A recap: In part 1, Trent Thin (the Yankee), murdered Greg’s son Tim, and fell in love with Beatrix, the radio operator. This part is a little shorter than part 1.

 

Cull: The History of Deer in New Zealand

Part 2

 

1969

Trent was hunched over a burger at the bar of the local hotel in Queenstown as Beatrix spoke to an old school friend beside the fireplace. The room was entirely wooden with a few mounted deer heads on the walls, and a set of skis propped up beside the door. There was a pack of men arguing about a rugby match off to Trent’s left, and a tourist was trying to make sense of a huge paper map to the right.

Trent had no beard anymore, just long sideburns, and he wore a leather jacket over a blue flannel shirt. His scruffy hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and he ignored everything else in the pub while he picked up his dinner and stuffed a full third of it into his mouth.

“Hey baby,” he heard Beatrix say, and he felt her little hand tapping on his shoulder. He swallowed and took a long swig of beer.

“Yeah babe?”

“This is Andrew, he has something to talk to you about,” Beatrix said as she introduced the old school friend she had been speaking to.

“Good evening,” both men said as Trent stood to shake Andrew’s hand.

“I hear you’re a hunter?” Andrew sat. He had a huge, fat head, and tiny little spectacles that seemed to be lodged deep within his flabby face.

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m looking for a business partner. Now, don’t think I’m crazy, but I have a specific idea. It’s something that might seem a little strange.”

Trent pushed his meal away and sat up in his seat.

“This sounds interesting. What’s the idea?”

“Don’t just laugh or tell me to piss off. I’m serious about this.”

“Alright, what is it?”

“I need, well, I’ve never shot a gun in my life, but I think, maybe-”

“Spit it out man, come on.”

“I’m a pilot, and I want to try and airlift the deer carcases off the mountain.”

“Airlift? What do you mean?”

“I want to hire a helicopter, and I want to pick up the deer as a hunter shoots them, and fly them back to town.”

Trent didn’t smile or laugh or even shake his head, and the three of them sat in silence as he thought about it.

“I understand. You want to sell the meat and the pelt and collect the bounty on every kill. No wastage.”

“Yes!” Andrew erupted, “That’s right, that’s the idea.”

“It could work, what do you want from me?”

“I need a business partner, and I’d like that person to be a hunter. I need someone who knows the terrain and the animals and, well, I need someone who knows how to skin them and things like that.

Trent turned to Beatrix and asked, “What do you think?”

“I think it’s a great idea.”

“Yeah, but he’s asking for a business partner. Do you understand that means money?”

“Of course. We should invest in something, and think about what we could have if this works.”

“What do you mean?”

“Trent, I really like you a lot. I do, but you leave me for five weeks at a time, and you come back with scars and wounds, and people die out there on their own.”

“I know that; you don’t have to explain it to me.”

“I know you know.” Beatrix put her hand on Trent’s leg and moved closer to him to continue. “You love the bush, and that’s fantastic, but wouldn’t you like to be with me more? We could move into a little cabin somewhere. It could be just the two of us together, and you could go to work and come home every night like a normal bloke.”

Trent gently lifted Beatrix’s hand, and kissed her fingers before he looked back to Andrew and said, “I’m in.”

“Yes! Fantastic.”

“But we need to figure out the method. One shooter can only get a few deer a day, half a dozen at best. We need to plan this thing, and we need to get as many deer as we can as quickly as we can so we don’t have to rent the helicopter for very long.”

The next morning, Trent told Greg about the possibility as he was sitting outside of a little bakery. He had a venison pie in his hands, and he was taking small bites of it so he could hold the burning meat in his teeth for a second and blow on it before swallowing.

“If Andrew is a pilot it could work. You should do it,” Greg said without looking at Trent.

“Maybe we should both do it? I’m sure he’ll need more help.”

Greg looked at his mate and said, “No. I don’t want to be out there anymore. Not at all. I’m opening a camping and outdoor sports shop in town. I’ll sell hunting and fishing gear, and tell all the tourists about the bush, but that’s it. I’m done. I’m not going on any more trips.”

 

1970

Andrew filled in paperwork with a huge, excited grin at the airstrip while Trent led a line of shooters through the bush. Fifteen men marched in unison, each one hundred meters apart from the other in a wide, straight line. They drove herds of deer down into the rocky valleys, and fired on them whenever they could, leaving the whole dead beasts sprinkled over the hills and curled up at the bottoms of ditches. The following morning, Trent led the same men with the same weapons in a similar line back up the same valleys, firing on the remaining depleted herds, and marking fresh kills beside the bodies of the animals shot the night before.

