“We need fourteen day’s notice to carry firearms ,sir”. My flight was later that evening so these words from the Air New Zealand telephonist were about as unwelcome as Barak Obama at a ‘tea party’ rally.
I was to fly to Auckland for a week of pheasant shooting and my trusty old Thompson hammer gun was packed and ready to go. Now, it looked like the old girl was not going to make the party.
Always check well in advance if you have to fly with guns. Some places and airlines make it easy (Continental Airlines to the USA ) others difficult (as I was finding out with regard to New Zealand) and some impossible (American Airlines from London to the States).
Slightly irritated and gun-less, I boarded the 23 hour flight to Auckland to participate in pheasant shooting which, I was promised, rivals the best anywhere. Now I was going to have to use a borrowed gun; Great.
My friend Peter Hutson met me at the airport and we were soon in his gun room. Peter has a nice collection of British shotguns and double rifles and has hunted all over the world with them. He decided to use his Boss sidelock ejector and I settled on a William Powell boxlock, which seemed to work OK for me on a few clays we tried out. I also selected a Dickson 16-bore hammer gun for the final of the three shoots.
I wondered how the 19th century guns would cope with much-vaunted high birds down here. I was soon to find out. I like my guns set up with relatively little rib showing. Peter likes his with about 2” drop at heel. I was going to have to get used to the guns shooting high, and compensating.
Estate houses in the early-settled Hawkes Bay area are evocative of Victorian country houses with their wood-panelled and floored interiors, replete with stuffed stags and sporting art. The grounds surrounding them are similar to the landscaped parks around their British equivalents but the scenery is far more dramatic and offers the sporting squire possibilities for showing pheasants of which few in the UK can even dream.
Just as W&C Scott developed much higher brand recognition as a retailer of their own products in the USA than they did in England, where they were principally makers to the trade, some firms got good footholds in the antipodes; Cashmore being a good example. His guns gained a solid reputation in pigeon shooting competition circles and he had good agents to distribute them. Another who achieved similar success was Charles Boswell. To this day, Boswell and Cashmore pigeon guns regularly feature in Australian Arms Auctions sales and one or two of my clients take advantage of the, sometimes low, prices.
Australians have been ahead of the Brits on double rifles for a long time. A dedicated band, like my mate Denver Marchant, have been hunting outback buffalo with vintage British nitro express rifles for two decades or more. Graeme Wright, author of ‘Shooting the British Double Rifle’ is an Aussie and has captured just about everything relevant on the subject in his very impressive book.
New Zealand is a country where most rural dwellers have a gun in the shed or under the bed, and some even have licences for them! They seem a bit more relaxed about that sort of thing out there. Pheasant shooting used to be illegal on a commercial scale. Most hunting in N.Z is free but low quotas and the illegality of selling game acted as quite a handicap. However, recent efforts by a band of enthusiasts; exiled Brit, Guy Ralph, principal amongst them, have secured changes in legislation enabling seven or eight private concerns to develop driven shooting on a commercial or syndicated basis, along the lines of shoots in the UK.
Where we revere names like Brigands, Mollond, Bodnant and Queensbury as high bird shoots of the first order, the international pheasant shot really needs to add Tuna Nui, Lakelands and Whana Whana to his vocabulary now that N.Z driven pheasants have taken off in style.
I nervously un-slipped the Powell at Tuna Nui on day one for the first drive and was pleasantly surprised: good numbers of birds came through the line at good heights but I could kill them and did so with satisfying speed and regularity, when my neighbouring gun allowed any to get close; some of the niceties of line discipline like selecting your own birds, appear to require more work here than does basic marksmanship, which is impressive.
Now, feeling I had not let the side down and relieved that I would hold my own, we ambled over the green pastures to the next drive. Another good one, high pheasants cruised overhead and again, the old Powell and I did ourselves proud. The birds appeared to be getting higher each drive. Eventually we found ourselves double banked and looking up a cliff face! Somewhere up there was a plateau and on that was a game crop.
The pheasants started to leap off it in eights and tens, already forty yards up and flying strongly across the valley. Eight for twelve! Even a high right and left with two birds dead in the air together. I was on fire and everyone could see me. The Brit was the man! All worries of these birds stretching me beyond my limits were dispelled. Challenging, exciting but not humiliating. I was enjoying this.
Then we went to a proper drive. And several more over the coming days. These Kiwi boys could quite easily put birds over a good team of Guns all day and hardly a feather would get ruffled. If you don’t regularly shoot pheasants on a strong wind dropping and curling at distances in excess of sixty yards, you will be as lost as I was when scratching my head and watching Guy on the peg in front of me fire 45 shells for three birds. I fired twelve for zero and then just watched. I was wasting lead.
What I was most impressed by was the ability of the estates to show birds suited to the capabilities of the team on the day. All the lines of Guns I joined were experienced and capable, much better than I expected. Locals, Aussies and ex-pat Brits made up the majority and they had the skills and knew the form. One or two ‘very testing’ drives mixed with some that were just ‘testing’.
Plenty of birds everywhere, all flying strongly. The last drive of the last day at Whana Whana lasted an hour and accounted for 140 birds. There was no need to avoid low birds, every pheasant breaking the line challenged the Gun to pay attention and as is the way of these things, the line rose to the occasion and the shooting standard was impressive. To the amusement of the locals, the Dickson 16-bore was doing its share, despite external hammers and damascus barrels.
I was pleased my borrowed Victorian guns overcame the sceptics here, just as they have done at home. Some of my antipodean fellows had never contemplated a hammer gun as a serious driven bird dispatcher. Perhaps they will now. They were all interested and very friendly. It may be along way to go but Australia and New Zealand offer more than surf and sand. If you find yourself heading out that way, make a few enquiries and see if you can bolt a day’s shooting onto your itinerary. And make sure you call Air New Zealand a couple of weeks in advance to do the paperwork for your guns; I doubt Peter will want you all on the scrounge for his Dickson!
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )