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Venison Hunters
Venison Hunters

The Venison Hunters
By film makers Dave Asher & Dave McCarlie with Mike Bennett
Running time: 90 minutes

Description: Join Mike Bennett as he follows the development of the venison industry in the South Island of New Zealand. Meet the characters, hear the stories, see unique film footage and relive some great adventures.
Mike Bennett of Barrytown is renowned for telling good stories well, so when the former hunter and bush pilot extends an invitation to join him reliving the old deer shooting days, the opportunity must be grabbed eagerly.  There’s minimal exertion involved, as it’s all on another great DVD from South Coast Productions: ‘The Venison Hunters’.

Actually there’s not all that much of Bennett, but plenty from and about numerous personalities encountered during what he terms “the last great hunt in human history”.  Add to that the superb, remote landscapes where most of it happened and you have a memorable 90 minutes’ worth.
There are inevitably some gory bits as teams comprising a shooter, a gutter and a chopper pilot achieved tallies as high as 185 deer in a 14-hour day.  However there are also sequences in which magnificent deer and thar just keep on running – perhaps to reach a place of eternal safety or at least to survive until the live capture era that followed.

A good deal is devoted to flying exploits that will enthral anybody interested in aviation.  Austers, Piper Cubs and Cessna 180s are followed by Hiller, Bell and Hughes helicopters – most of them grossly overloaded, and airborne thanks only to manoeuvres that the pilots certainly never learned from any flying manual.

Accounts of those exploits range from hair-raising to hilarious, some skilfully re-enacted and others actually captured on film.  While the plight of a hunter dangling by his bootlace after a chopper took off could have been staged, the old footage of a plane going end over end on a riverbed landing strip certainly wasn’t.

Bringing us down to earth in another sense is the closing dedication to, and the ghostly images of, the 80 men who lost their lives on venison recovery operations.

“The Venison Hunters
Reviewing this video could best be described as a perk and thankfully the editor of Australian Deer does not possess a video player so this enjoyable task was forwarded to me.

There is no point in going through a long preamble, I enjoyed this video and would recommend it to any viewer with an interest in the history of deer, flying or the venison recovery industry in New Zealand.
In 1979 Mike Bennett published a book called The Venison Hunters and it is this book that has formed the basis of the video of the same name.
Dave Asher of South Coast Productions combined his talents with those of David McCarlie and author Mike Bennett to produce an informative and enjoyable video that traces the history and development of the venison recovery industry on the South West Coast of New Zealand.
The material is a blend of archival film footage, some of which appears to be home movie, with very good quality modern film. However, all the home-style footage is more than adequate in quality.
On one occasion I thought the pace got a little slow and perhaps the overall time could have been reduced slightly. This is not a serious criticism, just my observation and to put it into perspective, it should not detract any from purchasing this film.
Several key aspects in the development of the industry are depicted. The viewer is left with a clear understanding of the lives and daily toil of the ground shooters and the conditions they worked under. The transition from ground shooters through to the development of the helicopter and its deployment as an efficient shooting platform is covered.
There is some remarkable footage of unbelievable flying in fixed wing aircraft, including good landings where the definition of a good landing is one you walk away from. As for the airstrips, some of them have to see them to be believed. When I read the book it was obvious that the hand made airstrips were rough and ready and the film definitely proves it.
There is footage of helicopters laden to the point where they cannot lift off, so the technique was to pull away from the mountain and go down at a controlled rate. That was the theory but as you will see in the film, sometimes it went wrong.
One of the messages conveyed by this production is that it was plain hard work combined with a large degree of Kiwi ingenuity. One thing is for sure they were tough individuals.
It is appropriate to issue a warning that there is a lot of death in this film with countless animals being slaughtered and no attempt made to shield the viewer from the cold hard truth. You cannot have a venison recovery industry without killing animals. So be aware this video will be disturbing to some people.
Apart from the well-told story, the real strength of this film for me was the magnificent mountains. I couldn't get enough of them!
This video is of good quality with a story to tell and it is up there with the best of them. Highly recommended!
Peter Burke
Australian Deer Association

Price: $36.00

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