to be my first. I had time before the animal moved so that I could take a good shot, so I tied Eli to my leg. Taking a rest on a very convenient horizontal branch, I aimed as the spiker moved into view, and took a shot between the shoulder blades. As I rechecked the view through the scope, I saw a leg flash past as the animal rolled down the hill and into the cover of trees. Looking next to me, I saw that the rope attached to the dog was slack and lying at my side. I thought I lost him with the shot until I realised he had switched sides and was keenly sniffing the wind.

First fallowMy mate soon showed up and I said that I thought I had just shot my first deer. A moment of doubt – but I had seen it tumble. We let Eli lead the way. There was a valley to cross, through bush with a steep-sided creek at the bottom. It was quite a challenge to navigate. Eli lead us to a point where we could see the deer, and then we let him go to it. That was the point when we discovered that he has a horrible high-pitched yodel when he gets excited…..

He was a real nuisance on the carry, yodelling and shrieking with excitement, as well as chomping his jaws, but we got there unscathed.

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My first red deer, taken from the Ruahines

Two weeks later we went into the Ruahines and he proved very useful. The weirdest thing was that he was able to point! Another peculiar trait he exhibited was putting his hackles up when the unmistakable smell of a rutting stag wafted past us, followed by a low rumble. He tracked well, and leading us to areas with fresh sign and negotiating obstacles well. We came across a mob of deer in an open part of the bush, and a young hind was taken. This was my first red deer and much more of an achievement than taking the fallow.

The one problem we have encountered is that once he knew what we were there for, he decided to try to get a deer for himself. A young animal was spotted on the bush edge just on dark, and he took off after it. He was never going to catch it, just follow the scent around and around in the bush, but it was the one time he would not come back. After that I had to take him on a string in the bush which was a complete pain in the arse.

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Faithful companion making sure he is not forgotten!

Recently I got a remote controlled shock collar to curb this habit, and it seems we have made progress. I’ve only had to shock him once when he took off after a hare, thank goodness it wasn’t a deer.

Training a hunting dog is not something I actually know how to do. The point of this story is to say that you don’t have to get yourself a Visla or a pointer, because sometimes a rescued mutt with poor conformation will be perfect for the job. He has been on many hunts now and has tamed down the yodelling. I wouldn’t say that he does all the work, but he is helpful, as well as being a great little buddy.

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Making use of the doggy backpack. It was too noisy to be used on the hunt

Blood on my Hands – The Vegetarians Attack

Most vegetarians that I know are actually pretty ok with hunting. They care that the death is humane, and I believe a well-placed shot is, and they appreciate that the animal is in a natural environment, oblivious to its fate.  I personally have no ill-feelings against most forms of farming (I come from a farm), however I believe that meat you have got yourself will always taste better! Today was the first time someone has abused me for my choice to hunt, calling me a “murderous bitch with blood on my hands for taste.”

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The amount of stuff to pack for a 10 day trip seems impossible…

To hunt an animal, usually you have to work hard. There is the preparation for the trip – be it a day trip or an elaborate multi-day expedition. You must get all the gear ready, check and re-check that nothing is forgotten, and plan every meal. Then there comes the logistics of actually fitting it all in the bag so that the right things are accessible at the right time. Sometimes it is nothing short of magical when it all fits in!

You then have to get it all to where you are going. Unless you are very fortunate and have a helicopter flight, this usually means walking it in.

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… but it was incredible how it packed down

The stalking of the deer is hard work. It takes a lot of energy to walk so quietly, using all of your senses looking for sign, listening for animals, smelling the breeze that seems to turn on you on a whim. It can take hours before you come across a spot where the sign is fresh, if you are hunting in the bush. In open country it is more about glassing the guts and sunny grassy spots with patience that I scarcely have.

