Beyond The River’s Bend by Max Curtis

Published 1991 | $40–$80

Max Curtis’ name and deeds are famous among hunters and Beyond the River’s Bend: Tales of Reed Deer, Moose and Wapiti in New Zealand is Max’s first book of a pair of autobiographies. His second book published five years later is entitled ‘Beneath the Mountain Mist: Tales of Red Deer, Thar and Chamois in New Zealand’ (1996).

The Curtis family name may be familiar because his brothers Arthur and Ross, who both feature in the book, were also deer cullers and trophy hunters of repute. Ross Curtis has authored six hunting books known as the ‘Murphy series’ — a review of Ross’ most recent book can be found here.

Helpfully the foreword written by Norm Livingston gives an accurate review of Beyond the River’s Bend, so I quote it here in full:

“This book will make a welcome addition to the libraries of New Zealand hunters, starting as it does by portraying how a family of brothers were brought up in an outdoor environment which provided all their recreational needs, especially hunting, which became their main obsession. It tells of the author’s first experiences as a professional hunter in the Spenser Mountains, of how many deer escaped because of his lack of “know how” and amateurish stalking efforts. It goes on to show how, through trial and many errors, he became a very skilled and professional hunter. His seven months’ experience with horses in Canterbury makes a very interesting story. The dangers, privations and hardships of a deer culler’s life come through very clearly. Written in an easy to read style without any frills, it is a book I found hard to put down once I had started to read it.

“Not a great deal has been written about deer culling in earlier times and for that reason alone this book must have some historical importance. It is also the first time that the full story has been written about the three moose hunting expeditions which culminated in Percy Lyes shooting a bull moose, only the third ever to be brought out of Fiordland, and probably the last. An important aspect of the book is the obvious affinity the author has with the outdoors.

“I am sure this book will give pleasure to many people, especially those who have a love of hunting and faraway places.”

The publisher’s blurb, which can be read below, provides a summary of Max the person and the contribution he has made to outdoors recreation in New Zealand so I won’t repeat his pedigree for this review.

In terms of the content of this book, Max’s deer culling experiences between 1946 and 1949 are the overriding theme.  There are additional chapters about moose and wapiti hunting in Fiordland.

Max was at the peak of his hunting powers when stalking the West Coast’s remote and unforgiving Hokitika and Whitcombe catchments for red deer. In his final culling season he teamed up with Percy Lyes (also a well known figure in hunting circles) and together they shot by foot, using open sight World War II .303 Lee Enfield rifles, a massive total of 3,046 deer (Percy, 1,545 and Max, 1,501).

The most intriguing chapters are those about hunting Fiordland’s elusive moose entitled ‘Hunting Moose in Fiordland’ and ‘Trying Again’. In them Max provides detailed first-hand accounts of three successive attempts by himself, Percy and Robin Smith to hunt moose during the ruts of 1950, 1951 and 1952. In 1952, it was Max’s old culling mate, Percy, who was in the right place to shoot the 3rd and last bull moose ever shot in New Zealand.

Max did take a series of amazing live photos of cow (female) moose which illustrate these chapters so his name is forever entangled with the lore and myth of Fiordland’s moose.

The writing style is factual.  Max at one point refers to the accuracy of his statements, saying they are unequivocally not subject to exaggeration because he had the benefit of his daily journals. There is no doubting his integrity here.

Readers should appreciate that Max’s often understated and humble descriptions belie the gravity of the situations he found himself in — often life or death, or as he phrases it “Hobson’s choice”.

This book documents an amazing piece of New Zealand’s hunting heritage and is well worth reading. It should be followed up with Max’s second book which recounts his trophy hunting adventures.

The Hunter’s recommendation is: buy it

The Hunter’s ratings are:

  • Overall rating: 7.5 out of 10
  • Photos and illustrations: 3 out of 5
  • Trophy quality: 4 out of 5
  • Writing quality and style: 4 out of 5
  • Page-turner status: 4 out of 5

Publisher’s blurb

For your information the following is the book’s blurb:

Max Curtis was born in 1926, his formative years were spent in the Buller Gorge area. In this backcountry environment he acquired his love of the bush and hunting. As soon as he was able Max and two of his brothers became professional hunters employed by the Internal Affairs Department as deer cullers.
For the next few years Max was paid to hunt in Marlborough, North Canterbury, South Westland and Nelson. The highlights and low points of those years are recounted in this book.
When not culling Max was hunting for himself, he has hunted extensively from Nelson to Fiordland, and has hunted every major river system from Greymouth to the Haast. He was with Percy Lyes in 1952 when the last trophy hunted Moose was shot in Fiordland.
Over the last thirty four years Max has been actively involved with Search and Rescue, and The Mountain Safety Council. He has lectured widely on Bushcraft and Survival. As co-ordinator of the Mountain Safely Council Firearms Programme he trained many of the instructors and was an instructor himself. For his services to The Mountain Safety Council and Search and Rescue Max was awarded the M.B.E. in 1984.

Bibliographic information

Title: Beyond the River’s Bend
Author: O.M. (Max) Curtis (1926–1997)
Editions: 1991
Publisher: Halcyon Press, Auckland, New Zealand
ISBN: 0908685769, 9780908685769
Format: Softcover, 172 pages, 16 pages of plates, illustrations (some colour), 22 cm

 Book review  of Beyond The River’s Bend by Max Curtis book review.