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"Not to worry," said Dick with a vicious grin. "We autorotate down the mountain, and unless the motor's buggered we'll make it." We lurched backward off the ridge, and Dick laid the chopper over on her side, like a platform diver doing a back dive with a half twist, and we skidded back down the mountain, the bubble shaking furiously and the shadows of the deer dangling beneath us showing on the sheer rock faces as we fell. "Chap was working under a helicopter one day, hooking up a pile of chamois," Dick yelled, noticing my interest in the shadows. "When he jumped back to wave the pilot away with the load, he suddenly found himself upside down with the carcasses, over 2,000 feet of nothing. Seems a chamois horn had hooked into his sock and whipped him upside down. Luckily the pilot saw his bloody shadow waving madly down there with the load and made a soft drop, or else the bugger would be bloody tucker for the Germans. Ha! ha!"
That night I invited Dick, Sid, their foot-hunting partner, Gary Hollows, and wives to a bit of tucker at the Te Anau Hotel. Plenty of drinks went down before dinner, and plenty of wine went down along with it. There is no 24-hour-abstinence rule for meat-hawking helicopter pilots. "Oh, I'll have a crook head in the morning," Dick allowed. "I've been drunk every night this week, and we're still flying. The main hazards to this job are booze and bad weather. Put them bloody together and you get bits of men and machines scattered all down the mountain."
"We've had some close ones," said Gary Hollows. Gary is a tanned, muscular Kiwi of 35 with a ready smile, much more relaxed than the Deaker brothers, probably because he hunts mainly afoot and only now and then goes up in the chopper. "Remember that time you lost cyclic control and I had to jump 30 feet off the skid? I hit the rock with my rifle in my hand and all the meat squirted out from under my fingertips."
"I thought he was buggered," Dick said.
"Yeah," grinned Gary. "If I hadn't jumped they'd have pushed me anyway. Once you're out on the skid, you're expendable. Right?"
The talk veered and swooped like a hunting helicopter, settling finally on the joys of foot hunting, a mode that has practically disappeared from New Zealand with the ascendancy of the highly organized choppers.
"Bloody shame that it's going," said Gary. "Bloody shame that the deer are going, too. When there were plenty, any bloke could grab his rifle and hike up into the bush—away up there where no one had set foot before—and deerstalk to his heart's content. Fried liver for breakfast and tenderloin for tea—that's the caper. Plenty of cold water to drink up there where the bloody trout haven't ever seen a line before. I always pack a little breakdown spinning rod with me for when I'm tired of killing. You travel light: sneakers and no socks for wading the streams, a poncho and a down-filled sleeping bag, a knife, a light rifle—I shot a .222—and plenty of ammo, some tea and biscuits and sugar and salt and a mess kit, a gutting knife. That's about it. None of this high bloody technology. None of these bloody petrol drums...."
"They ought to knock off, just about knock off right bloody now," mumbled Dick. "They ought to abolish the Noxious Animals Act and put a season on deer shooting and license the meat hunters. They ought to close the season from October to after the roaring, what you Yanks call the rut, about the end of March. It would be easy to cull the herds back with helicopters if they got out of hand again. The way it is now, you get deer that have been wounded only a few days before, deer with holes in their ears, legs shot off, bullets through their necks. They shouldn't be running around out there like that. What gets me most is the slinkies. Sometimes you open up a hind and the slinky is trying to breathe. You whip it out and you fly down the mountain and get it to the deer farm. Gary once gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a slinky. They ought to knock off...."
Then why don't they?
"There's the money," Dick admitted. " New Zealand's streets are scarcely paved with gold. You've got to get ahead, way ahead, if you don't want to get trapped into some bloody shopkeeper's life. Oh, I'm a good enough helicopter pilot now to make a go anywhere, without hunting. But beyond the money, if I'm to be perfectly honest, there's the thrill of it. Where else is this kind of thing possible in a world that's slowly going soft? It's bloody adventure, is what it is. That's come to be a kind of silly word, I suppose, but it still means something."