Why do men like hunting?
Are you serious? Just look at Bill and his dog. Do they look unhappy?
When Craig Taylor asked me to tag along on a pheasant shoot (actually I've been hounding him to take me on one of his outdoor adventures for a while), I didn't think twice. Craig is always excellent company, as down to earth as a pair of Red Band boots; It was a great chance to practice a little documentary style photography as well as a bloody good walk in the foothills of the Knobby Range.
Did I mention the free parking?
By nine am, several blokes and as many dogs were working the gullies and spurs in careful lines, well-trained dogs at heel, on point or flushing out prey. For the less experienced pups, it was a chance to learn from the example of older dogs like Craig's Meg and Monty. Fun? I learned that a dog can actually wag its tail until it bleeds and still not stop.
The natural light was fine for what I was doing, just tagging along. If I was going to do this again though, I might get a little more in the shooters faces, maybe throw a little light under those hunting caps with a small softbox. These on-the-go shoots are another occasion when a voice-activated light stand would come in really handy. Feel free to leave your contact details in the comment box at the bottom of this entry if you'd like to volunteer.
Feel free to leave a comment there anyway. I know you're out there. My stats tell me my visitors are spread all over the world, from Argentina to Iran. Don't be afraid to say hi.
This can be tough country. The spiny scrub and rocky outcrops make for great pheasant habitat, although the birds don't really thrive here unless you provide some feed. That means they pretty well stay on the property.
Today it's a working farm, but this land used to be the shooting estate of Dunedin Architect NYA Wales. Still in family hands, Nathaniel's great grandson Jeremy got the idea to stock it with pheasants and open up to paying shooters. I can't say much about what the other shooters were using, but most of what I bagged was at the long end of my Canon EFS 55-250mm lens, with a polarising filter to accentuate the dark blue of that Otago sky. I pretty much stuck around 400 ISO, occasionally creeping up to 800 when the light levels dropped. Speaking of dropping things...
These are magnificent game birds. Their plumage is beautifully patterned and yet makes ideal camoflage. When flushed from their hiding places, they explode into the air and soar down the ridges like proud viking ships under full sail. On the matter of morality, well this is an introduced species originally from India, bred for this purpose. Death in this instance comes quicker than it does of natural causes. There were a few carcasses lying around that had obviously been killed and ripped apart more slowly by the bills and talons of harrier hawks. Finally, hunting is in the human DNA. Take a cheek cell scraping down to your local shooting and fishing store and they'll show you.
By late afternoon, I think just about everybody had got a bird or two and tails were starting to droop from sheer exhaustion. I pulled out my flash, popped a radio trigger on to get it off the camera and used it for a little fill against the low afternoon light. Happy hunters posed with trophies or beloved dogs. Not "I love you poochie" beloved. I mean "Get back here ya mongrel", "Seek it out", "Good Girl" beloved. Working dog love. It's strong stuff.
Handshakes all round, it was time for us to hit the road and face another working week, while in the back, exhausted pups dreamed of their next day out. Up front in the cab, I was doing the same.