Horace (Horrie) Sinclair is a rotund little man with innocent white hair and hard gray eyes. His face is ruddy from a life spent outdoors and from good Scotch whisky. Scotsmen settled the south of New Zealand, and the burr in his voice reveals that heritage.
"I caught these two blokes trespassing and told them to give me their shotguns," he said to me one day. "One of them said he was a justice of the peace and knew the law—that I couldn't legally take their guns. I grabbed it out of his hands and gave him the butt the way I learned to do it in the war. The other bloke handed his over nice like."
He reflected for a moment, then added, "I'd die for my property."
His property is 779 acres of freshwater swamp near Dunedin, New Zealand. Much of it is dense with native flax bush and mushroomlike hummocks of "cutty grass," interspersed with open ponds and lagoons. Twenty-two years ago, Horrie bought it for $4,000, which he had borrowed and which was equal to his annual income. He turned down $250,000 for it two years ago, and he has fought legal battles to forestall drainage projects that would lower the water level, making it even more valuable to developers, but not to him.
Horrie is a duck hunter. He likes his swamp just the way he has made it, using nothing but good management and grit, turning it into a waterfowling paradise.
As with most paradises, there is always the threat of encroachment. Horrie has done his share of poaching and now knows how to deal with it. He once camped on an island in the swamp for 28 consecutive days, firing occasional shots toward the sound of intruders in the night. Hard feelings from those days still linger. Mentioning his name in a local pub produces a very dense silence. The poachers eventually got the idea, however, and nowadays no one enters the swamp without an invitation.
Because he limits hunting to three weekends of the season, which starts in April or May and varies in length according to the duck population, and the number of hunters to a maximum of 40, invitations are hard to come by. They're unsullied by monetary considerations; it's illegal to charge for hunting in New Zealand. Besides, the shooting is too precious to be given a mere price tag.
The hunters assembled in the foggy darkness of an opening morning last year are mostly close relatives, old friends and their children. They range in age from puberty to the mid-70s. Camouflage clothing is rare, and one of them inspects the camouflage coveralls of a special guest, a Yank, with a flashlight.
"My God!" he says. "What is it? A mallard-domestic cross?"
Outsiders, sifted from the some 300 requests Horrie receives annually, are occasionally invited to shoot. The year before, the honored guest was an Italian who'd won an Olympic gold medal in skeet.