Tramping up through the dry, swirling tussocks, past the old skeleton tree, I was the happiest young fella in Hawke’s Bay. I had sweat on my brow and the pack was heavy, but I couldn’t have cared less.
It was April, 1986 and I was following two chaps up the track. One was a gnarly old character with a BRNO 7×57 slung over his shoulder. He kept a steady pace with a crooked smile on his face, was sharp of wit and more wily than most in the ways of the bush. The other was about my age, fit as a fiddle, and already more knowledgeable at hunting than I could ever hope to be.
Jack Wire stopped to admire the distant Kaweka tops. He pointed across the mighty chasm towards the Kiwi Saddle, and broke into a yarn about his good friend Max, who shot a large boar not far from the Kiwi Saddle Hut. I had stayed at the hut a couple of times already, chasing my tail, but kept this knowledge to myself, as I was very shy, and a bit intimidated by this old bushman.
A Sika stag “he-hawed” down in Boyd’s bush, breaking the spell, but reminding us it was the rut. We passed Mount Cameron trig and continued the slog along the edge of the beech before I spied a small, dark tarn, just inside the bush edge. From here we followed the Ngaruroro River faces, popping in and out of the beech trees as we followed the twisting track. The young live wire, Andrew Herries, led the way, as he had already travelled this track many times with ‘Grandad’, as he later referred to him..
After reading about it in one of my growing collection of hunting books, I trudged on, still not quite believing I had been invited on this adventure. I had read the cover off Philip Holden’s classic, ‘Pack & Rifle’, especially the chapter where he nails a trophy Sika stag on this very range that we were now tramping along, albeit a few decades earlier.
We left the stunning views and angled down towards a tight little manuka basin, reaching the hut mid-afternoon. The billy was swung for a well-earned cup of tea before we all set about dragging in some extra firewood, to be cut later with an old-school, two-handed log saw.
Jack’s hut had been built in the late 1960s, further back towards the road, and then shifted to its current spot by Jack, and some other, good keen men. It was hidden down next to a cold running little creek, amongst a sprinkling of old mountain beech. Four sack bunks with a built-up fireplace of earth and stones, a couple of food cupboards to keep the mice out, and a smattering of frying pans and camp ovens, were the basic amenities in this bushman’s hut. With the fire crackling, there was no better place to be in foul weather, when the wind blew thick snow from the south.
Jack knew this Sika hunting country like the back of his hand, having spent most of his life hunting the surrounding high country, including a stint working at Ngamatea. He was known as an expert bushman, with a passion for building little bush huts that stood for many years, while also being a more than handy gunsmith. He was a cunning old fox, not wanting the young bucks scenting up his cherished local spots, that he had spent years getting to know himself. He told us to pack our gear and go explore the Raoraoroa Stream, where surprise, surprise he had built another hut!
Early next morning, with Andrew leading the way, we left camp. As Andrew had been to the Got Hut previously, I just tagged along wide-eyed, taking it all in. The Got Hut is a really interesting place, seldom visited even back in ‘86. The stream is a tributary of the mighty Ngaruroro River, and once you drop down hundreds of feet through scrub and claypans from Jack’s Hut, it becomes a wet boot country. Jack and his sidekicks started building the Got Hut during November, 1970, after an initial airdrop by Cessna from Bridge Pa. They completed the build towards the end of June the same year. Only those in the know could spot the old tree that signalled the secret turn off to find the Got Hut. Sadly, on my last visit in 2019, the old hut was no longer habitable…
Andrew & I both stalked around for a couple of days without success. Being a narrow gully system, the stags don’t play the game when the wind owns you in the Got, as it always seems to be blowing up your arse!
The ‘Got’ became a favourite winter hunting spot for me, that only a selected few were to visit. Once you had been there, you became an honorary ‘Gotman’ for the rest of your days, and you greeted another recipient with a hearty pirate call, “Arrrrrrr Gotman!” (Some would say that is a sure sign of spending too much time in the bush.)
We packed up and farewelled the Got Hut before climbing straight up behind camp, through the old man kanuka, on a lesser-known short track back towards the tops. Jack had been busy while we were away, using all of his Sika hunting experience to put himself into position to have a crack at a single calling stag. On arrival, both Andrew and I were in awe to see a nippon style eight-point sika rack propped up against the hut!
While smoke drifted up the corrugated chimney, Jack recounted the hunt to us that night around the campfire. He’d left the hut early and made his way a couple of miles down into Boyd’s Bush, following one of his many hunting tracks. These he would constantly upgrade with his sharp sickle, slicing through the thick bush lawyer, and anything else that got in his way, until he reached his chosen spot. After waiting patiently on a more open plateau in the beech forest, a rutting Sika stag had chased a hind within metres of him. He quickly dispatched it with his trusty 7×57, that took no prisoners!
The master had shown the apprentices how things were done. Not one to stand in front of the camera, I had to almost beg Jack to let me take a photo of him with his trophy, which he reluctantly did the next morning. To my knowledge, this could well have been the last eight pointer he shot from his hut…
Although I got to enjoy many more adventures with Jack, over time I became more confident with age, in hunting alone in the bush myself. I slowly went further afield, passing through Rabbiters’ Clearing, and on towards the Meat Safe, and the Hogget, identifying the surrounding landmarks until I too, would eventually become self-sufficient.
When hunting from his camp, Jack set some tough rules for his band of young hunters to follow. We were not to shoot hinds or velvet stags, and of course, for the next two years, that’s all I would ever run into! Finally, during Labour Weekend of 1988, while sneaking through the beech late one afternoon, I ran into a spiker that was slowly feeding my way. My old Mauser belched flame and I had my first Sika on the deck. Sadly, I had left my small camera on the bunk in the hut, and didn’t get to record this momentous event. However, I did bone out the shoulders and back steaks before carrying the hindquarters back to the hut whole. I was so proud – now I was a Sika hunter!!
Jack often mentioned the written permission he had from the local iwi to build his huts, but eventually, over time the Mt Cameron block was leased to Helisika in the mid-1990s, and as they say, nothing ever stays the same forever…
I was extremely lucky to call Jack a friend for over twenty years, and spent many a lunch hour listening to his yarns over a cup of tea, with him and his good wife, Rose. Jack was a very special character who helped shape guys like me, because he was so generous with his time and wisdom. A group of Jack’s special band of brothers erected a plaque recently overlooking his backyard…
In memory of Jack Wire, 1925-2012.