I first met Colin Jones down on the Wairarapa Coast about the time my son James was born. We were filming and I was newly diagnosed with MS. A bunch of us congregated on a secluded piece of windswept, rugged coast. It was a calm day but with a leaden threatening sky. The sea was rough and soupy but it was diveable. Waves dumped on the offshore rocks and tumbled across the reefs.
Behind us the coastal hills reared up and scrub covered gullies held the promise of deer. It was the sort of paradise that Jonesy was very much at home in. We started by gathering a feed of crayfish and paua and then headed off to a hut in the hills for an afternoon hunt. Between torrential downpours I shot one of the last deer I claimed on foot and cemented a friendship that has endured ten great years. I hunted with Jonesy again weeks later and we stalked a few stags that were moaning their way through the end of the roar.
By then my legs were in pretty bad shape but my cobber patiently altered his pace so that I didn’t feel like too much of a burden. It was the strangest feeling. I would wander along without even breathing hard or raising a sweat but my legs would eventually just shut down. We followed that excursion with a wilderness fly fishing trip and have since shared some great experiences. One of the highlights for me was taking Jonesy to the Three Kings where he tagged two marlin and caught some great kingfish.
The “old chap” is now in his 70’s, slowing up a bit, but with a mind that has lost none of its keenness as he recounts a life full of great stories. Jonesy and I are mates, real mates. The sort that does what is necessary to support each other.
Jonesy has written a book, a bloody good one called Jonesy’s deer Culling Days published by Halcyon. It’s a great read and gives you a bit of an insight in to Jonesy’s character.
Some months ago my mate phoned and suggested that James and I join him for the opening of duck shooting. Bird shooting is not really my thing but I was not about to withhold an opportunity like that from James. I am a firm believer that interacting with our outdoor environment enriches the lives of our kids. I know this because that’s what it did for me. I started fishing at three, shot rabbits when seven, dived from an early age and revelled in places like Fiordland through my twenties, thirties and forties. Outdoor New Zealand is paradise and it is only by interacting with it that you gain a true appreciation of our mountains, rivers, lakes and coastline. The important thing is to be given an opportunity, to sow the seeds, seeds that germinate and grow in to a self motivated individual who has the confidence to try new things and push boundaries. That’s what I want for my son and what Jonesy was sowing was one more seed.
We were to shoot on Rogers place. Roger has created a fantastic duck shooting wetland on his property and each year he, Jones and Neil invite a couple of keen young hunters down for a pretty unique experience. James and I became a part of that adventure on opening weekend.
It was the week after James’s eleventh birthday and I had purchased a 410 to help him learn to shoot a shotgun. James gets a continued grilling on firearm safety. My father taught me the same way. Break the rules and the trip is over, the gun is back in the case. It’s all about instilling safe practice from day one and providing an understanding that rifles don’t kill people, peoples abuse of firearm safety does.
A friend of mine, John Fraser, advised me to take James to the Waitemata Gun Club for an afternoon where another old campaigner named Johnny took James under his wing. He thrust a 20 gauge semi auto in James’s eager hands and instructed him on the art of blowing clays out of the sky.
That was it. James was hooked. He came away chattering like a canary about the clays he had turned to powder and about what was going to happen to those poor unsuspecting ducks.
On opening morning we were in a motel in Katikati. I dragged James out of bed at 4.30am. Jones arrives at 4.50am and we were off to Rogers place.
It would be hard not to get swept up in the excitement of it. Everyone looked like a piece of jungle covered in camo gear, complete with gloves and face masks. We bristled with shotguns, were weighted down with ammunition and gazed eagerly at a faint light way to the east in the crisp morning sky.
It was still dark when we arrived. A heavy dew covered the ground and dripped off the trees, conversation was reduced to whispers as the camo clad hunters materialised out of the gloom. A series of quacks explained the whispers and showed that the pond was just down the hill.