You see a deer, you decide to shoot. But shooting is the easy part (for some). For me there is always a deeply rooted fear that I will hit somewhere other than where I am aiming and I will have a wounded animal to find. Fortunately that has not been the case to date. It takes a bit of time to gut an animal once you reach it, and then you have to get the animal back to wherever it is you are staying. Carrying pikau gets the intact carcass back to camp, but it is heavy and the bones from the forelimbs dig painfully into one’s shoulders.SAM_2046

Taking the back legs and back steaks and leaving the rest is sometimes frowned on as there is wastage – and I used to be in this camp – until I saw the light. If it is a big stag there is a lot of meat on the neck and shoulders that you shouldn’t waste. But on a spiker or yearling hind, often the wastage is minimal.  Of course if your bullet went through the shoulder then that halves the useful meat again. I shot two deer one evening, and with it getting dark and the rain starting to set in I was rushing to get them gutted and get one carried out (I came back for number two in the morning). Carrying pikau was actually impossible as it was so steep, so taking back legs and back steaks was ideal. I boned out the shoulder of the second animal the next day when I had more time, but the amount of meat I gained from this was disappointing.

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After getting your game to camp you still have to transport it out of the bush somehow. Furthermore, you have to then skin it, and convert it into useful cuts. I like to use a Wenger boning knife for this, as it allows me to get all of the fascia (silverskin) off the steaks, is good to sharpen, and is nice to handle. I do tend to stab myself a few times in the process with the very sharp tip though!

I like to cut the meat into steaks / stirfry and casserole meat. When we have a surplus of casserole meat, the next lot goes to our local game-licensed butcher become sausages, salami and mince. Vacuum packing the meat lengthens its shelf life by preventing the horrid freezer burn – a very worthwhile investment (about $120).

So this is not the easy way to get meat for the table, but it is so enjoyable! I love to be in the bush, getting fitter and using all of my senses. It is a thrill to see a deer in the wild and out-smart its superior senses. It is great to be able to get photos of deer and be choosy about which ones you shoot. It is a privilege to be able to harvest a wild animal, and I feel like working hard to obtain one is part of the respect for the kill. It’s pretty easy to pick up a packet of meat from a supermarket and turn a blind eye to where it came from, but not when you have watched it grazing and converted it into steaks. I like vegetarians, I respect them, I used to be one! But don’t target someone who is appreciating the opportunity to turn a pest animal into a meal. Go find a real atrocity – there are plenty out there! DSC_0417

There, I fixed it! A first attempt at preserving velvet

On Christmas day I was fortunate enough to shoot my first stag, and my first sika deer all in one go. He was a 6 pointer, shot at 220m. When we reached him, it was obvious that he had suffered a nasty injury to his eye – he was blind and the eye was about to rupture, so I was satisfied that he was a very good animal to cull. I wanted to preserve the velvet and read varying reviews on how to go about this.

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The head was cleaned of flesh, and stayed in the meat safe with all the meat for 4 days before we flew out which is not ideal. Once at home it went into the garage fridge, cranked down as low as it would go. Many people reckon that you should take chemicals in to the bush with you so that the velvet can begin preservation immediately, however I have reservations about this given their dangerous nature – also it is probably going to jinx you so you don’t get that stag anyhow!

I had actually intended to turn this head in to a taxidermist for professional treatment (quoted at $250) – it wasn’t the most amazing head in the world but there can only ever be one first, right? With Christmas and New Years etc the taxidermist was likely enjoying having his feet up at a beach somewhere and told me to stick it in the freezer. Explaining that we had no freezer space (it was frozen in the fridge but there is a freeze – thaw cycle) brought no reply so I thought I would give it a whirl on my own before I lost the velvet for good.

Here is a run-down of the procedure I went through to get the skull and antlers mounted:

Initially, I placed the skull with antlers attached, into a pot of boiling water. I soon realised the steam was going to ruin the velvet, and came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to remove the antlers and boil away to my heart’s content. I soon came to the conclusion that doing this on the gas stove inside the house was a silly idea, given the surprisingly bad smell that filled the house. The remaining tissue attached to the skull was not rotten either! Next time I would do it on the BBQ – but this time I opened all the windows and hoped for the best.

It took about an hour of boiling before the flesh loosened and could be peeled off. The back of the skull was still quite difficult to get clean. I tried a couple of experiments here.

– I located a bunch of hungry looking ants and plonked the skull in their path hoping that they would eat the fragments of flesh remaining. However they must have consulted their union after an hour’s work and gone on strike, never to be seen again. After the dog found the skull sitting on the ant trail and sat down to chew on it, breathing formic acid from the ingested ants, I decided this method was sub-optimal.