Andrew sailed the hired helicopter easily over the frozen, massive territory, and it dipped to The Earth like a calm worker bee to extract the bloody and ghoulish loot. Each and every person involved watched with curious smiles as the machine was used to lay the bounty out back towards the town in a graveyard of profit.

“Have you counted them yet?” Andrew asked Trent after he’d returned the machine.

“Almost three hundred.”

“And what do you think we can get for each?”

Trent smiled back at his mate, “About one hundred and fifty dollars for each animal. We should make forty thousand dollars today.”

Trent watched as Andrew swore to himself, and moved away for a second. He could see that the numbers were running through his friend’s head as Andrew ran a trembling hand over his brow.

“How much did all this cost to set up in the first place?” Trent called out.

“You mean between the men we hired to shoot, the equipment, the helicopter and the fuel?”

“Yeah and the fact that we both missed out on our proper jobs to do this.”

Andrew’s grin faded. “Probably about forty grand.” He sighed and bit his lip.

“So we’re about even.”

“Damn it,” Andrew grunted.

Trent moved to his mate, and put a hand on his shoulder. With the other hand, he gestured towards the assembled men and said, “Why don’t we do all of this ourselves. Just you and me.”

“What do you mean? We did do all of this.”

“No, not the organising. I mean the actual shooting.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Let’s buy a helicopter.”

“Are you serious? Do you know how expensive they are?”

“Yeah, but we could get an old Korean War chopper for a pretty reasonable price, and I reckon we could find some interested investors after what we did today.”

Andrew nodded along before insisting, “You can’t shoot from a helicopter, it’s too unsteady.”

“I’ll be able to shoot, don’t worry about that.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve done it before.”

“Are you serious? Where?”

“Vietnam.”

Later in the evening, Trent sat in a small brick house about a half an hour outside of Queenstown as Beatrix grilled sausages in a pan on the stove. Their home smelt of charcoal from the fireplace, and soil from the boots beside the door.

“I can’t believe the hunt went so well. It’s amazing that people,” Beatrix paused to rephrase the thought, “I mean that you have been living out there with so much danger for so long when there was an easier way.”

“It didn’t go all that well. We got a lot, but we spent a lot of money. It didn’t work out at a profit.”

“Are you serious? Damn, that’s a shame. We really need more money now.”

“Nah, we’re alright. The mortgage here is pretty manageable.”

“Trust me; we need more.”

“Alright, well we’ve thought of another way to do it so that we don’t have to pay too many other people.”

“How?”

“We’re going to buy our own chopper, and I’ll shoot while Andrew flies. We’re going to pull the deer out of the bush one by one.”

“That sounds really expensive,” Beatrix replied, then she took a second to think before continuing. “And it sounds hard, how are you going to shoot from the air?”

“It’ll be expensive to begin with, but it’ll certainly be worth it in the end. I’ll even be my own boss, so I’ll be able to set my own hours and everything.”

“But will you be able to do it? To hunt like that? You’re used to living in a cabin, what do you know about helicopters?”

“Don’t worry about that.”

“You’re going to have to worry about it if you’re buying a helicopter.”

“It’s alright. I’ve got some experience with the machines, quite a bit actually.”

“Really? How?”

Trent hesitated for a tiny, imperceptible moment before he said, “I had an uncle who loved them. We used to build models and go to air shows and all that stuff.”

“OK, well, I like the idea of you being your own boss. That’s going to be great because I have some news.”

“What? What’s going on?”

Beatrix took the frying pan off the heat, and put down the tongs, and turned to meet Trent’s eye.

“I love you,” she said.

“I know baby; I love you too.”

“I’m pregnant.”

 

1971

Trent and Andrew had enormous lengths of rope, and whole cartons of ammunition as Andrew lifted their helicopter off the ground for their first flight. It had been a long year of preparation, but Trent leant out of the hole in the side of the helicopter, where they had removed the sliding door, ready to claim their first kill.

The pair soared high over the canopy of the bush and watched their prey look back up at them with peaceful, uncomprehending eyes. The animals moved to cover, and Trent looked at his friend to see a huge, toothy smile in between the headgear.

