Where do you begin, as you try to reflect on five massive years of total hunting immersion with man’s best friend? A legendary dog of mine died recently at the ripe old age of 11. He was a german-short haired pointer, Jack, named by my Dad over a Sunday lunch dinner before he was even a pup but 3 weeks old.
I remember visiting the pup when he was four weeks of age in Kaiapoi, we had driven up from Dunedin especially to pick him out. My friend Ruth had said to me as I picked the little guy up out of the litter “You know Rich, you don’t have to go through with this”. She could sense the hesitation of a single man considering the binding consequences of picking up a puppy and one day having to walk out that door with it. I had been thinking the same thing, it all seemed quite serious. Sure enough though we were back three weeks later to pick him up. All his litter mates had huge complicated names in homage to famous racehorses, as the puppies were born on a horse stud farm – but Jack’s pedigree name stood out as odd and had a special resonance with me. He was the 13th pup in the litter so the owners had run out of names and decided on “Moeraki”, given that he had two large ‘boulders’ which appeared as smudges on his back (named after the famous New Zealand Moeraki boulders). I grew up in Oamaru which is very close to Moeraki, so I took it as the final sign that I should get him.
I can remember the car journey home (no 4WD ute back then) and the countless stops to let the pup out for a pee during the five-hour drive from Christchurch back to Dunedin. I can remember the first breath I drew on a crisp spring Saturday morning when we got back, where I would normally be relishing the thought of my sacred weekend stretching out ahead with the promise of saturation hunting or fishing. My blissful meditation was ruptured by a squeaking puppy, and the responsibility of this tiny pup hit me like a swinging anchor chain, I was grounded. I couldn’t really take him anywhere without prolific squeaking and crying. He was so damn fragile. What had I done!
What I had done was started a hunting odyssey that would last five rich long years with a hunting mate who never spoke a word. Jack and I hunted the length of the South Island together, from Kaikoura to the West Coast, from the Southern Alps to the Blue Mountains of South Otago, right down to the Rowallen Forest at the edge of Fiordland.
Jack was an exceptional dog. He had great scenting ability, was not too headstrong (for a GSP anyway), did what I said, always happy and got along with everyone.
My favourite memories of him are losing the best fallow buck we ever saw in the Blue Mountains, (Jack found him and I lost him), shooting Jack’s first red deer on the West Coast, and the thousands of hours we spent sitting alone together in the deep forest of the Blue Mountains or at the edge of the Taieri River in winter waiting for the ducks to land in the grip of a freezing Central Otago evening.
When I shifted to the North Island about six years ago it wasn’t possible for Jack to shift with me, and he went to live out the rest of his days with my friends Jono and Soon-Lee, Jono being a keen deer and duck hunter (my thoughts are with you guys right now). Jack had a great life, and they have many adventures shared with him too. I missed Jack dearly for many days. I will miss him still but my life has been the richer for knowing him.
There are a few guys I’ve known to whom a hunting dog is just a commodity, I get it, I understand their point of view. But a dog is a different proposition for some hunters like those who hunt deer, who may only have one dog as there is generally no need to run a pack. Their dog is their silent steadfast hunting soul mate. Their dogs are never lost in the bush, they know just where they are, they are at their masters side and living the highest adventure, the sort that we all crave – I’ll miss you mate but we had some bloody good times eh.