–  I tried soaking the skull in a bucked of Oxy Magic and cold water. This resulted in a white skull, but also a nasty fishy smell. The flesh fragments on the back did not loosen. I only tried for a day before I couldn’t stand the smell anymore.

– Finally, I used the dremmel to burr off stubborn bits after drying in the sun. This worked well, until a surprise visitor arrived to find me in my dressing gown, burring away at a skull. The dremmel was great for getting into little nooks and crannies, although the burr appeared to be just right for flinging bone dust and crumbs of dried flesh into my eyes. Protective eyewear is essential.

With the skull clean, I turned my attention to the antlers, which I had soaking in formalin.

All of the videos and forum posts online say to put a small cut in the tips of the antlers and inject formalin into the veins. The result will be blood running out the antler tips and being replaced with preservative solution. Perhaps it was because the antlers were no longer attached to the skull, but this didn’t work for me, and the blood consistently came out the bottom. I had an 18G needle attached to a 5 ml syringe, and found the velvet surprisingly easy to inject. There are huge vascular channels and in no time I had blood running from the cut surface of the antler. If you are going to do this, eye protection is ESSENTIAL. This is a really nasty chemical and it releases horrible fumes that make your eyes and nose run. I wore thick rubber kitchen gloves, overalls and a pair of safety goggles, and I looked like something from a freaky laboratory. However I was grateful when inevitably, the plunger met resistance, the needle came off and formalin sprayed all over my goggles. As I was outside next to the hose this was easily dealt with.

After losing patience with a 5ml syringe, I re-submerged the antlers in formalin for another day. I had managed to get most of the blood out of them, but a 20ml syringe would have made the job easier! They were then hung up to dry for a day in a cool and breezy spot.

Reattaching the antlers was a challenge. The best way of doing it I found, was to drill down into the pedicle of the skull, and drill into the bone of the antler also, carefully matching the angle so they would sit in a natural way. I used dowelling pegs and “Tough as Nails” glue to affix the two together. The head then had to be left carefully for a full 24 hours so that the antlers would not rotate on the head and give a weird appearance.

I am happy with the result. They have been on my wall now for 3 weeks. The soft tops of velvet have had some shrinkage which was not unexpected. There is no smell at all, and the seams where the antlers were reattached are not very visible unless being looked for. These seams were the biggest disadvantage of removing the antlers from the skull, but I believe they could be filled with something at a later date.

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The Rifle’s Name is Charlene

For the past two years I have had quite a journey of experiences as I have progressed in the world of hunting. Beginning as a gun-shy, goofy and clumsy person bumbling after the lead hunter in the bush, to someone slightly less gun-shy, who can at least walk quietly and hunt on her own. My first ever deer hunt was in 2012 with a good friend and it had me hooked – before that I had never even seen a deer in the wild and tasted venison only once.  In 2013 I followed people around as they hunted, before buying myself a rifle and clumsily shooting a few goats.  2014 saw me have my first miss, an 8-10 point stag in hard antler, and then finally bag my first deer (a fallow). From there I have explored some new ground, taken 3 more reds and a nice sika too. I’m still learning, and I’m still a bit gun shy. I need some further experience so that I take more of the shots that present themselves to me – there are a few lucky deer out there when it wasn’t the right shot. My hunting buddies have been very good to me, passing on their wisdom and not hitting on me (too much). They have supported me and answered my questions, and been proud of me when I have achieved. I am very grateful to all they have shared with me, and look forward to repaying the favour one day (perhaps I will buy that hunting block). I also have to thank my partner of almost three years – he has never complained about me heading off into the bush with other men or forgoing Christmas holidays in order to hunt.

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Hunting isn’t the normal female activity, and I often get asked about my motivations. I have to say that I do like self-sufficiency, and being an animal lover, it is my way of respecting the meat that I eat. It is still a thrill to stalk in close and not shoot, although after a bitter disappointment I learned that I need to invest in a good camera! (I had shot two deer and it wouldn’t even turn on, and all the “close up” shots I had taken of live animals were actually tiny almost invisible specks on the screen). I enjoy giving the animal a sporting chance, and working hard to recover the meat. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but when I do I like to know where it has come from.

In this blog I aim to share adventures, humour, and a few things I learn along the way – all from a female perspective, but hopefully not the one you’re used to. I hope you enjoy my posts!

My journey into beginning deerstalking and hunting in New Zealand