Andrew nodded, and the helicopter lowered to fly just above the tree line. They moved over a ridge, and Andrew turned the aerial vehicle to give Trent the perfect opportunity to fire at a herd of red deer as they fled over a long patch of grass. The trees and bushes and shrubs all around were whipped into a furious dance by the wind of the rotor blades, and the men could barely hear the “CRACK, CRACK, CRACK, CRACK, CRACK,” of the weapon in the chaos.

In a moment, two animals lay bleeding in the grass, and the friends looked down on them with pride, as if the corpses were totems of their success.

They couldn’t speak to each other as they worked; the vehicle was too loud. They just pointed to different pieces of equipment and made hand signals as they hovered eight meters from the ground below.

Trent attached a rope to the landing gear of the chopper, and removed his headset. He threw the free end of the tether to the ground, then shimmied down the dangling rope like a nervous soldier on the way to combat.

When Trent stood on solid ground, he peered back up to Andrew, and gave the pilot a thumbs up before moving to the first dead animal. He cut a hole in its leg and attached the rope to the powerful tendons above the deer’s hoof. On the second beast, Tim tied the rope around its neck. Andrew tentatively lowered the machine until Trent could clamber back inside, and the pair of them ferried the corpses to a safe location.

The engine was turned off, and the entrepreneurs conversed over their first haul.

“How long did that take?” Trent asked.

“Half an hour.”

“Half an hour. Two deer will bring about three hundred dollars. We could do that ten times a day and make three grand. Three thousand dollars in a bloody day.”

“Yeah. Or we could do it twenty times a day.”

Six months later, the pair moved much faster. There were other teams of pilots, shooters and helpers in the Fjordland, and they all used chains instead of ropes.

Trent would slide down the chain to the deer, and he’d pull three times on the bottom of the tether to signal that the helicopter was free. Without a passenger, Andrew could fly as fast as he liked to look for more herds of animals or move into a position where he could land.

On a Monday afternoon, Trent shot a deer in a heavily wooded area, and Andrew held the helicopter steady above the bush. There were trees everywhere with no open areas to manoeuvre properly as the rotor blades spun free and clear above the foliage.

Trent shimmied down the chain, gripping the dangling strand without any kind of safety harness or support. His feet entered the canopy of the trees, and branches scraped at his legs as the leaves were thrashed around in the wind. He swung to try and get a straight drop to the ground below, but it wasn’t possible.

Trent was about six meters from the floor when he decided to walk along a thick branch, then climb down the trunk. He was holding the chain with one hand to balance, and he tugged at it as he lost his balance.

Andrew felt the tugging and took off. The helicopter climbed straight up, away from the rocks and wood below, and Trent’s shoulder was almost pulled from its socket as he clung to the chain. He latched onto the thing with both hands, desperately squeezing the tether as if he planned to throttle it.

Andrew flew the helicopter at full pace one hundred meters over the bush below, and Trent could do nothing but pray. His vision blurred, and the chain began to spin.

With the uneven weight of the man at the bottom, the chain twisted and spun like a tornado. There was water and dust in Trent’s eyes as he attempted to scream up to his oblivious friend above.

Trent felt his fingers slipping. He squeezed his legs together around the life-saving link, and wrapped his ankles around the loose end below him. His eyes were sealed shut from terror and, suddenly, something heavy struck his foot.

It loosened the grip he had with his legs and Trent imagined the rocks and the fall below. He opened his eyes. Trent was hovering less than a meter from the ground as Andrew slowly brought the machine down.

He dropped and rolled as quickly as he could, his hands instinctively covering his face.

The engine was off, and Andrew was sprinting towards him in a second.

“Jesus! You were on that?”

Trent couldn’t reply; he just started vomiting in the frozen grass. Andrew fell to his side, and the sound of the helicopter died away to leave the men clutching at each other in silence.

“We need a better system,” Andrew finally announced.

“It’s alright mate. We’ll figure it out,” Trent said as he stood and looked down at the sorrowful pilot. “I’m sure it won’t happen again. We got lucky.”

Andrew still sat, and looked up with misery painted over his features.

“What’s wrong? I’m fine,” Trent repeated.

“I’m not worried about you anymore. There’s been another accident.”

“What?”

“I’ve just heard on the radio that one of the other teams had an accident. Jack, from Wellington, was flying past a rock face, and one of the rotor blades clipped a boulder. It snapped off, and the thing lost control. The other boys are all right; they bailed out, but Jack is dead.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“There’s been another death. Jack was killed, mate. He crashed.”

