Pack and Rifle by Philip Holden

Pack and Rifle - Philip Holden

Published 1971 | Value $20-$80

Pack and Rifle is an autobiography written by the late Philip Holden about his time as a government employed deer culler between 1960 and 1967.

Born in Wales in 1937, Philip immigrated with his family to Australia in 1953, where he worked in the outback, before settling in New Zealand aged 23. By the time of his death in 2005, he had established himself as one of New Zealand’s most prolific authors, with over 50 published books to his credit, so Philip is one of the great contributors to New Zealand hunting literature and is without doubt the most prolific.

Pack and Rifle is widely heralded by hunters as the book that started their interest in hunting. It remains to this day a favourite book in people’s hunting book collections.  It is a true ‘classic’ hunting book.

The fine print located on book’s cover provides a high level summary of its contents when it says “the hunting days of a New Zealand Forest Service professional shooter who spent seven years at the game, mostly in the North Island but with an interlude in Otago and Fiordland, his experiences include hunting after red deer, sika, rusa and sambar–and the sight (only) of a bull wapiti”.

Recounting his adventures and career as a deer culler with the New Zealand Government Forest Service, Philip inspired generations of hunters with his tales and deeds but more importantly (and probably inadvertently) he created a historical account of the final years of ground hunting before helicopter recovery and poisoning became the norm.

Philip writes factually, insightfully and with a captivating tone. His entertaining stories remain relevant today and will fascinate both the old and new generations of hunters and readers. The chapters I found most interesting were those about his time training at the infamous ‘Dip Flat’ camp on the Wairau river near Marlborough, a place where all the great hunters first learnt their trade.

There are many photo plates of iconic images in Pack and Rifle. My particular favourite photo is an artistic shot featuring Philip’s Sako Forrester .243 rifle resting on a log accompanied by a sheaf knife and ammo belt. Many of Philip’s  photos from this book are now synonymous with New Zealand’s hunting culture and reinforce the good-keen-man-image of the deer culler.

Pack and Rifle is probably the most widely known and loved New Zealand hunting book — it is a must read.

The Hunter’s recommendation is: buy it

The Hunter’s ratings are:

  • Overall rating: 8 out of 10
  • Photos and illustrations: 4 out of 5
  • Trophy quality: 3 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:

Philip Holden, Welsh by birth and early upbringing, spent his later boyhood in Australia and crossed to New Zealand when he heard that men were actually paid to shoot deer in that country.

He somehow managed to survive the Forestry Service deer hunter school at Dip Flat, Marlborough, then spent his next seven years as a government hunter, rising from second-grade to headman.

His first shooting area was Kaingaroa, and he then went to Kaweka Forest Park, to Waipawa, to the Tuki Tuki Blocks, to the Urewara National Park, the Oreiti (Otago), into Fiordland for a brief spell, then back to the North Island and the north-western Ruahines where he finished–at any rate for the time being–his career as a professional hunter.

His experiences included, of course, red deer mainly, but his adventures after rusa, sika and sambar also make particularly good reading; and his acquaintance with wapiti, though here he was in the unenviable position of being on a cows-only assignment.

Not since the late Joff Thomson wrote his last book has a full-time Government professional published his experiences. Like Joff, Philip Holden is strictly a pro in outlook yet as keen as any private shooter and keenly alive to the New Zealand heritage of deer stalking extraordinary. He looks forward to the day when shooting will be managed for best trophy-producing results–and kept accessible to the local boys and not restricted to the pleasure of soft-safari overseas amateurs.

This is an outspoken book by a man who lived the hard life, and loved it. It is also of first-class value to any young hunter who dreams of turning professional: he’ll learn exactly what he may be letting himself in for!

Bibliographic information

Title: Pack and Rifle
Author: Philip Holden (1937–2005)
Editions: 1971, 1986, 1995, 2012
Publisher: Reed, Wellington, New Zealand
ISBN: 0589006134
Format: Hardcover, 194 pages, black & white illustrations, 23 cm

Book review of Pack and Rifle by Philip Holden book review