The silent stalk

Daryl Crimp undertakes a 10-day meat hunt with two less-than-talkative companions. But who needs conversation when you have mountain scenery, regular snowfall and distant sika?

Over dinner, the tall dwarf’s wife asked him what he and his father talked about when they went fishing.

“Nothing,” he replied.

“Nothing?” she queried. “You can’t fish all morning and not say anything.”

The tall dwarf contemplated this and considered explaining that, unlike women, men do not need to fill a void with words, but he lacked the appetite for a lecture on chauvinism.

“Pilchards then,” he said lamely.

“What an earth do you find to talk about pilchards?” she asked incredulously.

It was a vexing question and he had to think at length for an answer.

“Well, if the snapper are taking pilchards, we might say: the pilchards are working!”

“And if the pilchards are not working?” she shot back, “What then?”

The tall dwarf had never entertained the unlikely scenario of pilchards not working, so was struggling to answer but suddenly fell upon the obvious, “Then we’d say — the pilchards are not working!”

This only frustrated the tall dwarf’s wife further so he tried to put her at ease by promising to ask his father what they talked about, next time they went fishing. He worried, though, that his father might say, “Squid!” and then his wife would accuse him of lying to her.

Bruce Mckenzie covers the hard miles in search of sika

This was a real conversation the tall dwarf recounted over dinner on our recent hunt during the sika rut. It got me to pondering what blokes talk about when in male-only company, so I decided to pay closer attention.

“Pilchards, eh?” mused Bruce, a bear of a man who is often the butt of my ridicule. “All this talk of pilchards is making me hungry… how is dinner coming along, Crimpy?” he asked.

“Same as when you asked 60 seconds ago – the moose is roasting and I’ve yet to peel the sack of potatoes,” I answered dryly. “I’ll worry about the main course later!”

Bruce denies that he eats a lot and claims he’s now on a diet, but I’ve yet to see anyone else divide their mashed potato into lines and snort it like an illegal substance.

After 10 days in the wilderness with the tall dwarf and Man Mountain McKenzie, in the absence of women, I can unequivocally state that men do occasionally communicate verbally when alone, but only on matters of importance. And, even then, we don’t make a meal of it. In actual fact, only a handful of words are ever needed to convey even complex messages. For example, “The pilchards are working!” can be translated as: “What a waste of time bringing all that squid. I’ve had no bites all morning then, bugger me, the tide turns and you go and catch a 15lb snapper, two trevally, and a kahawai on pillies. Squid’s probably stale.”

And another example, like the time I had to issue a sharp dog-like command one evening after a particularly tough hunt looking for sika that weren’t there. “Bruce – get off!”

I’d caught him with his head in the camp oven ‘licking the bowl clean’, which was poor manners because the camp oven was still on the stove and the stew was only half cooked.

A rifle breaks the silence –
it’s a perfectly executed shot

After dinner, the topic of conversation drifted to the paucity of sika.

“Not a lot of sika about,” the tall dwarf mused.

“I think we are going to have to try something different,” I replied.

“Pilchards?” suggested Bruce.

“In order to shoot camp meat, idiot, not instead of it!”

“Oh,” said Bruce.

A couple of days later, Bruce and I hunted together while the tall dwarf had a hut day. We generally don’t talk much on the hunt and for good reason – the deer have little interest in what we have to say – but on this occasion Bruce was unusually garrulous.

“A meat animal called mince,” he muttered.

“What?”

He said it again. In exasperation, I stopped and contemplated slapping him, fearing he was delirious from lack of food. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“I’m trying to think of a title for your next article,” he replied. “You are going to write about the meat animal you eventually shot yesterday, aren’t you?”

I pointed out to him, that like all hunting writers and other creators of fiction, I shoot every deer with one shot so, naturally, it’d get a mention.

“You’d best call it Colin then.”

“Colin?”

“Yeah, short for colander – full of holes!”

To shift focus from the draining exertions of the deer that had unfortunately required a long follow-up the day before, I suggested we bush-stalk down to where I’d shot a stag the year before.

“There’s always deer there,” I said. Had I wanted to fill a void with words, I might have said, “I’ve just thought of a cunning plan, so cunning I could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel. If we try bush stalking, you’ll have to stop talking drivel, leave poor Colin to mature in the meat safe, and concentrate on being quiet.”