The boys had shared many a conference about how best to get me in to a good shooting position in my wheelchair. Jonesy had turned his quad bike trailer in to a maimai. He had built a frame over it and painted it green, brown and grey. The plan was to push me up a ramp and tow me down beside the pond. There huge nets completed the camo effect and James and I shared an ideal shooting platform.
I was loaded up, and down the hill we cruised until the trailer was positioned for maximum benefit with a great view over the dark brooding pond. James was like a cat on a hot tin roof. He could hardly control his excitement. I could feel it and it infected me. What a great thing to be able to share such adventures with my son.
Everyone shuffled off to their spots and for a while there were just our whispers and the odd quack from out over the pond. James sat with the 410 cracked open and a shell ready to feed.
“Can you see any dad?”
“No mate, still too dark.”
“Can you shoot them on the water?”
“I thought we talked about that?”
“Just checking dad,” he said with a grin.
Still too dark to see but every sound somehow amplified and then the sound of wings and a hiss as the water spread away under webbed feet.
A duck landed right in front of us, a very unfortunate duck, and I was pleased we had shared a conversation about not shooting them on the water.
The duck swam about not more than five metres away. Our whole world focused on that duck. James was grinning from ear to ear as he snapped the 410 shut. He still needed to draw back the hammer but that would only take a second, just long enough for that duck to gain a bit of altitude.
“As soon as it lifts off you can shoot it.” I said, “Remember if it’s rising, swing up with it and squeeze the trigger as you see the ducks head. Don’t stop the gun. Keep swinging as you let the shot go.”
“Just like the clays dad?”
“Yep! Just like the clays.”
The light started to intensify. Other ducks materialised. Decoys appeared in groups here and there. A hillside, a stand of pines, a deer fence, Jonesy’s maimai, the pond, an absolutely idyllic setting.
Our duck was by now very nervous. It climbed slowly and dejectedly up on to a little grassy bank about ten metres away. Every now and then it would turn its head our way and quickly snap it back again.
You could read the ducks mind.
“Shit, this is not good. I’m bloody sure there are two guys over there with shotguns. If I don’t look maybe they’ll go away.” Another glance.
“Shit they’re still there.”
“James”, I said, “That’s the unluckiest duck you’ll ever see”.
When it happened it took me by surprise. Two more ducks flew in, the guys in the next maimai opened up, our duck took off and James drilled it back in to the pond.
First shot, first duck. Not a bad little confidence boost for James and workout for the 410.
He was ecstatic, “Got my first duck”, he whispered very loudly his eyes sparkling.
“Well done mate, good shot.”
“Will there be more,” asked the bright eyed incredibly animated face of my son.
There were more, not many, just enough for a young hunter to learn about patience and missing a few and how to lead effectively, all good lessons.
By mid morning there were over a dozen dead ducks floating on the pond. The sun was up in a bright, clear, windless sky, far from ideal for duck shooting.
Roger came by on his way to the dinghy. He was to retrieve the ducks but stopped long enough to congratulate James and get his duck for him.
I didn’t even load my gun. I was content just to sit there and watch James. He scored a second hit and frightened a few more. It was a morning I will never forget.
Jonesy, Neil and the other young hunters came by. The morning of opening day was over and it was time for lunch. We had about fifteen ducks. Enough for a good feed and there was still Sunday morning to go.
“Bloody good to share that with you mate.” Said Jonesy, with his arm around my shoulder.
“And you my old friend.” I said.
There will only ever be one first opening morning in James’s life and that was it.
I know by his enthusiasm that there will be many more such experiences but that was the first and thanks to Jonesy I was there.
It was another of those special times that marks my friendship with Jonesy. It is also one of those special times which cements my relationship with James.
Already he and I have done some great things. He may not always be a hunter. I believe he will always be a fisherman, but what really matters is sharing our friendship through amazing people in incredible places. That is the gift that outdoor New Zealand bestows and that’s why we truly do live in Godzone.