The Fossil Hunters


by Will Rickerby
(Published NZ Hunting & Wildlife, Spring 1997)

The Last NightI was about to hang up the telephone when Tom’s wife answered, if you would call a giggle an answer.
“Hello, is Tom in”.  The response was peels of laughter.
“What’s the joke?” I asked. More laughter. What should I say now? Has she kicked him out?
“Can I speak to Tom, pleased?”
“No … he can’t talk!”
Heavens, she has knocked him off or maybe he has died … where did he say he wanted his ashes spread?

Tom was getting on a bit. After all, he was at least two years older than I am and according to my kids, we had both become extinct after reaching thirty. This was especially reinforced when I overheard one of my grandkids say, “Granddad has fur under his arms. Is his stuffing coming out Grandma?” Well, I must at least look old!

Jim & Me 1962Over the years we have had some great hunts together, Tom and I, and it would have been a shame if our last hunt had occurred without either of us realising it. On the trail and in camp, we would lie to each other about our hunting exploits and then we would give up after a while because we each had heard most of the bull before. We had fully exhausted our sex stories by 1972, and any new exploits were only recycled versions, so it was more interesting spending the time criticizing the government or Forest Service. Admittedly, we had taken most of our deer before we had reached that great step into the unknown world of dodderers. However, I’m sure Tom would agree that our most memorable trips had occurred while in this land of Dod.

Among the few disadvantages of getting old is, although things do not drop off, they do wear out. Ears are an example. They look the same as anyone’s but the insides malfunction a little, causing several problems when hunting. Wearing a hearing aid produces twigs and branches that snap and crackle, birds that screech and whistle, packs that make scraping noises against bushes and deer that whistle, bark and scream. When light rain falls on leaves it sounds like “pish, pish”, and heavily falling rain on leaves sounds like .22 shots going off. With out a hearing aid, the woods are very quiet and one can creep around without much noise. No doubt deer still squeal and bark, maybe even crash away, twigs and branches crackle too, but it is peaceful.

These minor hiccups fall away when a deer is sighted. It helps if the deer are tame because there is a certain procedure to follow before a shot is fired. First I must clean the scope, load a round, turn the hearing aid off, look for a rest, and then … continue looking for deer sign.

An easy style of hunting is termed “No sweat hunting”. Young chaps nowadays consider this to be helicopter fly-ins, but for old fellows it is the art of still-hunting. It was not loafing around camp hoping a deer would wander by either. The idea is that you find a likely place and lean against a tree. For this type of hunting, one has to have patience, – and there are not many people who can stand still for long periods – except for Tom!  Tom could stand still for that long, he would start to decompose! At least that is what the blow flies seemed to think anyway. If the buzzing got too bad, I would turn my hearing aid off.

There are many tricks to be employed to keep up to faster moving youngsters (under thirty-year-olds). Any slip or view is an opportunity for a spell to scan with binoculars for deer. If there are no slips or lookouts, stage a “I heard something down there” and send the youngster to have a look. The steeper the gully the longer you will have to rest. Any good view, or waterfall, is an opportunity  to take a photograph, and to have another spell if you wish to.

In fact, photography is a great hobby to develop with many options all along the track. Take plenty of photographic gear, because this will give you the opportunity to fiddle around with a greater number of knobs and buttons. Even if you happen to fall over, never get up straight away. If your camera is handy, just crawl along; if your mate happens to wander back to see what has happened pretend to look for insects and micro plants.

wjr Rabbit Patch Waihaha

It is great to get out in the bush, even with these imagined disabilities. To come across a nice spot and hang the walking stick, also known as a rifle, in a tree, sit back, and absorb the atmosphere. Of course, you hang it up in a tree. If you do not, you will have to bend down twice! One must always hang the rifle at eye level too, just in case you happen to walk off and forget it. Do not snigger yet, because fate has some odd twists. By a strange quirk of life, when I was young and with plenty of energy, I had very little money to buy gear but now as a fossil, I find it easy to buy the gear but I don’t have enough energy to carry it!

In future (what a word), when the grandkids come to visit, I will keep my arms by my sides. By the way, Tom was not poisoned either, he had lost his voice due to a bad cold, and I still can’t remember where he wants his ashes thrown.

(First in New Zealand Deerstalkers Association, National Literary Competition, Section B, 1997)