At this, I expected Bruce to skulk along behind me in stealth mode but he left out a ‘k’ and sulked along instead.

“What now?” I asked.

“You’re not going to write about Colin, are you?” he lamented.

To cut down on words, I just huffed and stalked off.

‘Colin’ provides meat
for the following day

When bush-stalking, I become totally engrossed, my senses piqued. Sometimes I develop a sixth sense and experience premonitions; it’s like that feeling you get when you think you are being watched. Some distance into this hunt, I froze as a chill spread down the nape of my neck. I slowly turned around and was stunned to see Bruce, 20 metres behind me, dancing on the spot like a sixties go-go girl, his mouth opening and shutting like a pilchard out of water.

However, the void between us was bereft of words.

“What was that all about?” I asked when he eventually caught me up.

“You really are quiet when you bush stalk,” he said.

“Duh,” I answered. “Isn’t that the point?”

“Yes. But you walked right past a deer, within five metres, and neither of you saw the other!”

Bruce claims to be a good bush stalker too, but the reason he didn’t get past the deer was because, unlike women, he is hopeless at multi-tasking. He has two huge feet but can only keep one of them quiet at a time — the one that is in the air. The deer got such a fright when Sherman the Tank arrived, it crashed off and gave him a hell of a start as well. What I took to be Bruce dancing was, in fact, him shaking with fright.

We bumped a couple more deer but luck wasn’t with us, so we retreated to the hut to see if the tall dwarf had cooked Colin for dinner.

The deer weren’t into long conversations either, calling only intermittently. Heading down a spur one morning, we were stopped in our tracks by a stag territory-calling, so Bruce immediately set up an ambush. He stayed high on the ridge while the tall dwarf and I dropped lower and staked out some good-looking country, a few metres apart.

Bruce called and we waited. The tall dwarf indicated that he’d heard something across the creek and fixed his gaze in that direction. Moments later, I spotted a stag climbing the face just beyond him and marvelled that, in a split second, the brain could think so much evil. I contemplated shooting the stag from literally under the dwarf’s nose, pictured his stupefied look at the muzzle blast singing his goatee and imagined his portly little frame rolling down the hill as he fell off his perch. However, the stag was moving behind a windfall and the window for a shot was small. Deciding the dwarf resided at a lower altitude above sea level than me and would have a better shooting angle, I hissed to get his attention and nodded to his left. His eyes nearly popped but he pivoted quickly and managed a superb shot through a gap in the windfall. While the stag was no trophy, it did solve the dilemma of what to feed Bruce next.

There was only one animal foolish
to be out in the heavy snow…

A buffeting wind kept us tethered to our sleeping bags early next morning. The tall dwarf made us coffee while we waited for enough light to assess the weather. The rich aroma of percolating beans added to the comfy ambience of the hut and made the ‘pit sacks’ even more appealing.

Eventually, the prowling presence of Grizz McKenzie had us dressed and ready to go; the thought of having to feed him should we have a hut day made me throw caution to the wind.

“Snow!” I muttered as I looked at the billowing steely grey clouds stacking up behind the hut.

“No, the weather’s clearing!” Bruce said confidently.

Armed with that knowledge, we set off trans-alpine to the farthest corner of the block. The three of us a cohesive unit, hunting like panthers in the night, shrouded completely in silence thanks to our combined 150 years of gun-induced deafness. We certainly couldn’t hear ourselves coming and had to wonder what spooked those four deer.

Then the temperature dropped so abruptly it left a nasty bump on my head. Fog licked in on the back of a frigid wind and thunder and lightning exploded above, the air so charged, static crackled and hissed all around us. The sky cried ice and I glared at Bruce.

“Dancing?” he queried sheepishly.

“Hypothermia!” I answered.

Drenched and miserable with cold, we retreated to the hut and a hot shower. Overnight, 18 inches of snow fell, entombing us in a tiny box high in the Kaweka mountains. A fat little pot-belly stove hissed and pinged all day, the only sound in the little hut apart from the occasional rustle as Bruce ferreted about for food.

Then the tall dwarf groaned.

“What?” I asked.

I just know my wife is going to ask what we talked about, stuck together in a hut all day. What am I going to say?”

Bruce had the answer, and shouted it triumphantly as he plucked a tin of sardines from the pantry. “Pilchards!”

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