Cover Image @ Sean Powell - follow him HERE
Helicopters have shaped our hunting opportunities here in New Zealand, although politics and ideology certainly seem to have been driving things in recent times.
We have fairly free reign by being able to load up a few days’ worth of gear into a helicopter and get dropped into those out-of-the-way places (except for perhaps our wilderness areas for 90% of the year).
Now, I’m certainly all about those hard yakka walk-ins from the road end or boat, but with limited time it often makes sense to shell out some hard-earned cash to get dropped straight into your desired hunting area, along with those few extra comforts the payload allows for.
Those few extra comforts can make quite the difference, especially in winter. You will appreciate that extra jacket or spare pair of socks, the small camp chair or the extra roll mat, the camp gumboots or even the second pair of hunting boots for when the first pair is frozen solid after days in the snow and sub-zero nights.
Image @ Sean Powell - follow him HERE
A couple of years ago I took some good mates for their first fly in tahr trip, and stitched them up by telling them to still pack really light and not to bring any unnecessary crap. This of course gave me more payload to bring all my extra junk. The trip with those guys has now become an annual, and needless to say they have wised up.
Hot tents have certainly changed the game with regards to comfort, especially in the winter months for tahr hunting. With short days and long nights it makes a big difference having somewhere warm to cook and relax by the stove, compared with having to just get in your sleeping bag to keep warm. Waiting out that storm while drying your socks out by the fire is a whole bunch more appealing than just wearing your wet socks to bed to have them somewhat dry for the morning.
The other game the helicopter changes is of course the food – I’ve often ended up eating better sitting on top of a mountain range than I do at home. With a little planning and pre trip prep, it’s super-easy to eat like a king, especially when compared to those days on end of freeze dry meals, which is usually enough to remind us to pack the wet wipes (biodegradable one’s of course).
Machines do have their limits, so it’s handy having lightweight mates. This year’s trip with the above now switched-on hunting mates saw three of us managing to fit in one load with an MIA tent and a sack of firewood. We enjoyed three full days of hunting, whilst dining on back straps, whitebait and blue cod, all washed down with the appropriate refreshments. Weighing yourself and your gear pre-flight is usually a good source of banter, and can require some quick thinking about what’s actually a priority when you do have to lose a few kilos. The payload available varies with the type and model of aircraft, as well as how much fuel is on board and how fond of pies the pilot is. Typically, a Hughes 500 (depending on the above) will be able to shift 360-400 kgs not including the pilot, and a Squirrel plenty more than that but it’s also a lot more expensive to run.
The helicopter blowing snow around on landing - Image @ Sean Powell - follow him HERE
It’s worth having your gear somewhat organised with all your small stuff packed into bigger bags, meaning less mucking around when you’re loading the machine. I will generally have everything packed into a good-sized duffle bag. Those 40 or so litre plastic tubs are handy too but the pilots much prefer soft bags. Then it’s just a hunting pack, hill stick and a small chilly bin of food to go.
First Lite Dirtbag Duffles - Ideal for such adventures and coming soon to PointsSouth.
Spreading essential stuff across your team means you’re not doubling up on things, for example you don’t all need to pack a cooker and pots and pans. Beware of the newish restrictions on how many gas canisters you can carry; a white spirits burner is a much more efficient option when the temperature is seriously low.
Forgetting stuff is always amusing, unless it involves you. A few years ago we made the drive up the coast for a week of tahr hunting, and were literally about to load the machine when a buddy asked “hey have you seen that black tub?” and then realised it was still sitting on the garage floor at home. Luckily, he still had his sleeping bag and tent, but it must have been a long week for him missing out on all his wife’s packed lunches that were in the tub.
Last year another couple of buddies managed to fly off the hill and leave a pack lying in the tussock. I guess there can’t have been too many tahr around if the tussock was that long. One of those same same buddies had a few evening whiskies in a severe snow storm, forgot to shut his tent door and woke up in mound of windblown snow. Technically, the open door may have been my fault as I was the last to leave once we all retired to our own tents that night….
Making smart use of the available payload is key, and we all have some different ideas around what that entails. Here’s a short list of the more luxurious or super handy items, I find myself throwing in more often than not.
- Extra roll mat
- Folding Saw
- Big tent/hot tent
- Lightweight tarp and rope
- Inflatable Pillow
- Solar light
- Pull though/gun oil
- Cable Ties
- Biodegradable wet wipes
- Bacon & Egg Pie
- First Aid kit and Epirb/Inreach
- Camp gumboots
- Camp chair
If time is your biggest limitation, then a few quality days of hunting hard is really achievable and actually pretty cost effective if you can fill the seats in the machine. So increasing your hunting time as opposed to your hike-in time can really make a lot of sense. Support those good heli operators, as they will certainly be feeling the effects of having no international tourism, and you’re sure to learn something about where you should be hunting.
Image @ Sean Powell - follow him HERE
Originally produced for NZ Hunter Magazine, get your hands on the latest issue or grab a subscription HERE