The Heart of Hunting by Greig Caigou & Matt Winter

Published 2014 | RRP$49.99

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but first impressions of Greig Caigou (pronounced “kay-go”) and Matt Winter’s The Heart of Hunting: Wildness and Hunting in New Zealand leave you hopeful.

It is a glossy, oversized photo book in hard back format and exudes quality sitting on the bookshelf.

A flick through its pages presents flashes of many colour photos — of deer, mountain vistas, fiords, birds, chamois, tahr and hunters in wilderness settings.

Greig and Matt, together with their publisher Craig Potton Publishing, have put together a high quality book. Its print quality makes it stand out from other New Zealand hunting books along with its emotive subject matter.

The authors, by their own admissions, have moved beyond “hunting” and are motivated by photography (and the many “stalks” that presents) and just being present in the wild among big game animals.

It is well known that hunters progress through stages. The first goal of the stalker, to shoot any animal (usually a rabbit, hare or possum), soon gives way to loftier goals of shooting a big game animal (usually a feral goat), then it’s a deer (of any sort, but usually a yearling or spiker), then a stag (of any antler quality), which soon gives way to a desire to shoot a better “head”, then a “trophy” 12-point head, and so on and so forth… and it seems Greig and Matt have personal goals and motivations beyond those that average hunters would have.

Hunting books are usually written at the point in time when the stalker reflects on their “trophy” phase, but contrary to usual expectations The Heart of Hunting’s premise is to articulate the nuisances, events, experiences, feelings, thoughts and emotions a hunter encounters while in the process of hunting.

The authors emphasise that, to them, it’s not the act of killing or securing a trophy that is, or should be, one’s motivation. So with this in mind, it naturally follows that they haven’t written a hunting book per se rather a “wilderness experiences” photo book.

Wilderness because they do write about being in Fiordland during the wapiti bugle, but not about hunting wapiti bulls; seeking chamois and tahr high in the Southern Alps, but not about securing a 10″ buck chamois or 12″ bull tahr; hunting majestic trophy red deer stags in the roar, but not about securing a once in a life time head.

Is there something occurring in New Zealand inspiring hunters to write about the ethics of, and philosophise about hunting? This book along with Tony Orman’s A Hunting Life (2011) and James Passmore’s The New Zealand Wilderness Hunter (2014) are certainly considering ethical questions about what it means to be a hunter in today’s society.

It seems to me that each of those books have merely identified the thesis but none have argued, explained and logically answered the “big questions” — this is the challenge of philosophical writing.

The Heart of Hunting is a good book and a joy to flick through but the detraction for the New Zealand hunting book reader is the small proportion of hunting content. Although the photos are numerous, and of high quality, they are only half related to hunting, with birds being a major focus.

The writing, although on the whole good quality, at times changes style and loses focus. Greig tries to articulate complex issues and the result only seems to confirm the age old idiom: if you have to ask someone why they hunt, you’ll never understand the answer, or in other words, if you try to write about the motivation of hunters, you’ll never truly capture the essence of it.

However, I’m glad Grieg and Matt have written this book. Hunting enthusiasts need to help non-hunters understand hunting and experienced hunters, such as the authors, need to help those hunters in their early “phases” of hunting to move more quickly to being respectful hunters, and this can be achieved by reading and reflecting on books like this.

The following is a YouTube clip where Greig speaks about his motivations for writing The Heart of Hunting:

Greig and Matt’s writing and images have been published in NZHunter magazine, as both are regular columnists for that magazine.

Other books written by Greig are Wild Horizons, More Great Hunting Adventures (2011) and Hunting Adventures, True Tales of a Kiwi Hunter (2009).

The Hunter’s recommendation is: buy it

The Hunter’s ratings are:

  • Overall rating: 6.5 out of 10
  • Photos and illustrations: 4* out of 5
  • Trophy quality: 2 out of 5
  • Writing quality and style: 3.5 out of 5
  • Page-turner status: 3.5 out of 5

(*Note that this rating is lower because not all of the photos are related to hunting.)

Publisher’s blurb

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

The Heart of Hunting sets out to capture the essence of the hunting experience in New Zealand, by reflecting not only on hunting itself, but on the experience of wilderness that is so key to this cherished activity. The writer, Greig Caigou, combines storytelling and meditations on many aspects of hunting, all of which is based on the premise that when seen through the eyes of a hunter, the appreciation and understanding of wildlife is significantly deepened.
Integral to the book are the wonderful wildlife photographs of Matt Winter, whose motivation is always to celebrate wild animals in their natural environments. He combines his outstanding photos of New Zealand game animals with many other marvellous images of wildlife that hunters encounter when out in the backcountry.
This is a fine new book on New Zealand hunting that speaks eloquently of the rich experience so highly valued by this country’s many hunters.

Bibliographic information

Title: The Heart of Hunting: Wildness and Hunting in New Zealand
Author: Greig Caigou (1956–), Matt Winter (1965–)
Editions: 2014
Publisher: Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, New Zealand
ISBN: 1927213215, 9781927213216
Format: Hardcover, 170 pages, colour illustrations, 24 cm x 29 cm

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