Review: The New Zealand Wilderness Hunter
Published: , in The Suburban Bushwacker: From Fat Boy to Elk Hunter
Over the course of this blog I've been in email correspondence with a few readers and ever so often these connections result in something new and unexpected.
A good few years ago I conversed with a chap on the far side of the world, one thing led to another and we kind of lost touch. A couple of weeks ago I was reminded of our mutual interest in WDM Bell and sent him an email update. He wrote back and in passing mentioned that he'd made it into print. I was intrigued enough to order a copy of one of his books. It was with a little trepidation that I turned the first page; anyone can write a witty insightful email, turning out a whole book of it asks a little more of the author, as I've found in my many stop-start attempts.
Phew. He smashed it.
Dear readers; Hunter philosophers, shooters, wild-foodists, and fans of adventure writing. I bring you James Passmore's The New Zealand Wilderness Hunter.
While we undoubtedly live in a golden age of ammunition we just as certainly don't live in the golden age of writing about hunting. In print, Stephen Rinella, Steve Bodio, and John Gierach aside, most of it is so 'me too', the same tired tropes about 'tradition', 'passion' and the sickly sentimentalism of 'family'. The ex banker who found happiness in the wisdom of his fishing ghillie, the ballsy chick who hunts private estates, the smug hipster visiting his hillbilly relatives, yet another pastiche of Capstick or Hemmingway. Yawn.
Online things are even worse; lacking the discipline of a editors stern scalpel, a hideous 'style' has developed. As moron apes lackwit, and every passing mouth-breather positions himself as an 'expert'. All re-telling the work of the one before, each bad facsimile a little less distinct.
On the far side of the world the Kiwi literary hunting tradition has no greater proponent than Barry Crump, yarn spinner extraordinaire, often described to me as 'the Kiwi's Kiwi, how we'd like to see ourselves'. Crump churned 'em out too, selling a million books into a home market of four million people. Even if his books didn't quite come free with every box of ammo, I'm told Crump's tales of life as a deer culler can be found in almost every home with a rifle, and set the expectation of kiwi hunters for generations to come.
James Passmore's book walks a very different path over the same ground and is all the better for it. There are lots of books that attempt to capture the reverence that exposure to the fecund majesty of the woods brings, I couldn't put this one down. The tales are told in a modest insightful way, JP has obviously spent a hooj amount of time afield, has nothing to prove, but presents a series of observations, often prompted by small errors that lead to larger consequences. I got the impression of someone who'd done a lot, and incorporated each and every insight into an evolved best practice. Cautious and thoughtful as he intwines the emotional and philosophical landscapes with the misty hills and hollows of the unforgiving wilderness of the south island. JP brings us something different in hunting writing; some deer are just for the pot, sometimes its a trophy he's after, always it's to immerse himself in the wilderness. The stories are told with equal verve, some of his biggest tales end with the smallest deer. He conjures an unspoken reverence for wild places.
The book wouldn't be from NZ if it didn't also capture some of the eccentricity of his fellow countrymen.
'The old men rose up out of the glacier-fed river, pale and wrinkled, carrying trim Day-Glo coloured packs, and picked their way through the clearing over the tussock grass and bracken. They were both stark naked except for their boots. Dangling from their packs were coils of expensive climbing ropes.
They walked shamelessly up to the hut. I was sitting outside holding a tin cup of tea and watching the late afternoon light over the mountain range; sombre and purple. It was the middle of a pre-roar trip in March, and it was still warm. They both greeted me matter of factly. "Is this a public hut or a private one?" one of them asked.
I regarded the elderly naked climbers for a moment, and then replied honestly.
"It's a public hut" I said " But we do have a dress code".'
PS Amazon list his other book but not this one, I ordered mine from the publisher and it arrived within a week. halcyonpublishing.co.nz
PPS I cannot recommend Barry Crump's 'A Good Keen Man' 1960 highly enough, a great tale well told.
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