‘Jesus, what is this dog doing?’ I think as Max and I stumble our way through a jungle of downed logs and upright roots. It is two in the afternoon, and we have spent the past four hours hiking to the top of a South Island ridge only to have Jepto, the German shorthaired pointer we are following, go diving back down in the same direction we just trekked up. Native New Zealand bush contains ferns and vines specifically designed to roll your ankles, and as I watch Max take another tumble down the hill in front of me, I know I am in for more assisted somersaults before the day is finished. Max hisses at Jepto, who is fifty yards ahead of us, to slow down, but she is too intent on the trail to care about our crashing acrobatics. So we continue to bang our shins as quietly as we can for another 100 meters down the side of the mini-mountain.
Suddenly Jepto freezes, her yellow eyes staring downhill over a log that is obstructing our view. Max, who has hunted alongside Jepto for the past three years, knows that the intensity of her stare means a deer is nearby. He slowly draws his bow and inches forward to peer over the log on which Jepto is perched. But Max can’t locate what Jepto is staring at, so she slinks back off the downed log, takes a few steps to the right, and again freezes as she looks around another tree. Max follows and this time as he peeks around the tree his bow steadies on a target.
The shot sounds like a rack of baseball bats was just punted across a dugout. And chances are that after clipping a few branches, that arrow is now embedded 50 feet up a tree facing the entirely wrong direction. But Max thought the shot felt good, so we have Jepto track for blood. We never find any sign of blood or hair and we know the shot must have been deflected to the point that the deer was not hit.
Jepto is just as happy to be tracking an eight month old fawn as a 14-point. On this day Max missed a small hind, but on another day he may get a chance at a nice stag. In New Zealand, where the bush is sometimes too thick or too vast to consistently stalk deer, many outdoorsmen hunt behind German shorthaired pointers and vizslas. Especially during slow times of the year, like late winter, hunters use pointers so they don’t spend all day stalking a ridge that a deer hasn’t walked on in days. The biggest challenge is to communicate with your dog so that it stays close to you while also moving quietly enough to get within range.
Possibly the best advantage of using a dog in New Zealand is after the shot. Max relies on Jepto to follow blood trails of wounded game, which increases his recovery rate tremendously. This asset manifests itself a few days later when Jepto helps us recover a hind that we would not have found on our own.
Max has worked with Jepto on goat, deer, and tahr contracts for the New Zealand government. They have shot over 1000 animals together. If you would like to see them in action, there are a few videos of New Zealand hunting under the episodes section of IowaSlam.com.
My intent with this blog is to share a different style of hunting than most people are accustomed to in the United States. Many states in the U.S. have laws against using dogs for deer hunting, and some hunters find it unethical to use this method. If you feel this way, and you would like to leave a comment in a constructive manner, feel free to do so.