The Hunting Tales of Percy Lyes: An Original Good Keen Man by Hans Willems

Published 2005 | RRP$29.99

I read The Hunting Tales of Percy Lyes cover to cover for the 4th time to write this review, but Percy Lyes’ story is so captivating that I’ve thumbed through its pages many more times in the past.

As the Publisher’s Blurb below says, Percy was one of New Zealand’s greatest hunters and a legend with few equals and it’s the story of Percy’s hunting days during his period employed as a government culler between 1947 and 1957 that are the subject of Hans Willems’ book.

Written with input from Percy, his family and colleagues this biography is as close as one can get to a firsthand account because, sadly, Percy developed Parkinson’s disease in his sixties so never penned his own book.

The first three chapters establish a backdrop for Percy’s hunting career by summarising what it was like to be a deer culler working for the Internal Affairs Department. With the scene set, the chapter entitled Portrait of Percy Lyes — The Hunter introduces the reader to Percy and his indomitable character.

The culling season of 1947 was Percy’s first, assigned to shoot tahr and chamois in the East Coast’s rugged valleys of Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park. Ten years later the 1957 season was Percy’s last, but during the intervening years he hunted predominantly the West Coast’s remote and unforgiving Hokitika and Whitcombe river valleys for red deer, amassing legendary tallies.

In addition to immortalizing the many culling exploits, tales of Percy’s exceptional personal trophies are included. In the Cropp valley roar of 1949 Percy off-hand shot a 14 point red deer stag with a Douglas Score of 374 1/4, spread of 38 1/2 inches and length of 50 3/4 inches, which still holds New Zealand’s record for antler length. Two years later he secured a massive 14 point Wapiti-Red hybrid in Caswell Sound, but perhaps the most interesting and famous trophy was his 1952 Fiordland bull moose from Herrick Creek, the 3rd and last bull ever shot, and the trophy which thrusts Percy’s name into New Zealand hunting lore forever.

Always craving more of Percy’s hunting exploits, I would have liked the stories about his trophy buck chamois and bull tahr included because, although photos of them are, the tales of how they were shot were not.

A seasoned author, Hans writes with skill and his style is well paced.

Many historical black & white and colour photos accompany each chapter and you can’t help but study them in depth. Hans also took colour photos of Percy’s taxidermy heads so there are full page images of each trophy from various angles.

This biography is highly recommended — it is one of my personal favourites and makes the The Hunter’s Classic Hunting Books list.

Other hunting titles written by Hans are Hunting Smarter: A Practical Guide to Successful Hunting in New Zealand (2001), The Deer Cullers: A Celebration (2009) and Hunting Smarter for Big Game (2012). Hans has also authored books on New Zealand’s back-country entitled South Island Back Country Huts (2000), North Island Back Country Huts (1998), North Island Back Country Dunnies (1999) and Tramping Smarter: A Practical Guide to Tramping in New Zealand (2003).

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: 5 out of 5
  • Writing quality and style: 4.5 out of 5
  • Page-turner status: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher’s blurb

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

Percy Lyes is a legend in hunting circles, his exploits and adventures have been the subject of campfire stories in hunting camps for the last fifty years. He was the last New Zealand hunter to officially shoot a moose in Fiordland in 1952. His successful 1952 trip to hunt Moose was inspired by his 1951 Wapiti hunt which gave him a trophy which still ranks as one of the best ever shot in New Zealand. 
Trophy hunter and sportsman his record as one of the leading hunters of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s was without equal, his 1949 Red deer from the Whitcombe Valley to this day remains a record for the length of antler for wild Red deer.
Hans Willems author of North Island Back Country Huts and Hunting Smarter has put together with the help of the Lyes’ family, a record of some of the most successful trips and with the help of the family albums is able to provide an insight into the background that made Percy “an original good keen man”.

Bibliographic information

Title: The Hunting Tales of Percy Lyes: An Original Good Keen Man
Author: Hans Willems (1940–), Percy Lyes (1922–2004)
Editions: 2005
Publisher: Halcyon Press, Auckland, New Zealand
ISBN: 1877256560, 9781877256561
Format: Softcover, 184 pages, 16 pages of plates, illustrations (some colour), maps, 22 cm

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