New Zealand Law Society - High country hunt delivers life-work balance

High country hunt delivers life-work balance

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Swapping a career among the high rises of Auckland’s Shortland Street for life in the South Island high country could not have worked out better for former Meredith Connell prosecutor Michael Walker.

Thirty-year old Michael took on his new role as in-house counsel at Queenstown and Lakes District Council (QLDC) after working with Kieran Raftery to complete the successful prosecution in 2015 of Tony Robertson for the rape and murder of Blessie Gotingco.

Settling in Arrowtown and marrying fiancé Anna Southwell – an associate at Lane Neave in Queenstown – in April, Michael hasn’t let the tussock grow under his boots.

No stranger to high country hunting, Michael reckons he has despatched a couple of dozen stags over the years, including some Fiordland wapiti hybrids.

He has done several hunting trips into the South Island high country with his father, Invercargill lawyer Jeff Walker and his brother.

Accompanied by his hunting buddy Anto Hall – the QLDC principal enforcement officer and a star of the popular Hunters Club television series, he took to the hills in early April, shortly before his wedding – and his own “stag do” – to bag a massive Matukituki stag.

The pair couldn’t make a pre-roar hunt in late March when they were hoping the stags would be higher up in the hills, before they started roaring and dropped altitude.

Like most hunters, Michael, who was profiled in March in the Law Society series on what lawyers do outside law, is cautiously vague about the exact location but “the Matukituki Valley area near Wanaka” is close enough.

The hunt

“Anto and I finished work early on the Friday and flew in on an Aspiring Guides helicopter to set up a fly camp at around 1500/1600 metres.

“The weather window was stunning, but there was still a heavy frost with frozen boots and socks every night.

“The first night we shot up one valley and saw a few chamois, then headed back to camp for dinner.

“The next day we saw the stag crossing a river about ten in the morning … We had been glassing for about three hours using brilliant Leica Geovid rangefinder binoculars and picked him up crossing the river.

“He went up and chased on a smaller stag and a couple of hinds, pushing them down the valley … We watched them for a while but then he tucked up and we lost him in a piece of scrub.

“We thought he had parked up and laid down so we tossed around what we should do … He had lost one side of antlers and we tossed up whether we should leave him for next year or take him.

“We decided he was by far the biggest stag in the area and we would try and hunt him … He was a nice character trophy in many respects.

“We followed him down and got about 100m beneath him as we followed a creek and closed the distance, getting to about 250m from him.

“The bush was quite thick and we knew he would be in there but couldn’t see him.

“So we played the waiting game, taking turns to go to sleep. We were sure where he was and it was only a matter of waiting.

“As the sun started to drop about 4 pm and go into that early evening period, that was our best chance of him moving again.

“The worst case scenario was that the other animals we had seen might come back and we could have a crack at the other stag – but he certainly wasn’t the same size as the one we were targeting.


“Sure enough, it went all cold, with a dark cloudy kind of feel to it and that distinct chill in the air … He stood up and we spotted him kind of sidling across the face.

“He was getting out of shooting range at about 320m … We were pretty well placed in terms of bipods and high power scopes but we thought it would be prudent to close the gap.

“We sidled along as quickly as we could, running 80m then stopping … We couldn’t quite see him but had a fair idea where he was going so we chanced our arm a bit that he was going to a flat grassy terrace.

“We did not want to get into a roaring duel with him because we were trying to locate him, so we stalked him … we could see him but he couldn’t see us.

“He was about 100m to our right, he stopped and had a look … I was getting him in my scope and he started trotting off.

“Anto roared and he stopped and turned around …

“That stop was fatal.

“I took a single shot with the .270 in his front shoulder and he was down.”

Retrieving as much meat as possible from the 200kg stag – “we got delicious venison salamis from the Arrowtown butcher” – the pair trecked 5km back to camp, arriving about an hour and a half after dark.

They sighted some chamois the next day before the weather began to close in and the helicopter arrived to take them out.

With duck shooting in Southland in early May, with gun dog Barrett, followed by a three-day chamois hunt in Fiordland at the end of May, Michael is busy away from work.

“The New Zealand hunting resource – particularly in the South Island – is in a fabulous state. We have so many options.

“There appears to be good numbers of good animals out there on public land.

“You have to be able to enjoy life and can’t let work get in the way,” he says.

(For the technical minded, Michael shot his latest stag using his favourite Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather bolt action rifle in .270 calibre, fitted with a Bell and Carlson stock and Viper PST 6-24x50 telescopic sight. He fired a 132grain Hornady SST round loaded with 58gns of ADI2213 powder, with a muzzle velocity of 2,900 feet per second.)

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