“God damn it, not again.”

 

1980

Trent drove a refrigeration truck full of wild venison cuts to a butcher in Queenstown. He leapt down from the cab of the vehicle, and shook Peter’s hand as the man came to inspect the delivery.

The old professional riffled through a crate of the meat, and found a single, huge steak.

“God damn, look at this. What a beauty,” Peter said.

“Yeah, there were some big fellas this round.”

“Well, why can’t you bring me steaks like this all the time? This is export quality; we could send it to China or Australia for double what you get here.”

“It’s not that easy; the wild animals are usually small.”

“That’s a shame. There’s a lot of money to be made from the higher quality stuff.”

Trent laughed and said, “The only way we could get them bigger would be to farm them.”

“Well,” Peter began, “Do you know anything about farming?”

That afternoon, Trent sat beside Andrew at a bar, and they spoke about the industry, and their business, and all their friends who had been killed over the last decade.

“The cull is almost over,” Andrew said, “There aren’t enough deer left in the mountains to be pests anymore.”

“Well, what if we brought them out of the mountains?” Trent asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve spoken to someone at the Forestry Service, and I reckon I could get permission to catch live deer, and keep them in a pen for scientific reasons.”

“What scientific reasons? They’re a pest; we’ve been trying to get rid of them for all these years. No one wants to breed the damn things.”

“The government wants to study them.”

“What do you know about studying animals?”

We don’t study them; we just run the property. The government will send scientists out to learn about them. The deer are part of our ecosystem now.”

“I get it, the government studies them, and we manage the animals.”

“Correct,” Trent said.

“So, how do we get them live? And how many do we need?”

“We’ll figure it out. Surely it can’t be that difficult.”

On the next flight, the men didn’t take any ammunition. Andrew flew the helicopter, and chased a small white-tailed deer through a clearing as Trent sat on the edge of his seat, ready to pounce.

When the animal tired and slowed, Trent leapt from the almost stationary helicopter to the ground, a couple of meters below. He knocked the deer off its feet, and it kicked at him as he scrambled to hold the beast to the ground. He bound the animal’s legs together so it lay bucking, but immobile, on the grass.

Trent wrapped the creature in a bright orange, rubber sheet, and attached the whole thing to the bottom of the helicopter. The deer watched with petrified awe as it was lifted from the ground, and carried over the mountains.

After only a few minutes, the animal was lowered gently into a paddock and released. It stumbled around and followed the fence line, peering out to the nearby forest. After only a few months, there were a hundred of the live animals grazing and mating in the huge pen.

Andrew and Trent stood together, looking out at the farm.

“This is it,” Andrew began. “This is the way to do it.”

“Yeah, definitely. Now come back to the house, I have something to show you.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a new way to catch the deer. We can shoot them with a tranquillizer that has a tracking device attached to it. Then we just follow the signal and when we pick it up fifteen minutes later, the animal is already asleep.”

“Really? We can just pick the thing up when it’s asleep? And you reckon we should start using them?”

“Definitely.”

“How did you think of this?”

“I didn’t think of it. I have an old hunting buddy that’s been running a camping supply store for a while now. He invented it, and built one, and got the patent and all that. It works really well; he’s going to make a lot of money.”

The two mates started walking back towards the farmhouse, and Beatrix appeared holding a nine-year-old girl’s hand on the back porch.

Andrew said, “The live capture traps we’ve set up in the national park are working well too, we brought in three bucks and four does just last week.”

They reached the house, and Trent kissed his lovely wife on the cheek.

She said, “Your daughter here has just told me she wants to go to work with you. I said it’s too dangerous.”

Trent picked up the little girl, and held her to his chest. She ran a tiny palm over his balding head, and Trent said, “Nah, farming isn’t that bad.”

 

The truth of this story is in the progression of the deer industry. Deer were a pest in New Zealand, and they were culled by teams living in the unforgiving mountains before the “helicopter wars.” These “wars” involved groups of mates competed for huge piles of meat and pelts. There are reports of very aggressive rivalries, but my research has indicated that most of the people in the industry were friendly (unless, of course, you’ve got fur). Today, deer are a farmed commodity, and Kiwi deer are particularly delicious with a cherry glaze (trust me). The history of deer in New Zealand is a fantastic example of a population utilising a “pest” and turning it into a beneficial feature of the society. Unless, of course, you’ve got fur; in that case, you should probably avoid humans all together.